USA Swimming sent a message to its member clubs on Wednesday that has caused a stir in light of ongoing issues with membership signup in the new SWIMS 3.0 database.
On Sept. 1, 2022, USA Swimming launched SWIMS 3.0, a new online database designed to streamline administrative processes for clubs, swimmers, families, and LSCs. This meant that membership sign-ups and renewals had been moved entirely online.
There have been numerous issues in the nearly six months since the initial rollout, including technical glitches for coaches and parents, and certain time databases not working.
The technical issues came to light once again this week as USA Swimming sent a blanket email to clubs saying that their practices and out-of-pool workouts are not insured by USA Swimming if they have any non-registered participants.
USA Swimming’s Message:
Did you know? Your USA Swimming insurance does NOT cover your practices, including activities in and out of the water, if you have a non-registered individual participant with your registered swimmers. Even if one individual has failed to renew their 2023 USA Swimming membership, your entire practice is uninsured.
This insurance policy is not new and has always been in place, but the reminder ratcheted up frustrations with coaches and clubs over challenges in getting their members registered. Prior to September 1, clubs and LSCs registered athletes with USA Swimming memberships. Now, the onus is on the parents and families to directly register with the national governing body. The message about insurance served as a lightning rod online for coaches to express frustration over the ongoing struggle with the new procedure and what it meant for their team memberships.
USA Swimming Managing Director of Sport Development Joel Shinofield said that the change in registration pathway was done primarily for compliance reasons, as it allows them to communicate directly with membership.
For example, if a swimmer joins a club and the membership goes through the club, the club uploads the information to the LSC and sends it to USA Swimming. But if certain information needs updating at some point (such as an email address), parents would be able to update that information. Under the previous system, information had to be passed from clubs to LSCs to USA Swimming, and there wasn’t an easy path for those parents to update that information with the national governing body. Now that each athlete is directly registered, they can go in and manage their own contact information with the governing body.
This is crucial when it comes to things like contacting athletes who are about to turn 18, which comes with new SafeSport training requirements.
With more direct access to parents for the purpose of SafeSport education, USA Swimming also hopes to reduce the number of abuse cases. He pointed to other benefits, such as being able to send parents validated nutritional information, rather than letting kids research that information on YouTube.
He said the change will be more expensive for the organization, as they now take on transaction costs that were previously borne by clubs and LSCs.
While Shinofield did not say this, his organization has parallel financial motivations to get members registered as clubs and coaches: in 2021, about 50% of the organization’s revenue came from membership dues, plus other indirect revenues earned from the size of its membership.
Shinofield also says the move reduces bureaucracy and allows USA Swimming to implement opt-out SafeSport education programs rather than opt-in. He said that the change being implemented in “every sport.”
He notes that year one of any transition will always have its difficulties and that there will be new iterations and improvements forthcoming.
Nevertheless, there seems to be some transition-fatigue among coaches after months of dealing with the pain of the changeover.
Many coaches have been outspoken about the difficulties they’ve had, or parents have had, in navigating the membership process on SWIMS 3.0.
“USA Swimming creates a horrible tangled mess with registrations that has teams unable to register their swimmers and forces us to spend months chasing parents to do so,” one coach said. “And now this email (referring to the above message). So what now? It seems you have to kick off people who paid your tuition but didn’t complete the registration. What a great predicament to put teams in.”
Another coach said: “USA Swimming has dropped the ball on registration. I’m not sure what they want the families to do but it has made things incredibly difficult to get everyone registered. Why was it changed? It was not for the benefit of the clubs they govern. I would say that they made their decision with very little thought for USA Swimming clubs.”
One of the coaches added that clubs aren’t in the position financially to turn away swimmers coming out of the COVID-19 pandemic, but it seems “to be what USA Swimming has forced on teams” that are struggling to recover.
“It’s almost as if our NGB wants teams to fail,” they said.
A third coach mentioned that the registration process is fairly straightforward to some, but less “tech-savvy” parents have “practically been in tears and spent hours in a loop that they struggled to get out of.”
