When you walk into a Big Blue Swim School, you’ll immediately notice a well-lit and welcoming environment filled with swimming engagement specialists busy empowering children in the water beyond safety to a mindset of achievement. This mission has been well established by the company’s leaders who are focused on continuously innovating their team, method and technology to live out its mission on a daily basis. And now, the newly franchised swim-class company has set out a plan to bring this experience to families across the U.S.
Not only does Big Blue Swim School achieve results better and faster than any competitor in the space, but it also keeps the parent’s schedules in mind by providing a flexible class structure model, made possible in large part by its massive, 13-lane swimming pools.
“Parents are so busy, and it’s not practical for them to organize their lives around a rigid schedule of swim classes,” said Chris DeJong, Big Blue Swim School’s co-founder and CMO. “By building bigger pools, we’ve been able to offer far more class times and accommodate more families with children in different levels than traditional facilities.”
DeJong, who co-founded Big Blue Swim School with John Lonergan after narrowly missing the qualification time for the 2008 Olympic swim team (coming in behind Michael Phelps), helped design a curriculum that, like Big Blue’s facilities, bucks tradition in favor of innovation. Big Blue Swim School’s distance-based curriculum focuses on four points of execution -- explain, demonstrate, mimic and correct -- that allow the child engagement specialists that teach the classes to measure students’ progress in the ways that actually matter, and more quickly achieve better results.
“Most people of my generation, myself included, hated learning to swim,” he said. “We really learned from our experiences, and we set out to fix that. We took our high-level knowledge and boiled all of that down to a digestible curriculum that helps students learn faster, and unlike other concepts, we don’t evaluate our students by age. We evaluate their progress based on the distances they are able to swim, which really shows how well they are able to swim. Parents appreciate this results-based approach because it’s clear that it quickly helps keep their children safe in and around water.”
In addition to its proprietary curriculum, Big Blue has also set itself apart from swim-school competitors by emphasizing technology, specifically a proprietary software called Lesson Buddy that is run on iPads that instructors use to track the progress of each of their students, and that parents use to view progress reports and schedule classes.
“We’re able to track progress much more efficiently than our competitors,” DeJong said. “That allows us to customize our training and make sure that every student is getting the attention they need in the right areas.”
DeJong says that approach was developed in an effort to modernize swim classes, filling a gap in the industry that had been growing for years.
“Many people over the age of 30 learned to swim in a sub-optimal environment,” he said. “When we started giving lessons, we looked into the park district and YMCA lessons, as well as private lessons, and we saw a gap that we decided we could fill. No one was really approaching teaching kids how to swim properly, and we set out to fix that.”
DeJong says teaching kids ignited a new passion in him.
“I started teaching lessons after my professional swimming career ended, and I rediscovered a love of swimming after seeing kids make that magical transformation from being afraid of even looking at a pool to going underwater and conquering that fear,” he said. “When a child makes that leap and feels that pride of facing their fear, that translates not just into a more confident swimmer but also a more confident child.”
Big Blue’s massive pools and flexible scheduling make it easy for customers to sign up, and the innovative lessons make the classes highly effective, but it’s any number of other little details that DeJong says keeps students delighted throughout each session at Big Blue.
“Every corner of the operation has been designed to make people happy,” he said. “The water in the pool is always warm, at 91 degrees, with air temperature slightly higher than that. We’ve got organic lollipops that kids go crazy for. We have beautiful dressing rooms with high-end hair dryers — it all makes for a place kids and parents are excited to return to.”
That’s not just a theory. Ever since DeJong and Lonergan opened the first Big Blue Swim School in 2009, the business has rapidly taken on a bigger and bigger customer base. The franchise now has four facilities in the Chicago suburbs, with plans to open a fifth in March 2019 in Chicago proper, and DeJong says each of them is regularly packed with students.
“There is nothing like walking into one of our schools and seeing it absolutely bustling,” he said. “13 lanes, all full; people on decks; lifeguards with eyes on every corner of the pool; instructors walking around with iPads. It’s an exciting thing to see.”