There are two basic rules to follow when managing aquatics programs:
• Rule number one: Have Fun!
• Rule number two: Play Safe!
The information below is designed to serve as a primer for those charged with the responsibility for managing aquatics programs. Where possible, specific resources have been provided for further information.
The aquatics director or manager has an awesome responsibility, regardless of the breadth and scope of the program. Knowledge and experience make a big difference in the level of success the right person can bring to the position.
However, there are aspects of this position that are best met with maturity and perseverance, hard work and personal ethics.
Remember, you and your charges are being paid to work when others play! Your investment in the program quality and your commitment to safety are essential to a successful experience. A personal philosophy of mine is to lead with your heart and manage with your mind. Have fun and play safe!
Plan Ahead: Identify the goals for your aquatic program and create a calendar of programs and special events for the entire season.
Best Practice includes following a planning model like the Planning, Programming and Budgeting System (PPBS). PPBS was developed for the Air Force by the Rand Corporation in the 1960s (Robbins, 1980) as a system for budget control.
PPBS has evolved into a program-focused tool that I’ve personally used for nearly three decades: Planning, Programming, Budgeting, Evaluation System for Activities, Classes, Projects and Special Programs (PPBES). PPBES, when properly implemented, is an extraordinary tool for any program manager today.
There are seven steps in this system that can be explained in terms of their impact on successful program/special event management:
• Objectives: Planning the specific objectives in measurable terms (the end results to be achieved) for each program/special event.
• Program content: Planning the program content, schedule and timetable for achievement.
• Leadership: Planning the leadership required to facilitate the programs and special events, including the necessary staff training.
• Facilities and equipment: Planning the required facilities and equipment.
• Promotion: Planning the promotional activities, including establishment of a promotion timetable.
• Budget: Preparation of a budget, usually in terms of direct costs for each program and/or special event (other budgetary items, like staffing, facilities, and so on, are typically indirect costs).
• Evaluation: Measuring the results of each program/special event.
Best Practice has the aquatics director creating a PPBES form for every program and special event identified in the season’s calendar.
This type of detail will establish the critical programmatic needs for the season, including staff leaders and training, facilities and equipment, promotional needs and materials (with a timetable) and the direct cost of those items that are not already supplied.
Planning in advance will enable the aquatics director to focus on the program objectives… Fun!
Use Lessons Plans and Train Your Staff: Without a doubt, providing a set of lesson plans for all instructional programs, and the staff training to implement these plans, will increase the probability of learning! Would you expect anything less of a class or program you were planning to attend yourself?
Adequate preparation for each and every time someone will be taking lessons at your facility includes utilization of explicit, objective-oriented lesson plans. These plans include the specific objectives to be achieved, the “tools” or equipment/facilities required for the experience, creative and physically active skill development, skill assessment (when appropriate), practice time, playtime… and fun!
Best Practice has each staff member involved in the development of his or her course lesson plans in a manner that creates “ownership”, and each staff member participates in a comprehensive period of program training with an emphasis on excellent instruction.
Too often, unprepared staff are assigned a group of children for swim lessons, without any program coordination, including standards for skill assessment, safety, and other requirements. And, too often this same staff is responsible for creating an environment that will facilitate learning but are ill prepared to do so. Under such circumstances, the staff will generally fall back to what they know or have personally experienced, good or bad!
The Best Way to have Fun
Everyone Certified: If you are guarding, you need to be certified as a lifeguard. If you are teaching swimming and assessing competencies, you need to be certified.
If you require all staff to be certified in First Aid and CPR, then they need to be certified. Certification is a qualification for a job in aquatics.
Best Practice: When someone applies for staff positions, review their certifications. If they are hired, certifications should be verified with the organizations awarding them and photocopies of the originals should be kept in their employment files.
When required by law, the age of the applicant must also be verified (if work permits are required, applicants cannot become employees until the work permits are on file).
Job Descriptions: As the aquatics director you need a job description. So does everyone else with responsibility for the waterfront programs.
A basic job description defines the position or job function, defines the minimal qualifications and details the expectations for the person holding the position through the use of job segments, each with measurable outcomes.
Best Practice: Everyone has a job description that clearly defines their overall function, qualifications required to hold the position, and performance expectations.
Play By the Rules: There are rules set by government (federal, state, and local), rules set by your organization, and even rules set by you and your staff.
Follow these rules, mentor your staff and model appropriate safe behavior whenever you are in or around the aquatics area. Make your rules a list of things to do because they create a safe environment for everyone.
Best Practice: Swimmers (and staff) should be nurtured and rewarded for playing safe. They should understand why the rules exist, and they should aspire to comply.
If someone is putting their own self or others at risk, then perhaps some time out of the water, to reflect on the nature of the infraction, is in order. But don’t misuse activities and punishment, like taking an activity that should be a good thing and using it as punishment (countless swimmers have been punished for inappropriate behavior using a distance swim or the butterfly stoke as the misused tool).
