Feature Article - January 2011
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Taking the Plunge

Saving Facilities and Lives Through Smarter Aquatic Programming

By Kelli Anderson

The Staff of Life

Allowing your staff members to apply their passions to your programming, however, can only happen if your staff is pretty darn good to begin with. Like designing your aquatic space to fit your long-term programming plans, so the quality of your staff will determine if your programs will ultimately be successful. It's all part of the bigger picture.

Meyer recommended that beyond the givens of certification and skills, she looks for one primary characteristic in all her staff: personality.

"A real simple question is what drives you each day? What excites you? What makes you tick?" Meyer explained of her interview process. "And if they say, their family, their friends or their school, you know you have a person who works well. We want people who build relationships and take pride in learning names and greeting them and waving at the kids. It really gets down to personality."

When it comes to lifeguards, Meyer's interviews go from personal to physical, requiring potential employees to take a timed test to see how quickly they can respond to a victim in the water. She theorizes that when clients know they are being served by competent staff, they will be more willing to entrust themselves to the programming that goes along with the package. It's all about attention to detail.

At the Chatham County Aquatic Center, keeping staff on their toes means regular training. "One thing we do differently is we require all our staff to attend a monthly inservice," Selph said. "So on a monthly basis, they're learning about new trends in swimming or changes we've made as a facility regarding their certification or training or updates."

It's also about cross-training. "I think there's a definite need for aquatic professionals to be cross-trained in different disciplines to teach and be certified through AEA," said Jill White, founder and owner of Starfish Aquatics Institute (SAI) in Lincolnshire, Ill. "They need a broadening base that includes children or adults with disabilities and being certified as adaptive aquatic instructors. It's becoming more prevalent and a huge need that has been dropped by the wayside in the last few years."

According to White, training isn't just needed for staff. It's needed for management as well, as pools around the country continue to close as a result, she said, of inadequate training in programming. In an industry that trains lifeguards and pool operators, there is yet to be a systematic way to train aquatic directors to develop the kind of successful programming that includes such elements as fitness, instruction, fun and games. To that end, SAI is currently developing a management curriculum and USA Swimming is also investing time and energy to develop programming training and sustainable design for those who attend its conferences.