Category Archives: Programming

Managing A Cutting Edge Aquatic Center

While community swimming facilities continue to evolve and emulate the waterpark and hospitality industries, municipalities must determine if they can compete for the sought-after aquatic professional who can manage these types of facilities or risk contract management to a third party.

Rising Expectations

Residents are responding to a growing travel culture, vacationing in destinations with imaginative pools and spa-like amenities. Thus, when their community echoes these experiences at the new community aquatic center, they show up in droves and expect the same standards and pampering they experienced abroad where the foundation was impeccable service.

The American Academy of Hospitality Sciences is renowned worldwide for awarding excellence in the travel and luxury services sector. The academy, which started as a restaurant rating bureau, now reviews restaurants, chefs, airlines, cruise lines, spas, hotels and resorts. One of the main categories for the coveted award is staff, including pool staff. Standards that the academy uses for this award include:

  • Telephone answered promptly and with a proper greeting
  • Overall maintenance
  • Service overall
  • Tremendous attention to detail in every aspect of the operation
  • Staff: polished, suave, grace, tact, dignity

This is not to say that the municipal staff must spritz sunbathers with mist and offer towels, fresh fruit and chilled sorbet throughout the day, but after the aquatic attractions, a professional staff becomes the focus when vying for discretionary leisure spending.

Cutting-Edge Pool Staff

Whether it’s a $3 million dollar facility where a few people perform all the functions or a $30 million dollar facility where numerous teams depend upon one another, today’s public aquatic center will likely incorporate an aquatic director. The aquatic director (no matter how large or small the aquatic center) is accountable for the overall operation and management of the facility. Qualifications include a four-year college degree in the field of aquatic management and experience in park and recreation administration, physical education, marketing, management or a related field. The aquatic director develops the training of all staff and develops and implements all operational procedures and detailed emergency action plans while overseeing operating policies and procedures.

He or she develops annual budgets and an effectively communicated measuring program for the coordination/monitoring of revenue collection that includes daily activity records of all participants, events, cost-control disciplines and attendance reports.

The customer relations team includes customer service, sales functions, program development, promotion/marketing and branding—vital to the financial success of the facility. Staff qualifications include creativity, initiative and education necessary to expand the customer base through customer outreach to ensure that the aquatic center is seen and used as an asset in the community. Encouraging residents to use public facilities requires helpfulness of the promotional materials, perceived value against other providers, and public awareness that the facility addresses the prevailing needs of the aquatic community. Further, the community must be educated that the aquatic center is stimulating business attraction and retention, the creative economy, and tourism.

The deck management team supervises lessons, recreation and competition programming activities with a staff of aquatic instructors, coaching and sports staff, and lifeguards. Staff qualifications include Certified Water Safety Instructor, Certified Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation (CPR), Certified Aquatic Fitness Professional, and first aid. Highly trained lifeguards must possess a lifeguard, CPR and first aid certificate by the American Red Cross, YMCA/YWCA or Ellis and Associates. Lifeguards must be screened, and it is recommended that they be at least 18 years old to possess a desired maturity level for potentially saving lives.

The pool operations team includes the overall maintenance of the pool system and waterpark features for risk reduction to the users, employees and facility. Pump room technicians include a unique skill set, including Certified Pool Operator (CPO) or Aquatic Facility Operator (AFO) for day-to-day chemical knowledge in order to operate the facility in compliance with the local health department requirements. Operations include industry knowledge for pre-season inspection to identify and fix necessary parts and repairs prior to opening. The team must meet critical needs during the season, complete the closing of the facility in the fall, perform post-season inspections to help identify and fix necessary repairs and major renovations during the off-season, and perform winter maintenance during the winter months.

Aquatic Consultant Assistance

Hiring an experienced aquatic consultant can be a plus when deciding how to find experienced professionals to manage a new aquatic center. A consultant can offer professional placement, whereby they conduct a local and national search as directed by the owner to fill key positions. Through nationwide networking capabilities, they may be in contact with soon-to-be-graduates in the aquatic field looking for professional placement. As the market demands more aquatic professionals, colleges and universities are responding by providing additional curriculum for aquatic professional career choices. Additionally, the rise of campus conjugal recreation and competitive aquatic facilities provides “on the job” training.

