Monday, September 28, 2015

Swimming is More Than a Milestone

Many times I hear parents talk about their child’s ability to swim as though it is like any other childhood milestone, such as riding a bike. It can seem like there is a checklist of skills and experiences parents would like their kids to master by the time they start elementary school. The truth is, knowing how to swim is not any other childhood milestone: it’s a necessary life skill that should be learned as soon as possible.

The rate of childhood drowning is staggering. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), a reported 3,391 people died by accidental drowning in the United States in 2013. An estimated one in five people who die from drowning are children under the age of 14. Additionally, for every child who dies from drowning, another five children suffer injuries as the result of non-fatal drowning.

If knowing how to swim is to be on the same timetable of any childhood milestone, it should be linked with walking. “If a child can walk into a pool, he or she should be in swim lessons,” says Starfish Aquatic Institute’s COO and Swim School Specialist, Jennifer White. “A child can begin swim lessons as early as six months and should definitely be enrolled in swim lessons by 3 years old,” says White. There is no reason to wait until your child reaches a certain grade in school before enrolling him in swim lessons.

Prepare Your Child From the Beginning

Having successful swim lessons begins with early exposure to the water, before your child is even enrolled in lessons. Use bath time as an opportunity to acquaint your child with the water. Pour water over your child’s head and face as early as the first bath to get him used to the sensation of water on his face. Also, engage your child in a float position on his back during bath time. “The fear of water only gets worse over time, so it’s very important to get kids used to the water as soon as possible,” explains White.

Choose a Swim Program Wisely

Most towns offer more than one learn-to-swim program. If you aren’t familiar with swimming, it can be a daunting task to know which program to choose. Do your homework. First ask around for recommendations for programs in your area. Confirm that the instructor has a nationally recognized certification and a set curriculum for each class. The simple act of knowing how to swim - even being on a swim team - does not mean that someone will be able to effectively teach another person, especially a child, how to swim. Nationally recognized certification implies that an instructor has the necessary tools to teach swimming to your child.

Before enrolling your child in a program, observe a swim lesson to see the style of the lesson and how the instructor interacts with the kids. If you have the opportunity for your child to meet the instructor before enrolling in lessons, do so. “The connection between the child and the instructor directly impacts the performance of that child in swim lessons,” says White. Notice if the instructor engages with your child and how your child responds. Effective instructors are those who will meet your child at his level to positively encourage and instruct your child.

Consider the Setting of the Lesson

Having a one-on-one lesson with an instructor is optimal, as it ensures that your child will be engaged in swimming the entire class. However, if a private lesson is not feasible, look for a class with a small child-to-instructor ratio. “If there are too many kids in a lesson,” explains White,  “you could pay for a 30 minute lesson, but your child may only receive 5 minutes of actual swim instruction.” Point being, your child is not going to learn to swim by sitting on the side of the pool, watching other kids try new skills. Your child will only learn to swim by engaging in the water. If you do choose a group lesson program, make sure the instructor keeps all students active for the majority of the swim lesson time.

Monitor Progress

Having your child attend a series of swim lessons is not the end of the swimming journey. Keep track of how your child is doing, and understand that one series of swim lessons is a good start to teaching your child appropriate water safety, but some necessary skills may take more than one season of swim lessons to master. A program with a clear curriculum should give you feedback about your child’s progress. The key to swim lessons is that your child does make progress. “You should be able to see progress at every lesson,” says White. 

Beginning swim lessons should teach your child basic life-saving skills: how to jump into the pool, roll over in the water, float, and swim back to the wall. As your child progresses, so should the level of lessons. “At a minimum,” says White, “a child should be in swim lessons until he can swim at least ten yards, rolling on his back to rest and breathe when needed.” 

Learning how to swim early in life is much more than accomplishing a milestone. It is an essential safety measure necessary for every child.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Spreading Water Safety Awareness in Your Community

As the busy season clicks into gear, it can be easy to focus entirely on facility programs and staff management. While meeting the demands of the summer months, don’t forget the importance of water safety education within your community. As professionals in the aquatics industry, it can be easy to fall into the trap of assuming the public knows what we know about water safety. The annual rates for fatal and non-fatal drowning incidents indicate that the community could benefit from drowning prevention education and overall water safety awareness.

SAI recently addressed the topic water safety promotion with a group of program and facility managers to see what is being done for within communities. The most popular method for community engagement was to work with the school systems and other community programs, such as summer camps. Targeting the school system does not mean you are limited to giving presentations to a classroom full of students. There are a variety of methods for reaching school-aged children, such as:
  • Invite schools or camps to your facility for an engaging water safety lesson. Teach the students not only the importance of water safety but also practical tips for how to stay safe.
  • Have a booth at local festivals. Make your booth engaging for both children and adults to interact with you about water safety.

