There are currently three primary organizational or ownership models for USA Swimming Clubs. The first is the club that is in partnership with a certain facility or institution. A second, sometimes-similar structure is a program that is run by a booster organization – essentially by the parents of the participating athletes. The third, which is rapidly becoming more common, is that of the coach owned club.
In some cases, NCAA Institutions also offer a USA Swimming club in addition to their interscholastic program. But in this instance, the term is meant to describe teams that are working with a larger “sponsor” in order to exist. YMCA’s, JCC’s, School Districts, and perhaps most commonly, Parks and Recreation Departments often sponsor USA Swimming teams. In some cases, the municipality, YMCA, or Department, collects all dues, hires and fires the coaching staff, and truly operates the program. Booster programs may exist, but truly as boosters, rather than owners. It is not uncommon for boosters to collect all fees, and to pay the institution the cost of staff salary plus benefits in order to offer insurance programs to its staff. This scenario blurs the line with the second group, the booster operated program.
A Board of Directors, or Boosters, “calls the shots” in this scenario. Often pool time is rented wherever available. The coaching staff is hired, sometimes as contractors/consultants, other times as employees to operate the program. More often of late, the Head Coach receives the additional title of Chief Executive (or Operating) Officer. The boosters may pay their staff directly, or they may wash the funds through an institution as mentioned above. The primary difference from the above model is that the coaching staff works for the boosters, rather than for the facility/institution. This often means poorer stability and higher staff turnover as a certain staff member may fall out of grace with a board, which then elects to terminate his/her employment.
As America’s coaches become more entrepreneurial, or perhaps because they were unhappy with previously described employment models, the coach owned club is becoming more common. As simple as it sounds, the difference is that the coach invests his/her own “start-up” money for computers, software, and related swim team “infrastructure”. S/he generally incorporates the swim team, rather than gaining IRS 501(C)3 status as a charitable organization. The owner/coach negotiates all pool time and contracts, determines the fee structure, and simply runs the team as he/she sees fit. If a booster organization exists, it is a servant to the coach, rather than the coach serving the boosters. Most industry experts see this model as a growing trend.
Having be involved (either as a swimmer, coach, or volunteer), I have my personal opinions. Over the past decade or so, the top swimmers in the country have come from Coach Owned/Operated teams. Yet the most finically viable teams tend to be the Facility/Institution Owned teams. So is the Booster Operated swim team going the way of the Dodo? Don’t hold your breath; booster Operated teams are highly organized and have effective communication channels.
So what does the future hold for swim teams? For now the status quo is likely to continue, however we are beginning to see hybrid teams emerge as effective partnerships. For example, many of the Coach Owned teams have parent Boosters acting as a Board of Directors managing the day to day operations. Is this the future…only time will tell?