Category Archives: Programming

You want more competitive swimmers? Make swim meets shorter!!

Competitors swim during the women's 200m freestyle heats at the London 2012 Olympic Games“If I had only one day left to live I would spend it at a swim meet because they last forever.” I’ve seen this on swimmers’ t-shirts at swim meets across the country, and I couldn’t agree more.

I was recently visiting with USA Swimming in Colorado Springs when we began discussing how to get more competitive swimmers into the sport. Several approaches were discussed, all with merit. USA Swimming is beginning a great new campaign called “Swim Today” to convert swim lesson kids to swim team kids.  However, there was one approach that I felt needed to be addressed: shorter swim meets would draw and retain younger kids (and parents) to the sport.

With three age-group swimmers between the ages of 8 and 11, and having swum competitively myself, I understand the current age-group swim meet agenda: spend five to six hours on a pool deck either early on a weekend morning or late into the evening on a weekday. This is costing the sport future competitive swimmers not because the kids do not want to compete in swim meets but because the parents, who may not have been competitive swimmers, do not want this big of a commitment.

Over the last couple of years, I have been able to recruit some of my kids’ friends to the swim team through conversations with their parents.  I have appealed to the benefits of gaining confidence in the water, to a healthy lifestyle, to fun with friends.  What I tend to leave out is the lengthy time commitment required for swim meets.  I would say that I have only had about a 10% retention rate after the parents’ experience a long swim meet.  Now usually they stick it out for a short period of time, but the reason I get for their kids quitting is the swim meet time commitment.

We have all heard the phrases “practice makes perfect” and “practice like you play,”  but this to me is one of the largest disconnects in the sport of swimming.  Swim practices can last one to two hours with interval training and very, very limited breaks.  Rarely does a swimmer get out of the pool during practice.  Yet at a swim meet there may be an hour between events.Start Backstroke

During high profile meets like the Olympics or FINA World Championships, the media always make a big deal out of a condensed time frame between races for athletes like Missy Franklin and Michael Phelps.  I understand this for high-caliber meets but age group kids (and parents) do not need a long break to rest.  A typical swim meet may include three to five races for each of my kids over the five to six-hour time frame.

Here is a typical meet……kids arrive at 6 a.m. to warm up for 20 minutes.  Meet starts at 7 a.m.  My son swims a race and then is back on the grass field playing baseball or football.  I don’t know an age group kid out there that can be contained to “rest” for the next race when it’s an hour away and all of their friends are ready to play.  But hey, there is good news for the parents… get to stand behind a starting block for two hours, time the other kids, and see your kid swim for maybe two minutes.

Something has to change.

Think about this, most other sports like soccer, baseball, and football all have the same practice requirements as swimming (one to two hours) but the games are typically equal to the length of practice and most often are shorter.  I would enjoy a maximum of 2.5-hour swim meet where coaches have to select events (and entries) that fit within that time frame.  PS:  my 10-year old doesn’t need to swim the 200 Fly. Or we could have more swim meets that have condensed time frames – baseball and basketball games are commonly held frequently throughout the week. In fact, I recently saw an article on where a Major League Baseball executive suggested a 7-inning MLB baseball game to appeal to more people.  The same type of thinking needs to take place in the sport of swimming!

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Pool Design Part 2 – Often Forgotten Elements of the Best Pools

You can read about the science behind a good pool but what else goes into a facility to really make it great? 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 athlete but also at the ease of hosting an event and making a facility that considers all aspects of a true Natatorium

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– A natatorium has to deal with all sorts of sounds. There are starter buzzers, official whistles, final lap bells, announcements, coaches coaching, on-deck athletes talking and spectators cheering. 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. Good teams work with engineers that specialize, exclusively, on aquatic acoustics.

HVAC Systems– With fresh, clean air, an athlete can perform better. Lung expansion and contraction can reach optimal levels and non-athletes are in a more comfortable, more enjoyable space. Fresh air is critical not just for the performance of the athlete but also for the comfort of the spectators and those fully clothed.  Spectators require cooler air with higher velocities as compared to the athletes 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 swimming going on in your facility. For a strictly practice facility, the most important element is the pool itself and deck space needs to accommodate for the coach, swimmers that are not in the pool and their parents. When considering a facility that can host collegiate and elite competition, it is important to consider television tracks, appropriate space for the number of swimmers attending the competitions. Let’s not forget the officials who have to traverse the length of the pool, and don’t want to fall in due to congested walkways. 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

Spectator Seating– The joke in swimming is that you always want to separate the coaches and swimmers from the parents by putting them on the second level to view at a distance. But in truth, having seating on the second level provides the best feel for the fans and the most room for everyone taking part in the event. The swimmers want to feel energies by crowds as well as feeling like they have space to focus on there on events. In elite competition, this also enables security and safety of athletes to be controlled and can provide easier credential check points.

