It was as a school teacher in when Neil Douglas began coaching swimming. To his parents disgust, he would eventually leave the ‘security’ of school teaching to coach
After an Entrepreneurial roller-coaster in the 80’s, Neil came back to swimming with a fresh outlook and a desire to create a truly innovative learn to swim system – focused on teaching skills to all children as quickly as possible.
Neil built 3 pools in 2 years at the council facility in the south of Brisbane, perfecting details such as pool depth, temperature control and even tile colour.This experience would prove valuable in later years when Aquatic Achievers would build it’s own private indoor facilities across Brisbane.
With the success of Woodridge, Neil and his wife took on the lease of Chandler – The state’s largest swimming facility. A focus of program effectiveness and customer service saw the Swim School grow to be Brisbane’s largest.
It was during this period that the programs named Solo-1. The meaning behind the name is that the programs goal was for every child to swim 1km continuous Freestyle, independently. The program’s effectiveness was apparent with children as young as 4 completing the 1km swim.
The pool at Sunnybank was designed and built on the bottom level carpark of a major shopping centre. The facility proved that with a bit of imagination a swim school could be built in unexpected places.
After finishing a degree in the US on a sporting scholarship, Ben (Neil’s son) remained in San Francisco where he taught special needs swimming at the Janet Pomeroy Center receiving his first chance of creating a curriculum ‘because they didn’t have one’.
Returning home to Australia, Ben began teaching full time within the program his father had developed. It was during this time where he would learn to think critically about curriculum design and the elements that make up a quality program.
In 2007 the task of building Uswim began. What seemed like a simple project turned into a behemoth. However the process of creating a program for parents, even though frustrating at times, delivered invaluable experience in program design for ‘training the trainers’.
The first version of Uswim had big flaws. Most feedback simply said – ‘its too complicated’. This was backed up when focus groups of real mothers were tested in live situations and confirmed that the program had to be simplified. The idea of only teaching 1 skill at a time was a turning point.
The launch of the 2nd website was a huge step forward as the feedback from users was very positive. The reach of the program became apparent as messages came consistently from unexpected places like Brazil, India, Uganda and Nepal – which was hugely exciting.
The first ever world drowning conference was held in Danang, Vietnam, which loses roughly 11,000 children each year, 31 lives every day to drowning. Uswim was one of the representatives to speak about the different methods that may prevent drownings.
Project Dovetail offered Uswim the chance to teach at the SOS orphanage in Mauritius. Many tragic stories involve kids who lose their parents – contrasting with the island’s idyllic image. Ben taught for 10 days – developing a deep affection for the 98 children and ‘house mothers’ who call the SOS village home.
The year also saw the decision making responsibilities for the company pass from Neil and Brenda their son Ben as CEO. As Ben admits, this was a very difficult period for him as the responsibility of managing over 180 employees in a growing company is not something he was prepared for, allowing little time for Uswim.
The follow up trip by Ben to Mauritius was very rewarding, as the basic skill progressions taught the previous year were taking effect. The emphasis on this trip was to make sure the House Mother – Josset – took the lead in understanding the program to be followed after Ben had left.
Big changes took place in these years including building Queensland’s largest Swim School from scratch (Aquatic Achievers Paddington), and implementing new systems and management structures to bring consistency across the 6 facilities . The swim program was also constantly improved e.g. a greater emphasis on relaxation and breath control.
The customer’s satisfaction is more than simply the quality of swim lessons. Booking processes, scheduling and teacher selection are among many things that add up to a great service. During this period the company began testing customer satisfaction using the NPS (net promoter score) in order to measure success.
2016 was turning point for the swim schools and for Uswim. With the hiring of a General Manager for added leadership and assist in corporate structuring, opportunities overseas could once again be investigated. This included ben being invited to China, Indonesia and Vietnam.
With Ben and his sister Kerri stepping aside to pursue of other projects and a strong management team in place – Neil and Brenda decided the time was right in 2017 to sell the business. The family was very happy when they found new owners who shared their values and had a bold vision for the future of the company.
We respect your privacy & never share