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Why Does My Child Have To Register With USAS or the AAU?

Little fees can get annoying. A little while back, I laughed when I saw a T Mobile commercial that cleverly demonstrated how most cell companies hit you so many added fees through the use of a little girl's lemonade stand. It was cute and effective. I have embedded the video saw you can get a good laugh today:

 

One of my goals when I took over Blue Wave was to make the program as family friendly as possible. Swimming has been so good to myself and my family. I want as many people in our community as possible to reap the lifelong benefits of being involved in the sport. I know, for many, cost is a major consideration. That leads me to why we have chosen to have a two (2) track athlete registration option for our swimmers. One through United States Swimming (USAS) and the other through American Swimming and the Amateur Athletic Union (AAU).

USAS is the national governing body of our sport. USAS fields the teams that represent our country internationally, such as at the World Championships and the Olympics. There are other international events, but it is beyond the scope of this article to list them all. In addition to sending athletes to represent the US abroad, USAS supports the development of competitive swimming through Local Swim Committees (LSCs) and other programs offered at the USAS headquarters in Colorado Springs.

Our local LSC is Florida Swimming. We can only register for USAS membership through Florida Swimming. Florida Swimming sanctions most of the meets our swimmers attend. When a swimmer attends a Florida Swimming / USAS sanctioned meet, their times go into the TIMES database. The TIMES database is used to enter local, regional and national level meets. The Florida Age Group Championships (FLAGS) is a good example of a local championship meet. There are also Sectional, Futures, Junior National, National and USA Selection meets. A swimmer must have made the time standard in a USAS sanctioned meet to qualify for any of the events mentioned above.

Supporting the educational and competitive scope of USAS swimming is expensive. The irony of swimming, as a club or governing body, is the more successful you become, the more expensive it gets. When Blue Wave qualifies swimmers for national, we all celebrate. The truth is, as a club, we spend thousands on airfare, hotels ground transportation, food...you get the idea. We do not pass on these expenses to the families of the swimmers who qualify. We want as many people as possible to compete and represent our club at this level.

USAS is one of the most successful National Governing Bodies in all of sport. When you think about all of the success we have enjoyed in our sport, it’s amazing. Supporting that amount of success is expensive. Over the past few years, the cost of becoming a USAS member has risen. It is currently $77 a year to become USAS registered. When you think of everything USAS does throughout the course of a year, it’s not an unheard of price tag. That said, a entry level family with two or three children looking to join a swim team may be priced out before they ever step onto the pool deck.

But my child is new to the sport and can barely to all four strokes? Why do I have to become a member of USAS? Good question. For years, there were two reasons. Insurance and meet participation.

USAS guidelines do not permit non USAS members to train with USAS members. It voids the insurance policy in place for the swimmers and the club. There is a small tryout period to allow families to get situated and registered, but after that everyone in that training group must be USAS registered through their local LSC.

Most swim meets are sanctioned through the local LSC and USAS. In order to enter a swimmer into those meets they need a USAS ID number, which is provided when the athlete registers through their LSC. No number, no meet. Since most meets are USAS sanctioned, families simply paid the money and registered.

To recap, it’s $77 to join USAS. Most club, including ours, have a registration fee when a swimmer joins the program. That fee offsets the cost of registering the club with the governing swim organizations, coach and official education, certification and registration, etc. In our case, it is $65 a year. That is $142 before programming fee for each new swimmer.

I know, all too well, that swimming is the most cost effective athletic activity available to children. When you consider the amount of time offered, especially as the child matures in the sport, we pale in comparison the volleyball, tennis, soccer, etc. But I mentioned earlier that i wanted to make Blue Wave as family friendly as possible. If there were a way I could make it even more affordable, I would.

Enter AAU.

AAU was the National Governing Body for all US Sports until the late 1970s. Congress passed an act that made each sport its own entity with the ability to field teams to represent the country. The thought process was to give each sport the opportunity to do what was best for their respective athletes. This gave birth to what we today call USA Swimming. The AAU did not dissolve, its focus changed to recreational sports. Today, the AAU is the largest amateur sports organization with over 700,000 participants and 150,000 volunteers in a wide range of sports.

I swam AAU as an age grouper. When the switch was made from AAU to what is today called USAS, I can’t recall a single club that did not drop AAU and go with the new organization. I went decades without even thinking about AAU when it came to swimming. My goal was to win championships with USAS.

