Feature Article - January 2011
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Taking the Plunge

Saving Facilities and Lives Through Smarter Aquatic Programming

By Kelli Anderson

Thinking Outside the Box

Once a facility has at least two pools, and is in a position to implement the foundational programs that are the bread and butter of an aquatic budget, it's time to think outside the box.

With one of the outdoor facilities located at the base of Colorado Springs' stunning foothills, Dessart was inspired to think of ways to use the pool beyond conventional thinking. "We had this beautiful setting—just magnificent—but we'd close it to the public at 6 p.m. and wondered what we could do after hours," Dessart said. "So we did camping nights for a small fee. You bring your tent. You can swim out when it's dark under the stars. We do games with the kids, story time, roast marshmallows and promote parties. At the base of a mountain, the setting is ideal."

However, this unusual crossover from swim school to campground was not an easy sell to those who were more aquatic-minded. "You have to talk to somebody outside of aquatics for ideas," Dessart advised. "Ask what they could do with your facility. Think outside the box."

Not all ideas have to be so radical, however. It can be as simple as letting your staff's additional talents and passions combine with aquatics to create something entirely unique and wonderful.

At the Houstonian Club, for example, awarded the best aquatic programming in Texas by the U.S. Water Fitness Association a few years ago, management sees the value of letting staff follow its passions. "I let staff create," said Erica Meyer, aquatics director of 19 years. "For years I dictated it, and it was wrong. I have a great staff; they're motivated to do what they're interested in. Now, if they really believe and are committed to a new idea, I listen. And what they put out is usually a success because there's ownership and they're accountable."

One such success has been the club's School in Pool program, a combination of something practical and something fun. "The swim instructor, Connie, loves tutoring kids and she loves swimming, so her swim programs revolve around education," Meyer explained. "The kids bring their homework and she works with them for one hour, gives them a snack and then they swim for an hour and play games—all skill-oriented. It's very popular."

At Sunsplash Family Waterpark in Cape Coral, Fla., a staff-initiated course in aquatic safety, offered free of charge, and a junior lifeguard summer camp program have been creative, win-win propositions.

"One of my lifeguards and me were reading about yet another 2-year old drowning in a pool and we thought, there's got to be something we can do to prevent this. Why don't we offer a clinic?" said Tony Marzullo, aquatic supervisor of the parks and recreation-managed facility. "If we can get just one babysitter to learn not to turn her back on a toddler near a pool, then it's mission accomplished."

The waterpark's junior lifeguard program, a successful two-week day camp that parents and kids alike enjoy, has also served as a recruiting tool for future staff. "Quite a few go through this program and at age 16 they're working for us as lifeguards," Marzullo said. "It's a very profitable program if you do your numbers correctly."