Make-up Classes: Good or Bad

Do you offer make-up classes?

Whether you do or not, I’m certain that you’ve heard about them. It is a relatively controversial thing in the swim lesson community. Some people hate them, others tolerate them, and some embrace the concept. Where do you fall? Let us know on twitter:

[Tweet “Make-ups are not good for anyone #swimlessons”]

[Tweet “Missed a class? Schedule a make-up! #swimlessons”]

What are “make-ups?”

You offer swim lessons on set days. Every Monday at 4 pm, between January 3rd and March 1st. Just to make it easy to schedule, to find staff, to prepare with lifeguards, you schedule your lessons based on day and time.

What do you do when someone misses their class?

Generally, you offer a make-up class. Or you don’t.

Make-up classes are an opportunity for participants to come in without losing money on a class they missed. Maybe the kid got sick. Maybe they had a vacation or an emergency.  Whatever the reason, and I’m sure you’ve heard every iteration, someone missed their class. The question that we face as program directors is: “Do we give a refund, a make-up, or simply say, sorry, you missed your class.

Today we’re going to look at the good and the bad reasons for offering make-up classes and let you make your own choice.


Why make-up classes are good

If you choose to offer a make-up lesson there are some really good things that come out of the choice. You are going to want to evaluate what is important to your program and how you want to conduct your administration. Sometimes, it isn’t feasible to offer make-up classes, or you’re letting people pick and choose from a range of days. There are some really good reasons to offer make-up lessons.  Let’s take a look at them now.

*Disclaimer* We fully support limiting make-up classes to either 1 each month or 1 each session.

Make-ups are customer friendly

At the heart, a make-up class is a chance to have another class because the swimmer couldn’t make it to their regularly scheduled one. Offer a make-up class because you understand that families have many things going on in their lives. Someone can miss a class for any number of reasons. When your program allows a make-up for a missed class, you’re really letting the customer know that you’re willing to work with them to accommodate those special circumstances.

Think about the situation from a parent’s perspective; from the person that is registering and giving you money. They sign up for a 10-week class, or a monthly slot. You offer classes on the same day and time each week, and usually, everyone shows up. Sometimes, though, schedules change. You’re the parent, and Billy gets sick or has a school event that isn’t typically on Tuesdays. Suddenly you have to change your schedule and swim lessons are just not going to happen. You email the swim school and schedule a make-up class. At least you’re not out $20 because you want to let your kid do their school activity.

When we accommodate families we give them a sense of ease and peace. Allowing a make-up class takes a little bit of stress and annoyance out of the family’s life. Granted, we aren’t letting families abuse our system; they’re not going to do a make-up class every week, and the general rule is once a month or once a session.

Make-up classes are customer friendly because it allows families the peace of mind knowing they can miss a class without drastic consequences or lose significant cash.


Make-up lessons encourage registrations

Think about signing up for a swim class from a parent’s perspective. Every Monday 4 pm for $100.00 a month, or the same time, but for 7 weeks in a row. That is a significant time commitment.  You’re going to look at your kid’s schedule and make sure that you can commit to this regimen. In general, we recommend the session based registrations versus the monthly, but in another post, we can discuss the merits of both.  Back to the parent perspective, keep in mind that they are signing up for a significant time commitment. Every Monday they’re going to be at swim lessons. But what if your kid gets sick? What if you are going on vacation and you’ve already planned it. You still want swim lessons, and you still want to participate, but you know you’re going to miss 2 lessons in the next 8 weeks. You might ask for a proration because you won’t’ be there, but most swim schools don’t allow that. Maybe you know you’re going to miss 1 Monday. As the parent, you’re going to have to decide if you’re going to lose the money by paying the full cost without getting all the lessons, or not sign up at all because you know you’re going to miss.

When parent’s know that you’re going to offer a make-up class for someone who missed a class they’ll be more likely to sign up. They will know that you will work with them to accommodate their busy schedules and make sure their kid gets the lessons they paid for.

Seeing a make-up policy that is friendly, yet fair, makes parent’s know that you’re going to work with them if something comes up. They’ll be more likely to commit to a lesson session or a monthly time slot.


Make-up swim lessons ensure repeat business

When you run swim lessons as a manager you know that communication and the personal touch is extremely important to your parents. You probably have multiple swim lesson schools in your area that they could easily switch to. Puddle jumping happens, and when you work with families to accommodate their changing schedule or their missed lessons they remember the effort you put in to make arrangements for them. Give them a personal touch and they’ll reward you with repeat business.

Sometimes you can’t schedule a make-up class during the same month, or during the same session. Let them know that you’ll work with the family the next month or the next session to give them their make-up. When you, you extend the engagement time with the family and make it clear you’re not arbitrarily expiring a make-up class.

Our program has a 70% re-enrollment rate. Session to session we see about 70% of participants continues on to the next session. In large part, this is because we work with families that miss classes, and we offer a wide range of days and times for them to sign up for. There are other things that go into it, but numerous times I’ve had families specifically say that they were happy with our 1 per session make-up policy and how much the appreciated our working with them.


Make-up classes lead the swimmer to success

If you offer a make-up class you’re giving the swimmer another opportunity to improve their swimming. Maybe that one extra class (not really extra) will be what pushes them over the “going underwater” hump, or inspires them to swim front crawl a little better.

