Calling All Swimmers!

The summer of 2005 began like most other summers for the city of Garland’s Aquatics Division in Texas. Management hired and trained staff, ordered supplies, issued uniforms, and cleaned and readied the pools for opening day.

Then officials made a radical change--for the first time in more than 50 years, the summer swim-instruction program was brought in-house. The major objective of the new program was to enable more patrons to participate by keeping costs low.

This seemed to be a viable solution to the puzzle of how to provide an affordable, high-quality program for patrons while overcoming the obstacle of spiraling costs associated with using an outside agency’s curriculum.

By simply utilizing the experienced staff already in place, the city developed its own program and teacher-certification process, beginning with a parent-tot class and extending through to the swim team and classes for adults.

At the time the switch was made, there were several staff members who had served in various capacities in the aquatic program. This team set to work developing stroke and progression standards that taught both efficiency and speed.

The objective was to develop effective swimming habits in participants from the beginning, thus creating stronger, safer swimmers. As participants reached advanced levels, they could also audition for the swim team and add competitive skills to basic stroke skills.


But first, some would have to make it through the most basic task--to get into the water.

As in many aquatic programs, there are occasional participants (of all ages) who fear the water. To help swimmers work through these fears, coaches who are sensitive to this issue are assigned to them. Although children who are fearful often cry and scream, their fear is not as ingrained as it is in adults.

Conversely, those adults usually have had a deep-seated fear for many years. However, the advantage is that adults typically don’t cry and thrash about, or try to escape from the pool!

Adults can be reasoned with and acclimated to the water fairly quickly. In most cases, they know they have a fear, and want help to conquer it.

Frequently, it is discovered that adults are not afraid of the water, but rather the sensation of floating and not being able to touch the ground. This is also typical with children, but there is the added factor of developing trust.

Basically, the approach to helping both adults and children overcome a fear of the water is the same--to give individual attention to the participants. With fearful children, the recommendation is to start them in a class with a low number of participants to ensure their safety and comfort.

Children are slowly introduced to something as simple as splashing water on their feet, or holding them while the class sings songs. Songs and games are utilized that encourage children to work their way into the water until they are comfortable. Songs such as “The Wheels on the Bus” or “This is the Way We Wash our Face” prove to be helpful because the motions are distracting.

Meanwhile, adults are placed with other adults and a single coach. Good conversation with an interest in their lives seems to help them relax.

Reaching Out To All Swimmers

Recently, in response to a need for an adaptive aquatic program, staff members implemented a class for those with special needs. It was made clear to those who wished to enroll that the program instructors do not have special certification, but a willingness to tailor a regular program to the special needs of each student.

The course is offered at the same cost as for other classes. In an effort to individualize each class, input is gathered from the parent/caregiver on the needs of each student. The adaptive aquatic class also is offered with low instructor ratios to dedicate the appropriate amount of attention to each student’s needs.

Revenue Through The Roof

As the program continues to grow, staff members seek additional ways to expand the number of classes offered. For instance, most of the usable space and time at the pools is already heavily programmed, with some facilities operating from 7:30 a.m. until 9:30 p.m. daily for the swim team, swim lessons, day-care rentals, public swim and private reservations.

When morning lessons were introduced at one facility and evening lessons at another facility, an additional $28,000 in revenue was generated.

In the first five years of the program, nearly 17,000 participants have generated close to $600,000 in revenue, exceeding the previous eight years of program participants and revenue.

Focusing on the needs of the public and watching not only the program’s bottom line, but the bottom line of participants has helped to effectively serve the community.

Nathan Swanson has worked in various capacities for the city of Garland (Texas) Parks, Recreation and Cultural Arts Department. Since joining the city as a Learn-to-Swim instructor in 2000, Nathan has moved through the ranks to become Senior Aquatic Business Manager. He can be reached via e-mail at