The U.S. leisure market is fueled predominantly by baby boomer spending and young professionals with an interest in travel, attractions and activities. While not competing for the American Academy of Hospitality Sciences award (at least not yet), municipal aquatic centers must strive for excellence in impeccable service due to the increased importance of leisure goals. Managing a cutting-edge aquatic center is contingent on a professional staff with enormous responsibility and a growing skill set.

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Norwegian Cruise Line Training in Skopje

One of our directors, Matt Ball, was asked to deploy to eastern Europe as part of Counsilman-Hunsaker’s retainer for risk management and operations consulting with Norwegian Cruise Line.

Matt flew from Dallas through Rome to board the Norwegian Spirit in Trieste, Italy for two days to provide onboard consulting for the newly deployed lifeguard crew members on board and meeting with the Safety Officer, Hotel Director, Doctor, and Staff Captain to help onboard the new lifeguards, provide an in-service training, scheduling assistance, and clarification of the Standard Operating Procedures.

When Counsilman-Hunsaker Project Managers are aboard the Norwegian cruise ships, they possess both passenger and crew credentials, allowing them to utilize all the guest areas, amenities, and restaurants, but also allowing entry into restricted crew-only areas. Additionally, while our Project Managers often are able to stay in a guest stateroom during their time aboard, Matt ended up staying in a crew cabin on deck three because the cruise was fully booked.

Matt debarked the Norwegian Spirit in Korfu, Greece to board a plane to Bologna, IT with a final destination of Skopje, Macedonia, but ended up stuck overnight in Bologna, so he had to complete the trip the following day, flying through Munich, Vienna, and then finally to Skopje.

In Skopje, Matt conducted an American Red Cross Lifeguarding class over four days for future Norwegian Cruise Line lifeguards who continued on for another intensive five-days of training, care of Kouzon Corporation, that included Fire Training and Basic Safety Training. Kouzon also provided hotel, meals, and the training accommodations for Matt and all trainees.

Skopje is a historically significant city with a city population just shy of 1 million that blends historical landmarks, ancient fortresses, statues, and medieval streets with modern malls, hotels, and architecture, as well as cultural institutions, including museums, opera houses, theatres, and concert halls. It is a sister city of Tempe, AZ and Pittsburgh, PA.

Additionally, Skopje is the home of the Millennium Cross, a 66-metre tall cross on the top of Mt. Vodno, the tallest cross in eastern Europe, and is the birthplace of Mother Teresa.

The classroom sessions were held at the Zan Mitrev Hospital “Auditorium”, a beautiful lecture room facility utilizing presentation streaming technology perfect for the Lifeguarding presentation and videos and with plenty of space for CPR/AED and First Aid skills practice. The pool sessions were held at the Boris Trajkovski Aquatic Center, a 25-metre, 14-lane indoor pool facility with a separate three lane therapy pool. Interestingly the dress code for the aquatic facility was “speedos and swimming hats”.

All the course participants were certified in American Red Cross Lifeguarding/First Aid/CPR/AED with Bloodborne Pathogens training and will be deployed as Lifeguards onboard various Norwegian Cruise Line vessels within the next few weeks.

Matt made his way back home on Saturday, July 21 after a ten-day trip and just as many flights and is excited to share his experience and pictures with our friends, colleagues, partners, and clients!

Marketing and Branding

On paper, most aquatic facilities seem similar.  They offer swim lessons, open swim, birthday parties, etc.  If you want to differentiate yourself and improve the overall sustainability of your facility, you must brand yourself in a way that makes you stand out.  All facilities will create a brand, so it’s up to you to guide that brand in a way to help your facilities succeed.

The first step to a successful marketing campaign is to have an action plan and budget.  This will essentially serve as your road map to implementation.  Your action plan should include a timeline and budget, an estimated return on investment (ROI), and the person responsible for execution.  Once you’ve completed your first action plan, it can serve as a starting point for future year as well.  Each year will be slightly different, based on the result and evaluation of the previous year.  Also, make sure you plan is current and capitalizes on trends in the industry.  Lastly, make sure you plan is updated to support your current business initiatives. 

When defining your brand, it is important to consider the current perceptions, both good and bad.  It’s hard to change what people already think, so sometimes it’s better to work with the current perceptions.  Consider both the physical brand, but also the emotional.  The physical brand will address the physical benefits of your facility like:  Get in shape, lose weight, etc.  However, people are more committed to the emotional brand that relates to the feeling they get once they are in shape or have lost weight.

