Ever heard of Goldfish Swim School? I hadn’t until about two years ago, when I started noticing billboards, bus ads, and more for the two locations open in our area. Goldfish Swim School is a disruptive innovation in the area of children’s swim lessons. Now, organizations like YMCAs, Jewish Community Centers (JCC), and county recreational departments have been offering swim lessons for decades. [Fun fact: your humble blogger was a JCC swim instructor during my undergraduate years]. The basic concept is that the organization offers children’s swim lessons at a set interval, during a specific time of the year, in a facility designed for adults. Parents register in advance, pick from the times/days offered, and then show up.
Okay, so what could possibly be new or innovative in this market space? Goldfish Swim Schools differentiate themselves as operating from a parent’s perspective, “created by parents, for parents.” Concretely this means a facility that’s highly appealing for children and parents, “90 degree, shiver-free pools.” It also means the idea of perpetual lessons.
What are “Perpetual Lessons”?
Goldfish Swim School’s unique Perpetual Lessons model is the perfect solution for parents looking to balance a desire to keep their kids’ swim skills sharp with a busy schedule. Unlike typical swim lessons that lock you into a set day and time for a predetermined session, Goldfish Swim School lets you choose a lesson time that fits your family’s schedule. Then, if (okay, when) your schedule changes, just let us know and we’ll switch you to a different day or time. It’s that easy and convenient. There’s no wasted time or money and, most important, your child’s development stays on track with no interruptions.
Goldfish Swim Schools also offer “Family Swim” nights, where children taking lessons are encouraged to come with parents, to swim together in a fun, relaxed way. Because Goldfish Swim Schools focus specifically on children’s lessons (and families) they do not need to be co-located with a full adult lap pool or fitness center. The branches near me are both located in strip malls. There’s a cost savings for this company by maintaining comparatively lower facility costs.
Goldfish Swim Schools have been relatively successful (growth from 2,000 to 70,000 students in first decade), growing by a) enticing new families to take swim lessons, those who never fit into the traditional model, and/or b) pulling away families that previously took traditionally-scheduled lessons at larger pool facilities.
Children’s Ministry Connections
For me one of the most intriguing innovations from Goldfish Swim School is the demonstration that there are parents who prefer or need the schedule options Goldfish offers. The vast majority of parish catechesis for children is scheduled in a way that matches Goldfish’s competitors, “lock[ing] you into a set day and time for a predetermined session,” typically the academic school year. When we think of SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunity, and Threats) for catechetical programs, I wonder if the “perpetual lesson” coupled with “family nights” concept from Goldfish is an opportunity to bring more families in touch with catechesis and family prayer in our parishes.
Another “opportunity” may be Goldfish’s example of “family swim nights.” How many of our parish catechetical programs teach children, but do not offer space, family-friendly spaces for parents to pray, listen, and learn from the Holy Spirit together. Offering a comfortable and encouraging place to do this could be just the right springboard a family might need to become comfortable talking about their walk with the Lord and praying together at home.
Should Goldfish Swim Schools be copied? No. There’s no one-size-fits-all or silver bullet when it comes to scheduling. But, their innovation can help spur us to think outside the box and in more family-friendly directions when it comes to making participation in children’s ministry or catechesis more appealing to more families. A local (to my home Diocese of Lansing) example is St. Gerard Catholic Church’s “Base Camp” schedule that offers families a summer or Sunday “Camp” for catechesis. What other innovative or creative strategies have you seen in scheduling and facilities to make catechesis more “family friendly”?