Feature Article - January/February 2002
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Pool Your Resources

Aquatics programming ideas to help keep your facility floating

By Mitch Martin

Youth is wasted on poor programming

Aquatics programs across the country are constantly trying to reach out to the future of swimming pools and waterparks: the young swimmer. In particular, in recent years, there has been an effort to make swimming more accepted to the youth in older, urban areas.

The City of Austin's Parks and Recreation Department in Austin, Texas, has long been known for its famous aquatics facility, Barton Springs Pool. Naturally 69 degrees year round and lined with pecan trees, the spring pumps 27-million gallons of water a day. The pool is a national attraction, and not just because it's the place Robert Redford purportedly learned to swim.

Perhaps as unique is the programming the parks department employees use to reach out to the young. The Austin parks department doesn't use software to manage the programming for its numerous facilities and about 750 staff members, instead creating the entire pool calendar by hand. However, that doesn't mean the programming lacks innovation. Aquatics Manager Farhad Madani feels that by consistently meeting with neighborhood associations and surveys, his staff is quite responsive to the unique needs of the urban community.

Northside Family Aquatic Center in Wheaton, Ill.

"Part of our mission is simply to provide a lot to do, either in or out of the pool, to keep teenagers and young people off the streets," Madani says.

The Austin parks department implements two particularly unique aquatic programs to reach out to youths (and their families).

One is a water safety day run with local primary schools. It is designed to reach out to schoolchildren, particularly in urban areas where parents tend not to register their children for swim lessons.

Partnering with another parks department group, the aquatics staff brings about 300 to 400 kids on a single day to parks department facilities for loosely structured aquatics-related activities both in and out of the water. For example, an instructor might involve the children in a water-balloon game that also teaches a lesson in swimming fundamentals.

"Basically swimming is not seen as cool or fun, and this program introduces them to the fact that it really is," Madani says. "About 20 to 30 percent of the kids who participate in this end up taking swimming lessons from us."

Madani says one key to the program is partnering with another parks department program that already has contact and skill with the nonswimmers. The Get Real (Recreation, Education, Activity, Leadership) Roving Leader program began in 1997 to reach out to kids not served by the parks department.

"[Get Real staffers] will work with the kids, particularly with land-based activities, and they just know how to play with the kids and get them involved in something new," Madani says.

Another successful program the Austin parks department has implemented is called Splash Party Movie Nights. It's basically a dive-in movie. Especially popular during hot Texas summer nights, the program puts a large movie screen up at the end of the city's Deep Eddy Pool, and then entire families watch the movie from the flotation devices of their choice.

The parks department charges just enough to pay for maintenance and the cost of the movie: $2 for adults, $1 for teens and 50 cents for children under the age of 11. In 2001, the city showed everything from near first-run fair like "Remember the Titans" to classics like "Old Yeller."

The program has drawn as many as 1,500 people at night.

"It's extremely popular as a way for a family to cool off and have fun and all for a price most people can afford," Madani says. "It's not a money maker for us, but it gets people interested, and it provides a service."