Managing a business that enables you to grow as you lead others, and nurture those in your care, is no easy task. Joanne Ho and Zarina Parry seem to have struck that fine balance with Aquabubs Swim School.
As founders of the school, they manage everything from operations and finances to coaching and nurturing relationships. One reason Joanne and Zarina took the plunge in 2015 was because what concerns parents most is the safety of their child, and this is also the most important aspect of the school.
It began when Joanne tested the waters with the formation of Aquabubs, part of a kindergarten in Damansara Heights, Kuala Lumpur.
“Joanne started teaching her eldest son to swim in 2005, when baby swimming lessons were nonexistent in Malaysia,” says Zarina, a former competitive swimmer in her teens and an avid scuba diver.
“She learnt to teach from books and videos, and was running free swimming playgroups at her condo pool for a couple of years. She decided to take up the infant swimming teacher training course in 2013 and has been teaching professionally since then.”
Zarina also chose to take the training because she couldn’t find baby swimming classes in KL for her children. That’s where the two mothers met and how they joined forces to set up their own swimming school to coach kids at an early age how to swim.
“Finding a suitable venue in a central location was a challenge,” Joanne says. “Very quickly it was apparent that we needed a warehouse big enough for a pool, covered, and with accessible parking.”
She adds, “We needed a contractor who understood our requirements for a heated pool with a filtration system that would keep it at a perfect temperature for our swimmers, and at the hygiene levels monitored to ensure safe and clean water.
“We also wanted a select team of swim teachers who were Austswim trained, the Australian certification for swim teaching that includes baby and preschool swim training and certification.”
Demand for their classes grew so fast in the first year that they had to relocate to another venue in Bangsar with a bigger pool and better facilities for the babies and their parents.
Their new place now includes a pantry, a corner for toys to make waiting less stressful, nappy change tables in the shower and changing areas, plus baby- and child-friendly cubicles.
At Aquabubs, babies can begin learning to swim at four months when they have better head control, although the mums believe that kids can start swimming at any age. “The earlier a child starts, the more confident they will be in the water, and swimming will become very natural to them,” Zarina says.
She adds, “We are an Austswim certified school, our instructors are Austswim trained, and we follow the Australian national swim certification methodology that has strict guidelines about water safety skills, and teaches a gentle approach to introducing babies, children and first-time swimmers to the pool environment.
“It starts with water familiarisation techniques, to help develop a child’s confidence and awareness. Our baby swim programme incorporates songs and games to develop the skills required in the water before a child starts our learn to swim programme and we start to teach strokes techniques.”
Both ladies says it’s a rewarding feeling to watch their students grow from “tadpoles” (four to 12 months old) to “sharks” (three-and-a-half to five years old), when they finally attend a lesson without an accompanying parent.
“When a child who’s afraid of water, or afraid to even get their face wet, progresses to swimming like a fish in a couple of months, it’s a very fulfilling moment,” Joanne says.
These busy mums are constantly on the move, as their days are filled with numerous commitments, not only involving the swimming business.
“Women and mothers have an inborn skill called ‘multi-tasking’!” quips Zarina. “If you find something that you are passionate about you will be able to manage work, family life, finances, and have a social life too.
“It can be done, but sometimes, not all at the same time – you may not have the time to take the children to family and friends’ functions as much anymore, you may not catch up with your girlfriends as often as you used to, but it’s only for a certain period of your life, before some balance is restored.”
“I also own and run a pilates studio and I teach 25 pilates classes a week as well as run Aquabubs Swim School and discuss new business ideas with Zarina all the time!” adds Joanne.
“It has been tiring working seven days a week for the past year, however, I am lucky to have a supportive husband and a good helper and I still find time to go out for meals with my friends a couple of times a month. It does take a village but it can be done!”
Despite the challenges of running a business that comes with countless details – dealing with your local council, contractors, lawyers, accountants, auditors, staff, learning about pool chemistry – Joanne and Zarina continuously find joy in their careers and are ready to face any obstacles, come hell or high water.