Feature Article - July 2019
Find a printable version here

A Wealth of Water Fun

Recreation, Therapeutic Activities Enhance Aquatic Programs

By Deborah L. Vence


Design Influence

When it comes to design influencing aquatic programming, Barr said "the design of a pool has a profound impact."

He said that "Varying depths of water, multiple water temperatures (typically with multiple pools), sight lines, flat water vs. active water and ability for social interaction during a program can all have an impact on not only the types of programs, but who will attend. In addition to the design of the pool proper, locker room facilities, changing rooms, deck space, lighting and the ability for public to view participants while they are in programs can all impact who attends programs."

Meanwhile, Sova noted that "Pools that start at 4 feet are often difficult to use for vertical exercise. Deep water exercise in [a] vertical position using flotation equipment can work well to offset that issue."

Abdo added that "According to Joe Calloway in his book, 'Becoming a Category of One,' our goal should be to create such a clean break from your competition that your customer and potential customers believe that there is no comparison between you and the other guys. I believe [the] Largo Recreation, Parks and Arts Department does this, and other aquatic professionals can accomplish this through mission, consistency, facility, attitude of staff, community partnerships and controlled risk."

He also noted that "Aquatic facilities have shifted from the rectangular 50-meter and Junior Olympic L-shape pools to becoming aquatic entertainment venues with free forms, deep water, shallow water, themed elements, bright colors, play features, all size slides, therapeutic pools, separate filtration and heating levels, bulkheads, etc.

"The excitement of the facility through color, shape, various depths and play amenities does make a difference. Within the facility design, swim lessons, water exercise classes, fitness swimming and competitive teams need to be considered unless there are other locations," he said. And, "An important element to any aquatic facility design is to make sure the aquatic professional is involved from the beginning."

Arash Izadi, director of sport and recreation at LPA, a Southern California-based architecture and design firm, added that in the past year there have been "more proposals for aquatic centers than any other sports facilities."

And, "Many of them were originally built in the 1970s and '80s, and for many institutions the time has come to decide between squeezing a little more life out of the existing facility or starting from scratch," adding that the question that needs to be asked is "Does that facility … still meet the needs of the community? Just because you have a lot of water, it doesn't mean it does what you need it to do.

"The key," he added, "is to forget all preconceptions and engage the community. Through that community and stakeholder outreach, we can develop priorities and actual programmatic needs. We let the program dictate the bodies of water and their forms and shapes."

Creative Approaches to Lessons

In regard to more resourceful approaches to swim lessons, "One thing that we are seeing a lot of across the country is the development of stand-alone swim schools," Barr said.

"The swim school model typically focuses on all levels of swimming and aquatic participation: group swim lessons, private swim lessons, group exercise, stroke refinement, triathlon training, etc. Two big differences in that business are the instructor-to-student ratio and the consistency of instruction," he said.


Some things that his company tries to encourage the client to consider are the following:

  • "Adding a theme to your swim lessons. This is typically easier on a college or university campus, but adding a theme beyond the common level 1, 2, etc., can be attractive to some participants," he said.
  • "Adding levels that aren't necessarily prescribed should be encouraged. If you have a good group lesson program, and you find that the number of 'older' kids unwilling to leave a parent/guardian is significant, add a class for that age group that includes the parent/guardian," he said. "It sounds silly, but it's like a toddler class for older kids, and the only focus of that class should be that by the end of the class they are willing to leave their adult and move into your group lesson program."
  • "I don't think that anyone has the best answer for the question, what swim lessons should you offer at what time? However, a method that has been successful is large group blocks of time. In this model you have a class at a specific day and time, let's choose 6:00 p.m. that meets on Monday and Wednesday. The class runs for approximately 35 minutes. During that time participants that are level 1, 2 or 3 can attend, and you have 30 spaces available. This allows parents with kids in multiple levels to potentially bring them at the same time. As the operator, your focus is on getting 30 kids to sign up and having six instructors available, and you shouldn't really care of the distribution of levels," he added. "The trick is the first day of class. It's very hectic because you get everyone at the edge of the pool and test them very quickly and break them into groups. If you have 30 kids sign up, you may have two that are Level 1, 10 that are Level 2 broken into two classes and 18 that are Level 3 broken into three more classes. The point is that you have flexibility, you accommodate schedules, and don't necessarily have to combine skills levels (Level 1 and 2 together) to fill a class and meet your minimums. The biggest complaint with a system like this is the first day, it's hectic, but the product is worth it."

Abdo suggested using "the first night to water test kids and create the classes that are needed, not fit kids into pre-established swim lesson categories."

Also, he recommended allowing "parents in the water during class with students who experience comfort issues, fear, continued discipline problem or disability. Take time to communicate with parents the first night of class with written and oral description, expectations, weather, safety, evaluations, availability, etc."