USA Swimming sent a message to its member clubs on Wednesday that caused a stir amid ongoing issues with registering members in the new SWIMS 3.0 database.
On September 1st, 2022, USA Swimming launched SWIMS 3.0, a new online database designed to streamline management processes for clubs, swimmers, families and LSCs. This meant signing up and renewing memberships was moved entirely online.
In the nearly six months since the initial rollout, there have been numerous issues, including technical glitches for coaches and parents and certain time databases not working.
The technical issues came to light again this week when USA Swimming sent a blanket email to clubs stating that if they have non-registered participants, their practices and workouts outside of the pool are not insured by USA Swimming.
USA Swimming Embassy:
Did you know? Your USA swim insurance will NOT cover your practice, including in and out of water activities, if you have an unregistered individual competitor with your registered swimmers. Even if an individual has not renewed their membership with USA Swimming for 2023, your entire practice is not covered.
This insurance policy is not new and has always been in force, but the reminder created frustrations among coaches and clubs over the challenges of registering their members. Prior to September 1, clubs and LSCs registered athletes with USA Swimming memberships. It is now up to parents and families to register directly with the national governing body. News of the insurance served as a lightning rod for coaches online to express their frustration at the ongoing struggle with the new process and what it means to their team memberships.
USA Swimming Executive Director of Sports Development Joel Shinofield said the registration path change was mainly for compliance reasons as it allows them to communicate directly with the membership.
For example, when a swimmer joins a club and membership is managed through the club, the club uploads the information to the LSC and sends it to USA Swimming. But if certain information needs to be updated at some point (such as an email address), parents can update that information. Under the previous system, information had to be passed from clubs to LSCs on USA Swimming and there was no easy way for those parents to update that information with the national governing body. Now that each athlete is registered directly, they can go in and manage their own contact information with the governing body.
This is crucial when it comes to things like reaching out to athletes approaching the age of 18, which comes with new SafeSport training requirements.
By providing more direct access to parents for SafeSport education, USA Swimming also hopes to reduce abuse. He pointed out other benefits, such as For example, the ability to send parents validated nutritional information instead of having kids research that information on YouTube.
He said the change will be more expensive for the organization as they now absorb transaction costs previously borne by clubs and LSCs.
While Shinofield didn’t say so, his organization has parallel financial motivations for registering members as clubs and coaches: In 2021, approximately 50% of the organization’s revenue came from membership dues, as well as other indirect income from the size of its membership.
Shinofield also says the move reduces bureaucracy and allows USA Swimming to implement opt-out SafeSport educational programs, rather than opt-in. He said the change would be implemented in “every sport”.
He notes that the first year of a transition will always have its difficulties and that there will be new iterations and improvements.
Nonetheless, there seems to be a certain transitional fatigue among coaches after months of grappling with the pain of transition.
Many coaches have been open about the difficulties they or their parents have had in navigating the SWIMS 3.0 membership process.
“USA Swimming creates a terrible mess with registrations that leads to teams being unable to register their swimmers and forcing us to spend months chasing parents to do so,” said one coach. “And now this email (refers to the message above). So what now? It seems you need to kick people out who have paid their tuition but don’t need to complete registration. What a great predicament to put teams in this situation.”
Another coach said: “USA Swimming dropped the ball at registration. I’m not sure what they expect from the families, but getting everyone registered has made things incredibly difficult. Why was it changed? It was not for the good of the clubs they govern. I would say they made their decision with very little thought for US swim clubs.”
One of the coaches added that clubs are not financially able to turn away swimmers in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, but it appears “that’s what USA Swimming has forced on teams” who are struggling to recover .
“It’s almost like our NGB wants teams to fail,” they said.
A third trainer mentioned that the registration process is fairly straightforward for some, but less “technical” parents “were practically in tears and spent hours in a loop that was difficult to break out of.”
“It’s nice that parents are registering their children right away, but we’re definitely chasing a number of parents and even arranging calls and meetings to help them get through,” they said.
“I wonder how much USA Swimming really kicked the hoops and tested before proceeding with this method.”
The American Swimming Coaches Association (ASCA) issued the following statement to SwimSwam regarding USA Swimming’s embassy, saying it was “outdated” and “tone deaf.”
“Today’s announcement by USA Swimming regarding insurance liability was ill-timed and poorly communicated. With all the issues coaches and clubs are having implementing SWMS 3.0, sending a message with a threatening tone and not acknowledging the frustration it causes is nothing short of deaf. USA Swimming needs to support the many clubs that are still struggling to register swimmers and also communicate the steps they are taking to address the issues that SWMS 3.0 has caused. The issues with liability insurance have numerous ramifications for teams that should have been discussed and addressed months ago. The constant surfacing of barriers for coaches and clubs is detrimental to the growth of our sport. We challenge USA Swimming to work with ASCA to find solutions that reflect the needs and ideas of our frontline coaches and all of the community swimmers.”
USA Swimming has recently been working on the bugs, including TeamUnify in their offices for a few days, and says they will host webinars for any team whose parents are struggling.
Shinofield says the organization proactively identified clubs that had reduced their membership this year, asked if they were having trouble getting parents to complete the new registration, and reached out to them. He acknowledged that they had not approached clubs that were seeing membership growth. So if these clubs also had parents who were having trouble registering, they would not have been proactively contacted. But he encouraged any club whose parents were struggling to get in touch with the team services department.
There are currently eight leaders for each 6-8 LSCs that members can turn to if they have difficulties. You can find their information here on the Team Services page. You can also contact us Brendan Hansen, who is the head of team services. Shinofield said that these types of issues are best resolved by the Team Services group rather than filing a technical ticket because the software is working properly in this case, but the need may be end-user support rather than a specific technical upgrade.
He also said the organization has expanded its Team Services group to help with such issues.
Shinofield was willing to admit that he would have done some things differently had he known what he knows now. One thing they learned through this process is that many parents didn’t know they were members of USA Swimming.
Part of the new membership process involved changing all member IDs — which Shinofield said had to be done because the old IDs contained personally identifiable information like names and birthdays that was becoming widely available. When the parents wanted to register their athletes, they were asked if the old ID card was their ID card and because they didn’t know they were registered, they said it wasn’t.
This created duplicate IDs in the system. In hindsight, he says he would have achieved one by one — if parents had registered athletes directly with USA Swimming and then at some point changed everyone’s legacy member ID from the one with personal information.
Shinofield pointed out that since September, when the new system was introduced, over 300,000 people had successfully registered their membership.
While USA Swimming says it’s not about financial gain, both ASCA and USA Swimming are ultimately organizations in need of revenue. In 2023, a large email database is financially beneficial for USA Swimming and its sponsors, especially at a large interest group like swimming in United States. For the same reason, ASCA makes a large chunk of its money from educational programs, which USA Swimming could try and beat if they have direct access to full USA Swimming membership.
USA Swimming has also made a concerted effort in recent years to expand its SafeSport training requirements to reduce the number of abuse cases, which in turn reduces its liability. Direct access to membership can expand SafeSport’s educational efforts, although many coaches have expressed concern about the number of educational programs that USA Swimming now requires as well.
The launch of the new software has further fueled tensions between coaches and the national governing body for the sport in America. USA Swimming had severe technological deficiencies that needed to be addressed, but this introduction has created fissures in the sport. A coaches’ association (ASCA) stronger and more organized than it has been in years is pushing hard for its membership, which has given coaches a stronger voice in this conversation.