The Swim Professor

Jim Reiser, M.S.

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Do You have the Thunderstorm Blues? Swim Lessons, Swim Safety, and Customer Service

One of the most frustrating things for parents, swim teachers, and swim school owners to deal during Summer Swim Lessons is thunderstorms.  Parents get mad when we cancel, parents get mad when we don’t.  As a parent, I am certainly sympathetic.  I know how hard it is to get my three children in the car, go to the pool, and then have to disappoint them that they can’t swim.

I often encourage parents to take lessons with us in the fall, winter, and spring when thunderstorms are less likely.  Mornings and early evening time slots (before 6PM) prove to be less likely to have storms than the later evening times.  My personal experience over the years is that storms tend to roll in between 6-6:30PM most often, and July seems to be the biggest month for thunderstorms.  If I was a gambler and could win lots of money predicting storms, I think I would head to Las Vegas and retire young.  I am not a gambler, though.  I am a swim teacher.  I am a swim school owner, and my family depends on you taking swimming lessons with us (even in July)—so please don’t stop enrolling!

I have been in this business for over 20 years and I experience it every summer.  There is no full proof solution for the problem, including the weather channel and forecasts and even radar, which are right some of the time and wrong some of the time, and we are looking at them when we are trying to make the right decision.   We recently had to cancel class when there was an isolated storm that hung over just one of our 8 locations, and to make matters worse that happened two nights in a row for the 6:30 class.  According to the local weather the night before, the chance of thunderstorms was 0%!   Then there are days when the weather calls for an 80% chance of storms and we get nothing.  While there are few exceptions, we can only occasionally make a decision to cancel for the night an hour or so before classes start based on the weather forecast.

As teachers and swim schools, we can’t control “mother nature.  Fortunately many summer thunderstorms pass over quickly.  For instance, last night by 7:15 pm the storm that had me cancel my 6 & 6:30 class had passed and I was able to coach my swim team kids without a problem.  That’s why on many evenings it’s better to  take a “wait and see” approach the storms often pass over when it seems like there is no hope.  But there’s no way to know how long.  Sometimes it’s 15-20 minutes, sometimes it’s 45 minutes, others it’s an hour or more.

You can also go to most any summer league swim meet and see similar “wait and see” approaches being taken because these storms do pass, and kids will be all over the deck.   You see this often too at neighborhood and residential pools.   What’s most dangerous is being wet on the deck without shoes and not under cover.   Yet I’ve seen countless pools over the years where guards get kids out of the pool but they’re hanging around the pool in bear feet, sometimes even near the side splashing the water.  This is clearly unsafe.

My research tells me the best thing to do if lightning is near is to seek shelter and clear the pool deck which is what we do.   By the way, as far as I know there has never been a person stuck and killed in an indoor pool. I can’t find statistics specifically on outdoor pools.  According to the National Lightning Safety Institute, lightning studies from NOAA over a 35-year period are not detailed and show only generalized activities or locations of lightning victims as below:

  • Open fields/ballparks = 26.8%
  • Under trees = 13.7%
  • Water related (fishing/boating/swimming) = 8.1%
  • Golfing = 3.9%
  • Driving machinery = 3.0%
  • Telephone-related = 2.4%
  • Radios/antennas = 0.7%
  • All others/unknown categories = 40.4%

Statistics also show that one’s chances of being struck by lightning are .34 in one million.

Back to what we do as a swim school when it comes to cancellations, thunderstorms, and customer service.

First we have a cancellation hotline set up which is 803-561-0226.  The moment we decide to cancel classes at a given location I announce it on the hotline.  I usually also announce the make up schedule.   On occasion, if we have multiple cancellations, I will refer our parents to our website for the make up schedule.

As far as make-ups and rescheduling, etc., we offer the following options:

1.  A scheduled make-up class at the same time on a designated day of the week, i.e., Friday, which we currently keep open for make-ups.  In fact, in our outdoor locations, we keep Thursday and Friday open because of the likelihood of cancellations.

2.  If that doesn’t work out, our customers can schedule make-ups just prior to the second week or back half of a session once we are done actively registering new students.  I want to always maintain the integrity of the student: teacher ratios and that’s why we’d need to wait until the back half of the session.

3.  Our customers can take a credit that has no expiration date and use it against any future swim class, including the fall and winter when storms are as not likely to occur.

The last thing we want to do is risk anyone’s safety.  Again, this is the reason we send children and parents to their cars at our outdoor locations to take cover.  We don’t allow anyone on the pool deck if there is a storm close

If we cancelled lessons every time there are isolated or scattered storms in the forecast, no one would ever learn to swim.   We would literally lose half the summer.   Fortunately, most of these storms come and go.

Lastly, and maybe most importantly, I want every parent to know this:  YOU HAVE EVERY RIGHT, AND I RESPECT WHATEVER DECISION YOU MAKE, WHEN IT COMES TO YOUR CHILD’S SAFETY.  I RESPECT A PARENT’S DECISION 100% if they decide that he/she doesn’t want to put their child back in the water after we determined a storm has passed.  I am always happy to honor a make-up, reschedule, etc.  Any of the alternatives I mentioned above.

I am in the business of water safety and have been my whole life.  It is my passion to make children safer in and around the water.   When we decide to get back in the water because the storm has appeared to have passed, nevertheless, it is still a judgment call, and your judgment for your child is the only one that matters.

But I will leave all my readers at this.   My rule of thumb is to make the same judgment call for my customers as I would for my own children.

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July 26, 2010 at 7:20 pm
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