Four Things in Aquatics That Need to Change

By George Deines

Featured in Park & Recreation magazine – Aquatics Guide 2018

Four Things to Change NRPA magazine

I’ve heard the world of aquatics described by my aquatic professional colleagues across the country as multifaceted, ever-changing, demanding, sophisticated, rewarding and fun. I agree with all these descriptors and because there are so many descriptors, aquatic professionals must remain proactive and constantly think about ways to change, evolve and improve their operation to ensure the safety of their guests and the success of their operation.

 

I believe there are four areas in which the aquatics industry must change to maintain its relevancy for the next 10 to 20 years. While not everyone reading this article may agree with my assessment, I hope at a minimum that it will spark discussion to help aquatic professionals think about and continually analyze and evaluate their aquatics operation.

I also see this article reaching three different audiences.

  • professionals ahead of the curve who have already taken a proactive approach to the areas I mention
  • professionals who have addressed a few of the areas, but need some help in implementing all of them
  • professionals who have recently inherited an aquatics operation and need to address these areas.

 Community Outreach and Drowning Prevention

The first area where I see the need for immediate change is in the relationship between aquatic professionals and their approach to community water safety and drowning prevention. I believe that local aquatic professionals should lead the way and “hold the torch” in their community for the education of parents and children about water safety, both in the commercial and residential setting. They not only should emphasize water safety at all their facilities and in all their programs, but also should develop and implement water safety events at their facility and develop partnerships with the local school districts in order to present assemblies to students and workshops to parents.

From the facility point of view, many agencies have an annual or semiannual water safety community outreach event where they have booths set up that each emphasize a different aspect of water safety, from how to safely take your children to the local pool or aquatic center, to the layers of protection needed at residential pools to ensure children do not get into the backyard pool without adult supervision. Several avenues for materials exist, including the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) Pool Safely campaign (www.poolsafely.gov), as well as the World Waterparks Association’s annual World’s Largest Swimming Lesson™ (https://tinyurl.com/ya5ln5ta).

As a former municipal aquatics manager who developed and presented a 30-minute water safety presentation for local schools, I found that school districts will gladly welcome you into their school during the month of May to present this information to their students. Not only does its coincide with National Water Safety Month, but more and more states now include water safety standards in their curriculum. For example, the State of California specifically calls out water safety information, “Evaluate the risk and safety factors that may affect participation aquatic activities throughout a lifetime.” A partnership with local schools establishes a win-win situation for everyone and allows you to teach students how to be “SAFE” in and around the water:

  • Stay with children – Parents must be with their children at all times.
  • Always be attentive – Parents must not only be with their children, but be attentive to them at all times (i.e., not on a cell phone)
  • Fear the water – Parents much teach their children the dangers that are present with any body of water.
  • Educate your children – Parents must proactively teach their children about how to properly behave around the water.

Portraying Aquatics as an Essential Service

“But, how much will the aquatic center cost to operate and what percentage of its costs will it recover?” This question comes up in 99.9 percent of public meetings where I present various options for a new or renovated aquatic center. It’s a great question; however, I’ve seen the question asked disproportionately about aquatic centers for the past four years, but not asked with regard to other municipal services, such as libraries, the arts and even non-aquatic recreation centers.

 

Elected officials or the general public ask this question because, I believe, they inherently view aquatics as a nonessential service to their community. I also believe they hold to this position because they have not been told about the true value that an aquatic center brings or could bring to their community, value that they should not measure in annual expenses versus revenues. Unfortunately, they do not see the value of aquatics because their local aquatic professionals, aquatic user groups or parks and recreation leadership have not adequately explained it to them and shown them the difference aquatics makes in their community.

A great example of this occurred one summer when I coached a summer league swim team. One of my swimmers won an event at the state meet, and I found out that our city council wanted to recognize that swimmer. This achievement spurred a keen interest in the value of aquatics in my city, which eventually led to me presenting to the parks and recreation board about the tremendous impact our summer swim team had on the community. The program grew from 40 swimmers to 250 over the course of seven years and expanded from a summer-only program to also include a winter season and spring stroke clinics in anticipation of summer. Now, the impact of the swim team existed whether or not we had a swimmer win the state meet, but that event proved to be the catalyst to publicly promoting the value of aquatics to a much wider audience than we had previously done.

Aquatic professionals should proactively communicate the value and impact of aquatics in their community with their upper management. They can accomplish this by regularly sharing the number of swim lessons taught, adults in water fitness classes, daily lap swimmers, and so on. This will help provide your city’s decision makers with the information they need to ensure they view aquatics as an essential service: not just something that’s nice to have.

Enhanced Standards for Aquatic Safety and Risk Management

Safety should be atop the list of most important keys to a successful operation for any aquatics professional. Sometimes, whether intentional or not, they deemphasize it. But, how can aquatic professionals unintentionally deemphasize safety? They do so by not stressing the simple fact that “something could happen today.”