Supplement Feature - February 2018
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Swimming Toward Wellness

Expand Aquatic Programming With a Focus on Fitness

By Dave Ramont

Sue Nelson, aquatic programming specialist for USA Swimming, agrees that aquatic centers are starting to recognize how important vertical aquatics are to their bottom line. "Aquatic fitness and wellness programs can be 55 percent of the income for aquatic centers if developed properly for the communities."

Nelson said that facilities need to understand how to market to their communities' health and fitness needs, starting with having qualified professionals offering great customer service. "The industry needs to look at pools like they are an aquatic health club or gym. You can offer a client everything they need to reach their fitness goals via the water just like the land health club," Nelson said, adding that developing partnerships is a win for all since therapists are focused on providing the best care for their clients, not operating an aquatic center. "Aquatic centers focus on providing a safe environment in and out of the water while aquatic therapy and aquatic exercise can be offered by the professionals."

The city of Largo, Fla., has two outdoor aquatic facilities, and Mark Abdo is the aquatics supervisor and community outreach liaison there. He described some of the fitness and wellness programs they offer, including Aqua Fit and Trim, Deep Water Exercise, Aqua Zumba, a home-school PE program and Silver Splash, which is a Silver Sneaker water exercise program. Patrons also partake in fitness swimming and water walking with no specific class. He said their annual Aquatic Zumba Pool Party attracts 100 to 150 enthusiasts for a two hour dance/exercise event.

Abdo said that attendance is fluid in Largo's aquatic exercise classes, especially in the winter. And while men do participate, he said that senior women make up the majority, adding that attendance is stronger when a particular instructor has a good following. As far as marketing, a variety of channels are utilized, including fliers, posters, a newsletter for their business membership, websites, media releases, Facebook, marquees, cross promotions with land fitness classes, social media of students and instructors, and sending digital information to other area aquatic facilities.

According to Abdo, the city also works with water therapist Dawn Lewellyn, who rents pool space twice a week for private aquatic therapy sessions. "This is a mixture of children and adults with various disabilities," he said. "Dawn's private therapeutic swim classes are always full to capacity on Fridays, so in summer 2017 we added Wednesday mornings as well. We also hired her as a contract coach for our summer Special Olympic swim team." Lewellyn previously worked for the City of Clearwater Recreation Department as their CTRS (Certified Therapeutic Recreation Specialist), but as funds dried up she started her own business.

When it comes to arrangements between private therapists and pools, Barr said they vary, and may be as simple as paying admission to the facility if they're just using pool time. "If the instructor or therapist wants exclusive use of specific spaces and/or equipment, then there may be a pre-determined fee structure," Abdo said, adding that the same might go for hospitals or therapy groups renting space at specific times.

Sova agrees, and said that rents in these situations can vary tremendously. "Some pools rent at $5 for a lane for an hour! The warmer the water and the more private the pool, the more you can charge."

Some aquatics facilities may choose to assist current staff with receiving training or certification when it comes to water fitness instruction or water therapy, while others seek to hire or contract those who are already certified. "As you look to build your instructor roster, don't overlook current swim lesson instructors," Barr said. "It sounds silly, but building the instructor base is a bigger challenge than a participant following."

Another avenue Barr suggested is to work with an organizer to be a host-location for training sessions. See said it's about a 50-50 split when it comes to instructors, with some facilities providing education/certification opportunities for employees and other venues requiring certification prior to being hired.

Abdo said Largo has had some trouble hiring water exercise instructors who are already certified, so the city allowed him to create his own certification program, just for use at their facilities. "The Largo certification is a mixture of classroom and actual instruction with a USWFA (U.S. Water Fitness Association) instructor signing off, allowing the individual to be hired by me as a contractor." This is only for general water exercise, Abdo explained. Other therapeutic certifications are the responsibility of the instructor, and he added that they have recruited other staffers by hosting national certification training programs.

What about physical requirements as far as the venue is concerned; are there equipment or design issues that facilities should be aware of when looking to offer wellness programs? Barr pointed out that water temperature and water depth will affect what a venue can offer, and there are water-entry considerations as well. "Incorporation of zero-depth entry, stairs, lifts, etc., is important to make the environment as inviting as possible."

Barr added that locker rooms and changing rooms are important considerations, too, as is the general pool environment. For instance, if the pool is incorporated into a larger, multipurpose facility, there may be lots of windows and views of the pool. "Some people that may participate in an exercise/wellness program may have body image issues, so getting them into the water in a way they feel comfortable will be important. These factors should be considered when determining what programs you will offer and who will participate," he said.