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.

Pool Design Part 1 – Fast Pools

Every time a new pool is built or there is a high profile event, someone always seems to ask, what makes a fast pool? It is our job in the industry of building pools to make these Facilities the BEST they can be. Swimmers on the block should only be considering their efforts towards training and planning for a race to make their best times, not whether or not the designers have used the best and most appropriate materials in building or refurbishing the pool. Here are a few factors that to consider when building or upgrading your facility.

Water Depth: Over the past few years pools have been getting deeper and deeper.  When a swimmer dives in the water this creates waves not just on top of the water but under the water too. Think of an echo in a small room, the sound waves reverberate off each wall; well in a pool the waves (or currents) can reverberate off the floor and affect the swimmer as the race progresses.  These currents carry through the entire race. The more shallow the water is, the greater the effect these currents have on the swimmers. When talking about short distances like the 100 meter freestyle, the difference between 1st and 8th place could be 1/10th of a second.

Temperature:  When building a pool one of the biggest topic s of discussion is the temperature of the water.  Competitive and Lap swimmers want it cooler, divers want it warmer and therapy wants it even warmer. There is no perfect situation when trying to make everyone happy in one pool.  It is important to have a primary focus for the pool so that conditions can be optimal for the primary use. For racers, cold pools can shock the system and tense up your muscles, but hot pools create the body to overheat which they makes the athlete extent more energy, resulting is sluggish swims. The perfect temperature (for racers) ranges between 78-80 degrees. It can be challenging to maintain these temperatures when you are dealing with all 4 types of energy; radiation, evaporation, convection and conduction.

Lane Width– In a standard swimming pool the lane width is typically 7 foot wide.  In high competition pools the lane width is 8 and sometimes 9 foot wide, for higher end facilities. The large lanes are intended to give each lane equal conditions and minimize the effect of the currents created by other lanes.  A wider the lane leads to less wave movement from one lane into another.

Lane Line Design– Lanes line technology has changed progressed a lot over the years.  The first style of lane lines were really just floating ropes, as seen in this photo from the 1928 Olympics in Amsterdam, Netherlands.

Today, the lane lines are designed to suppress wave turbulence and now flank every lane. The competition improvement has led to the introduction of a 10 lane pool that adds capacity to practices but creates 8 equal competition pool2

Gutter Design: In an effort to maintain a consistent pool current throughout the race, competition pools have also lowered their gutters to absorb the waves at the edge of the pool, rather than bouncing them back towards center. A thoughtful gutter design is a very important aspect to a fast pool.

With water entries, flip turns and strokes all impacting the water’s surface, the number of currents in a pool are significant. All technological improvements that can be made to minimize these contribute to maximizing the speeds obtained in these pools and make them the best, fastest pools.


Pools are closing? An issue we should all be concerned about!

Between 2005 and 2007 the Facilities Development Department at USA Swimming began noticing a trend in pool closings. In 2007 we started tracking the closings while keeping a short file on each one. The map of closings depicts a 2 year period between Spring 2011 and Spring 2013. There were almost 1,100 commercial or intuitional pools closed during this most recent 2 year period. The main reasons for the pool closings were:

  • Older pools ignoring or delaying upgrades and repairs to the point that the pool cost more to fix than any budget can handle.
  • Pools relying on simple “day pass” income and water rental rather than offering total aquatic programming options.
  • Budget cutbacks by cities and schools and rather than revamp the aquatic program offerings for the community, the “people in charge” of the budget simply close the pool.

Solutions the USA Swimming FDD Offers:

  • Educate the people responsible for the “fate of the pool” about programming offerings and pricing and maintenance escrows in budget.
  • Offer advice and assistance in the best practices for pool operations and renovations.
  • Supply an Aquatic Programming Manual (at no charge) to help increase the pools community value and revenue.
  • Do our best to make sure all new facility designs have at least 2 pools. The main pool and a warmer water smaller pool for teaching aquatic programming. Programming precedes design.

