Each year as high schools enter a new school year and a new swimming season approaches, there are many overlying issues which can have an infl uence on the weeks and months ahead on the competitive aquatic program. These issues may vary in many ways and can differ from school to school. For example, if a team has graduated the previous year a strong senior class which is replaced by younger, more inexperienced talent, the program might have to go through a “rebuilding stage.” A team’s quality can be hurt by a member from a previous year who moves to another district, or a team can be enhanced by a new swimmer who has just moved into the specifi c district. The hiring of a new coach or assistant coach can send a team in a different direction, or facility issues (renovation of a current facility, opening of a new facility, or the breakdown of a part of an older facility) as well can change the landscape of an upcoming competitive swimming season.
As all Americans have noticed over the past eighteen months, and especially during 2009, the economy has been on a rollercoaster ride that has infl uenced one and all in every imaginable way. Gas prices, the recession and rising unemployment have all been issues that are reported on daily on the airwaves. Unfortunately, as the 2009-2010 season approaches, the economy will have direct, indirect and an overlying infl uence on high school competitive swimming. It is the objective of this presentation to discuss a few of these issues to make coaches aware of what is ahead for the upcoming competitive scholastic season.
Memories from the Author’s Past
Three examples from days gone by can provide a vision as to what I am attempting to illustrate. As a freshman on a high school team in the mid-1970’s, I can still remember when the father of one our senior team captains became unemployed. The father was a dedicated parent and the diving coach for our school district’s age group springboard diving program. The senior captain, in addition to being the best swimmer on the team, served as both a strong team leader and role model. Unfortunately for this fi ne young man, this aspect of his father’s unemployment was an issue that saddened many of us on his behalf.
A couple of years later, a close friend of mine who also was a swimmer on our high school team ran into a similar situation, His father, who was employed less than one-half mile from the family home, worked for a company that was moving to a new location, over sixty minutes away. I can still remember the torment this individual went through, because the father didn’t want to “make the move” with the company, and did not want to deal with the two-plus hour round-trip commute to the new location. Eventually my teammate’s father secured a new job and all ended well, but the family suffered through six months of fear and worry which was parental employment-centered.
The third example was more visual to the larger population. During the early 1980’s, during the fi rst term of President Ronald Reagan, the country was mired in a deep economic recession. During in late 1982-early 1983 time period, the unemployment rate topped 10% “Economic Infl uences on High School Competitive Swim Teams for 2009-2010: Coaches Beware!” By: Jonathan B. (J.B.) Smith, Ed.D. Associate Professor, Indiana University of PA nationwide. At the time as a recent college graduate, working in a western Ohio YMCA Program Director/ Coach position, the impact of the economy was prevalent to me as both a provider of community programs and as a coach. In each of these three examples, employment of adults (or lack thereof) had signifi cant infl uence on competitive swimmer and swimmers, both directly and indirectly.
The issues associated with unemployment of the parent of a swimmer can be seen in both direct and indirect ways, and as with all issues that confronts a coach, it’s something a coach should realize and may have to address.
Today’s Unemployment Rate Realities
First and foremost for all swimming coaches is that fact that right now, there are more people who are unemployed than ever before, and the rate of unemployment is at a percentage that has not been seen for nearly thirty years. The fi rst Friday of each month (when nationwide unemployment statistics are announced) in 2009 the national unemployment rate has been the lead story on all major news outlets. During the fi rst half of 2009, each month across the country at least 500,000 citizens lost their jobs nationwide. Over the past ten months, since the start of the 2008-2009 competitive high school swimming season late last fall, in excess of three million people nationwide have joined the ranks of the unemployed. Some of those people are parents of your swimmers, and more coaches will be potentially faced with this issue during the upcoming season more than ever before.
The issues associated with unemployment of the parent of a swimmer can be seen in both direct and indirect ways, and as with all issues that confronts a coach, it’s something a coach should realize and may have to address.Loss of employment by a parent creates a dark cloud over the family home which, and based on the signifi cant hours a swimmer spends with his/her team, can be an issue with swimmers that can morph outward. Whether it is noticing a non-optimal emotional state of an athlete, or actually seeing a diminished physical performance due to the affecting circumstances, a parent’s job situation or potential unemployment can be a real issue that a coach must deal with throughout a season. If there was ever a season this may become an issue, it very well could be in 2009-2010.
The direct relationship between unemployment and fi nancial impact are obvious and do not need to be stated. Financial impact on today’s high school athlete goes far beyond unemployment issues. School budgets are continually stretched to the breaking point, and the cost of running a swim team will never be reduced or disappear simply because of “budget constraints.” In fact, the cost must be covered in some other way, whether it is creative fundraising of booster organizations, participation fees, or simply passing the cost on to the parent. Whether it’s “pay to play” (fees instituted to participate on an athletic team), going to fewer meets, or not purchasing new/better team attire (to name a few), coaches should be prepared to deal with fi nancial issues associated with the operation of their high school swim team like never before during the 2009-2010 season.
Of course, let’s not forget that one word, the newest, and biggest financial issue facing the competitive swimming community which has exploded on the scene over the past year: SUITS! With enhanced technology has come improved suits, which is always accompanied by the cost. Two years ago, the $500 suit was not an issue; the product had yet to hit the market. This past year’s “newest invention” has let to what I like to refer as “the $2,000 relay.” I say that because, at $500 per swimmer, if each swimmer on a specifi c relay is wearing a high-tech suit, the relay has a $2,000 investment working for them. If not equipped with the highest quality of suit, the swimmers in the next lane are at a disadvantage because they are not wearing the same quality of swimwear as the relay teams which choose to bite the bullet and purchase the latest and greatest suit.
This is not the 1970’s when teams would wear a $10 nylon suit for a dual meet season and come out wearing a $20 lycra/spandex suit for a big meet. These suits are a major investment and few, if any school districts can bear the cost. So it now goes back to the individual swimmers’ family to make the purchase. At what point, is the cost too much? Again, another economic influence on a team, and this issue of suits can be huge. Of course, the specific guidelines of what is and is not acceptable have yet to be specifically determined by the NFSHAA for 2009-2010, but costly suits are an economic issue which is now part of a swim teams’ season, regardless of how the specific guidelines and rules which are implemented in the weeks ahead.
With the start of each new school year brings a new year of activities, hopes, expectations and excitement. The commencement of a competitive swimming season can bring with it an abundance (or maybe even an overabundance) of dreams which can be envisioned by both coaches and swimmers alike. Each year, due to an unlimited number of potential reasons which can be varied in range, scope and degree may have influence on both the progression and possibly even the outcome of a specific competitive season. Unfortunately, as everyone looks at the 2009- 2010 competitive season, both money and our nation’s economy each have a distinct possibility to provide a profound influence on the upcoming high school season.
It has not been the goal of this article to strike fear into the heart of the reader, but simply point out that this year that fiscal, monetary and financial issues may influence competitive high school swimming as has never been seen before, or at least over the past quarter-century. It is the job of coaches, athletic directors, school administrators and parents to all be aware of these listed elements so as to minimize the difficulty and maximize the experience for all high school athletes, not just competitive swimmers.