Feature Article - January/February 2002
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Pool Your Resources

Aquatics programming ideas to help keep your facility floating

By Mitch Martin

A new brand of aquatics

Just as X sports have become the hot trend in land-based recreation, alternative sports have become the new, new thing in aquatics.

Underwater hockey players trade ice for water
at the Aquatic Center/Sport Club at San Jose
State University

Sports such as underwater hockey and underwater rugby are somewhat rare but growing. Popular in many other former English colonies and in Europe, underwater hockey is a strange mix of physicality and grace. Played on the bottom of pools, swimmers use snorkeling equipment and push the puck along the pool floor with a 12-inch stick.

The game is relatively rare in the United States. The Washington Post reported in 2000 that while the small Australian state of Tasmania has 30 clubs, all of the United States has the same number of clubs. However, it appears to be growing in popularity, particularly along the seaboards.

Caryn Murray runs the aquatics center at San Jose State University, which includes one of the largest pools ever constructed in California. As the author of a recent article for the Texas Public Pool Foundation on aquatics programming, Murray says these alternative sports could really help fill up the dead water time.

"The cost of running a pool is so expensive, you have to be conscious of filling in that time," Murray says. "The hockey team is made up of somewhat older players who are comfortable playing from 7 to 10 p.m. That's great for my pool."

Murray says part of the problem in the United States is that while many European and Australian pools have expensive tile bottoms that facilitate underwater hockey, American pools are often fiberglass. To that end, her pool has been equipped with a nonremovable slick mat to facilitate the sport.

"It's in the deep end, so it doesn't interfere with any other activity," Murray says.

Other facilities are not taking up the sport, in part because they haven't figured out the safety considerations. Madani says Austin is holding off for the present on underwater hockey.

"It looks like a very fun sport, but the general safety guideline is you aren't supposed to have people holding their breath underwater for long periods of time," Madani says. "So we are sort of holding off because of that contradiction."

Education, education, education

Most aquatics experts agree that no matter what program, old or new, educating the public about its existence is a key to success.

Sophisticate aquatics facilities get the word out using a broad range of media tools: mailers, Web sites, in-facility brochures and press releases to local newspapers. Morrill feels the quarterly brochure is his primary education tool.

"One thing we've done is combined it with our camp program, which allows parents to sort of plan their summer," Morrill says. "It's been very successful. People are waiting for it to arrive."

For seniors and others with arthritis, Mescher suggests publicizing programs through health-care professionals. Most people with arthritis see a primary-care physician and/or a rheumatoid specialist, as well as a physical therapist or occupational therapist.

Murray reminds her fellow aquatics managers not to forget the importance of educating staff, both for new programs and re-educating staff for existing programs. She says this was particularly important as aquatics programs continue to diversify.

"Probably one of the biggest challenges is educating your staff," Murray says. "Each client has their own needs, and the challenge is to get the staff to understand those needs are changing on a daily or even an hourly basis."