By Brian Indre
Olympic champion Tom Dolan officially opened his second swim school in Seven Corners over the weekend, bringing his gold medal instruction closer to where his passion for swimming originated.
As a two-time gold medal winner and one-time silver medalist, when it came time for Dolan to hang up the competitive swimming cap, he decided he wanted to share his experience and give back to his community. He chose to open a school that doesn’t just cater to future competitive swimmers, but is designed for kids, families and adults who want to learn water safety and the fundamentals of proper swimming from expert instructors.
The school, formally known as Tom Dolan Swim School, began operating its first location in 2012 out in Dulles, where Dolan and his staff teach swimming to 3-month-old infants to adults. When the time came to expand, he wanted to design a space that was closer to where he lives in the City of Falls Church, and where he grew up in Arlington.
Dolan believes that water safety and learning to swim is an important life skill.
He said “The whole swim thru life philosophy,” (the school tagline), “is that from baby to adult, learning to swim is something you can learn how to do, no matter what your age.”
Dolan adds that his adult classes come from parents watching their children who realize they could benefit from a class too.
Dolan’s lifelong experience with the sport gave him the insight on how to better the experience for his diverse clientele, offering a place he wishes was available when he came of age.
Inside, the front desk staff will greet guests and provide information on class scheduling. The layout of the facility is designed to be spacious, leaving room for strollers, a play area for kids when they are out of the pool and a viewing area where families can watch lessons. There are also changing rooms offering privacy as well as baby changing tables. The two pools are purpose-built and designed by Dolan and his team to be safe, effective for teaching and comfortable with the water temperature kept at a constant 90-degrees.
Dolan says that in the years between opening his first school to the new one, he has learned a great deal.
“What I implemented here in terms of design changes comes from knowing what families should expect from a business involving kids nowadays, versus even 5-10 years ago, which has changed,” says Dolan. It’s no longer about what a business is selling, but the experience around it.
According to Dolan, nothing has helped him see that more than becoming a father. When his children took to the water, he better understood the perspective of parent customers. Having an atmosphere that is fun and that kids don’t want to leave long after their lessons are over is as important to him as the swimming part. Dolan explains that the overall experience should start from the parking lot, and having a facility that makes the transition from the car, to checking in, changing in and out of your swim clothes and back to the car again should be easy and enjoyable.
Dolan mentions that customers won’t find the uncomfortable metal benches or cold dark changing rooms with wet floors here, which is an image that a lot people have when they think about swimming pools. His facility is providing customers a clean and comfortable setting in and out of the pool, which is what he saw missing around the area before.
“I’m someone who everyday tries to find something to improve; and from my swimming days, when every 1/100 of a second matters, if you can improve that little bit, than that is a great daily goal,” said Dolan.
He encourages feedback from customers [as well] so that he and his staff can make changes and provide them with what they want and expect.
He admits that his curriculum written as an Olympic gold medalist is easy to market to a community. Properly educating children and guiding them through water safety, comfort and stroke development, is something he can guarantee, and is second nature to him; he’s been doing it since he was 5 years old. It is the other side of the business that he wants to get right and constantly improve on, and that is the entire experience in and out of the pool.