Be Prepared: Risk management is a critical component to a successful year. Technically, certifications and rules also fall under risk management. However, they are each important enough to have their own sections. Other risks requiring management include, but may not be limited to:
• Access and egress to the area (fences, gates, etc).
• Check-in/check-out systems (tag boards, buddy systems, etc.).
• Clearly defined swim areas (beginner, intermediate and advanced, etc.) with appropriate access and egress (ladders, ramps, etc.).
• Safe docks and floats for waterfronts (all surfaces are free of sharp edges, top surface is safe to walk on when wet, docks and floats are easily accessed from water, etc.)
• Regular checks for water quality (cleanliness, turbidity, etc.) and dangerous aquatic life (at waterfronts).
• Regular checks for water temperature and air temperature to best inform decisions regarding the duration and/or exposure to the water/air during programs/special events.
• Regular checks for changes in the water (tides, currents, etc.).
• Lifeguards on duty and at ready, throughout all aquatic activities (open swims, swim lessons, etc.).
• Emergency procedures posted, practiced, and followed for accidents/incidents, lost bathers, and weather (thunder/lightning, hail, etc.).
• Emergency warning systems (alarms, horns, bells, etc.) are readily available with the various warning patterns understood by everyone.
• All emergency equipment for any accident/incident is readily available and adequately maintained and all staff is properly instructed regarding their use.
• As appropriate, swimmers on a restricted activity level or with other health issues should be clearly identified to all staff (while at the same time maintaining required levels of confidentiality).
• Telephone of some type is available to provide ready access to 911 emergencies and all staff is properly instructed regarding how to manage a 911 emergency telephone call.
• Safe storage of all aquatics equipment when not in use and safe use of all equipment when being used will further support the equipment maintenance and length of service.
• Use of flotation devices should be clearly regulated and supervised.
Can you find a safe place for eyeglasses and other personal belongings that cannot or should not be left elsewhere (retainers, medical alert bracelets/pendants and other personal items)? Where do swimmers put their towels, shoes, and other clothes?
Best Practice: Manage the risks, and reward those staff who identify new risks or solve risk challenges.
Know Your Aquatic Programs and Governing Organizations: Besides open swims and swim lessons you will likely be responsible for other types of aquatic programming.
A number of on-line program resources have been listed below, not as an endorsement of any one site or program, but as a means to further support you in your responsibilities.
If you are responsible for aquatic activities where you lack formal knowledge, look for appropriate ways to develop your level of expertise.
Best Practice: Know and understand each of the aquatics program activities, and hire certified staff to manage these activities.
Understand the industry standards made available through the recognized governing organizations.
Best Practice: Never take life for granted… You give 100 percent for the entire season, no less and no more. Take responsibility for your program, but share programmatic successes with everyone that help make it happen. Quality control is your job, as is staff supervision. Have fun and play safe!
On-line Programming Resources
American Boating Association, www.americanboating.org: Through their membership in the American Boating Association, thousands of boaters and boating enthusiasts from across the nation share a common mission — working together to improve the safety, affordability, environmental cleanliness, growth and fun of our sport.
American Canoe Association, www.acanet.org/acanet.htm: The ACA Serves the nation’s paddlers by helping ensure safe, enjoyable, and quality recreation opportunities on America’s waterways.
American Red Cross, www.redcross.org/services/hss/courses: Health and safety services: First Aid, CPR and AED courses.
American Red Cross, www.redcross.org/services/hss/aquatics: Health and safety services: swimming and lifeguarding.
Divers Alert Network, www.diversalertnetwork.org: Divers Alert Network (DAN) is a 501(c)(3) non-profit medical and research organization dedicated to the safety and health of recreational scuba divers and associated with Duke University Medical Center (DUMC).
Education Outside The Classroom (EOTC) “Safe as Outside”, www.safeoutside.org/pursuit_guidelines/snorkeling.html: New Zealand site EOTC with basic information regarding Snorkeling
Professional Association of Diving Instructors, www.padi.com: PADI exists to develop programs that encourage and fulfill the public interest in recreational scuba and snorkel diving worldwide.
SCUBA Diving Organizations, www.iit.edu/~elkimar/design/organizations: Introduction to SCUBA diving, organizations, etc.
United States Coast Guard Auxiliary, www.cgaux.org: Congress established the United States Coast Guard Auxiliary in 1939 to assist the Coast Guard in promoting boating safety.
US Windsurfing, www.uswindsurfing.org: To encourage participation and promote excellence and enjoyment in recreational windsurfing and racing in the United States.
YMCA of the USA (see Aquatics), www.ymca.net/index.jsp: YMCA Aquatic Programs including Swimming and Lifeguard Instruction and YMCA Camping
YMCA SCUBA, www.ymcascuba.org: National YMCA SCUBA Program.
Robbins, Stephen P. (1980). The administrative process [second edition]. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall
Dr. Richard J. LaRue is Chair of Exercise and Sport Performance, University of New England