Pool Closing2

Public Sector Waterpark Design

Soaring Eagle1        Although public sector waterpark provenance dates back over 30 years, many counties and municipalities considering developing waterparks today struggle with defining exactly what waterpark is.  So, it is not unusual when dealing with the public sector that everything from a splash pad to a family aquatic center to a full blown waterpark be referred in the media as a “waterpark.”  In times of tightening public sector budgets, water restrictions and controversy over subsidized recreation versus “pay for play,” the term “waterpark” can be demonized by a misunderstanding public with roots in traditional swimming facilities.

In order to clarify what a “waterpark” is in the public sector, the following definitions can be have been used successfully in many communities:

Splash Pad – A small water playground with ground sprays and/or vertical water features typically with no standing water, no lifeguards and no admission cost that often uses potable water that is wasted to an adjacent sanitary sewer or recycled into a water quality pond. Amenities typically include a mechanical enclosure with limited shade and seating.

  • Typical Design and Construction Costs: $250,000 to $500,000 (2013)
  • Admission Cost: $0.00 (No Operating Expense Recovery or Revenue)
  • Attendance: Varies Based on Demand and Size / Up to 10,000 per 100 day season
  • Space Requirements: (One Half Acre) plus limited or no parking


Sprayground – A larger water playground with many ground sprays and/or vertical water features typically with no standing water, no lifeguards and no admission costs that often uses potable water that recycled via a pool filtration and chemical treatment system with a secondary sanitation system such as UV light or Ozone. Amenities typically include shade, seating, mechanical enclosure and adjacent restrooms.

  • Typical Design and Construction Costs: $500,000 – $1,500,000 (2013)
  • Admission Cost: $0.00 (No Operating Expense Recovery or Revenue)
  • Attendance: Varies Based on Demand and Size / Up to 20,000 per 100 day season
  • Space Requirements: (1/2 Acre to 1 ½ Acres) plus limited parking up to 50 spaces


Family Aquatic Center – A modern public sector pool complex incorporating elements to appeal to the entire family (tots, families, teens) with traditional pool features (lap lanes, diving boards, learn to swim areas), splash pads (ground sprays and vertical water features), and waterparks (waterslides, interactive water play structures, current channels of 5’ to 10’ wide and leisure rivers 10’+ wide to 20’+ wide) including admission costs of $5.00 to $15.00.  Amenities typically include shade, seating, lounge chairs, restrooms, operations offices, shade, and group shade pavilions.

  • Typical Design and Construction Costs: $1,500,000 – $10,000,000 (2013)
  • Admission Costs: $5.00 to $15.00 (Typically to recover operating expenses or generate limited revenue)
  • Attendance: Varies Based on Demand and Size / 15,000 to 150,000 per 100 day season
  • Space Requirements: (2 Acres to 5 Acres) plus parking of 50 to 500 spaces


Waterpark –  A full scale commercial type waterpark operated by the public sector to generate revenue  incorporating elements from the above but on a larger scale with multiple water slides, longer leisure rivers, a wave pool and extreme or  unique water ride attractions. Amenities typically include shade, seating, lounge chairs, restrooms, operations offices, shade, and group shade pavilions.

  • Typical Design and Construction Costs: $10,000,000 to $25,000,000+ (2013)
  • Admission costs: $15.00 to $40.00 (Typically to recover operating expenses, debt service and generate maximum revenue)
  • Attendance: Varies Based on Demand and Size / 150,000 to 1,000,000 per 100 day season
  • Space Requirements: (5 Acres to 15 Acres) plus parking of 500 to 10,000 spaces.


Certainly, you can call just about any water recreation area a “waterpark,” but the most appropriate usage of the term should be to refer to the large commercial type revenue generating facilities with the capacity to attract and hold a large number of people from a destination of over 50 to 100 miles plus.  Therefore, to really be a big “waterpark” you must a have many different slides, interactive water play features, lagoons, a long leisure river and even a wave pool so that you can and accommodate at lots of park users.


A New Public Sector “Gold Standard”

Many public sector pools were built from the 1950s to the 1980s using the National Recreation and Park Association (NRPA) standard of one pool for every 25,000  population.  This criteria was developed when many homes did not have air conditioning, many pools were filled and emptied daily with no chemical sanitation and when aquatic recreation opportunities were limited.  Admission costs for these pools were often $0.00 up to $1.00 and even to this day some public sector pool providers still offer these old fashioned pools for free or a heavily subsidized admission costs. (Cities sometimes end up spending $5.00 for every $1.00 received in admission.)