Just one more class isn’t going to make a huge difference in the bucket of swim lessons a person takes, but it *is* one more chance to learn. It is one more opportunity to improve and get better. When stacked up and added up over time, every lesson counts in the efforts to make their swimming better.

If you’re trying to decide whether or not you want to offer a make-up class, then just consider this simple thing: do you want swimmers to have a chance to get better? The more opportunities you give people to learn swimming, the better they’ll get sooner. If you don’t allow make-up lessons then you’re taking an opportunity away from kids to get better. I know that really it is the family that is removing that chance by not going to their regularly scheduled class, but stuff happens.


Make-up classes give swimmers an opportunity to try a new instructor

Sometimes a different way of saying the same thing works better. I often have my assistant coaches tell a swimmer something because while the message is the same, it won’t be coming from me, and maybe the unique way the Assistant says something it will click better with the swimmer. Sometimes a different voice crafting words in a different pattern will ignite the spark of understanding in the swimmer’s mind. When you offer a make-up class with a different teacher and a different day there will be subtle differences in delivery and format. It might just be the thing that person needed to bust through a plateau and attain a new skill.

Online Lesson Plans –  Make-ups!

We’re about to get to why make-ups are not good for your program, but before we do check out this information about the online swim lesson management suite we offer.

For $9.99 a month, you can track your swimmer’s progress, take attendance, and pertinent to our topic today: administer your make-up classes!

Schedule make-up classes for your swimmers, and then when they show up, you can mark it, and remove their make-up need. This is an easy, simple way to track make-up classes, and it is included right in the Online Management Suite. Click here for more details: Online Lesson Management


Why make-up classes are bad

They’re not really bad, but they can lead to some serious problems. Ultimately, you want to balance out the positives that we’ve listed above, and the negatives to determine what balance you want to strike with your lessons.  Are you going to acquiesce to poor planning parents, or are you going to stand your ground and stick to your chops?

Swimming Ideas suggests that you offer make-up classes. We suggest this under the following conditions:

  1. You limit make-ups to once per month (if you’re on a monthly plan), or you limit it to 1 per session.
  2. You schedule a separate “make-up” class. Do not shove make-up swimmers into another existing class, even if they numbers are low and you can accommodate it.
  3. You require that the participant lets you know they’ll miss a class in advance.

But here are a few things that might make you consider not offering make-ups.


Make-up classes allow for absences

When you don’t let participants make up a class, they won’t miss in the first place. Families will move heaven and earth if they know that they will be out $20-30 if they don’t get Billy to their swim class. They might be better at scheduling their time knowing that the swim lesson is rigid. When you allow make-ups, it excuses poor planning, it rewards not showing up to class and removes the consequence from missing.

Programs that allow make-up classes have more missed classes. Programs that don’t, how lower absences.  Take that safety fallback away, and families will get their kids to class.


Make-up classes lose money

Imagine a class with four kids and the same teacher ever week. They have a rhythm, they know each other, the four kids are all friends and are comfortable with the instructor’s instructions. The teacher follows your standard language and uses the same progressions, but the class and instructor have developed some silly phrases and habits unique to this class. By all signs, it is highly successful class. And then, you drop a new kid in for one day that doesn’t know all the unique things this class does and isn’t in tune to the rhythm they’ve developed. The teacher has to spend way more time each activity explaining what they’re doing, and the make-up kid is a distraction to the other regular kids. Because the instructor is spending extra time trying to get the make-up kid in tune with what they’re doing, the regulars get bored and start goofing off. The class is a disaster.

All because you dropped a random kid in an established class.

To avoid this, you schedule a unique “make-up” class with a teacher and other kids that are all visiting from their own classes. But that means you have to pay an instructor for an extra class, staff lifeguards, and extend hours just to accommodate an extra class!

Everyone in that make-up class is getting an extra class outside of their normally paid for class time. You have to pay staff to accommodate this extra time and slot.


Make-up classes reward bad behavior

When you hear from a parent that they just couldn’t get Billy to class last week because they were running late in the Starbucks drive-through lane, you want to shake your head and deny them from getting a make-up. It leaves a sour taste in your mouth while you’re scheduling a make-up for this ridiculous idiot parent.

What do you think the lesson that parent is learning? They’re learning that they can mess up for something trivial and miss the kid’s swim lesson because it isn’t a high priority, and everything will be okay because you’ll shift everyone else around to give them a make-up class. No thank you!


Make-up swim classes are disruptive

You have a routine, you get to know the kids, and you progressively build up skills when you have a regular weekly class. But a make-up class? A one-time off-schedule class with 4-5 kids that have never been together before and likely are not all at the exact same point in the level gets together? Blah. Talk about a difficult to run situation.

From the swimmer’s perspective, it is just as bad. They’re going to be with a different teacher, different kids, and probably a different location in your pool. The make-up itself is disruptive! Additionally, it is outside the regular routine of the swimmer’s life.


Swimming Ideas Recommends…

Offer make-up classes but limit them to one each month or one per session. Require that families notify you in advance of their absence and schedule the make-ups outside of your normal classes. Even though you’ll lose some money by offering an extra class it will make your participants happy and will keep the disruption to a minimum.

We highly encourage you to avoid dumping random kids into existing classes.


What do you do? Do you offer make-ups? Let us know in the comments, or connect on twitter @swimmingideas or on facebook.






Want an easy way to track swimmer progress and make-up classes?

Check out the Online Lesson Management Suite!


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