Category Archives: Programming

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.

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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.

Researching and Implementing New Pool Products

Swimming pool design is constantly evolving as new chemical treatment technology is developed, inserts and anchors are strengthened, and play features are reimagined. Unfortunately, due to the nature of the industry, operators and owners are not always eager to have a brand-new product installed at their facility. It is difficult to find a “guinea pig” to test a new pH buffer system when muriatic acid and CO2 are so tried and tested. Often, no one wants to commit large sums of money and manpower based on information from a manufacturer.

Counsilman-Hunsaker regularly reviews products to determine if they are worthy of being specified for use in a new facility. It takes a great deal of confidence in a product for it to be considered our basis of design. This confidence is only gained over time and positive feedback from those who deal with the systems on a daily basis. However, if a test facility were developed solely for researching new products on the market, what would it include?

 

Solid pH Buffer System

The Acid-Rite pH adjustment system is manufactured by Axiall and utilizes sodium bisulfate tablets as opposed to a traditional muriatic acid feed system. Axiall is a major player when it comes to chemical treatment systems and this new product is exciting because it appears to eliminate many of the concerns operators have with their pH buffer systems. Solid bisulfate tablets are provided in 45-lb resealable pails that eliminate the need for muriatic acid transport and storage. Muriatic acid has a very strong odor and can irritate eyes (and certainly harm skin) if not handled properly. The Acid-Rite system is said to be more consistent at balancing pH.

Acid feed systems, regardless of whether the acid is a solid or liquid, should be housed in a chemical room separate from the mechanical room. Muriatic acid feeders require regular maintenance to the small chemical tubing that delivers the acid to the main pool water line. If this tubing is compromised and the muriatic acid is exposed to the surrounding air, the equipment and ventilation systems become susceptible to corrosion. Even the vapors released while filling the muriatic acid storage tank can be enough to damage the HVAC system ventilating this room. The effects of solid acid tablets on the HVAC components will need to be studied before the Acid-Rite system can be considered a viable replacement to muriatic acid.

 

Silent Gutter Grating

Assuming our research pool uses a perimeter overflow system, Daldorado’s Silent Flow parallel gutter grating would be installed as it looks to be a promising new addition to the grating market. The grating has 40% open area, allowing more water to pass through it when compared with a typical 35% open area grating. Water is less restricted when passing through the grating which leads to greater noise reduction, hence the “Silent” name. The parallel grates are thin and frequent across the gutter, but still comply with entrapment guidelines.  Additionally, the grating can be installed along radii.

Taking this into account, along with noise reduction and pleasing aesthetics, the Daldorado parallel grating would work best on a freeform leisure pool. However, our research facility would subject the grating to “surges” of water created during competition as swimmers near an end wall. If the grating cannot capture enough of the water, specifically on a deck level gutter, puddles may form on the deck and the pool will slowly lose water over time.

 

Convenient Zip Line

Zip Lines are a cheap way to incorporate play value into a leisure pool, however they require full time attendance to regulate use. Full-length zip lines also take up a large amount of water area when in use; usually a lap lane or the width of the pool. The AquaClimb Aqua Zip’N combines the excitement of traditional zip line with the convenient functionality of a rope swing. Comprised of powder coated 304L stainless steel, the structure of the system stands eight feet tall and is mounted to the deck using two footings. The selling point of the Aqua Zip’N is a self-retracting trolley that eliminates the need for a life guard to be constantly stationed at the feature. Riders up to 250 lbs. can swing one after another as the rope will retract into the starting position after each use.

This feature seems like a no brainer for facilities that are tight on space or under-staffed, but there are still some considerations that need to be studied. For example, play features by nature are susceptible to scratches and chipping which can present issues for power coated stainless steel. Life guards will also need to be vigilant of the potential threat of a rider swinging out and over another swimmer.

 

Several facility owners are confident enough in these new products to already be implementing them. For lack of a multimillion dollar research facility, Counsilman-Hunsaker will monitor and evaluate their performance to determine their validity. Although, it may be some time before we see these products regularly installed as word of mouth is often the only way for people to become comfortable with new ideas in our industry.

 

 

Hiring in Aquatics: Qualities to look for in aquatic managers. 

Hiring management staff is difficult.  You have to find the right person, with the right experience, training and knowledge that will be a good fit for your organization’s culture.  A good hire can mean lower costs, higher revenues, better employee morale and a safer environment for patrons.  So how do you choose the best candidate for your organization?

You need someone with the right background knowledge.  With the right background knowledge, the aquatic manager can be a resource to staff and the public.  You’ll want to look for a number of the following certifications:

  • Pool/Aquatic Operator Certifications – these can be obtained through multiple authorities and provide the basic knowledge for pool operations.
  • Lifeguard and/ Lifeguard Instructor Certification – background knowledge in lifeguarding and training lifeguards
  • Swim Instructor/ Instructor Trainer Certifications – background knowledge teaching swim lessons and training others to teach swim lessons
  • Lifeguard Management

If they’ve made it to the interview, you probably have a good feel for their knowledge, and they meet the minimum requisites for the position. So what else do you look for?  I look for 5 main qualities when I am hiring management positions.

