Guest post by Rebecca Robinson: I learned about the excellent Note & Float™ program when I attended the World Conference on Drowning Prevention in Vietnam earlier this year. I am always on the lookout for innovative ways of getting children in the water having fun, safely, and this program has some potential benefits beyond the obvious.
Briefly, how the program works is that when a child arrives at your facility, you have a lifeguard test their basic swimming ability. Each child receives a wristband showing they’ve been tested, and children who are not competent swimmers are given a life jacket to wear. If you are not familiar with the program or would like to learn more, visit the Note & Float™ website or the Note & Float™ Facebook Page.
From a safety viewpoint the benefits are obvious, but let’s also look at the program from a business angle. There are two primary ways of increasing revenue - either increasing usage by your existing clients or by attracting a broader client base. Note & Float™ is a high-profile and effective way of reaching a market segment that might not ordinarily become clients and a tool to expand participation within your existing client base. Let’s look at some facts:
- Parents and children who sign up for swimming classes are pre-disposed to learning swimming. They understand the benefits, are already comfortable in the water, or perceive swimming as a desirable skill to acquire. These walk-in clients are the backbone of your business and every effort should be made to cultivate referrals and additional services from this client. However, many parents and children frequently over-estimate swimming ability and under-estimate the level of adequate instruction - they start lessons too late, or stop lessons too early.
- Depending on your community demographics, you may be missing a large segment of the population for a variety of reasons: scheduling conflicts with activities with a higher perceived value (soccer, swimming, ballet, etc); parental fear of the water; cultural norms which discourage water-based activities; unwillingness to commit to an activity which requires a long-term focus for true proficiency; or economic constraints.
Given this, let’s look at ways that instituting a safety program can also be a sound business decision. Have your facility institute Note & Float™ for all parties with a clear test - no exceptions and include it in the party contract. Why parties? That’s where you have immediate access to children who aren’t regular clients. And, since all parents want their children included and safe, it’s a positive marketing message - ‘we want all children to have fun, safely’.
Once you’ve started with highly-visible parties, you’ll find it easier to institute it as a normal policy. As for the test - forget the height test, have kids jump in the deep end of the pool (one guard on deck, the other in the pool), wade for a short period of time, and then swim at least one length of the pool.
- If they pass, they get the band and a certificate.
- If they don’t pass, they get the band, a certificate, and a life vest to wear during the party.
- As a mom, I’d also love to see a rule in place that ‘anyone who teases about the life vests is back on deck for 10 minutes’ (they can sit with the hosts). Make it clear to the parents privately that this is a serious rule to make sure all the children have fun and don’t feel self-conscious.
- I know resources are tight everywhere, so what children are awarded can be very low cost - it could be as simple as a certificate showing ‘I wore the special Note & Float™ jacket today!’ or ‘I was tested by the Note & Float team today!’ (make it positive, not a stigma - children can be cruel enough - but also remember parents will see it, and will thus be told whether their child is competent in the water or not, in a non-judgmental way). It could include a coupon designed to steer traffic to areas you’d like to increase - one free lesson; one free parent-and-tot lesson; buy one children’s lesson, get one adult lesson for free; 20% off your next series of classes; try out our new water aerobics class; or come to swim-in family movie night! Think about something tangible to give away that reminds children (and parents) of how much fun they had in the water. I like splash balls - you can get them online in bulk for about $0.25 each - you could even have your logo added for some added marketing pizazz, or get a local business to donate them, with their logo.
- The important thing, enlist some creative type to make the one-page certificate an empowering and motivational educational piece that has the positive benefits of swimming. There is research showing that swimming makes children smarter, more physically coordinated and longer-lived. But don’t forget the facts - one child drowns every minute. Make it consumer-friendly - not doom-and-gloom statistically daunting. Think about enlisting your local pediatricians or hospital to support your program - they want to fight childhood drowning as well, not to mention obesity and other health issues that swimming addresses. In fact, enlisting community groups - hospitals, businesses, LIon’s Club, or Rotary Club to subsidize the free classes might also be an option.
What about community facilities which serve a high-risk population (drowning disproportionately affects minorities in the U.S.) or where economic issues simply do not allow a long course of swim lessons? Think about adding a water survival class to your program - and offer that class on the certificate. Water survival is not swimming - it’s learning how to not drown. It can be taught in 3 to 8 hours.
I’ve learned of a number of excellent programs - no need to recreate the wheel. If you are interested, please contact me at RebeccaWearRobinson.com and I’ll refer you to the appropriate resource. Again, once children are in the water and feel comfortable, that may translate to a more regular client for traditional lessons.
Finally, work with the media and other organizations within your community to raise awareness about the benefits of learning about water safety and swimming and promote your initiatives. The higher the level of the awareness, the greater your client base will grow and the more great programs you can offer!