Public pool health scares beginning in the 1950s, coupled with more stringent safety standards, led to increased operating expenses, removal of diving boards and poolside waterslides, which in turn led to decreased attendance at public pools. Just as many of these public pools were closing in the 1970s, the first waterparks were being developed in the United States.  In the 1980s and 1990s, innovative public sector pool operators started adding waterpark features (floatable toys, zero depth entries, small waterslides and water play features, shade furnishings and concessions) to revive attendance and help pay for operating expenses at public sector facilities.  The most entrepreneurial public sector operators built large waterparks and were able to generate surplus revenue to help fund other recreation programming (I.e. Hyland Hills Water World in Colo. & NRH2O Family Water Park in Texas.)

At the same time, a new generation has grown up that demands the public sector to provide aquatic facilities for the entire family (tot, family and teen.)  Therefore, public sector pools are becoming more like waterparks all across the country in order to attract users, recover operating expenses and contribute to the local quality of life.

According the National Sporting Goods Association (NSGA) over 80 percent of aquatic users are recreation and lesson users, 10% are competition users, and the remaining 10% are senior/wellness users. In many public sector communities, the most vocal and the most dedicated voters are the not the largest user group (family recreation and lesson users) but instead the organized swim team groups (competition users) and senior groups (wellness users.)

The facilities required by each of the three public sector groups require different pool configurations, different water depths and different temperatures. To compensate for this, many public sector providers have started building fewer traditional 1950s pools and more splash pads, water spray grounds, family aquatic centers and mega indoor recreation centers with indoor competition, wellness and recreation pools coupled with a large seasonal outdoor recreational pool that can generate most of the revenue to offset operating costs.

Therefore, in lieu of the old NRPA planning criteria of one pool for every 25,000, the new “Gold Standard” minimums for the Public Sector should include at least one of each of the following for every 50,000 to of one pool for every 500,000 in population:


Indoor Competition Pool – One 50M or 25YDx 25M Lap Pool constructed and funded by the source of the users. (City/county for city/county leagues, recreation districts for their leagues, school districts for school leagues and private swim teams for independent swim leagues or a combination thereof).


Indoor Wellness Pool – One 4-6-lane 25 YD Pool (with ramp and step entries with two or three minimum depth lap lanes, water aerobics area and a small deep-water cardio area to be constructed and funded by the source of the users. (Hospitals, senior centers, city/counties, recreation districts or a combination thereof).


Outdoor Family Aquatic Center or Waterpark – One new-style family aquatic center or waterpark sized to meet the needs of the community and available market constructed and funded by the source of the users. (City/counties, recreation districts or a combination thereof).


The Public Sector Design Process

The public sector most often has to build public consensus and City leadership support to do all their projects.  If this is needed, the most effective way of gaining consensus is to develop a city-wide aquatics plan where a park planner and feasibility consultant educate the public on modern aquatic programming, costs, and options.  The big advantage of this process is that the public and decision-makers are led through the process simultaneously, outdated facilities can be documented, myths can be de-bunked about revenue and expenses and the decisions are most often then based on current need and public support.

Additionally, the public sector is held to more stringent designer team and equipment processes than the private sector regulated by state and/or federal procurement rules. Most will select an A/E (Architect or Engineer) led design team that will include engineers (civil, structural, mechanical, electrical and pool), landscape architects and architects.  In the public sector, it is most common that an architect leads an indoor pool project (not the pool designer). And for outdoor aquatic projects, it is typical for a park planner experienced in pool design to lead the project (landscape architect, architect or civil engineer with in-depth pool project experience).

Public/Private Partnerships

With funding difficult to obtain for private waterpark development, there are many private sector waterpark developers partnering with public sector clients to develop waterparks.  In most cases this partnership requires that the land, 80 percent or more of the development and infrastructure costs and undetermined future support for park improvements be provided and paid for the public sector partner.

Ultimately, this means the public sector has most of the “skin” in the game and is receiving only 10 percent or 15 percent of the net revenue.  Such an arrangement can tie up public sector bonding capacity, create increased costs for the very public sector residents who paid to build it with their tax dollars and leave the public sector with poorly constructed facility that is expensive to tear down or fix up if the private sector partner bows out.   That said, there are public sector client who prefer this arrangement since they do not have to plan, design, operate and continue to invest in the facility.