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

How surveys have helped USMS evolve

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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.

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Updated August 10th, 2014 at 09:35 AM by Rob Butcher

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Comments

  1. Water Rat's Avatar
    Rob, it's terrific that you and the rest of the senior leadership of this organization are such good stewards of its mission and growth. It's so important to stay in touch with ALL the voices you impact. It's critical to the long term viability of this organization that is such a huge part of my life. Thank you very much
  2. Sojerz's Avatar
    Rob,

    I think the term "Masters" has become identified with athletic endeavors for ages typically beyond AG, collegiate, and/or Olympic sport in many areas of sport. USMS apparently adopted the term quite a bit before the other sports and as other sports evolved, the definition has been reshaped; now USMS enjoys those benefits. Also, lots more people realize the benefits of keeping fit later in life. Thanks for the bolg.