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Feature Article - November 2018
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Swim Toward Success

Growing Innovative Aquatic Programs

By Dave Ramont


When a facility does offer water fitness classes, they sometimes hire independent contractors to lead the classes. But more and more, facilities are providing training and certification opportunities for their own personnel. AEA offers a certification and numerous continuing education programs throughout the world, certifying more than 45,000 professionals internationally.

In Dallas, Texas, there are nearly 20 outdoor public pools, one indoor pool and one waterpark. Robin Steinshnider is the aquatic services manager for the city of Dallas, and she played a critical role in creating Dallas' Aquatics Masterplan. In addition to things like operational and maintenance concerns, the plan also addresses programming, and when it was recently updated, Steinshnider said they realized they weren't meeting the needs of today's users. "The plan makes recommendations, and mainly sets us up to have facilities that can be used in more ways than just the traditional lap swimming and swim lessons."

Water fitness offerings have proved popular in Dallas, including classes using floating fitness mats, which they tried at one location last summer and have expanded this year to other locations. "It's very popular. We tell people to get there early because they fill up pretty quick," said Steinshnider.

She added that they're big proponents of getting their own instructors trained in-house; providing "train the trainer" programs. "This summer we had our certified fitness staff work with seasonal staff from each of the outdoor locations and did an in-house training program so we could have water fitness classes at all of our locations."

More pools are also offering water safety training to the public, and Steinshnider said they have 12 lifeguard instructors on staff. "We do water safety instructor training and we do lifeguard training. We offer it to the public and for a reduced rate to our employees."

They've also had a local scuba group come and offer free demonstrations, trying to get more minority kids exposed to scuba diving, letting them try the equipment and swim along the side in the shallow end. "Just to show them what some of the opportunities might be if they were interested in pursuing that," said Steinshnider.

Partnerships Expand the Options

Sometimes cities will enter into a partnership with an outside entity to oversee their aquatic programming. In Burlingame, Calif., the Burlingame Aquatic Club (BAC) is a nonprofit organization that provides community programs on behalf of the city's parks and recreation department. The programs take place at the Burlingame Aquatic Center, located on a high school campus and featuring a 50-meter Olympic pool and a smaller warm-water training pool. BAC receives an annual subsidy from the city to help run the programs. BAC, the city and school district share facility costs at a predetermined percentage, based on pool use and lane allocations for each agency's programs. BAC also rents pool time from another high school for their water polo program.

"Our partnership with the city has allowed us to offer a wider variety of programs that serve a broader audience," said Sylvia Lam, executive director at BAC. "The greatest benefit is serving the community by providing excellent aquatic opportunities." According to Lam, these programs include swim lessons, lap swim, open rec swim, water aerobics, American Red Cross classes, camps, pool parties and community events such as the annual in-water Spring Egg Hunt.

Lam said their water aerobics class offers a full-body, low-impact workout in shallow water. "Our year-round class is Energizer Aerobics, but we also offer specialty classes such as Aqua Yoga, Deep Water H2O Core and more."

She added that their lifeguard certification classes are very popular, often having a waiting list. "These classes are a great way to recruit new staff and build connections within the industry."

Their swim school includes group, private and semi-private lessons for all ages, as well as lessons for kids and adults with special needs. Their scholarship fund provides financial aid, and they host several fundraisers a year and also receive private donations. USA Swimming Foundation recently awarded them a grant to provide free swim lessons to 30 children.

Pool parties take place during summer months in Burlingame, with packages including pool access, a private cabana, dedicated lifeguards and a pool party host to assist with food and games. "They are very popular and a great way for people to get to know our facility, staff and program offerings," Lam said.

BAC also offers competitive programming. "The head coach of our Masters program, Cesar Valera, is a former professional triathlete and helps make the program welcoming for new swimmers while also challenging competitive and former competitive swimmers," Lam said.

Their water polo program starts with introducing young players to the sport with their Splashball program, with graduates moving on to their coed team and then on to the high school teams. "Last summer we had three teams qualify for National Junior Olympics. We also offer a Masters water polo program for players 18-years plus," said Lam.

The BAC Swim Team has more than 200 swimmers who participate in local, state and national events. "We have a large showing at National Junior Olympics, Junior Nationals and National Championships. On average, 50 percent of our graduating seniors go on to swim for a four-year college," Lam said. "The competitive success of our teams shows that you can offer a wide variety of programs and still be an expert in your field."