Feature Article - November 2018
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Swim Toward Success

Growing Innovative Aquatic Programs

By Dave Ramont

College Aquatics Boosts Recruitment

More colleges and universities are adding state-of-the-art aquatic facilities, which can help recruit prospective students. Therefore they need to find programming that keeps that demographic coming back to the pool. North Dakota State University (NDSU) in Fargo unveiled an aquatic addition to their Wellness Center in 2016. The two pool enclosures feature a six-lane 25-yard competitive-style lap pool and a 50,000-gallon leisure pool that is mostly 3.5-feet deep. The leisure pool has volleyball and basketball always set up for play, along with a flowing current that students and members love to swim against and with, or just grab a noodle and float around in, according to Ryan MacMaster, assistant director of operations and aquatics. There's also a 5,000-gallon hot tub. "Our aquatic facility had students who sat on the design committee, and the main focus was having something for everyone, even if they didn't enjoy swimming," MacMaster said. This includes a sauna and an on-deck open-flame fire pit with comfortable seating.

One big success in the new pools has been the night swim, taking place four nights a week from 9:00 to 10:30. "We turn off the overhead lights and only run the underwater lighting system and the LED deck lights to provide a fun, unique aquatic experience," MacMaster said. "Sunrise swim is a spin-off of night swim to provide a relaxing morning swim time that also has the reduced lighting." He said this is also popular, pointing out that they always add extra lifeguard staff for their programs to ensure safety.

Floaty Night at NDSU is a fun social event that MacMaster said is wildly popular, drawing a couple hundred guests. "We throw a bunch of large inflatables in the pool such as giant flamingos, unicorns and rubber duckies. We put in as many floaties as we can while still being able to maintain a visual of the bottom of the pools."

They also offer dive-in movie nights and are looking to experiment with other events like log-rolling.

Canoe Battleship is another extremely popular event, according to MacMaster, offered as a one-day tournament each semester, along with offering it as a special event for campus groups like Resident's Life, fraternities and sororities. "We put 14-foot plastic canoes that seat three in the pool. The goal is to sink the other canoes first in a last-man-standing competition. Many of the teams dress up for the event and have unique team names."

MacMaster, a Red Cross training instructor, said their Red Cross CPR program is very popular, usually with a waitlist. They also employ their own water fitness instructor, with the most popular exercise classes being paddleboard yoga and paddleboard fitness. "These are drop-in style, and there's usually a line 20 minutes prior to class waiting to get a spot," MacMaster said.

Since NDSU doesn't have a swim team yet, MacMaster said they're trying a new program, Swim Masters, which provides a "swim-team style" but more fun and social workout environment to students who want to stay in swimming shape. "This has been popular in its first few weeks, and we're hoping the word gets out across campus." Scuba classes are offered as well, contracted through a local dive shop that provides all the gear along with a certified instructor.

Swim lessons are also offered, and the Swim Train program features one-on-one lessons based on a participant's goals, whether they've never learned to swim or they want to cross-train for a marathon. "Learn-To" nights feature a different topic each session, and are free to the first 20 students, for those who maybe can't afford private lessons or prefer to learn in a group. Lessons are also offered to the youth of the NDSU community.

YMCAs at the Forefront

YMCAs have always been a place where communities can find learn-to-swim programs or just simply go swimming. But they've also been updating facilities and offering more diverse programming to keep their patrons engaged. The YMCA of Springfield, Ill., has two locations, each with two pools. Their downtown location features a four-lane, 25-yard pool and a 20-by-30-foot instructional pool for preschoolers and babies. Their second branch features a warm-water rec pool with three lanes, a current river, jet area with bench and zero-depth play area. The second pool is an eight-lane competition pool. They also contract a park district pool for summer use by their swim team, according to Tara Bosaw, aquatics director for the downtown branch.

Programs such as aquatic aerobics, aqua yoga and water walking are becoming a part of the mainstream.

Bosaw said they offer many types of lessons, for 6-month-olds through seniors. "We get a lot of adults in our group lesson program, but also see quite a few who sign up for private lessons. We also offer an adaptive program for people with diversabilities."

She said their special needs program has expanded multiple times. "It started off as a one-day-a-week program for an hour and has grown to become five small group lesson offerings three-days-a-week, one-on-one lessons at a reduced rate as their schedule allows and a Special Olympics swim team."

The Springfield Ys offer lifeguard training, and Bosaw said they train their fitness instructors in-house. "Our water fitness classes have become incredibly popular. Last year we were averaging about eight participants in our evening classes and this year it's 18."

They also hold special events like Swim with Santa and Swim with a Mermaid. "For these two-hour events we do a craft/activity while the kids take pictures with the mermaid or Santa, and then we go into the pool and splash around." Bosaw said these events also draw a lot of non-members, and they're looking to add more seasonal events like a floating pumpkin patch, Easter egg hunts and dying the pool green.

Bosaw explained how they frequently network. "We're able to get together with other Ys at least twice a year at our neighborhood meetings and have breakout sessions where all the aquatic directors get together to discuss what's going on at each association. We also make a lot of connections through trainings, and we have a Facebook group entirely dedicated to YMCA Aquatic Directors."

Bosaw believes that while learning how to swim and keeping people safe around water will always be a staple of aquatics facilities, it's important to listen to your member base to see what they might like to see happening. "We make sure to update our current programming as needed, and anytime something new comes along we take a look to see if it would work for us."

In fact, Bosaw said they're looking into obtaining an inflatable obstacle course, which some facilities use for special events, sometimes charging an additional fee. Lam said they occasionally utilize inflatables for parties, rec swim or team events. Steinshnider explained that they use them at their older pools that have fewer amenities. "We promote that we'll be offering the obstacle course at this location on this date to bring a variety of activities to different pools and also to get people to different parts of town to visit the pools."