Growth of USMS

I recently sent a letter to the editor and Board of Directors about the astounding lack of growth seen in the last 10-12 years. I have my own theory about why and how to start up teh growth engine again. What follows is my letter to the BoD, which includes the letter to the editor:

Dear board members,
This email is sent to you with hope that some of you will act to reverse a terrible mistake that can still be remedied. The 2024 annual meeting has been scheduled as a virtual meeting, you already know this. The reason is unclear to anyone who has attended a convention in the past. Masters swimming is not about data or control of information, it is about relationships and networking amongst like minded people. That cannot happen in zoom meetings, it can only happen face to face. Yes, it costs money, takes time and effort. But USMS did not grow to the leader it is in adult swimming, it took years of interpersonal relationships, negotiations and face-to-face  discussions over 50 years. What this board (and possibly one or two boards before it) has done is abrogated its duty to plan and lead USMS into the future. Instead, they have seemed to let the national office control all aspects of the organization. I know not all board members or officers are on the board because they have a burning desire to serve and make USMS grow and thrive. A few, if they are honest, are only there to add to their resume. Not important, but relevant in that they will not force issues or support a minority view. Many of the bod minutes are filled with one speaker who is not even a board member. That serves no useful purpose and does not serve the members of USMS at all.
I recently sent a letter to the magazine editor about growth for USMS, something that has eluded the organization for over 10 years. Here it is:
I have tried to convince the last two EDs how USMS needs to grow, to no avail. Rob Butcher at least tried a little with his retention program, but that only spoke to people who already know about USMS. Existing clubs are resistant to growth unless they have multiple pools at which to train. Nobody wants to add a fifth to their lane for practice.
That is why I have sent a short list of pools I have found around the country to the board of directors. All of them are at least 100 miles from a USMS club, but may have a USA-S club nearby. Some already have USA-tri people in the water.
New clubs in new or unused existing facilities are the secret to actual growth. Since the beginning of professional paid staff and a national office 12 or so years back,, USMS has done two things: doubled membership dues and lost membership.
I was on two task forces (chairing one) specifically to investigate and propose alternative membership products. All of those we proposed were predicated on national unification of dues. Now that it has happened, none of those programs have been instituted. 5 year membership, lifetime membership, several others are available now that registration is in one place. "Do not make deals with yourself" is a good saying used by a former treasurer, and he was right.
The executive director position was put out with two main goals for that office: membership growth and sponsorship growth. Everything else was covered by volunteers very well..If we have 100,000 members, the sponsorships will be easy to get.
Michael Heather
Member since 1976,
former VP,
board member for 23 continuous years
If the board does not focus on actual growth, USMS will wither and fail. Not because it is not a good idea, but because it lacks leadership that cannot be found in paid staff. It can only be found in an active volunteer corps, led by a vigorous board. None of that happens virtually.
To clarify the last line of my letter to the editor, I am specifically talking about big sponsorships, Ones in which we may have but one chance to make our pitch for million dollar partnerships. But we must have over 100,000 members to get their attention. Think hard before tossing this email.
With best wishes and hope for the future,
Michael Heather
  • Hi applaud the idea of getting more masters teams in areas that have pools and USA-S teams

  • Michael you live in the inland empire. Watching the nationals in Irvine I noticed a lacked of teams in the inland empire. Places like Eastvale and some other cities now have has high as income as the LA and OC cities but there seem to be more people at the Nationals even from Colorado or South Texas than the inland empire. It seems that the LA cities sin particular have a hold on So Ca masters or something and its not spread to the inland empire. Riverside Co according to the US census gain 21,000 people and LA Co lost 90,000 mainly because LA is more expensive to live than the inland empire.

  • The inland empire is part of SPMS LMSC, and should have similar numbers of members and clubs, as any other area, but does not. Riverside is active, but that is but one area, and there are many Municipal and school pools which lay empty most of the year. The LMSC, with National help should be very interested in this large population base, but seems not to care much for anything but visiting clubs which already exist. Curious.

  • Just anecdotally, I would say that it likely has more to do with people migrating towards triathlons than anything else.  MOst of the people with whom I swim are triathletes, and triathlons treat swimming as an afterthought (i.e. 7-8% of the time is spent swimming, vs 45-55 for running and cycling).  So naturally people spend little time swimming.  And those who do don't work strokes, don't sprint, etc.  They all throw on fins/zoomers and just get through a workout.  Keep in mind that tri's are much, much newer than swimming.  ONly been in the Olympics since 88, the Ironman was conceived in the late 70's, etc.