Feature Article - January/February 2002
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Pool Your Resources

Aquatics programming ideas to help keep your facility floating

By Mitch Martin

Splash Party Movie Night at Deep Eddy Pool
in Austin, Texas.

Aquatics programming is a lot like the "Price is Right." Aquatics directors are forever trying to go right up to the actual maximum use of space, without going over.

Aquatics directors are dealing with an expensive and finite asset. In many areas of the country, the finite space problem takes precedence. Every minute of the day and every inch of pool space are used up.

Other areas of the country, particularly warm regions with easily accessible natural water bodies, the financial part of the equation takes precedence. While few pools are idle for very long anywhere in the country, the high cost of running a pool makes what directors call "dead water time" anathema to a successful aquatics program.

The finite, expensive nature of the aquatics resource makes each decision a facility manager makes an intrinsically precious one. Added to the economics, however, is the simple fact that aquatics programming must be designed under the special concerns of liability and safety in the water environment.

This is not to say all is grim for the aquatics facility manager. Across the country, aquatics professionals are taking up the challenge of filling the programming calendar with both the traditional swimming lessons and team sports and the new horizons of therapeutic aquatics and nontraditional programs.

In this feature, we will look in particular at three programming segments with specialized opportunities: seniors, children and nontraditional programs. All three are areas that can fill dead water time or simply increase a facility's service to its community.

Veteran facility manager Ray Morrill of the Wheaton Park District in Wheaton, Ill., reminds us that aquatics facilities have a much more professional staff then they did when he started in the field in the 1970s. For instance, all his aquatics staff, programming and maintenance are certified.

"Just the nature of the business today, it really requires the whole operation be professional," Morrill says.

Old standards
Because floating around in a pool and watching
movies are two great ways to beat the heat of
summer, Deep Eddy Pool (a facility run by the City
of Austin, Texas) offers Splash Party Movie Nights.

It is not a new trend, but it is becoming an ever more prevailing one: the increasing median age of American society. MSNBC reported that a Baby Boomer is turning 50 every 7.6 seconds in the United States, and senior citizens will outnumber young people by 2050.

Aquatics can offer the lowest impact form of exercise as well as a range of therapeutic tools for seniors.

However, experts say that a surprising number of aquatics facilities do not provide the simplest requirements to make pools safe and comfortable for older guests.

"It's pretty simple really," says Mari Lou Moschetti, an Alpo, Calif.-based aquatics consultant. "If you want to have seniors, have a cover over your pool and warm water."

Shannon Whetstone Mescher, vice president of programs and services at the Arthritis Foundation, says water temperature is one of the most important keys to providing aquatics programming for seniors with arthritis.

"Eighty-three degrees is the minimum and between 84 degrees and 88 is ideal," Mescher says.

The foundation has more than 300,000 participants in its aquatic therapy program. Mescher suggests several other keys for providing water aerobics and other exercise and therapy programs for seniors:

  • n Pool depth of between four to five feet, so participant's shoulders are submerged. Lacking this depth, a facility should provide weighted seats.
  • n Permanent or portable stairs with a rail or ramp
  • n Safety and flotation equipment
  • n A mechanical lift is desirable, though Mescher acknowledges they are price prohibitive.
  • One of the bigger new developments will be the implementation of deep-depth aerobics programming, a third level of the class the foundation hopes to have finished sometime next year.

    "The new program will allow the development of endurance and a fuller range of motion," Mescher says.