After many years on deck, and heading a household, my perspective changed. I didn’t just see swimming as a competitive outlet, in which I could build a team and dominate, I saw it as a vehicle to better children and families within communities. I still want to win, never doubt that. But now, I see the bigger picture. I also understand that a couple of hundred dollars here and there can have an real impact of a family’s monthly budget. I wanted to develop ways to expand the sport and retain as many people as possible.

The AAU offers the same insurance protection as USAS, but at a lower cost. AAU does not have all of the responsibilities and layers of governance that USAS now has so their costs are lower. But for me, it was not just the cost of membership that deterred people from joining or staying in the sport, it was the cost and time commitments at swim meets that pushed families away.

Let’s do some math.

A typical two and a half day USAS sanctioned meet is structured the following way. The swimmer competes in two events of Friday and then three or four on both Saturday and Sunday. If it is a timed final event, the session, including warm up, should last under six hours. Sometimes the sessions last longer for a wide variety of reasons. If it is a preliminary / finals meet, swimmers who qualify for finals earn the privilege to come back and compete in an evening session that last around three hours.

The cost of each swim event will rise sixty five cents beginning 2018. For a timed final (one session per day), the individual event fee is usually $4.65. For ten events, that will cost $46.50 in event fees. Add the cost of facility fees, coaching fees, heat sheet fees and you are just under $100 to swim in a tradition timed finals event. Prelims / finals meet can add another $20 or so to the price tag. Travel meets can up the ante even more. Hotel, travel, food, etc. all bring the cost up considerably.

I know I am preaching to the choir and stating the obvious here. Raising children is not cheap. And again, the costs associated with swimming are some of the lowest in youth sports. I wouldn’t go back and take away a single meet or time together with the family at swim meets for anything. But I knew there had to be another option; one that allowed us to continue to offer a great experience for our families, without killing them at never-ending, expensive swim meets.

Did you know that basketball has the highest participation rate of all youth sports in our country? Basketball has even recently taken over hockey as the most popular youth sport in Canada! A Canadian study showed that the reason for this trend is its accessibility, They state that,  “basketball is a sport that is easy and inexpensive to play and, it is a safe sport”. I also feel that it is the length of the games, usually forty five minutes, that also helps its popularity. Wouldn’t you like to go to a forty five minute swim meet?

A few years back I met with the people who run the AAU. I thought we could find a way to work together and create fun, fast and family friendly events, especially at the grassroots level. I was put on the AAU’s  National Executive Committee and sought ways to meet the goals stated above.

One of the problems was running swim meets was expensive for the host team. Much of the event fees goes back to the LSC for the right to host a sanctioned event. Timing equipment, pads, scoreboards, etc., or also pricey. Add to that getting enough officials and timers and you can begin to see why running traditional meets is no picnic. So, why not try and run non traditional meets? That is why we formed a new organization called, “American Swimming”.

American Swimming uses the structure of the AAU so we have insurance and the ability to host AAU sanctioned events, but it also allows use to run meets in new and exciting ways. Our Instructional meets are a perfect example of how we are using ideas generated through American Swimming to help our members.

Our once or twice monthly Instructional meets meet all of the objectives talked about above. They are fun, fast, and at $10 a meet, about as family friendly as you can get budget-wise. I love the fact that we use non traditional timings systems, through Meet Central, so we can track the swimmers’ progress over time in the cloud. We are relaxed in terms of disqualifications, but it is perfectly appropriate for that level of swimming.

As we continue to grow, we will expand our offerings through American Swimming and the AAU. I plan to address the situation involving newer, older swimmers and competitions. No teenager who just joined a sport wants to go to a meet and get killed by a ten year old who has been swimming for four (4) years.  We are also working to offer Charter and Independent School offerings, virtual meets and other unique events to keep our kids excited and keep our family’s sane.

 

The $29 yearly membership fee we charge for AAU & American Swimming covers registration for membership and the $5.00 yearly fee for inclusion in our own online swim result database. It also allows the swimmers to participate in some pretty fun AAU national events, such as the Junior Olympics.  It’s nearly $50 less expensive per child to join and is the right choice for those who are new to the sport. As the swimmer progresses, we encourage them to join USAS. We feel that this path is beneficial for the swimmer, their families and the program as a whole.

It’s more than time that we make these changes. Our sport, and our children, will be better off for it.

If you made it this far, congratulations. You now have a postgraduate degree in the history of the sport. I know that I have a tendency to over explain, but I also want to ensure that our members know the whys of what we do. Champion athletes are different. Championship organizations are different too. Always know that we are hard at work trying to better the experience for everyone on our club.

See you at the pool - Rich