Feature Article - February 2004
Find a printable version here

In the Swim

The Best Strategies for Aquatic Center Peak Performance

By Kim Tobin


The right staff often comes in the form of hiring certified professionals who are well-educated in a variety of pool management and operational aspects. Staff that can bring the correct skill sets to the job include professionals with designations like: certified pool operator, certified pool manager, certified aquatic manager, professional pool and spa operator, aquatic facility operator, or pool operator on location. Various groups and associations, including the National Swimming Pool Foundation (NSPF), the National Recreation and Parks Association (NRPA), the YMCA, and Aquatic Partners offer certification programs for pool managers and/or operators.


National Swimming Pool Foundation: www.nspf.com

National Recreation and Parks Association: www.nrpa.org

YMCA: www.ymca.net

Aquatic Partners: www.aquaticpartners.com

Programming for maximum use

Staying in business at the municipal or institutional level, where admission and user fees have to be kept affordable, can be a tricky balancing act. The key is providing enough recreational programs to keep regular users happy, while providing programming time and space to outside clients to keep the cash flowing.

"You have to have a combination of both types of programming," says Kathy LaTerza, aquatic and community services coordinator for the city of Clearwater, Fla. "You can't forget the bread-and-butter types of programs, like camp recreation, lessons and swim team programs—those are what the community needs. But we also have rentals and other activities from outside groups. They can't replace programs at the expense of what those in our community want, however."

Because the needs of visitors and the community change, successful programming often means being flexible.

"We're open to any type of new programming," LaTerza adds. "Of course, a big issue is that everyone wants the pool at the same time. We're going to stick with the programs that are successful. It's a business—we have to determine what's best for the community and the city—we may have to move or stop a program that's waning in interest. There are new things happening all the time."

The right mix of in-house programs vs. renting to outside clients will often depend on who's using it.

"In aquatics, it costs so much money to run a facility that you have to bring in other sources to keep revenue going," adds Caryn Murray, recreation facilities manager for the aquatics center at San Jose State University in San Jose, Calif. "Our pool is open for lap swimming and recreational swim, and that's about it—there's not much in-house programming at all. When the facility first opened, our priority was recreation for students and then the outside clients, however the administration discovered that it was so costly to run the facility, we had to have people rent space from us."

Because many of the students are commuters and don't spend a lot of time on site for recreation, Murray estimates that close to half of her programming activities at the university's pool involve outside groups that rent space.