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You’re Not Alone! Facing and Fixing Today’s Aquatic Challenges

As the president of the North Texas Aquatics Association, I recently surveyed our membership of aquatics’ professionals in the Dallas/Fort Worth area, as well as some of my colleagues on the World Waterpark Association’s Public Sector Committee, in order to find out what challenges and obstacles they currently face.  As the results came in, I quickly realized that the majority of the challenges mentioned fell into one of three categories: Personnel, Financial and Facility.  And while none of the answers surprised me, it was interesting to see the challenges they face and how it affects them and their organization.

Staffing issues top the list of challenges, mainly because of the nature of the positionsCapture and hours offered to prospective employees.  Operators need staff from 5am to 10pm Monday through Friday, and most the day on the weekends too.  Not only that, sometimes staff is only needed for a few hours at a time (programming, noon lap swim, etc.) and it’s difficult to find dedicated and engaged employees who want to work a staggered schedule.  Because of this, employee turnover and competition from other less stringent jobs stood out as primary challenges posed to the group I surveyed.  Throw in the lack of buy-in from younger employees, and the complexities with recruiting, training and motivating staff, and aquatic professionals have a difficult task ahead of them, and we haven’t even gotten past the first category!

On the financial side, challenges included the rising costs of equipment, supplies and labor, something I noticed over the course of my days as a public sector operator.  From 2007 to 2014, the cost of my calcium hypochlorite went from $166.00 for 100 pounds to $193.00, that’s a 14% increase during times of shrinking budgets. Couple rising costs with aquatics’ staff being given unrealistic cost recovery goals for their facility and the decrease of annual operational budgets, they quickly become frustrated because they must generate more revenue, with less resources to do so.

On the facility side, operators struggle with maintaining aging facilities at an acceptable level, while not having the financial means to make it happen.  Aging pools built in the 1970s and 1980s face physical (aging infrastructure) and functional (lack of features) obsolescence.    These facilities have low attendance because which puts revenue generation at an all-time low, yet their costs keep rising.  Add in changing codes and legislation and now operators are being asked to patch their 40 year old pool to get it into compliance, when it needs a complete renovation.

Now, that we have a list of chalI Thinklenges that hinder aquatics’ professionals, let’s develop a framework to start tackling these one by one.  Anytime I look at overcoming a challenge, I asked myself four questions in regards to that specific challenge.

1)      What difficulties does this challenge pose?

2)      How does it affect my organization and operation?

3)      What are the benefits of overcoming this challenge?

4)      How do I overcome it?

Answering the above questions will make the path to conquering your challenges much easier and will provide you with clear direction and purpose.  Let’s take training and motivating staff as an example and then I’ll send you on your way to tackle the rest.

1)      What difficulties does this challenge pose?

Aquatic operators lack the time and resources to fully train their staff, primarily because they have so many other responsibilities.  Recruiting, hiring, programming, payroll and maintenance all take time and which leaves little time for training. Lack of funding also impacts training and motivation because training funds typically go first when budgets get slashed.

2)      How does it affect my organization and operation?

The lack of training and motivation means that operators receive poor employee behaviors which can put your guests at risk, as well as providing them poor service.  Without training, employees are less likely to buy in to the vision and culture of your organization, which means they leave sooner and operators have a high employee turnover rate.  That puts you back at square one which means less time to train and motivate because must spend time recruiting and hiring.

3)      What are the benefits of overcoming this challenge?

The benefits of training and motivating staff far outweigh the time and resources it takes because once you start training then you can become more efficient in your time management.  You can delegate some of your responsibilities to your more proficient staff and the good behaviors starts to flow from your team. You now have a safer facility with employees who provide better overall service.  They start buying in to your philosophy and vision and now they stay longer, which reduces your turnover and gives you more time to focus on improving your operation, instead of just getting by.

4)      How do I overcome it?

This is probably the toughest question to answer when looking at overcoming the challenge of training and motivating staff, but it’s also the most important.  Operators should create a training calendar that covers all of the topics that need addressing on a daily, weekly or monthly basis with each of their levels of employees.  Once complete, you must show the importance of training in order to achieve your organization’s vision (don’t forget to make attendance mandatory!).  Also, make sure you hire hiring individuals who have shared values with your philosophy, a positive attitude, internal motivation and great communication skills.  These are the ones that are easy to train!  I might take a little more work upfront during the hiring process, but you’ll be glad you did.  Training is merely an extension of the hiring process so it’s important to show organizational purpose and vision in the interview, as well as every day on the job.  Lay out your expectations on the front-end of employment, communicating to them what to do, how to do it and why it matters.  Buy-in, loyalty, staff retention and employee engagement await around the corner!

Overcoming challenges and obstacles can prove to be a difficult process, but a worthwhile one.  Improving your operation just a little at a time will have big rewards for the future and set your organization up for success for many years to come.

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