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Feature Article - November 2017

In the Swim

Creativity & Variety Boost Aquatic Success

By Deborah L. Vence


Aquatic programs offer a variety of lessons and classes, many of them geared toward helping people improve their cardiovascular fitness level, muscular strength and endurance. To make such programs effective and continue to attract new interest, creativity and variety are key.

"Aquatic programs have the potential to benefit all ages and all ability levels, and while the water is 'an equalizer' for many different levels of ability and experience, it is generally more effective to have a variety of class formats and intensity levels," said Julie See, director of education at the Aquatic Exercise Association, a Brunswick, Ga.-based nonprofit organization that specializes in the advancement of aquatic fitness, health and wellness worldwide.

"If everyone participates in the same class structure, there will likely be dropout from both ends of the spectrum because the class will not meet the needs of these individuals," See said, adding that even with modifications provided by a well-trained and experienced instructor, some aquatic workouts may be too vigorous for some, and not challenging enough for others.

Effective Programming

To make aquatic programming successful, basic programs are needed, such as learn-to-swim classes and the like, but also some variety, too.

"If a facility already has a strong aquatic following from a certain population, simply adding more of the same class will simply keep those same people attending. To gain new interest, new programs are needed," See said.

Additionally, class names and descriptions are key to attracting more people, and the intended population, to the pool. "For example, if you are a 20-something, fit male, which class would you want to give a try—aquacise or aquatic sports training?" she said.

Not only that, education is key to success—starting with front-desk staff members who sign up people for memberships or direct new members to classes.

"They need to know what the classes are about, who the classes are designed toward, and basically what is to be expected (water depth, swim skills, impact levels, etc.)," See said.

The education should expand to include all the fitness staff, who should be recommending cross-training strategies for member success. This especially means "… aquatic fitness professionals, who should be certified, or preparing to be certified (e.g., team teaching), and trained in the formats they are leading, as well as the equipment they are using."

Finally, your education should extend to members to be sure they are aware of and understand what programs are available.

For example, to make aquatic programs more effective at the Mizzou Aquatic Center in Columbia, Mo., "we really push our programming out through our staff to their peers," said Chris Seris, director of the Mizzou Aquatic Center, MizzouRec Services & Facilities.

"We have a student staff in aquatics of over 120, and we find that when they are using the facilities and programming, they are great promoters to their friends. As a department, we are also active in social media and marketing campaigns," Seris said.

"Also, one of the great things about the MU Student Recreation Complex is that in many spaces you can observe what is happening in the pools through windows or observation areas," he said.

"This allows participants to view aquatic activities they might not have been aware were available. We have found that interests have changed through the years, and we attempt to not only provide the best, most well-maintained facilities, where our students and members want to be, but to also provide exciting and popular programming and events that they want to try," he added.

In another example, the Lisle Park District in Illinois gives each participant individual attention while they are there for group classes, which are held at Sea Lion Aquatic Park.

"This is especially important for the children's swim classes since we, as park districts, are competing with many private swim schools in the area," said Laura Cavazos, CPO, aquatic and fitness manager at the Lisle Park District. "The other important thing we do to make our programming effective is ask for feedback from participants and do what we can to accommodate the changes or requests that we receive from participant feedback.

"While it is not always feasible to accommodate a participant's requests, we are here to make sure each participant is getting the most out of our programming," she added. "The best advertisement for aquatic programming is word-of-mouth, so our goal is for each participant to have a positive experience so they will share their experience and help grow our program."

Aquatic programming at Sea Lion Aquatic Park runs from June through the beginning of August, roughly nine weeks. "For us, as an outdoor facility, once we get into early August we start to lose staff who are heading back to college, as well as families that don't have as much time for aquatic programs, since they are trying to prepare to head back to school and take their last-minute family vacations," Cavazos said.