Make a Splash!

Even the best aquatic programs need an occasional makeover. Typical makeover symptoms include waning participation levels, lack of staff enthusiasm and/or customer complaints. If you’re fighting the pool programming doldrums, here are a few common problems and quick solutions that may be of help.

Problem: No Kids Programs

Solution: This may seem basic, but most aquatic facilities live and die with kids programming. If you don’t have one dedicated just to kids, consider starting one. Most programs begin with a “learn-to-swim” class that ratchets up based on proficiency (and in some cases, age), and then gently prods kids and parents to keep the children moving through the program stage-by-stage (i.e., Tadpoles beget Guppies that beget Marlins that beget entry-level swim team members and on and on and on).

Like all things in this world, the better training you provide your instructors, the better they perform, the more satisfied are your customers, more quickly your program grows. So, if you are looking to add dedicated kids aquatic programs, take the time (and spend the money) to properly train your staff. You may also want to talk with neighboring municipalities that already offer kids aquatic programs. Quiz them on what works and what doesn’t, then adapt for your particular situation. There’s no sense trying to reinvent the wheel.

Problem: Not Enough Kid Participation

Solution: If you already have a program for kids, but are facing declining participation numbers, consider turning the problem on its head and develop family swim time programs that offer parents the option of either joining their child in the pool with the instructor or dropping the child off for instruction while they use the facility to work out, take a yoga class, or otherwise enjoy some “adult time.” The key to the success of these programs is in the details, namely picking the correct time for the audience you’re targeting. For example, learn-to-swim programs for preschoolers work well during the day if you’re targeting stay-at-home moms, but don’t forget not every mom stays at home, which brings up our next solution. Consider partnering with the schools and childcare facilities in your area.

Advertise special rates for parents whose children attend those schools/facilities and, if you have the ability, consider creating an aquatic program that is part of the schools/facilities curriculum. There are some logistics involved here--bussing, chaperones, liability coverage, etc.--but this can be a great way to fill up dedicated children’s aquatic programs during the school day/work day and provide kids with a valuable skill--the ability to swim.

And, of course, if you don’t have a multi-level program like the one described earlier (Tadpoles, Guppies, Swim Team, etc.), consider creating one. These programs are used by so many aquatic centers because they work. They provide a natural feeder system from one level to the next, give the child a sense of accomplishment (many programs award certificates, ribbons, and/or patches when students advance from level to level), and are easier to administer because they really don’t change much from year to year.

Problem: Not Enough Adult Participation

Solution: There are two types of swimming adults--those who love to swim and those who need to swim.

If you have programs for adults who love to swim (lap pools, open swim times, etc.), try enticing these folks to change/augment their swimming habits by offering competitive swim meets. Not every one of your “love to swim” regulars will be interested, but often enough are that the competitive swim program takes off--maybe to the point where you can create an adult swim team. You can even offer levels to your adult swimmers--the Dolphins, the Swordfish, the Sharks, and so on. Or set some milestones like the 1,000 Laps Club. Imagine the marketing possibilities of these types of programs. I can just see the T-shirts now --“I swam with the Sharks” or “1,000 laps and counting…”

Not convinced your “love to swim” patrons will be interested in competitive swimming (or that you have enough of them to pull it off)? Consider running an aquathon or triathlon. These types of events pull from a larger audience than just your regulars and have the added benefit of introducing new swimmers (potential members) to your facility and, of course, they’re a lot of fun.

We find that offering an event that provides a sense of accomplishment drives our patrons to want to participate more and more--keeping them actively involved in swimming.

For adults who need to swim due to injuries, disabilities or age, consider offering a program that meets their specific rehabilitative needs or interests. For example, arthritis aquatic programs are a great way for adults with disabilities or mobility problems to enjoy a freedom of movement they can’t get in other areas of their life.

Building these programs can be a challenge. One good way, at least in our experience, is to partner with local assisted-living facilities or doctors/therapists. Often these businesses have their own transportation and are on the lookout for fun, cost-effective activities they can offer their patrons. Many times, it’s a win-win.

Problem: Yikes! I Need Help Scheduling Pool Times

Solution: Let your computer do the work. Software solutions for pools are extremely helpful in freeing up time. You tell the computer which programs you have and their length of time. The computer software helps you fit them all in. Programs such as EZ Facility and BookKing offer free trial periods. Try them out by visiting and

Shift your focus and put some extra energy into your pool. Get your staff motivated and start brainstorming how you can make these ideas unique to your facility. You’ll be amazed at how a little extra effort can really get everyone involved in driving up your patronage numbers. Happy swimming!

Kati Trammel is the advertising and public relations account executive for MCCS Marketing, Semper Fit Retail, Food and Beverage, based in Okinawa, Japan. She can be reached at