Feature Article - January 2011
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Taking the Plunge

Saving Facilities and Lives Through Smarter Aquatic Programming

By Kelli Anderson

Listen and Learn

Listening to what your patrons have to say or being aware of their needs is also key to developing the programs that will succeed. "Number one is you've got to listen to the population you are serving," Meyer advised. "If you are targeting moms with 2-year-olds you need to know when nap time is and feeding times are to plan around that. Novice swimmers can be shy; they won't come when the pool is rocking and rolling hard. The retired population are great at coming midday or in the morning. Know what they need and do what fits the best time for them."

Meyer is also quick to add that new programs won't necessarily be right the first time around. Or, even the second. If a program isn't working, Meyer suggested that the problem may not be the program, but the time, the day or even the instructor. "We may test a class for three months and if it's not filling up, we may move it, try a different format or we may eliminate it," Meyer said. "Facilities have to be willing to analyze how a program is doing and figure it out."

The Times They Are a Changin'

Those with their ears to the ground will also tell you that with the change in the economy, people are choosing to invest their limited dollars more in themselves and closer to home. From triathletes looking to improve their swim time to families looking for healthier ways to spend time together, aquatic programs are accommodating all ages and stages.

"There's a definite trend and need for all ages and stages for those facilities that want to be sustainable. It's a must," White said. "From beginner, parent and child, through things for seniors, there's been a good trend where we're trying to not just build or manage pools for competitive audiences, but trying to encourage facilities to be across all spectrums."

Trends include a greater interest in smaller groups and private instruction, more combined programs for parents with children, more combinations of fun with fitness and a growing need for programming to seniors and those with special needs.

Breaking old habits also includes ways of programming learn-to-swim classes. In days gone by, children were placed in learn-to-swim classes by age. But as anyone who has dealt with kids knows, there's a huge difference between teaching a young 3-year-old versus a child about to turn 4. "We've broken our learn-to-swims into multiple levels," Meyer said. "We did it ahead of the Red Cross. You can't lump all age groups together. You have to do a beginning 4, late 4, etc. Once you get to 6 or 7, however, you're fine."