Feature Article - November 2013
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Programming: Aquatics

Water for Everyone
Build Out Your Core Aquatic Programs

By Rick Dandes


Learn-to-swim is an important part of what all aquatic facilities offer. Yet many facilities miss out by not reaching out to under-served groups. Teaching children is key. Yet, there are other groups of people who can also benefit with the right approach to learning this life-long skill. These untapped markets should be considered for your 2014 strategy.

  • People who are afraid to be in the water: A 1998 Gallup poll of Americans reported that 46 percent of adults are afraid in deep water pools, and 64 percent are afraid in deep, open water. These adults, who never learned to swim, often pass that fear on to their children.

    "Consider positioning your facility as one that encourages all members of the family to learn this critical life skill with a Family Learn to Swim program," Nelson said. If you partner with or train your own certified instructors who specialize in teaching those who are afraid, make this part of your strategic marketing message. Develop a list of tactics that can help you carry out this strategy to broaden your learn-to-swim outreach.

    Swimming lessons can, and should, be fun. But they are also teaching life skills that could save your life someday, Nelson said, "And there isn't any other sport that can say this. So you need to market it that way."

    Learn-to-swim programs apply to every age group. Programs should be marketing the fact that every child should know how to swim no later than the third grade, and that way they are able to participate in the other aquatic recreation programs.

    "So, the whole concept of 'beyond recreation' is huge for keeping our facilities sustainable, and we have to revisit how we price it because in aquatics it has always been known that we just give it away," Nelson said. Multiple reasons why aquatic programs are no longer free is that in essence you are providing safety, health and wellness.

  • Minorities: The rate of death from drowning is four times higher for black and Hispanic children ages 10 to 14 and two times higher for those children ages 5 to 9, when compared with white children. The rate is shocking and disturbing—especially because the tragedies are preventable through education and swimming lessons. These two age groups and demographics are entirely teachable, but they must have access to swimming pools and lessons. Your organization can develop a marketing strategy that speaks to this crisis and develop programming and partnering tactics to carry it out.

    Do you have a large Muslim population in your area? If so, consider offering closed aquatic sessions, as Muslim women in particular have specific needs in terms of privacy and body exposure.

  • Special needs populations: Autism affects more than 2 million individuals in the United States and tens of millions worldwide. Moreover, government autism statistics suggest that prevalence rates have increased 10 to 17 percent annually in recent years. "People with autism experience levels of sensory perception that most of us wouldn't know or understand," said Dr. John O'Connor of Montana State University. "It overloads them, so they engage in behaviors that distract them. Exercise gives them the same benefits, but it doesn't have the negative social connotations." Aquatic facilities that reach out to autistic children will provide a great service to the children and their families.

  • People with Type II Diabetes: People with diabetes can benefit greatly from aquatic exercise. Tailoring classes specifically for this group and helping them monitor improvements in their diabetes as they exercise is an option.