Feature Article - November 2018
Find a printable version here

Swim Toward Success

Growing Innovative Aquatic Programs

By Dave Ramont

In recent years, many professionals in the aquatics industry—and other outside organizations—have been touting the importance of learn-to-swim programs, as early childhood swim lessons have been proven to reduce childhood drowning risk by 88 percent, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Unfortunately, more pools are closing as well, which means fewer opportunities for lessons in many locations.

USA Swimming is the national governing body for the sport of swimming in the United States. They've been tracking pool closures since 2008, and say the number exceeds 500. Some pools closed because they couldn't afford to upgrade to comply with new codes. But most closed simply because they were running at a deficit, and with ever-tightening budgets for cities and parks, pools are often on the chopping block. Operational costs keep rising, and programming income keeps shrinking. Therefore, aquatics facilities—both public and private—are exploring new types of programming to get people in the water and save those pools.

Julie See is director of education for the Aquatic Exercise Association (AEA), a not-for-profit educational organization committed to the advancement of aquatic fitness, health and wellness worldwide. She said they're seeing more facilities trying to expand aquatic programs in order to increase revenue generated by the pool. "Typically, if pools are only being used for recreation/open swim and swim lessons, it will be challenging to have a profitable pool," she said. "By offering shallow and deep water vertical exercise, along with other activities including water sports, scuba and snorkeling, kayak and canoe basics, and lifeguard training, then there is more potential for revenue. Some activities can be offered simultaneously without conflict—for example, shallow water exercise and scuba in the diving well."

Aquatics for Wellness

Sue Nelson has worked as a swim coach and aquatic fitness instructor, as well as running aquatic health and wellness centers and a pool supply company along with husband Mick. In 2004 she joined USA Swimming, specializing in program development and implementation along with facility design. She said it's extremely important for facilities to expand their programming. "I think the aquatic industry needs to evaluate what and how they operate to be sustainable," she said. "For the past 14 years we've been involved with creating a paradigm shift for the types of programs pools need to be offering, as well as pricing the programs. We hope management is looking at their bottom line and understand they must have certified professionals offering their programs before the community will pay, but they will."

Water exercise, fitness and therapy are all areas that are gaining momentum in aquatic facilities, which is not only good news for pool operators, but for the general public as well.

Water exercise, fitness and therapy are all areas that are gaining momentum in aquatic facilities, which is not only good news for pool operators, but for the general public as well. "Restructuring aquatic programs to be more fitness-related will have a huge impact on the health and wellness of our communities," said Nelson, who is disturbed by how many people live with chronic pain.

She pointed out that a lot of people who can't easily work out on land can do so in water without gravity, addressing all of the components of fitness. "We are seeing aquatic centers that have taken on the 'aquatic health club' model," she explained. "As we know, the cost of health care is rising every day; when aquatic centers develop programs that can make a difference in a person's health, we should all be ready to pay for those services."

See said that facilities sometimes ask AEA for advice when initiating water fitness programs, and she's encouraged to see a more diverse audience exploring aquatic programming. "In the U.S., still our biggest markets are seniors, including baby boomers. But with the innovations in programming, a wider range of people are trying water exercise."

See described how runners, who may have used water for rehab in the past, are now realizing that water is a great cross-training tool that allows them to maintain fitness levels and running performance with less stress to the body. "Younger individuals are open to aquatic programming, as long as the training format meets their needs," See said. "Even lap swimmers are looking for new ways to train that provide better muscle balance and less chance for repetitive stress injuries."

Programs such as aquatic aerobics, aqua yoga and water walking are becoming a part of the mainstream, and See pointed out that more specialized equipment is becoming available, which is great for attracting new markets, "from standup paddleboards for pools to aquatic poles that can be used alone or with additional attachments such as rubberized tubing and boxing bags, to mini trampolines, to three-dimensional drag equipment, whether handheld or attached to the ankles. Additionally, programming continues to explore more options: popular classes include high-intensity interval training, circuit training, martial arts, dance formats and balance-focused classes." See added how specialty populations are also being served, including those with arthritis, MS, etc.