Sue Mackie, longtime executive director of the United States Swim School Association, is retiring as the organization prepares to launch a major growth initiative.
After nearly 12 years of steering the 29-year-old organization toward financial stability, Mackie will go back to her roots as a swim instructor while also nurturing a side career as a consultant to the learn-to-swim industry.
Her leadership is marked by many accomplishments. When she began, USSSA had six sponsors. Today it has nearly 40 sponsors and vendors who participate in its annual conferences, which attract some 350 instructors. To further generate revenue, Mackie created new membership levels. She also increased educational opportunities for members by shepherding an online learning program, which currently includes curriculum on infant/toddler swimming, special abilities, and movement and learning.
Today, USSSA represents approximately 400 swim schools. Mackie admits that’s only a fraction of the market, but a strategic effort is underway to broaden its membership base.
The association will soon begin accepting swim schools from nonprofit institutions. That means programs at city-owned facilities, YMCAs and other publicly funded and/or member-supported operations will have the green light to join.
That’s a substantial change for an organization that has been exclusive to privately owned swim schools since its inception in 1988. The reason for the exclusivity was largely because nonprofits enjoy certain benefits that for-profit schools do not, such as government funding and private donations, Mackie said. Additionally, the USSSA wanted to draw a distinction between businesses that were solely focused on swim instruction and organizations that offer a variety of recreational activities.
The pivot comes as the USSSA tries to position itself as the preeminent learn-to-swim authority. “We want to be like the Red Cross," Mackie said. "We want the general public to understand that a USSSA member is providing high-quality swim lessons and is more involved than the 18-year-old kid you’re going to hire.
"We want to become a household name.”
Mackie became a member in 1994 and joined the board in 2002. She accepted an offer to serve as an interim executive director, but settled into the role full time. USSSA officials say her background as a swim school owner made her a natural fit.
“Sue really brought a unique and interesting perspective to this role as she had already developed relationships with many of the members,” said Miren Oca, who has served as vice president and president elect. “[She] worked diligently on behalf of the interest of the large and small swim schools alike.”
Ultimately, Mackie is pleased she’s leaving the organization in a better situation than she found it.
“The growth of the association, and my own personal growth in this position would not have happened without the support of the board members and all the members who have come and gone over the years,” Mackie said.
A search for her replacement is underway.