Adapting Aquatics Culture: A Call to Action


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I just got back from a conference and felt dissuaded in the lack of aquatics representation for presentation topics.

This got me thinking about a past presentation I gave with my friend Aubrey Kettrick, the assistant director of operations and aquatics at Texas Christian University. I hope to encourage other professionals to present at future conferences as well.

When individuals think of aquatics, some of the first thoughts that arise are often swim lessons and lifeguarding. Some may contemplate about the pump room and chemical aspect, but it is easy for an aquatics professional to become stuck in the label of the “aquatics person.”

While working in this area, we get exposed to athletics, programming, facilities, risk management, student development, special events, etc. How can we as aquatics professionals do a better job of talking up our experience? This is not to say swim lessons and lifeguarding are not important. They are the backbone of any successful aquatics program. But it is time to start pushing ourselves to truly engage our campus community.

There are Many Barriers to Aquatics Engagement

Coming to the pool is very intentional. You have to plan on bringing a change of clothes, a towel, check pool hours and have time to get the chlorine out of your hair. When you visit the rec center, it is easy to jump into a group exercise class or play basketball. However, it would be rather awkward to show up to Zumba in your swim wear, and probably against policy. A study by Gallup shows that 46 percent of Americans are afraid of the deep end of the pool. In fact, 37 percent of Americans are unable to swim. The good news is, 41 percent of individuals claim they would like to overcome their fears.

Aquatics is a Hub for Student Development and Transferrable Skills

Aquatics has been shown to be a key area where staff clearly teach and student employees must learn transferrable skills. The high emphasis on safety, life-saving skills, and risk management necessitate student workers in aquatics are prepared in a variety of vital and transferrable skills. Many aquatics staff are constantly engaging with members, athletes, programming and other building staff. As professionals, we need to find ways to show this data to better tell our story on campus. Further, this can be utilized as a method to describe how aquatics professionals are well-rounded and should be considered key players when looking at facility positions.

There are Systemic Issues Facing Our Field

Drowning currently ranks fifth among the leading causes of unintentional injury death in the United States. One in five fatal drowning victims are younger than 14 (CDC). However, formal swim lessons can reduce the risk of drowning by 88 percent.

Did you know that if a parent does not know how to swim there is only a 13 percent chance a child in that household will learn to swim? This was found by the USA Swimming Foundation and the University of Memphis national research study. Moreover, African-Americans aged 5 to 19 drown in swimming pools at a rate 5.5 times higher than their Caucasian peers. It is reported that 70 percent of African-American and 60 percent of Hispanic/Latino children cannot swim (USA Swimming).

Hopefully, this is not the campus community you want to create. Drowning rates peak between the ages of 15 to 24 across all demographics, making our campus recreation program the last line of defense to teach a life-long skill and increase the odds future children will learn as well. Creating a safe and inclusive learning environment on campus and partnering with your diversity and inclusion office or department is vital to combating this national crisis.

Program for a Continuum

When creating programming and training opportunities for your campus, it is important to consider the development of all individuals you come into contact with. Your reach is large and it is vital to continuing to create programming for an individual to refine their life-long skills in the water. Having programming, such as lessons, that are marketed or geared to only the beginner swimmer does not give the individual tools to improve when they reach the intermediate stage of development.

We also need to think about how we are advertising this to our community. Having opportunities to move from beginner to intermediate to advance swimmer will create buy-in and investment from your campus, and create users who always have a new program to try out. How great would it be to teach a freshman how to swim and see them getting a lifeguard certification by their senior year? These are the developmental goals I encourage others to foster.

We Cannot do it Alone

With so many trends occurring in the water, it is important to empower the professional staff to get creative. Creating the bonds with your fitness, outdoor, intramural, and other departments to program in the pool is a great way to show how your department collaborates and supports each other. Remember, many people have fears of the water, and this may be true for other professional staff. As a programmer, you may be able to assist in the programming of battleship, deep water exercise, paddleboard yoga, etc. This is a great way to gain competencies and experiences in areas outside of aquatics while learning more about how other areas program. Remember to be genuine and to create the relationship first, and then determine how you can best support each other.

Aquatics is a great department to work in. Many professionals have a life-long love of the water but may not be aware of all the barriers. Maybe you do but are unsure of how to combat this. Either way, we all learn from each other. Let’s continue to grow and engage in our network of professionals and to always learn from each other. Each campus community is different, as are resources, but what is one thing you can do next semester to improve the overall quality of life for your campus community?

Drake Belt
Drake Belt is currently serving as the assistant director of aquatics and safety programs at the University of Arizona department of campus recreation. Born and raised in Indiana, Drake earned his Bachelors of Science in Psychology in 2013 and Masters of Science in Kinesiology emphasizing in Physical Activity, Fitness and Wellness in 2017 from Indiana University where he served as the graduate assistant for aquatics in campus recreational sports. Previously, Drake worked as the assistant director of operations, aquatics and special events with Loyola University Maryland where he oversaw building supervisors, aquatic staff and worked with the university to program special events for recreational sports. As a graduate assistant, Drake was responsible for the oversight of the lifeguard and aquatics lead staff, as well as coordinating aquatics events with athletics. Drake is a huge advocate for leisure recreation, creating inclusive environments where all feel welcome, and creating opportunities for leadership development for staff and students. Drake, his wife, and three dogs are enjoying their new life in Tucson and look forward to what opportunities are to come. Contact him at

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