Feature Article - November 2017
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In the Swim

Creativity & Variety Boost Aquatic Success

By Deborah L. Vence

Boosting Interest

Following industry trends and offering programs that are innovative and exciting are great ways to boost interest in your pool.

"Be aware of new equipment that is available. Budgets are often limited (but should not be set any differently for the pool than the budget for land-based group exercise), yet purchasing one to two pieces of a variety of equipment options would allow for a circuit program to be offered," See said.

Also, consider what is working at the pool right now and expand upon that. "For example, if there is a big interest in lap swimming, possibly consider offering Horizontal-Vertical Cross Training that blends swim skills (horizontal) with traditional water exercise (vertical)," she said. "If the facility primarily focuses on children's swim lessons, then consider offering a simultaneous water exercise class (if space allows) for the parents. They will appreciate having a time-efficient option for their personal health goals."

Again, education is key—this time for facility management. "It is imperative to provide a safe, effective and enjoyable pool experience for the participants and the instructors," See said. "Pools need teaching microphones—the pool environment is challenging for instructors due to generally poor acoustics."

When participants cannot hear the instructions, they can become disenchanted with the program. "Have teaching mats for the instructor on deck to prevent slips and falls, as well as impact injuries. Showing concern for the instructors' well-being is a good reflection on the facility overall," she said.

Post suggested that "To boost interest in the pool, operators need to add creative and unique programs based on their market. This could include in-water 'boot camp' style training for young adults. This could be in-water obstacle course challenges for kids. This could be a variety of group exercise classes like yoga or Zumba, but offered in the water for aging adults who can't do high-impact activities.

"The basic idea," he said, "is to look at who isn't coming to your pool and see if there is a program that you could offer that they would be interested in. You shouldn't limit pool programming to the traditional swim lessons and water aerobics."

Some of the best examples of effective and efficient programming can be found in new swim schools and swim school franchises that are opening up. "Some use the membership-based approach to maintain a constant revenue stream, but also use a perpetual lesson model so kids are always improving and wanting to come back," Post said.

At the Lisle Park District's Sea Lion Aquatic Park, over the past few summers a wider variety of classes and times for each class have been offered. "Offering more class times for our swim lesson classes has shown to be the most effective," Cavazos said. "We have limited pool space, but by offering some of our smaller classes such as private and semi-private lessons as well as our parent-tot classes in the early evening, we have gained quite a few new participants," she said.

"Since everyone has a busy schedule, the more we can offer, as far as times for classes that are convenient for families, the more popular our classes will become," she said. "I also try to keep up with what is trending in the fitness world for our aquatic fitness classes. Not all fitness trends translate to the water, but Aqua Zumba, for example, is an easy transition and it was a very popular class for us this summer."

At the Mizzou Aquatic Center, its largest expansion in programming recently was focused around Key Log Rolling and stand-up paddle board use. "These are activities really growing in popularity as exposure grows, and we have been able to provide those opportunities to our students and members," Seris said. "After identifying a need, we have also begun offering small group adult lessons, which have been popular with our university community."

Special Programs

Another important part of aquatic programming is what it offers for individuals with disabilities.

"Improving services provided for individuals with disabilities starts from the first initial contact of the facility to the families. Families often report that fear of judgment and lack of training are one reason that they do not participate in community activities with their child with a disability," said Josephine Blagrave, assistant professor, Autism Clinic Director, Department of Kinesiology at California State University in Chico.

"Having one or more staff members with a general knowledge of disabilities and programming considerations is key to making families feel welcome," she said. "Knowledgeable staffing is just part of the equation. Having a space that is welcoming both physically and socially is important to including this population."

This could include some of the following strategies:

  • Showing advertising that includes individuals with disabilities.
  • Having a family changing room or space where parents with older children with a disability can go to help change their child, teen or young adult.
  • Using instructional strategies to help communicate with individuals who may have limited receptive or expressive language including pictures, sign language and visual schedules.
  • Using adapted swim equipment for instruction.
  • Being flexible about what is allowed on the swim deck. Sometimes individuals with disabilities may need to bring something with them to transition.
  • Allowing transition time between activities and between instruction for processing the information.
  • Providing parent trainings so that parents could teach their child both with the staff if needed and practice skills at home.

In terms of how aquatic facilities can expand their aquatic programming and include more programs for those with disabilities, Blagrave said, "Partnering with existing programs that already serve individuals with disabilities such as special day programs, Special Olympics, and other nonprofit organizations in your area are some ways to expand your aquatic program."

By working with community partners, each side brings much needed resources and ideas to the discussion to build a program.

"Aquatic facilities may have the space, but not the training or support staff needed to run a highly successful program—this is where the partner organizations can offer support," she said. "Additionally, there may be funding available to pay for the individuals with disabilities attending the program through these organizations to help cover costs. There are also national programs that facilities could apply for including organizations like Autism Speaks Swimming and Water Safety Scholarship Fund."

Local junior college and college faculty, students and staff are an often-underutilized resource.

"So, reaching out to faculty members not just in the parks and recreation departments, but also kinesiology and adapted physical education," she added, "are a great way to connect with students that are training in physical activity, may know about programming specific for individuals with disabilities and who can be used to staff programs, volunteer in special events and help facilitate activities."