Entrepreneurs say key to their success is a focus on affordable private swimming lessons for kids, flexibility and a variety of options for locations and class times.
If you think your toddler is too young to do more than splash around in a kiddie pool, think again. According to Adam Di Fulvio, co-founder of the Montreal Institute of Swimming (MIS), children as young as 18 months can learn to float on their backs and propel themselves to safety.
Di Fulvio developed an infant swimming class for children aged 18–36 months that focuses on survival skills, such as getting in and out of the water safely, learning to float, and holding their breath underwater. “Even young kids need to learn proper technique and how to be confident in the water,” he said. “It’s amazing how much they can learn early on.”
Di Fulvio and his partner, Marc Donatelli, established the institute with a shared goal: to make private swimming lessons accessible to as many people as possible and to teach kids from a very young age. Whether you’re 18 months or 80 years old, they’ll take you. “We didn’t want to just teach lessons in our own pool and have people come to us,” Donatelli said. “We wanted to go out and reach people.” In order to do this, they got permission to have their instructors teach at various community centres, hotels and schools that have pools.
Friends since childhood, Di Fulvio and Donatelli decided to join forces in 2005 when they were both teaching lessons at the Holiday Inn Pointe Claire pool. They felt there was a lack of affordable private swimming lesson options in the Montreal area, and saw an opportunity to expand.
Today, they and a third partner, Kelly Hodgson, lead a team of more than 100 instructors and staff members. Families simply have to choose the closest location to them and book an instructor, day and time, which is easily done online.
Flexibility is a core tenet of the MIS program. Lessons are offered at 15 pools around the Montreal area, or even in private backyards, and can be cancelled or rescheduled when necessary. “We know people get busy, and kids do other sports too,” Di Fulvio said. “We want a customizable approach.” The institute offers private, one-on-one, half-hour lessons organized into four sessions. Registration is usually for weekly lessons but parents can request fewer or more depending on the family’s needs. Private lessons are $21 for 30 minutes and $42 for a full hour.
For beginners, lessons start with safety basics such as entering, exiting, and holding onto the edge of the pool. From there, they progress to mastery of the four strokes: freestyle, backstroke, breaststroke and butterfly.
Julie Swift, a mother of two, sent her daughter to Di Fulvio for lessons when the girl was 5 years old. She had originally enrolled her daughter in a group lesson at a community centre but switched when she felt the instruction inadequate.
“In the group, she was getting maybe five minutes of attention in a 30-minute lesson,” Swift said. “Now, she does all the four strokes just beautifully.” She also enrolled her son when he was 3 years old. “I feel very safe knowing both my kids are strong swimmers.”
Once students master the basics, they can join the MIS swim team. Here again, flexibility reigns: unlike other teams, members can choose how many weekly practices to attend, and they have options for times and hours. There are no tryouts, and students are welcome to join even if they just want to practice with the team without competing.
Both of Swift’s children, now 13 and 8, chose this non-competitive option for the time being. “At other clubs, if you aren’t competitive they don’t have room for you,” she said. “But for my kids, right now, it’s more about fitness and staying active.”
Pool parties and programs for daycares
The institute also offers a program for daycares on the West Island, based at the pool in Pierrefonds.
In 2013, it began offering pool parties at the Dorval Crowne Plaza Hotel, which has a waterslide and private rooms to eat cake and open presents. It sends an ‘animator lifeguard’ to lead the children in games and activities. “We just put it out there to see if anyone was interested. We’ve been absolutely overwhelmed by requests,” Donatelli said.
Next spring, the expansion will continue into Ottawa with a long-term objective to be across Canada. “Our goal is to take any swimmer, young or old, and teach them how to make this sport part of their life,” Di Fulvio said.
Registration for new clients begins three weeks before the beginning of the new session. Winter 2014 session begins January 6.
For more information, visit swim-montreal.com