Now that you’ve developed your brand, it’s time to start spreading the message.  One if the first steps in promoting your brand is to create your logo. The logo should be fun and simple.  Once created, start using your logo on social media, signs, and print media to spread the message.  Now that people know who you are, make sure you have a place for them to go.   The first-place people will look is your website of Facebook page.  Your website should be an extension of your brand.  People should know that this site is related to your facility through color pallet, imagery, and messaging.  Keep people engage by using short entries with lots of pictures and videos.

Past your website, makes sure to be creative in what marketing mediums you choose.  All mediums should have the ability to track your ROI.  Also, don’t think that you must pay for all exposure.  Work of mouth is still the most popular form of marketing for aquatic facilities in the US.  Also, consider working with your local news outlets to promote special activities or community benefits.   Lastly, consider creating a video that tells your story with a nice concise message.  The video should include highlights of what your clients may find interesting, along with a call to action like “purchase a membership today”.  Remember, once they are engaged, you want to make it as easy as possible for them to become your client. 

Any owner that take a diligent effort in promoting and marketing their facility’s benefits will significant improvements in the participation.  A good marketing plan is the first step to implementing a successful business plan.



The Evolution of Aquatic Therapy & Wellness

Aquatic therapy is the fastest growing of the four major aquatic user groups.  Until recently, “the mention of aquatic therapy or aquatic wellness to the general public would often conjure up images of maybe a dozen retirees and a boombox in a 30-minute aquacizing class.  Therapy programming was often an after-thought, especially during the concept design of a new facility.  Therapy users were lucky to be afforded two lap lanes during slow periods of the day, much less their own dedicated warm body of water.

The environment and expectations for aquatic therapy are quickly changing.  Therapy pools are designed to serve a diverse array of populations which can include not only geriatric populations, but those with congenital disabilities, and those rehabilitating injuries such as replaced joints and ligaments due to the benefits of low impact resistance found in a pool.

With more traditional warmer water therapy pools, water temperatures are critical to the intended use due to the fact that body heat is absorbed 25 times faster in water than air.  A 1°F degree change in the water temperature is like a 7°F change in air temperature.  Most therapy pools are maintained between 86°F and 93°F with the following table* used as a traditional guideline for water temperatures based on activity and population that could vary as much as nearly 18°F:


Bather Type Temperature Range Notes
Lap Swimming 78°F to 82°F
Resistance Training 83°F to 86°F
Therapy & Rehabilitation 91°F to 95°F Can be as low as 30°C for certain types of therapy
Multiple Sclerosis 80°F to 84°F Warmer water can cause adverse effects
Pregnancy 78°F to 84°F
Arthritis 84°F to 90°F Arthritis Foundation minimum and maximum
Arthritis 86°F to 90°F ATRI low function program
Fibromyalgia 86°F to 96°F ATRI
Aerobic activity 84°F to 88°F
Older adults – vertical 83°F to 86°F Moderate to high intensity
Older adults – vertical 86°F to 88°F Low intensity
Children, fitness 83°F to 86°F
Children’s swim lessons 82°F Varies with age and class length
Obese 80°F to 86°F

*Source: Center for Disease Control and Prevention


And no longer are therapy pools just warm water bodies of water.  Cold “polar” plunge therapy pools (water temperatures below 70°F) are becoming more common, though they remain most common for facilities with a training and recovery component.

Younger generations are also taking an active role in aquatic therapy and wellness through popular group exercise classes.  Classes for aqua spinning, high intensity cardio, aqua yoga, and stand-up paddle boarding (yes, in pools!) can be found at local community center pools and even universities.

One of the newer and more popular aquatic group class is called FloatFit which started overseas in Europe and has lately been making inroads in the U.S.  Classes utilize inflatable exercise mats from AquaPhysical that are tethered together in the pool and float on the water surface.  An instructor is often on the deck leading a group exercise class of 6-12 people.  Classes can participate in cardio activities as well as Pilates and yoga as these exercises on the AquaPhysical boards are ideal for core stabilization and strengthening.

Aquatic therapy and wellness will likely continue to be the fastest growing aquatic user group, especially as the Baby Boomer generation is transitioning into retirement.  But this user group will continue to expand beyond traditional aqua aerobics for retirees, engaging other demographics such as rehabilitating athletes or the iGen generation taking a break from their undergraduate studies to participate in new, challenging, and different forms of aquatic exercise at the campus recreation center.  The days of affording two lap lanes to this population during slow periods of the day appear over.

