After his Masters club disbanded in August 2022, Chris McGiffin decided to start a new club so he and his teammates could keep swimming.
The past 17 months, as you’d expect, have been a challenge.
McGiffin coaches two of his club’s four workouts each week, meaning he can only swim twice a week. (Another volunteer coach handles the other two workouts.) There’s also the endless work of marketing the club to find new members and starting events.
“I wish there was a fairy godmother or someone with a bunch of lottery winnings to come fund the program, to staff a full-time coach, so that I could be in the water,” he says with a laugh before adding: “That’s selfish, I know.”
Because he didn’t know how to run a club, McGiffin reached out to the National Office last year for help through its Club Development Grant Program, which provides consultation, coach recruitment and education, marketing, and grants to help clubs add more workouts and members.
He credits the advice and assistance he received from Bill Brenner, USMS’s senior director of club and coach development, for helping, as well as the marketing support his club, Jersey Aquatic Center Masters, received through USMS’s Try Masters Swimming program. (Try Masters Swimming allows prospective members to try at least two free workouts with participating clubs and will be in January and August in 2024.)
As part of his plan to help his club grow, McGiffin also looked for opportunities to host events at his club’s pool, which he describes as one of the best in New Jersey. The pool was the one used at the 2004 U.S. Olympic Trials.
McGiffin enlisted Brenner to lead a coach development weekend that included certification courses and a stroke clinic. He also asked Somerset County YMCA Masters member Ed Tsuzuki for help running a meet in June, the first Masters meet at the facility ever.
“We’re just trying to get word out that the facility is open for business and that we want Masters [swimmers] to feel welcome at the facility,” McGiffin says. “We want them to come by, drop in, and try us out.”
Jersey Aquatic Center Masters has slightly more than 110 members, a majority of whom came from the disbanded club, Berkeley Aquatic Masters. But McGiffin realizes there’s more work to be done in his labor of love of building his club.
“I feel good about where the program is,” McGiffin says, “but I feel like to evolve to the next level, we’re going to need to grow the program, market the program, and try to staff the program with a full-time coach who can really give it the time and attention it needs.”