Some activities within campus recreation have a very low barrier of entry. For example, group fitness classes typically appeal to a wide demographic of students, do not require much preparation and are not very intimidating. In contrast, participating in aquatic programming might tend to have a higher barrier of entry. It requires changing, showering, perhaps additional equipment like goggles and a swim cap, and overall increased time. For many, these additional elements deter them from participating in aquatic programming.
Texas Woman’s University recently increased usage with their indoor pool by 300 percent. The program operators at the university share some advice on how they accomplished this, and how you can work to increase usage within your own aquatic center.
According to Zachary Hammerle, the facility supervisor at Pioneer Hall at Texas Woman’s University, the first step is to identify any barriers that might prevent students on your campus from participating in aquatic programming. As he explained, Texas Woman’s University is the nation’s largest university primarily for women. “If you do a demographic study quickly, you will see that we don’t really have a big swimming population on campus and that was the main barrier,” he said. “We are a predominantly female campus, not to say that is a barrier in general, but we have a different demographic than other schools, especially in the state of Texas.”
Another obstacle is the location of the pool. The indoor pool at Texas Woman’s University is not located in the main Fitness and Recreation Center. Instead, it is located in Pioneer Hall, which is an academic facility. The oversight of the pool is the responsibility of Fitness and Recreation; however, it is a joint operation with the Department of Kinesiology. This access to the academic side of campus has allowed for natural partnerships, which has increased usage of the pool.
“A lot of the exercise science classes have students of all demographics, so how we really got the word out about the pool is we tried to see if those professors would offer any sort of credit in the pool, and they have,” said Hammerle. “We consider the pool a laboratory for Kinesiology, and we went from there trying to get as many classes involved. The best marketing is word of mouth. Students tell their friends how they are playing kayak water polo on Tuesday nights for class, but it is also open to any student who wants to drop by.”
Partnerships across campus are crucial. At Texas Woman’s University, Fitness and Recreation not only partnered with academics in order to increase aquatic participation, they also reached out to fraternities, sororities and residence life to host a movie night in the pool or weekend events for students who are still on campus. “Reach out. You have got to reach outside of recreation and fitness to bring the people to the natatorium to swim,” said Mary Palmer, Ph.D, the executive director of fitness and recreation at Texas Woman’s University. “You have to provide something of interest. You have to find those niche areas in the community itself, such as physical therapy and occupational therapy, to run programs or invite research into your pool and provide professors the ability to do that.”
As Hammerle explained, it is essential to find out your core demographic and know what is appealing to them. At Texas Woman’s University they launched a variety of new programs to entice students to come from the Fitness and Recreation Center over to Pioneer Hall. “Standup paddleboard yoga is something we have tried before,” he added. “We also tried remote control boat racing, because we were trying to get people who were maybe playing video games over in Fitness and Rec to come over to race some boats.”
Overall, when it comes to encouraging participation within your aquatics center, Palmer suggested getting creative. “I like to think outside the box and try new ideas,” she said. “I don’t think any idea is a bad idea. I think we should just try it and if it is successful, we go with it and if we are challenged with it, then we tweak it.”