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Best practices for programming winter aquatics and getting members into your pools during the colder months.

When most people think of pools, winter months don’t typically come to mind. However, winter can be a great time to think outside the box and create new, engaging programs to get members in your pools despite the cold.

For the South Sound YMCA in Olympia, Washington, winter is a prime time for their indoor pools. “In the Pacific Northwest swimming is primarily an indoor sport, and during the summer months most people choose to utilize our beautiful lakes and rivers for swimming,” said Jackie Barratt, the aquatics coordinator for the South Sound Y. “So, in the winter, everyone comes to the Y when they want to swim.”

The South Sound Y offers a variety of programs in the winter including lap swim, open swim, water exercise classes, swim lessons, various swim teams and sensory-friendly swim. Barratt said they encourage members to engage in these programs through digital marketing.

“Our website is a wealth of information about all our programs and schedules,” said Barratt. “Reservations for aquatics programs and registrations for fee-based programs like swim lessons are all through our website. We try to direct people there and encourage them to check back regularly for updates and changes.”

Additionally, the Y will send out regular email blasts to their members and program participants with new information as it comes out.

The City of Sioux Falls Parks and Rec also utilizes digital marketing and social media to grab the attention of members and encourage them to give the rec center’s winter aquatics programs a try. Additionally, they utilize their internal registration system as a means of reaching out to past participants about upcoming events, use the videoboard in the 50-meter pool and street-side video board for additional promotion opportunities, and market events through their seasonal activities guide, flyers and brochures available at the front desk.

The Midco Aquatic Center, a City of Sioux Falls Parks and Rec facility, offers a variety of aquatics fitness classes in the winter, ranging from low intensity to high intensity in both deep and shallow water.

“One of our most popular fitness classes is our BOGAFIT class,” said Jean Pearson, the recreation program coordinator for the City of Sioux Falls Parks and Rec. “This class is a floating water workout that challenges core muscles and balance. The BOGA FITMAT floats on top of the water and allows members to get a full-body workout on an unstable surface.”

Besides fitness classes, the Midco Aquatic Center incorporates unique activities into their winter aquatics programming. “Swimmers can be entertained by watching a movie during our monthly Flick and Float events, or climb on our Wibit Wiggle Bridge or Action Tower,” said Pearson. “Swimmers can also get together a group of friends and spend some time playing water volleyball in our Wibit volleyball court. This indoor environment is a great place to combat the winter blues through effective and fun exercise.”

While winter indoor aquatics are a great addition for your facility’s schedule, they also come with their own challenges. The South Sound Y’s biggest issue is capacity since winter is the busiest time for their pools.

“I wish we had more pools in our community to meet the needs of swimmers, but we do the best we can to get everyone in and sometimes we have to get creative with our pool schedule in order to do that,” said Barratt.

To combat this challenge, they are building a new YMCA facility in Shelton, Washington, with a pool to help serve that community.

While overcapacity is a challenge for the South Sound Y, the Midco Aquatic Center has the opposite issue. “Our busiest months of the year are June and July, so driving attendance isn’t a problem in the summer months,” said Pearson. “However, we are always looking for fun and engaging programs to reach new visitors and then find ways to keep them through all the seasons as pass holders.”

Some of the fun events the Midco Aquatic Center offers include the Floating Pumpkin Patch, Turkey Swim, Reindeer Games, New Year – New You, and Luck of the Lap. According to Pearson, these events are designed for families or adults seeking a jump start to better fitness.

Another way to fill up your pools is by sharing the health benefits of swimming with your members. According to Pearson, an hour of vigorous swimming can burn up to 650 calories — more than walking or biking. This information, along with the fact that swimming strengthens the heart and lungs, can attract new pool users.

“Water’s buoyancy makes swimming the ideal exercise for physical therapy and rehabilitation, or for anyone seeking a low-impact exercise,” said Pearson. “Swimming is a great cardiovascular exercise because you are moving against the water’s resistance.”

Whether through explaining the health benefits or creating new programs for the winter, there are a plethora of ways to attract members to your pools regardless of the season.

“Swimming and water exercise have many health benefits for people of all ages,” said Barratt. “We want to continue to utilize our pools to their full capacity year-round and serve our community by providing aquatics programs that fulfill our mission to build strong kids, strong families and strong communities.”

Three Tips for Getting Members into Pools During Winter Months from Jackie Barratt

  1. Keep the schedule consistent whenever possible. That way people know what to expect and can get into a routine with their swimming workouts.
  2. Have options for families to participate in programs together. Make it convenient for the entire family to come to the Y at the same time.
  3. Promote swim lessons and water safety skills for all. Winter is the prime time for everyone to learn the lifesaving skill of swimming. Prevent summer drownings by encouraging winter swim lessons.
Taylor Brown

Taylor Brown is the assistant editor of Community Rec Magazine. She can be reached at taylor@peakemedia.com.

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