By David E.M. Duboulay
David Worrell is enthusiastic about swimming, to say the least, and he is causing some ripples in a pretty large pond in the Washington, DC area. We had a chance to catch up with him while he was visiting his family over the Christmas season and here’s what he had to say:
What was your educational background?
As a child, I attended the Carmen Rene Memorial School. I then went on to Saint Mary’s College before heading to Howard University where I graduated with a Bachelors Degree in Finance in 2007.
What ignited your passion for swimming?
I’ve been swimming all my life, so I’d have to say my parents. They are the ones who introduced me to it and have always fostered my love for the sport by encouraging me to teach and coach swimming from as early as my teens, at the Rodney Heights Aquatic Centre which my family owns and operates. I continued coaching throughout university and therefore when I ultimately decided to pursue my true passion I had a fair amount of experience with swimmers of all ages and skill levels.
What have you been doing since finishing school?
I worked in management consulting for about a year and a half before I was a victim of the downturn in the economy and unfortunately I was laid off. But they say every misfortune is a blessing in one way or the other and that was the case here as well. Eventually, after some soul searching, my love for swimming and my enthusiasm for interacting and working with people began to re-emerge. I thought long and hard about what made me happy and truly allowed me to be myself. The choice was clear; I established myself as a full-time swimming instructor … and I haven’t looked back since (smiles).
How did you determine the format of your training sessions?
Before making the final decision to go into teaching/coaching full-time I observed several other Infant Self Rescue (ISR) instructors carry out their sessions. This made me realise that teaching swimming is just like teaching anything else; everyone is able to develop their own style and methods of teaching, particularly when dealing with younger swimmers. The combination of my experience working at the Aquatic Centre and the new techniques I was being exposed to gave me the perfect framework to create my own unique swimming development program.
Did you require any sort of certification to become a full-time swim instructor?
Certifications are always important when you are new in the game. I completed the Infant Swimming Resource Certification in 2009, which allows me to work with infants and toddlers from 6 months to 4 years of age, focusing on aquatic self-rescue.
Is there any other focus of your training sessions?
Yes, we ultimately try to steer all of our swimmers to at least learn the strokes (freestyle, backstroke, breaststroke and butterfly) which means developing a progression to take an infant all the way to competitive swimming. We try to make swimming a life-long activity, which means being there to develop swimmers during their formative years instead of just the short-term. Most of the swimmers in the group started with me as infants/toddlers. As they get older (around 3 years old) they move to our Learn-To-Swim program where they learn proper technique as it applies to competitive swimming. At about 5 years old they move up to our team or group workout where we train in a 25-metre pool and incorporate competitive techniques. We have students as old as 10 in this group because some start at the Learn-To-Swim level.
The advanced group trains just as a team does but the difference is our group isn’t focused on competition. We offer our clients more workouts but also allow them the opportunity to attend swim meets in order to compete should they desire to do so. We want the swimmers as well as parents we work with to get a taste of competitive swimming in a non-threatening atmosphere. Our format keeps the group focused on the technical aspect of the sport until the swimmer has decided that he/she wants the competitive commitment.
What’s the beauty of what you do?
The freedom. I set my own schedules, procure my own pool time, set my own rates and teach my tailor-made programs within my company “WEAquatics”. With the expansion that we’re in right now, Brad (my younger brother and partner) and I get to decide who works with us. Teaching infants allows me to branch out into several different areas that I would not usually have been exposed to. It’s also one way of giving back to the community. Surprisingly, lots of people in the DC area still drown every year so hopefully we are making our contribution toward reducing that.
What’s the main difficulty with teaching kids to swim?
In my experience, kids are easy to work with. It’s actually the parents who require constant reassurance. Kids will more or less take up whatever lead you give and to watch them learn is enjoyable, particularly when you are trained to know what to look for. This is why some parents take a while to believe in what we do; they aren’t always able to recognise the potential the child displays or the progress being made on a weekly basis. Parents tend to view lessons in terms of the finished product as opposed to the journey. I enjoy the journey and my job is to get parents to see what I see. For all swimmers, progress is gradual and our key to success has been our one-on-one approach to training. Not only does this allow us to focus on one student at a time but it also encourages the parents to attend the session which is tailor made to their child and to buy in to what we do.
How many people do you currently teach?
On a weekly basis we work with about 80 swimmers in individual sessions and another 10-15 swim in the group/team workout. When I say we I mean myself and my younger brother, Brad who works with me. From a competitive standpoint Brad has way more experience than me, so naturally he is the lead on the group workout/team. He’s also the main Learn-To-Swim instructor, so when a student is ready to move on to more advanced work from the ISR program, I hand-off to Brad. He is also playing a major role in recruiting new instructors since we’ve recently started offering lessons in more locations. Obviously different skill levels require different levels of practice so we have several different locations/schedules/programs which all run concurrently. [By program, I mean ISR lessons, Learn-to-swim lessons and the team workout. All of these different programs operate on different schedules with different focuses as well as fee structure. to satisfy reader curiosity, would he care to specify the other locations?]
Could your programs work in Saint Lucia?
It could. The x-factor in St. Lucia would be finding open-minded and outgoing individuals who enjoy working with people to drive the program. St. Lucia has a lot of potential. From an economic standpoint, the margins may be smaller but that just means you have to be very particular about the image you portray. There are quite a few costs involved in putting on and maintaining a swimming program but if people feel like they get something special by coming to you, they’ll keep coming. I would love to come back to Saint Lucia to do this one day or find a way to run concurrent programs in both places, anything is possible.
What advice would you give to a young entrepreneur?
Make yourself available and open to work with anyone, even if you didn’t intend on working in a particular market. Always be punctual and honest. Under-promise and over-deliver. Believe in your idea and believe in yourself, even if no one else does, and when you reach a goal set a new one. Embrace the journey, don’t expect to be an overnight success. Have patience and be honest when critiquing yourself. Be able to adapt to what your target market is looking for even if it’s in an area that you hadn’t thought about venturing. These are fundamental building blocks toward setting yourself apart from everyone else.