“Is that your real job?”
I get this question, usually in a joking tone, from more people than you might think. Yes, a big part of my work has been as a swim coach and instructor. I have made a living helping people learn how to swim. At first it started out as a job, a self-employed job, but a job, nonetheless. And now it is becoming a business.
Here are the top swimming jobs that I see most often:
- swim instructor for children and adults
- masters coach
- freelance swim coach
- swim club coaches
- triathlon coach with varying interest in swimming
Usually swim instructors and coaches are hired by a pool, organization, city, municipality, fitness centre or other larger entities to run lessons for an hourly wage. Coaches with more experience can usually draw more people to a Masters or triathlon club and therefore receive higher compensation, but in general lifeguards, instructors and part-time swim coaches who do this do not make very much money or if they do, have to work odd hours. And in general, this group of swim instructors stick to accepted swim instruction systems already in use at pools.
The other model is to offer something of value to specific audiences at much higher hourly rates, to groups and for ongoing training (like Masters) with a much greater potential for income. Coaches with more business sense can also hire other coaches to help them run courses or even license their business to them. Some of these coaches have even made forays into publishing books, DVDs and training programs to make more with the time and expertise they have on hand.
One of the biggest obstacles for any swim coach who decides to go for the business option is pool space. It surely must vary in each country, but pool space puts the greatest limit on coaching revenues. In the early days, I spent almost as much time negotiating pool spaces as I did finding clients and teaching. In some cities, renting a lane for a lesson can be too expensive to make much business sense. If you’re considering getting into to independent swim coaching, you’ll want to look at this before you get too far.
The second challenge that I feel that most coaches struggle with is properly identifying who they are helping when they offer lessons. The biggest mistake, and one that I have made in the past, is to be the coach that tries to help everyone all the time. This makes it very difficult to stand out to a certain group of people and deliver excellent value in each lesson. There are many people out there in need of help. How will they find you? Do you offer a style of coaching or classes that will attract attention and solve their swimming problems?
The last piece of advice I’d have for anyone looking to create a swim coaching business is to offer something that no one else offers. It could be a new way of teaching, video analysis, attention to detail, prompt and friendly service, or something you’ve thought of yourself. It should, however, be something that your clients want (even if they don’t really know it), talk to others about, and keep coming back for more without regret or hesitation.
Resist the temptation to follow the easy path and teach generic swim lessons. Given the obstacles to being a successful swim coach or instructor, you’ll have way more fun, make more money and contribute real value to your swimmers if you find something special to offer.