From big dreams to Little Splashers - an interview with Jo Wilson
I wrote back in November about how awesome it felt to meet like minded swimming teachers when I started researching alternatives to the traditional approach to baby swimming. One of the teachers I met was the lovely Jo Wilson. Jo works up in Warwickshire where her swim school Little Splashers teaches over 900 pupils per week in ten different hired pools, as well as over 500 pupils at Swim Works, the swimming pool she built with her husband. Jo has taught swimming for ten years, and she started her own swim school nine years ago. She has become a true baby swimming expert and shares her ideas over at her fab blog (Let's Talk About Baby Swimming). Jo also provides courses and training for swimming teachers, both at her own facility and through the STA.
Jo reads just about all she can get her hands on when it comes to infant and child development and baby swimming, and I was grateful that she took the time to share some of her ideas with me for my blog at Turtles Swim School.
Could you tell me a little bit about how your career as a swimming teacher started?
I started Little Splashers after getting made redundant from my job as a marketing manager. Being made redundant whilst on maternity leave left me feeling rejected and down. At the time looking back I remember feeling life was so unfair, but it gave me time to rethink my strengths and my passion. After lots of soul searching I started to offer my marketing services to friends, family and local companies. I was taking my little boy swimming each week and I was lucky to offer my marketing services to a new swim school in Northampton. I was smitten with the swimming passion, as I was a competitive swimmer in my teens. I soon trained to become a baby swim teacher and worked for a variety of swim schools, whilst setting up Little Splashers.
Steve Jobs once said “You can't connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future.” It is only now, looking back at all the dots, although it didn’t feel like it at the time, being made redundant was the best thing that could have happened to me!
Reading your blog, I can tell that you’re really passionate about teaching babies to swim – what inspired that passion?
I love working with babies and toddlers, and giving them a love of the water and facilitating that special bond between them and their parents. I truly believe that the water can be a nurturing environment and it can benefit children on so many levels. I believe in understanding babies and their verbal and non verbal cues, and I've found that a non-forceful and playful approach provides the best platform to teach children. I am currently researching toddlers behaviour and how best to communicate with pre-schoolers - how parents can interact to gain their best attention, and how progression is important, but should not always be the focus.
In your experience, what are the most important things a baby should experience in the pool?
A relaxed hold so they gain a feel for the water. Interaction between them and their parents, (kisses, bubbles and talking - acknowledge their feelings). Floating and rotations, which are great for safety.
What made you decide to set up your own swim school?
It was an easy decision, I always had a desire to work for myself. I initially taught for just 6 hours a week from 2 pools in Coventry, but just 18 months after setting up I realised that I needed some help as my waiting lists grew. We carefully select our instructors and give them lots of ‘Little Splashers’ training, on top of their swim qualifications. We are so lucky to have instructors that share our passion, just like us. Being a service, we never under estimate the importance of our teachers – they are the front line to our business.
Tell me a bit more about running your own swim school.
Starting a business is always daunting. The business had a turning point over 5 years ago when my husband, Christian came full time on board. This was way scarier than setting up Little Splashers - as now the whole family relied on our swim business! Of course, there have been low points and certainly there were times when we have felt overwhelmed with the work load - we've had to work into the night to get all the re-enrols completed. But, I can honestly say that it’s great working together each day, we have so much fun and truly love what we do. Profit has never been our sole purpose – more the passion to see children swimming and enjoying themselves each week. And it was never our intention to run lessons all over Warwickshire; the business just gradually grew with demand.
You built your own swimming pool - what a fantastic achievement! How did that come about?
We always had a dream of building a swim centre that catered for everyone, and we started looking for premises soon after a couple of hire contracts altered and our whole business platform felt very vulnerable. We looked at lots of different sites, but after a couple of failed attempts we were lucky to have won a sealed bid to buy the former ‘Royal British Legion’ in Hillmorton, Rugby. Luckily Swim Works has been a huge success. We believe in following our hearts, working hard and just being adaptable. We will tell you when we are cracking open the bubbles when we have paid off all our debts… one thing for sure is we won’t be sitting back on our laurels!
You've achieved so much so far - what's next for you and Little Splashers?
I'm currently planning the launch of our new exciting preschool programme. It is called Aqua Sensory and we will be offering training to different swim schools so they too can benefit from our research findings. Aqua Sensory is unlike any other traditional swimming programme or dry land sensory class. In fact, our objective during the course is not to teach the child to swim, but to in fact to unlock their potential development for life. It combines traditional dry land activities like music, massage, singing, signing, discovery play and movement in the swimming pool, which is in fact – a natural multi-sensory environment itself.
I have also been a tutor for the STA (Swimming Teachers Association) for the last five years. I really enjoy helping them with various projects that shape baby swimming on a national scale. This year my tutoring also took me abroad to Taipei in Taiwan, which was an incredible experience. So who knows if my tutoring will take me to other places again soon!
And to end with another Steve Jobs quote - “Sometimes life's going to hit you in the head with a brick. Don't lose faith. I'm convinced that the only thing that kept me going was that I loved what I did.”
To find out more about Jo Wilson, Little Splashers, Swimworks and Aqua Sensory, follow the links or visit her Facebook page