Feature Article - April 2005
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Programming Your Pool

A closer look at aquatics facilities that used their successes and failures to grow

By Kyle Ryan


That municipal pool in Las Vegas experienced an impressive turnaround by catering to a very specific audience, but in general, successful programming appeals to a variety of people. In the past, pools at gyms and health clubs have been perceived as the domains of swim rats, not the general population.

At HealthBridge Fitness Center in Crystal Lake, Ill., Group Fitness Coordinator Kathy Kozak says it's the opposite.

"Most people look at the fitness end and not the lap swimming," she says. "Most people actually look at the pool as the old-lady workout."

People need to see people like them in the pool to swim. That means targeting any particular group too much can have negative consequences. But facility managers also need to understand their mission. If their aquatics area is part of a hospital facility that caters mostly to senior citizens, then having more senior classes makes sense. Programs should match the community.

Programming tends to be instructional or recreational, but through creative multitasking, all types of programs can take place at the same time. For example, a pool like the previously mentioned one in Las Vegas could have a water-fitness class in the shallow end, a water-running class in its deep end and a lane open for lap swimmers. Through circle swimming, where swimmers follow the sides of the lane, up to half a dozen people can use one lane. Managers just need to help people understand how it works, which could be accomplished with strategic sign placement.

Programming also has to be named correctly: generally, the more specific, the better. "Water aerobics" could mean just about anything. Even specific names can be problematic if not chosen carefully. Brad Swendig, president and executive director of City of Midland Aquatics in Texas, had a hard time naming his seniors' class.

"We've called it 'therapy,' and you have seniors coming in and going, 'I'm not in therapy; there's nothing wrong with me,'" Swendig says. "So you call it 'the 'seniors' class,' and these guys are like, 'I don't want to be in the seniors' class—I'm not that old!' It's like, 'We've got to calling it something!' Technically, I think we call it our 'Senior and Warm-Water Exercise Class,' which seems to suffice."

He laughs. The curriculum of the seniors' class matched that of the warm-water therapy class, which people of all ages took. To save time, Swendig decided to combine the classes—bad idea.

"We couldn't combine the names because those people that were in the aerobics [class] did not want to be in the same program as 'those old people,'" Swendig says. "It's really funny."

The programs still have the same director, same dues, same basic curriculum and same class times, but they stay in separate pools.