Pools are for more than just lap swimmers.
In fact, Richelle Williams, the aquatics coordinator and youth program advisor at Western Washington University (WWU), hopes to create an environment that welcomes more than those who want to swim laps. “I have some of my happiest memories at pools,” she explained. “I strive to create that same experience for people with the widest variety of aquatics experiences.”
As such, she will look at trends in popular culture to determine creative aquatics offerings. Plus, Williams said they are always looking for collaborative opportunities with campus partners. She said it begins with asking how the aquatics department can best serve them.
Aubrey Kettrick, the assistant director of operations and aquatics at Texas Christian University (TCU), will ask colleagues and students to help create and give ideas for creative aquatics programming. By having students help create programs, Kettrick takes more of a behind-the-scenes role. But she incentivizes students to take ownership of the programs. One way is by offering lunch to the student who can sign the most participants up for a program.
At TCU, two creative programs stuck out to Kettrick:
A Thanksgiving program during the month of November, participants chose their Thanksgiving meal through different courses: picking a roll, vegetable, potato, meat, side and a dessert. Each course had four different options — for a roll, you could either have wheat, white, crescent or a biscuit. Then, each option and course was paired with a different workout with varying yardage amounts. “Participants enjoy this because there were workouts for them and each of them told us they thought about the program when they were building their Thanksgiving Day plate,” said Kettrick. “I realized after this program that our participants love to be able to do their own thing instead of having a workout made up for them.”
Kettrick chose 10 different landmarks around Fort Worth where TCU is located. Participants would swim the distance from the rec center to each of those landmarks. “Finishers were given an awesome T-shirt with our custom design for the program, and we got tons of positive feedback about the program because the participants could come in, swim their own workouts and add up their yardage to see how close they were to the next landmark,” explained Kettrick. “The program seemed intimidating on paper — 28,000 yards — but when you broke it down for an entire semester it was only 200 yards a day.”
Plus, you could gain yards via aqua jogging, swim lessons and logrolling.
When deciding upon and then implementing a creative aquatics program, you should start small, stated Mackenzie Slayton, the assistant director for Outdoor EdVenture and aquatics at the University of Hawaii at Hilo.
She said start with building a quality program and then go from there. For example, they tested underwater basketweaving this summer in their swimming program for local kids. College students who were also scuba instructors taught the kids. Because of the response, they offered scuba with underwater basketweaving fall 2019.
The biggest thing, said Slayton, is reaching every level of swimming and experience. “Part of the fun is coming up with different ways to integrate all of those different skill levels to make our programming unique and different and offer a lot more things to it,” she said.
Water walkways have been a popular tool for students to sunbathe on. The kids love Swimfins — a shark-like fin that helps kids learn all of the strokes. On the horizon, they hope to implement paddle board yoga. Whatever it is though, Slayton said to start small and get a good footing. And, she noted to empower your students to work through the process of putting together a cohesive aquatics program.
WWU has got creative with Key Log Rolling. Williams said they created a “High Roller Board” to post the top 10 longest roll times. Plus, giant pool floats and water volleyball and basketball have helped break that lap-swim-space stigma.
Beyond the students, Williams said you can get creative with aquatics offerings to your local community. On top of swim lessons, birthday parties are a fun way to serve the larger community. “The biggest tip I have is to keep it simple,” said Williams. “We have a simple format: a two-hour party includes swimming, rock wall, and time for cake and presents.”
Kettrick also said Key Log Rolling has been quite popular in the outdoor pool, on top of water basketball. They also do monthly events and clinics that teach people to flip turn, freestyle swim and more. If events tend to push students out of their comfort zone, Kettrick suggested offering giveaways like T-shirts, massages and pizza.
In the end, creative aquatics programming can be scary and require risk taking. But Williams said don’t be afraid to fail. “Try something new,” she said. “If you only have one person participate in a program, that is one more person than before. Build your aquatics network and frequently check in with other people to see what they are doing.”