By Mike Watkins//Contributor | Thursday, March 30, 2017
This #SwimBiz Spotlight shares leading practices from clubs to promote themselves – through social media, sponsorship, communications and marketing. Please join us for the 3rdAnnual #SwimBiz Conference on April 9-11 to learn from industry experts and other leading swim clubs.
King Marlin Swim Team Coach Kathy Mendez has a simple yet highly inclusive viewpoint about kids and swimming.
Whether or not they swim with aspirations of making a future Olympic team or to learn basic water safety, they all deserve the right and opportunity to learn – regardless of income, neighborhood, disability, ethnicity or gender.
It’s a mission she and her fellow coaches at King Marlin (formerly two separate teams, Kerr-McGee and Chesapeake) in Oklahoma City have championed for years – and one that she knows is making an impact and a difference in children’s and families’ lives.
It’s even stated in the team’s mission statement to create “a culture for fun, fast competitive swimming in an inclusive program.”
“We spend a lot of time and effort every week to reach out to kids and families from all parts of the community,” said Mendez, an Oklahoma native who embraces the rich, culturally-diverse population in the community. “We have a large Native American population that we connect with, but we don’t limit our outreach to ethnicity. Everyone deserves to know how to swim.”
Among the groups King Marlin coaches, swimmers and families work with to teach to swim are kids with disabilities and children whose parents have been incarcerated.
For the past 20 years, Mendez and her fellow coaches have offered free swim camps for kids during the week - -teaching water safety to many children who don’t have the financial means to join a club or pay for lessons.
“We’re not unique in our multicultural makeup; to some degree, every community is culturally diverse these days,” said Mendez, who is the chair of USA Swimming’s Diversity and Inclusion and Oklahoma Swimming Diversity and Inclusive committees.
“We offer 8 percent of our club members scholarships and financial assistance so children can learn to swim – which is pretty great considering our club is just three years old.”
In addition to Native Americans and children of incarcerated parents, King Marlin coaches also offer lessons to children with Down Syndrome and Asperger’s Syndrome, as well as Hispanic, Asian and African-American kids.
“We strive to be a fun, fast, inclusive program for all children who want to swim,” Mendez said. “Providing all-inclusive opportunities to swim is part of the mission of all of my coaching partners, but I’ve always believed swimming should be for everyone regardless of income, ability or other circumstances. I’ve always tried to make it my personal mission.”
Mendez cited a change in philosophy among cities and communities over the past decade or so that has contributed to fewer opportunities for certain populations to have access to swim lessons to learn about water safety.
In the 1950s, there was a national push to learn to swim with many swimming pools constructed and run by cities in all areas so anyone had access to water.
“They wanted kids in the water, but now the movement, largely for cost purposes, is to remove the pools and put in splash parks for kids to play in the water but not learn about water safety or swimming,” she said.
“This is creating the misperception or illusion that kids know how to be safe in water, but they’re not actually learning to swim. Being able to touch the bottom of a pool doesn’t mean you can swim or be safe in the water.”
Because of this, King Marlin has taken the initiative to make sure to bridge the gap between playing in the water and being safe in it.
“We really want to make sure we make it back to safety first in the water; that’s imperative with the children in our community because water safety is so important,” Mendez said. “We recently received a grant from the USA Swimming Foundation Make a Splash program to provide swimming lessons for a thousand children in our community who may not have otherwise had the opportunity to learn.
“That’s the kind of change we’re working to affect, and we do that through our marketing outreach, social media presence and, of course, word of mouth. Families who have benefited from lessons in the past are some of our best advocates, and they ae excited to tell other families about the opportunities that exist here to learn about water safety.”
Mendez said, however, that they are just scratching the surface, as thousands more children need the opportunity to learn to swim regardless of income or life circumstances.
“We want to do so much more than what we’re doing, and the grant will certainly help because we’ve been largely covering costs ourselves up to this point,” she said. “But we’re always looking for new opportunities for partnerships to work with as many children as we can so they get the opportunity to learn about water safety.”