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Classic Recreation Systems
Feature Article - July 2019
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A Wealth of Water Fun

Recreation, Therapeutic Activities Enhance Aquatic Programs

By Deborah L. Vence


Whether the activity involves swim lessons, water aerobics or lap swim, aquatic programming is a great way for people of all ages to improve their cardiovascular health, strength, endurance and even flexibility. Not only that, aquatic programs can help in getting more people to frequent aquatic facilities. In fact, many aquatic facilities today offer a variety of aquatic programs, with some of the top ones being leisure swim, learn-to-swim for children, lap swim, aquatic exercise programs and water safety programs.

Get Creative

Some good creative programming ideas to attract more people to the pool include programs for "older people or people with special needs," said Ruth Sova, president of the Aquatic Therapy & Rehab Institute, a nonprofit educational organization that is dedicated to the professional development of healthcare professionals involved with aquatic therapy in Naples, Fla.

"The 65-plus age range is the biggest population group in the U.S. and will continue to be for quite a few years," Sova said. "So I suggest vertical programs (they don't like to get their hair wet, or take their hearing aids out or glasses off). BackHab is a walking program (not just for back issues) that builds functional skills with varied strides and progressions. It can be done in groups or one-on-one, with a teacher or alone."

The concept behind BackHab involves coordinating all body parts while fixing problem areas. It is a walking program that uses various strides to deliver different benefits, such as mobility, coordination, balance, strength and endurance, and it can be done in either shallow or deep water, as well as in groups or one-on-one.

Ai Chi is "a program used a lot in the therapeutic community for pain reduction, stress reduction and balance improvements," Sova said. Ai Chi involves a combination of deep breathing and slow broad movements that use concepts of Tai Chi, Shiatsu and Qigong. The technique was created by Jun Konno of Yokohama, Japan. Some of the benefits of the program include flexibility, range of motion and general mobility. It also helps increase blood circulation and mental alertness, as well as decrease stress. When doing the activity, the water depth should be at shoulder level.

"It's also easy to learn like BackHab, so [it] can be done in groups or one-on-one and with a leader or alone," Sova said, adding that "AquaStretch is another program that is good for pain that people can do either one-on-one or alone. The Aquatic Therapy & Rehab Institute can direct you to training venues, people or videos."

Developed by George Eversaul APH, AquaStretch is a method used in wellness and as a specific aquatic therapy technique. Some of the benefits of this exercise method include relieving pain and muscle soreness, restoring flexibility, and contributing to relaxation and improved sleep. The technique requires that the therapist progress a client through a series of starting positions and hand-grips, while encouraging movement. By applying a basic procedure to specific areas of tightness or pain, the facilitator works with the client to restore motion. The technique can be done one-on-one in 3 to 5 feet of water, and uses 5- to 15-pound ankle weights for the client, a weight belt for the therapist and a neck collar for the client, when needed.

Referring mostly to municipal and collegiate operations when asked about creative programs, Darin Barr, senior associate at Ballard*King & Associates, a recreation consulting firm in Highlands Ranch, Colo., that specializes in recreation and sports feasibility studies, parks and recreation master plans, as well as operational audits and assessments, said "that it isn't necessarily 'programming,' creative or otherwise, that is going to get more people to the pool."

Many clients that Barr's company has worked with across the country "have looked at patron counts and determined when they have 'slow' times during their operation," he said. "Once those times have been identified, some have added programs, while others have worked to focus special events at that time or introduce a new fun element."

As an example, he noted that "A new, or fun, element could be introducing an inflatable play structure, having stand-up paddle boards available or the like. If it isn't something that participants can do every day, it will drive attendance. In other words, access makes it special. A special event can be an egg hunt, or a dive-in movie, or a theme day," he said.

What's more, "Many newer facilities are trying to incorporate a competitive element to help drive attendance," Barr added. "There are companies developing ninja-warrior-like systems that retract from the ceiling that can be used at various times." And, "Some clients are considering a timing system for slides so that the fastest time is posted at the bottom of the slide, and resets every day (digitally, not manually), which encourages friendly competition."

Mark N. Abdo, recreation program supervisor and community outreach liaison for the city of Largo in Florida, said that "First of all, it appears based on my travels and conferences that aquatic professionals are not challenged in programming. They consider swim lessons, water exercise, fitness swimming (lap) and competitive aquatic teams as their programming. Though they are programs, they are the staples of any aquatic facility. What makes mine different from yours in attracting the customer interested in aquatic recreation? I call this the tie-breaker and facilitated a recent session under this title at the February Association of Aquatic Professionals (AOAP) national aquatic conference in Frisco, Texas.

"In my opinion, creative aquatic programs need to support the mission of the department and specifically focus on a particular age group and/or theme," he said. "As John Spannuth, founder of the United States Water Fitness Association (USWFA), asks often, 'Why do aquatic programmers plan for 5 percent use instead of 95 percent use?'"