Is Swimmer Safety Your Priority?

While the sport of swimming has seen tremendous growth within the last 30 years due to better training methods, coaching techniques, and above all else better aquatic venues, the question is whether or not swim team safety really is keeping up with society’s expectations.

The last several years there have been plenty of fatal and non-fatal drowning incidents at swim practices that illustrate the need for the swimming community to pick up the pace when it comes to safety in and around the water.  We not only have an obligation to promote safety around the pools, but also to keep our swimmers safe through better training of aquatic and coaching staffs, having professional lifeguards or other certified professionals, and by taking steps to promote water safety for the community.

Is your facility staff ready for any and all aquatic emergencies?   Moreover, does your swim club or team promote and model safe swimming practices?  If water safety is important, then you must have a plan, have a good training program, and employ certified professionals.

Do you have an Emergency Response Plan? Being prepared to handle an emergency is the key step to having a safe facility.  An Emergency Response Plan is both on paper and practiced by all staff that would be involved in an emergency at a specific facility.  This includes constant familiarity and practice with all team members.

Is your staff appropriately trained for aquatic emergencies? An industry standard for lifeguards is at least 60 minutes per week of dedicated training. While  lifeguards are certified and knowledgeable in aquatic emergencies, they still require continual practice to keep their skills sharp and prepared for anything.  So it would stand to reason that other staff members, serving in a safety capacity of their swimmers, would need that kind of training and practice to insure a truly safe environment.

The industry wants to shy away from the issue of should a lifeguard be on surveillance duty during a swim team workout.  But we must ask ourselves, is the safety of your swimmers compromised when it comes to swim teams and other aquatic sports not using lifeguards?  To answer that, we must discuss the role of a lifeguard vs others that may be responsible on the pool decks.

The term lifeguard reminds us of those mid-to-late teenagers who sit around looking at the water, and the term swimmer reminds us that these athletes are experienced swimmers.  So no one is surprised when we have not seen trending growth in swim clubs and teams having lifeguards at all times, as well as more safety training for coaching staffs.  And to be fair, professional teams may have lifeguards or the facility from which they rent already has lifeguards.

No professional can argue that training is not necessary and important for aquatic and coaching staffs.  But what does that really mean?  Do they know the latest science in hydrodynamics or the trending stroke development in the industry?  Part of having a safe environment for swimmers and water sports is not only knowing all the potential dangers, but also being able to recognize and respond to them quickly.  Knowing the swimmers’ abilities and not putting them at risk is part of the problem.  The number of swimmers per lane, their specific needs and abilities, or the pressure to push their limits can result in unsafe situations.  How is the staff trained to handle emergencies?

So what makes them professional?  As a supervisor of lifeguards for most of my career, I will tell you that certification alone does not cut it.  Neither does being on stand or looking good.  It takes constant training from management.  Not only does the management have to be well trained in emergency procedures, but they must require the safety team train hard, they must ensure constant evaluation of the team, and they must promote an atmosphere of positive development with these certified professionals.

To achieve these goals, lifeguards must be training constantly, with an industry standard of at least 60 minutes per week of dedicated training.  They should also be evaluated routinely to ensure that the training is adequate for the environment.  Using third-party organizations to come and evaluate the staff can identify areas needing improvement and also demonstrate the staff’s training success.  But, without these key training concepts, the safety team will not be prepared for emergencies.  Unfortunately, as our industry has shown, we have been too reactionary, waiting until after an incident to implement what we know as safety.

Promoting and modeling safe swimming practices must also be strictly enforced.  Back when I was on swim team and the master of my lane, we thought we were tough.  We could dive in the shallow end without incident, we could swim underwater farther than most others, and many other limits were pushed way too hard.  But as we now know with science and safety as our guide, we have the responsibility to make sure that everyone is safe.

Teams must incorporate safe swimming practices for all.  We can do this through public awareness events and swim lessons for sure.  But all certified professionals must also model this behavior everyday.  Being safe is respectable and demonstrates to the community, to parents, and to the swimmers that our programs are not only professional, but also fun with safety in mind.

It is up to all of us to mandate that these safety requirements be upheld.