  1. Customer Oriented
  2. Desire to learn/adapt
  3. Grit
  4. Honesty
  5. Leadership

Customer Oriented – I look for people with strong customer service backgrounds and drive.  Ultimately whether people come back to your facility or your programs has everything to do with how well the staff treats the customer.  Look for someone that will go the extra mile for your customer and is able to articulate the importance of exceptional customer service to other staff.

Desire to learn/adapt – Like most industries, aquatics is constantly changing.  New training protocols are released almost annually, along with new research and equipment.  Programs fall in an out of favor with the public.  To provide the best service, your operator must have a desire to learn about the industry and apply that information to the aquatics operations.

Grit – grit is defined by Miriam Webster as “firmness of mind and spirit”.  I see grit as the ability to try, fail, learn from that failure and try again.  Leaders need to be able to take criticism from their superiors, the public and their subordinates.  They need to be able to take that criticism and look at it constructively and act on it.

Honesty – Look for someone that has the strength of character to be honest when it’s hard to be.  Everyone makes mistakes, but good leaders can be honest about them and move on, and their staff will move on with them.  Lifeguards often have lots of options of who to work for.  They will stay for a manager they respect and is honest with them.

Leadership – Look for someone that sees what they can do for their staff, not what the staff can do for them.   According to the United States department of Labor, the Recreation industry has the highest turnover rate of all industries.  Good managers can combat that by showing great leadership.  Find someone who will frequently give credit when its due and hold people accountable.

I have seen the quote “People leave managers, not companies” a lot lately, and I think most people would say that its true.  Look for an aquatic manager that is not only going to be able to bring the necessary knowledge to the position, but also the qualities that you want to see in your staff and in your organization.

Design vs. Programming

Know what you want to do, before you build (Design vs Programming)

When working with clients on new aquatic projects, the first question we like to ask is “how are you going to use it?”  While this seems like something most people would know, we find that many aquatic facilities are planned based on the available budget, and not how they want to use it in the future.  This can create challenges for sustaining your facility’s operations and keeping your clients happy.  While the initial construction budget is important, the cost of operations will be three to four times the initial investment over the life of the facility.  Therefore, decision should be made based on how they impact operational expenses and revenue potential, more than how they impact the construction budget.  Here are a few things to consider.

Planning the Pool

While pools come in different shapes and sizes, there are three main criteria that impact how you can use it:  Temperature, Access, and Depth.  Different aquatic user groups prefer different temperatures.

Temperature – While competitive swimmers like water temperatures between 78-82 degrees, this is considered cold water and not very useful for other pool users.  Recreational users like to have water in the 83-87 degrees range.  If you plan to do infant swim lessons or therapy programming, you may need to have water over 90 degrees.

Access – Similarly to the temperature, different users need different levels of access.  Most codes only require ladders or recessed steps with grab rails.  This is not a preferred method of ingress and egress for most people.  Stairs are the most usable and flexible option for entry and exit.  They can be used by a large variety of people and can serve as a program space for lessons.  Beyond the basic entries, you also need to consider entry for users with special needs.  Codes may only require a standard lift, but ramp entries are typically preferred by people who don’t need a lift, but also can’t use the stairs or ladders.

Depth – Lastly, you have to consider depth.  Shallow water tends to be more useful for programmed activities.  However, there are certain things you can’t do in shallow water (i.e. competitive starts, scuba diving, deep water fitness classes, etc).  Therefore, if you plan to offer these programs, make sure you have enough deep water.

Other Areas to Consider

Do you plan to have a large swim lesson program?  Do you want to host large events with 100’s of spectators?  Can your concession area handle a crowd during a pool closure?  It is easy when designing a pool to stop at the pumps controlling a pool and the hole you put in the ground but a truly good facility looks not only at the water but also at the other aspects of a true aquatic center. Lighting– Lighting is often an afterthought in many aquatic center designs and often times, no consideration is given to how it can effect a race. Lighting is important for both judging the distance and gauging the swimmer position, in competition. A good facility design has considered a careful balance of natural light with careful attention to limiting the glare it could cause and un-natural lights with proper angles and illumination for optimal racing, all while keeping in mind the spectator experience and officiating requirements.

Acoustics– It can be difficult to design a facility that considers and properly accommodates for all the action but when you are in the design phase, choosing the right elements can make for sound dampening like wall angles and materials, speaker placement, spectator viewing area placement and athlete accommodation areas.

HVAC Systems–Fresh air is critical not just for the swimmers but also for the comfort of the spectators and those fully clothed.  Spectators require cooler air with higher velocities as compared to the swimmers on the pool deck.  When it comes to HVAC solutions in natatoriums, there is not a one-size fits all approach.

Deck Dimensions– Optimal deck space is really dependent on the types of activities going on in your facility. Consider staging areas, traffic flow, and viewing areas.  Once your space is designed and built, it is very costly to expand you space and with the right feasibility study and market research, an appropriate size can be determined

It can be a challenge to consider all users that are affected by an aquatics facility but with proper planning and a good team, you can truly make a great space. Being considerate of your market opportunity and users can ultimately position your facility to stay on budget with a build and optimize the return by capturing an appropriate audience of users.