“The instantaneous nature of parents getting their kids registered is nice but we are definitely chasing a number of parents down and even setting up calls and meetings to help walk them through,” they said.
“I’m wondering how much USA Swimming really kicked the tires and tested before moving forward with this method.”
The American Swimming Coaches Association (ASCA) offered the following statement to SwimSwam on USA Swimming’s message, saying that it was “ill-timed” and “tone deaf.”
“The announcement today by USA Swimming regarding insurance liability was ill-timed and poorly communicated. With all the issues coaches and clubs are experiencing implementing SWMS 3.0, to send a message with a threatening tone and no acknowledgment of the frustration it causes is nothing short of tone deaf. USA Swimming needs to provide support for the many clubs that are still struggling to get swimmers registered, and also communicate the steps it is taking to fix the problems SWMS 3.0 created. The issues with the liability insurance have numerous consequences for teams that should have been discussed and addressed months ago. The constant appearance of barriers for coaches and clubs is detrimental to the growth of our sport. We urge USA Swimming to work collaboratively with ASCA to find solutions that reflect the needs and ideas of our frontline coaches and all the grassroots participants in the sport of swimming.”
USA Swimming has been working through the bugs recently, including having TeamUnify in their offices for a few days, and says that they will host webinars for any team that has parents who are struggling.
Shinofield says that the organization proactively identified clubs that had reduced membership this year and reached out to see if they were having difficulties getting parents to complete the new registration and reached out to them. He acknowledged that they didn’t reach out to clubs that saw increases in membership, so if those clubs also had parents who were having trouble registering, they wouldn’t have been contacted proactively. But he did encourage any club with parents having trouble to make contact with the Team Services department.
There are currently eight people who are responsible for 6-8 LSCs each, who members can contact if they’re having difficulty. Their information can be found on the Team Services Page here. They can also contact Brendan Hansen, who is the Director of Team Services. Shinofield said that these kinds of issues are best solved by the Team Services group rather than submitting a technical ticket, because in this case, the software is functioning properly, but the need may be more of an end-user assistance than a specific technical upgrade .
He also said that the organization has expanded its Team Services group in order to help with these kinds of issues.
Shinofield was willing to admit that he would have done some things differently knowing what he knows now. One thing he said they learned through this process is that many parents did not know that they were USA Swimming members.
Part of the new membership process involved changing all member IDs – which Shinofield said had to be done because the old IDs included personally identifiable information like names and birthdays that became widely available. When parents went to register their athletes, they were asked if the old ID was their ID, and because they didn’t know they were registered, they said it wasn’t.
That created duplicate IDs in the system. In hindsight, he says he would have conquered one thing at a time – having parents register athletes directly with USA Swimming, and then at some determined date, changing everyone’s legacy member ID away from the one with personal information.
Shinofield pointed to the fact that since September, when the new system went into place, over 300,000 people had successfully registered their membership.
While USA Swimming says that this is not about financial gain, both ASCA and USA Swimming are, ultimately, organizations that need revenue. In 2023, having a large email database, especially in a large special-interest population like swimming in the United States, is financially beneficial for USA Swimming and its sponsors. By the same token, ASCA makes a large portion of its money from education programs, which is something that USA Swimming could try and undercut if they had direct access to the full USA Swimming membership.
USA Swimming has also made a concerted effort to expand its SafeSport training requirements in recent years in order to reduce the number of abuse cases, which in turns reduces its liability. Direct access to membership can expand SafeSport education efforts, although many coaches have expressed concern about the number of education programs USA Swimming now requires as well.
The rollout of the new software has continued to inflame tensions between coaches and the national governing body for the sport in America. USA Swimming had stark technological deficits that had to be addressed, but that rollout has led to rifts in the sport. A coaches’ association (ASCA) that is stronger and more organized than it has been for years is leaning hard in advocating for its membership, which has created a stronger voice for coaches in this conversation.