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

"We've got a Special Olympics program here, but this is not the Special Olympics," Swendig says. "If they're very severe, there's a lot of programs for them, but a lot of kids are walking the hallways of the schools that look very normal, but have some severe problems that prevent them from participating, that prevent them from being physically fit. The water's perfect for them, and yet they can't be on the swim team."

Swendig plans to offer a sort of entry-level swim-team practice tailored to the kids' abilities. Eventually, he hopes to work the kids up to lap swimming. Kids will be able to earn credit for off-campus P.E., a great benefit for kids who face ridicule in the locker room.

Based on the number of requests from parents of disabled kids, Swendig predicts the program will be successful. Kids' programming can be tricky, though, and in the past he's had some classes not pan out as expected.

One aimed to simplify parents' lives by offering both gymnastics and swimming in one class (30 minutes of each) in one location. Although it did relatively well, scheduling it proved to be a nightmare, according to Swendig. He also had a kids' summer cross-training program, where they swam, lifted weight and ran—results were marginal. Ditto for the semester-based swim team, where kids came in once a week for a swim workout and then competed in a swim meet at the end of the semester.

"At some point, every kid will try soccer," Swendig says. "Every kid will try baseball. Every kid will try basketball. With very few exceptions, most of them try it one time, and what if everyone tried swimming just one time? That'd be huge."

Retaining only 5 percent to 10 percent of the participants would greatly boost swimming participation, Swendig theorized. Although the program wasn't very successful, he has hope.

"We didn't promote it as well as we should've, and I really think there's potential there," he says. "We didn't do what maybe we could have done to see that it succeeded."

All of these ideas are examples of how programming at the Mabee aquatic center has grown over the years. While some classes may have a very specific group of participants in mind, Swendig resists alienating other groups.

"With the additional pools and the number of expanding classes, we've been able to get very specific with all of our population," he says. "For us, that's the biggest thing. We have really appropriate classes for all people in all levels. When we first started, that was certainly not the case."

Regular surveys of the center's clientele helped with that process. Of the center's 1,100 members, more than 700 responded to the last survey—a startling amount considering a mere 10 percent response rate would be labeled successful.

"They told us where they feel they're not getting what they would like and what's good," Swendig says. "They were very candid about it, and I would say that's really the best way to do it."

Once the programs have been created, Swendig promotes them through occasional advertising, word of mouth and promotional materials sent to schools.

"We've been around long enough," he says. "We're well enough accepted through various other entities in the city that if we wanted to send something home through the schools, the schools are very cooperative, and so is the parks and rec department."