Aquatics programming appeals to all ages, body types and abilities, and creates a sense of community. The unique amenities you offer give you the opportunity to stand out from competitors in your area, as well as attract and retain new members.
One of the best ways to stand out is to offer something your community needs, and in the aging community of Sonoma County, that need was an indoor warm water therapy pool. “It’s always a point of conversation when we’re introducing the Y to someone new, especially if they say they have an interest in swimming or they share with staff they are experiencing arthritis or rehabbing an injury,” said Michelle Head, the chief operations officer at the Sonoma County Family YMCA in Santa Rosa, California. “I would say aquatics in general, for YMCAs, is a unique offering, on top of all the other things we can offer our members.”
Head finds about 30% of their membership is active older adults. As a result, many of the senior water exercise classes are held in the warm therapy pool, because they prefer it over exercising in the regular pool. “It’s kept at about 94 degrees, so it offers a lot of healing benefits for people who are rehabbing an injury, or maybe just had a hip replacement or knee surgery,” she said. “They come and use the warm pool, and then talk about how it helps with their stiffness and mobility, to get out of bed easier each day.”
Active older adults are not the only members who gain benefits from the warm water, however. “It really benefits all ages, from moms when they’re pregnant — being able to use the pool because it provides the buoyance — to people who are still swimming in their 90s,” explained Head. “Also, for the swim lessons with younger ones, the warmer water is more conducive for that first exposure to a swim lesson and getting in the pool than maybe a colder temperature pool.”
Additionally, in attracting a variety of swimmers, the more features, the better. The Weinstein JCC in Richmond, Virginia, has two indoor salt-water pools with amenities that appeal to all. “The recreation pool offers a zero-depth entry, a dinosaur slide for young children, a big blue slide for older children and kid-like adults, fountains that shoot out of the walls and from the ground on our beach entry, and a spa area with jets for you to relax and a river function that flows around it,” described Myles Phelps, the J’s aquatics director.
While indoor amenities are perfect for year-round fun, you don’t want your outdoor pool offerings to be overlooked. Future members could be driving past right now, and outdoor amenities are your first line of sales.
At the JCC of Staten Island in Staten Island, New York, the outdoor pool features a water slide for kids and adults, and an upper and lower lawn with lounge chairs, tables and canopies. This is also where the J hosts member appreciation days and special events, such as “Dive-In Movie Nights.”
“Having an outdoor pool and lawn attracts families and regulars who interact with the staff, especially lifeguards and swimming instructors,” said Justine Bergen, the aquatics director at the Staten Island J. “Quite often, this results in private and group swimming lesson inquiries.”
Not only can this interaction lead to swim lesson inquires, Bergen also suggests investing in starting blocks to open the door for pool rentals by swim teams, which brings in additional revenue. This is how the indoor 25-yard, six-lane lap pool at the Weinstein J is able to accommodate a multitude of programs, as well as a year-round swim team and space for a synchronized swim team to practice.
Accompanying its indoor warm water therapy pool, the Sonoma Y also houses a lap pool that provides space for exercise classes, swim lessons and recreational swim.
“I know YMCAs generally find that offering a balance of options and program offerings is helpful to attract a diverse group of people, serving a diverse group of needs,” said Head. “Certainly, I think there’s a need all across the country for increased water safety programs, and that’s one of the many things the Y does very well.”
An important aspect to consider when accommodating all participants safely — indoor and outdoor — is a zero-depth feature. “The zero-depth entry allows the child to be eased into the pool when they are potentially anxious about the deep water,” explained Phelps. “However, it’s still deep and big enough that the child has room to grow as their confidence grows.”
This type of entry is also great for older demographics, allowing them to enter and exit the water with ease, or participate in shallow water aerobics classes. Outdoors, zero-depth entry is also found in the Weinstein J’s Hilbert pool, equipped with a diving board, slide, 25 yards of lap lanes, and a play feature that dumps buckets of water for play below.
“The Hilbert pool and grounds allow swimmers of all ages to explore the water and great outdoors,” said Phelps. “We have concessions available on the weekends and we often throw parties for our members with music, pool games and free food.”
While unique amenities can be fun for everyone, when it comes to aquatics, safety is always the top priority. One of the best ways to maintain safety is to consistently monitor pool readings, and employ accurately trained staff.
“Our aquatics staff take chemical readings every two hours, so if they notice something off, they alert the aquatics or facilities director,” said Head. “We have a consistent system in place for how that monitoring happens, and how it’s all logged and recorded, in addition to the help of an ozone system, which reduces the amount of chemicals you have to use.”
Head also incorporates a dehumidifier system for their indoor pools to pull the moisture out of the air. This makes for the ambient air to not feel as stifling, and helps with moisture build-up on windows and pool decks. “It’s important for any pool operator that you have a really knowledgeable team of people who are managing your pool,” she emphasized.
Whether your pools are indoor, outdoor or both, the right staff manning the unique aquatics amenities you offer will cause member retention to flourish.