• Drew Schoenster is the assistant aquatics director at the Wilton Family YMCA. He manages lifeguard staff, training and assists in the direction of the aquatics department and facilities. He is also an assistant pre-competitive coach for the nationally recognized Wahoo Swim Team.

    Credit: Drew Schoenster

    Drew Schoenster is the assistant aquatics director at the Wilton Family YMCA. He manages lifeguard staff, training and assists in the direction of the aquatics department and facilities. He is also an assistant pre-competitive coach for the nationally recognized Wahoo Swim Team.

Acouple of years ago, our department faced an enrollment shortfall and other departments vigorously clamored for it, so we very reluctantly brought over the 10-and-under swim team group from our Competitive Swim Department.

Thus began our relationship with the swim team. Previously, that relationship had been nonexistent — as often happens, we had communication issues and misunderstandings. Initially, their coaches oversaw the program. But as time went on, our swim instructors became more involved in the coaching and the workouts. Eventually our whole department was involved.

We helped manage the swim team practices three times a week. We pushed streamlines, touch-and-go, backstroke shoulder drills, double-kick breaststroke and superman dolphin kicks ad infinitum. The practices were well-defined with agendas, goals and deadlines.

By year two, we had fully incorporated the program under our umbrella and even revamped it a bit. We renamed it the Swim Academy and made it a multi-tiered, goal-oriented program.

A funny thing happened on the way to year three. The nonswim team enrollment numbers started to climb back up. What had happened? To be honest, many of the lessons we learned were unintended and require a little retrospection.

The Swim Academy was by design an entry-level swim team program that was much more instructive than competitive. Its focus was very narrow, with coaches highlighting the four competitive strokes, starts and finishes. To help intensify the learning process, we had a coach/instructor in each of the four to six lanes of practice and offered correction to every swimmer on nearly every lap.

Over time, the instructors used some of those techniques in their lessons, even for pre-schoolers. As instructors changed their methods, focusing on swimming with better mechanics, we began to see more measurable success. Little (and big) swimmers glided more effortlessly with better rotary breathing and straighter arms. Clients returned, with friends. There were more requests for swim team-like lessons and private lessons, with the goal of making the swim team. Eventually we turned an initially sour situation around in our favor.

The Lessons

1Be flexible in programming. The ability to change your schedule and alter programming goals will allow you to better cater to your clientele and market.

2Accommodate your market’s needs. We work in a swim town and have a great competitive swim team. There was a natural gravitas toward stroke development and mechanics, so we changed our focus to swim team skills. If you provide a good product, consumers will come.

3Narrow the focus. Many swim lesson programs are large, unwieldy and have elaborate syllabi. Shrink your focus and individual accomplishments will be more recognizable, allowing instructors and students to better realize their goals.

is the assistant aquatic director at the Wilton Family YMCA. He manages their lifeguard staff, their trainings and assists in the direction of the overall Aquatics Department and facilities. Drew also is an assistant pre-competitive coach for the nationally recognized Wahoo Swim Team.