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From the Executive Director: U.S. Masters Swimming's Journey

  1. LMSC Leadership Summit: Observations from the Last Row

    by , March 26th, 2015 at 09:33 PM (From the Executive Director: U.S. Masters Swimming's Journey)
    Last summer, I was on the phone with Gail Dummer, the chair of the Michigan Local Masters Swimming Committee. A longtime USA Swimming and USMS volunteer, Gail suggested USMS create a leadership summit for our LMSC chairs. Like the character Rod Tidwell says to Tom Cruise in the movie Jerry Maguire, “You had me (and USMS President Nadine Day) at hello.”

    The inaugural USMS LMSC Leadership Summit was held March 13 through 15 in Phoenix and 41 of our 52 LMSCs sent representatives. Summit objectives included networking, exchange of ideas, education, communication, motivation, recognizing volunteers, and understanding governance. Sitting in the back row, I observed three things:

    1. This first LMSC Leadership Summit was a significant undertaking that required an extraordinary team effort. The 11-member task force responsible for the planning and execution included chairs from large, medium, and small LMSCs. They came from the east coast and the west coast. Some are fitness swimmers and some are competitive. The task force was diverse. Healthy debate took place during the planning stages, and the task force members espoused the USMS values of respect and fun. They consciously listened, keeping their egos in check, both individually and as a group: The first agenda item of the planning task force was to survey our 52 LMSCs asking for input, suggestions, and ideas to shape the summit agenda. The desired outcome for the summit weekend was a conversation between our LMSC leaders, not a weekend lecture from the pulpit.

    2. Serving Masters Swimming programs, members, coaches, and instructors is a partnership, with all the partners having responsibilities in the relationship. The National Office can’t do it all and neither can the LMSCs. We are each entrusted with resources that allow us to serve and advance our vision to be the premiere resource for adult swimming and to make fitness through swimming available for as many adults as possible. We can only fulfill this vision through a commitment to and respect for our partnership.

    3. Many LMSCs have relatively new volunteer leaders and more are seeking new leadership. Another generation of leaders is emerging. Building upon successes of past leaders, the new ones are socializing and pioneering ideas to grow Masters Swimming. Our culture is evolving, and these committed and passionate leaders are excited to share their love of swimming with our members and invite others to join us and start their own Masters Swimming journeys.

    Many thanks to the 54 volunteers who gave up time from their families and swimming activities to attend our first LMSC Leadership Summit. And one final observation: I’m confident that Masters Swimming will reap many dividends from the Summit experience.
  2. How surveys have helped USMS evolve

    by , August 9th, 2014 at 05:34 PM (From the Executive Director: U.S. Masters Swimming's Journey)
    In 1968, the American Swimming Coaches Association was seeking ideas that would lead to growth. A survey went out to 2,000 swim coaches, asking for suggestions. Capt. Ransom Arthur, a Navy doctor, wrote back suggesting ASCA sponsor a committee of swimming for older ages. In the social upheaval of that time, the Vietnam War, and the sex, drugs, and rock-n-roll culture, proposing that adults exercise for physical fitness and well-being was, at best, a fringe idea.

    That suggestion to establish an adult swimming program was the beginning of Masters Swimming, and it was first proposed in a survey response.

    Asking members, partners, and constituents for ideas on how to improve and grow is a business principle taught most business 101 classes. And for good reason—it works.

    Masters Swimming continues to utilize surveys to check in with our members and volunteer leaders. In 2011, prior to writing our current USMS strategic plan, we surveyed our LMSC officers, committee chairs, and House of Delegates members. The collective feedback was paramount in assessing our strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and in shaping our vision.

    This spring, we conducted a survey of 2014 USMS members who registered with USMS for the first time. We wanted to learn from first-time members why they joined USMS, what they valued about USMS membership, and what benefits they believed would add more value to their membership.

    We received 1,256 completed surveys, about an 11% response rate. We learned some interesting things about our new members:


    • 33% had never been part of any organized team, and 34% swam on a club or summer league team as a child and/or a high school team.
    • 71% joined USMS because membership was required to swim in an activity such as a practice, clinic, or event, meaning 29% joined USMS by choice.
    • Of that 29%, the most popular reasons given for joining were: “I swim for fitness and thought being a USMS member would improve my swimming experience,” and “I wanted to improve my triathlon and thought being a USMS member would help me,” and “My Masters Swimming coach encouraged (but did not require) me to become a USMS member.”
    • The two most requested benefits—the ones new members believed would add more value to their USMS memberships—were more online technique videos and more stroke clinics.
    • We left a blank field at the end of the survey, open for any comments or suggestions. An overwhelming number or respondents told us how much they liked the quality and content of SWIMMER magazine and the STREAMLINES eNewsletters.


    All of this information is valuable to us. It lets us know what we’re doing well and where we can improve. But by far the most interesting result was not at all what we expected.

    Prior to publishing the survey, a staffer suggested we ask a question about new members’ perceptions of USMS prior to becoming members. Several us spoke up, saying we already knew what they think: “The word Masters is intimidating,” and “USMS is for people who want to compete,” and “You have to be 40 or older to become a member.” We decided to include the perception question, believing the answers would fall across those preconceived notions.

    And wouldn’t you know it, we were wrong.

    It turns out, 58% of new members did not have any perception of USMS prior to joining. In fact, most had never heard of us. This is valuable information—we see it as an opportunity to market the USMS brand without having to focus so much on dispelling what we thought were still popular misconceptions about Masters Swimming.

    Surveys will continue to be an important information-gathering tool. Should you happen to receive one from us, please know that your input is truly valuable and we take seriously all the feedback we receive. We pledge to continue to ask you how we’re doing, and how we can improve your member experience.

    Updated August 10th, 2014 at 08:35 AM by Rob Butcher

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