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The Chuck Wielgus Blog: What Does ‘Fun’ Mean in SwimToday Campaign?

5/5/2014

Benchwarmers SwimTodayToday, USA Swimming and nine other swimming industry partners are launching a campaign called SwimToday. It’s swimming’s version of a “Got Milk?” campaign, if you will. For the first time in our sport’s history, this campaign will unite our industry for one common goal – to grow participation in the sport. So, instead of my regular blog, below is a “guest blog” by USA Swimming's Chief Marketing Officer, Matt Farrell. His post should provide some insight into our thinking behind the campaign and why we took the direction of focusing on the fun side of our great sport. My blogs will continue in the future, but for today, enjoy a different perspective on an exciting program.

- Chuck Wielgus, USA Swimming Executive Director

 

Today you will see USA Swimming and nine other industry partners* unveil our SwimToday campaign designed to get kids (and their parents) excited to join a swim team after they have learned to swim. 
 
The campaign uses the tagline of "the funnest sport there is" which will immediately bring two questions to mind:
 
1. Is "funnest" a word? (No, but more on that later); and 
2. What does "fun" mean?

 

From the earliest planning stages of SwimToday, we wrestled with what the word “fun” really means. Is it too broad? Too loose? Too casual? Too Pollyanna?

 

I recently asked 30 National Team athletes what they feel is fun about the sport. They immediately perked up and gave thoughtful, unfiltered answers. Their body language changed. They leaned in to speak with more conviction. The simple question hit a passion point.

 

Down to the person they described the many benefits of the sport: achievement, friendship, discipline, values, fulfillment, fitness and more. Fun was always at the core. Even Michael Phelps recently made repeated references to the fun side of the sport that helped motivate his comeback.

It’s important to remember that these are athletes who do not treat the sport like a game of Marco Polo. They have dedicated their lives to swimming and still enjoy it.

The process may not always be fun. Basketball players won't tell you line drills are fun, neither will football players about burpees, or tennis players and golfers hitting ball after ball in practice. It's no different in swimming. An age group coach runs a set of 12 x 200 freestyle not to make it fun. Quite the contrary, actually. That's the process.

Fun is the outcome.

 

Critics of swimming, and even some within the sport, don't use the word fun to describe the dedication that is core to the sport. Some would say it’s hard, boring or even grueling as if having fun connotes a lack of dedication or a weakening of our culture. Some may even say to call it fun, is disingenuous at best, misleading at worst.

 

But the more we looked at this, the more fun came up in every conversation and every aspect of our research. It's what parents want for their kids in sports. It's what kids want. It's what those who love the sport tell us they ARE getting!

 

But we don't confuse fun with silly. Fun can mean the lifelong friendships, hanging out before practice, the pumpkin glow meet, team skits, or the development of life skills. It can mean a earning a best time and even winning a hard-fought race. 

 

We fully expect this campaign to create attention, maybe even disagreements or arguments around what really is “the funnest sport”. We hope it starts a dialogue and enables the swimming community to brag about our sport to those who don't currently get it. Too often the folks within the sport see its value, but are too shy about sharing what's special to those outside it.

 

If a kid joins our sport duped by the campaign thinking it's all cannonballs, laughs and giggles they will find themselves on the soccer field much quicker. And that's ok. But if they give it a shot, hang with it for a few months and experience the culture of the sport, then I like our chances against any sport out there.

 

That brings us to the tagline of "the funnest sport there is" which is sure to attract letters from English teachers across America. (So did Got Milk? And Think Different by the way). Like any campaign, it's designed to get people talking. It also typifies a playfulness that drives the campaign.

 

It's tongue-in-cheek and intentionally lightens the mood as the target audience is kids who have just finished swim lessons! You will see that confidence come through in all aspects of the campaign, including the web site, Twitter, Facebook and the public service announcement.

 

Our secret hope is that every elementary school teacher has to correct the word "funnest" in an essay because those kids are motivated by the campaign and join swim teams.

 

And that's the funnest thing about this.

 

P.S. If you still want to write us, you can send us a message at itisnotaword@usaswimming.org.

 

 - Matt Farrell, USA Swimming Chief Marketing Officer

 

* = Arena, Speedo, TYR, American Swimming Coaches Association, National Swimming Pool Association, TeamUnify, Swimming World Magazine, U.S. Masters Swimming, Colorado Time Systems