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Community recreation professionals share the benefits of winter pool programming. 

With over 20 pools in its system, the YMCA of Greater Richmond takes its aquatics programs seriously throughout the year, and winter is no exception.

In fact, two of its outdoor pools are covered with inflatable domes so the public can have full access to facilities even during disagreeable weather. Chrissy Fandel, the association aquatics director, said the cold season is actually a very busy time for aquatics.

“We have plenty of water fitness classes, health and safety certifications, and lifeguard certifications year-round,” said Fandel. “One of my favorite programs we do is our second grade Learn to Swim where we partner with local schools to teach swimming lessons to second graders during their school days. Annually, in our swim lesson program we see over 10,000 students. Winter is a great time to get physical conditioning ready.”

The Y’s commitment to the community doesn’t just end at the elementary level. Fandel said they partner with local school districts and their high school swim teams in the winter to help them practice for their upcoming seasons.

Also, Fandel added they are working with Y-USA on creating tools specifically designed around teaching adults to swim. Thanks to additional funds, the YMCA of Greater Richmond will be teaching adults and teens to swim through the end of 2022. The program will offer monetary rewards to encourage more individuals to take classes.

For example, as participants complete swimming goals, they will receive gift certificates. The incentives also act as another way to solve the ongoing lifeguard shortage still being felt at the Y.

Learn More: Winter Aquatics Programming Best Practices

“COVID-19 pulled back the veil and exacerbated the situation,” said Fandel on the shortage. “We are seeing it in all our locations, and we typically see it most in transition periods of the year. Being able to hire ahead of time before those gaps occur is beneficial. We have also received some funding from the Virginia Department of Health. It’s really neat our state sees the need and is helping us as well.”

Outside of programming, Fandel added the winter season is an ideal time for leadership teams to plan months in advance for what the next year will bring and build relationships through networking. She said one strategy for scheduling ahead of time is to have an end-of-season meeting for team members.

However, investing in preventative maintenance strategies needs to be top of mind during the wintertime.

“You always have to have a healthy pool to be able to run,” said Fandel. “Have plenty of spare parts in case any pumps suddenly stall out or break down. It saves a lot of headache from programs or events being canceled. During the winter months, your swimmers can feel a degree of difference. If something breaks down you need to be ready to respond.”

Similar polices are in place at Kaplen JCC on the Palisades. Kathleen Costantini, the aquatics director, said they try to be as proactive as possible with regular upkeep of the aquatics center.

While not as expansive as the YMCA of Greater Richmond’s network, Costantini’s facility has an indoor six-lane, 25-meter pool and smaller training pool along with four seasonal outdoor pools and splash pad.

“Since the outdoor pools are seasonal, it’s very important in the colder months to utilize the indoor pools in a way that balances out our programs, lap-swim and open free-swim times to best serve the needs of our members,” said Costantini. “We stress the importance of continuing beyond the popular summer months so swimmers can keep up the momentum that occurs during the summer.”

Costantini said it could be difficult to staff indoor pools during the winter amid the lifeguard shortage, but reaching out to local lifeguards at seasonal pools in your community before cold weather hits could be a reliable solution. Once winter comes, outdoor lifeguards will need a place to go.

However, staffing issues in this field are not only with lifeguards. Katy Coffey, the aquatics group exercise instructor for the YMCA of the North Shore, said the aquatics fitness community took a big hit to employment as well.

Coffey said the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic expedited her Y’s strategic plan to ensure aquatics fitness instructors were paid on the same scale as their land instructors.

Learn More: Engaging Winter Swimmers

“We put on a full-court press by hosting certification workshops for our instructors to be trained from the best in the industry, and when the staff saw the pay increase, they were happy to continue their education with more certifications,” said Coffey.

For this process, the North Shore Y partnered with a company called S’WET and its workshop Turf to Surf. This program gives land-based instructors the opportunity to get their feet wet and realize that aquatics fitness is much more than aerobics.

It’s in this field where Coffey works to showcase the benefits of working out in the water by using state-of-the-art equipment to form a “liquid gym.”

“When people think about aqua aerobics, they quickly think about nannas with noodles talking more than they are working out,” Coffey said. “Our fitness programs emphasize fitness at any level. We have found since investing into aquatics fitness programming we are seeing less of our snowbirds leaving for the winter. The few who do leave keep their membership so they can bring Studio Y streaming with them during warmer months.”

Coffey said some of the Y’s favorite companies for aquatics fitness are Aqua Body Strong, Hydrorevolution and Indigo Aquatics. These vendors supply her Y with bikes, treadmills, strength training equipment, boxing bags and more — all made specifically for pool usage.

This idea of a liquid gym introduced to staff the concept of being certified through the Aquatic Exercise Association so they can teach classes such as Aqua Cycle and Aqua Combat. Coffey said even during winter, these are now the Y’s most popular classes.

“Many times as aquatics leaders we look at our pools during the winter for standard programming,” Coffey explained. “We think swim team and high school rentals, lap swim, lessons and weekend open swim. Now, we offer a variety of aquatics fitness classes. We use time slots in our pool just like our standard gym floor. During the winter, it’s imperative we keep members active, healthy and engaged in an aquatics program regardless of age.” 


Photo courtesy of the Kaplen JCC on the Palisades. 

John Reecer

John Reecer is an assistant editor at Peake Media.

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