Reaching out to schools and camps for water safety education is a popular method for engaging with the community, and it is a way to directly reach a very vulnerable population. There are options that require less time away from your facility, however.
  • Consider participating in existing collaborative events, such as The World’s Largest Swimming Lesson (WLSL). Events like the WLSL not only bring community awareness to water safety and the benefits of swim lessons, but such events also promote your facility as a resource within your community.
  • If feasible, provide scholarships for swim lessons so every child is afforded the opportunity to learn how to swim.

The idea of running a separate program for the sake of community education may seem daunting. There are smaller, everyday, approaches that if implemented could have a large effect on the education of the public.
  • Ensure that parents know the water safety rules that are enforced at the pool and during swim lessons. Encourage parents to use the same rules anytime they and their child is near water.
  • Post water safety tips in clear areas that can be seen in your facility.
  • Include strategies to stay safe in newsletters or emails that are received by members of your community.

As aquatics professionals who have a heightened sense of water safety, it can be tempting to take for granted that every parent is in tune to what will help his or her child stay safe. The truth is, many children and adults don’t think about the need for water safety until an incident occurs. Drowning is an epidemic that goes beyond our individual facilities. As aquatics professionals, it is our duty to equip the community with knowledge that could save lives beyond our pools.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Make The Most of Your In-Service Trainings

Consistent in-service trainings are essential for keeping your staff sharp and up-to-date on emergency protocol. The unfortunate truth about in-service trainings, however, is that they are often ineffective. In-service trainings become ineffective when the content becomes stale, the delivery of information becomes routine, and the staff is not fully engaged.
It’s never the intention to have ineffective or boring in-service trainings - it just happens. Recently SAI discussed effective in-service training tactic with facility managers and SAI’s Director of Quality Assurance and Improvement, Lake White. The discussion highlighted three important keys for effective in-service trainings.

  1. Know your needs and make a plan. Be aware of what your staff weaknesses are, and cater your in-service trainings to address those areas that need improvement. Create a specific plan before each in-service, so as not to waste time or lose the focus of your staff.
  2. Keep it lively. Theoretical discussion or watching someone else do something makes an in-service quickly turn stale. Keep your staff moving and actively engaged in what is being discussed or reviewed. Team-building exercises that incorporate skill-building help keep staff engaged, as well as promote staff cooperation. Competitive games are also effective for sharpening your staff’s skills, while keeping everyone eager to participate in the process.    
  3. Put the pieces together. If in-service trainings always focus on a single component of protocol, your staff may operate more like an assembly line than a lifesaving team. Each person may attach to one element of the emergency protocol but may not fully understand the entire process. This becomes an issue when an incident occurs and your staff, who has been present for hours of in-service training, is not able to execute the emergency action plan (EAP) properly. Practice your EAP from beginning to end, leaving out no minor detail. This consistent rehearsal of your EAP will not only get your staff well-acquainted with the emergency protocol, but it will also allow you to evaluate weaknesses that need be addressed during later in-service trainings.   
In-service trainings don’t have to be boring or redundant. With some intentional planning, every in-service training can be not only effective but also enjoyable for your staff.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

How to Balance Rising Costs

Recently we posed the question to facility and program managers of how to handle the rise in operating costs. The main concern of rising costs is the ultimate loss of customers. As minimum wage increases, the costs to the customer increase, and often facilities see customers seeking the lowest-priced facilities, even at the risk of lower quality services.

There does not appear to be a single formula of how to respond to rising costs, but four key strategies for responding to the financial climate became evident in our discussion.

  1. Get creative. Since there is not a simple solution for how to reconcile the fact that spending and profits don’t rise at the same rate, it’s important to look at your situation with innovative eyes. Be aware that being creative may mean letting go of certain programs your facility offer.
  2. Shave off the excess. Did your facility incorporate a variety of programs when the economy was strong and wages were low that still carry on today? It’s helpful to evaluate if the programs your facility offers are truly valuable for your revenue.
  3. Choose your strength. There is always competition; decide your niche and focus on that. One manager in our discussion noted that his facility could not compete with the subsidized programs offered by the government facilities, so his facility decided to offer specialized classes that are not offered at the government facilities. Make your programs unique enough so the cost is not the driving factor in the customer’s decision-making.
  4. Educate your customers. Frustration is inevitable when managers see customers moving toward a lower-priced, likely lower quality, competitor. Some facilities have chosen to explain to customers why the cost to them has increased. If the rise in cost is to the rise in minimum wage, the explanation is ultimately education on the importance of quality lifeguards. Facility managers understand how essential highly-trained lifeguards and swim instructors are, but, unfortunately, the importance of lifeguards and water safety are not always the main motivation in decision-making for customers.   

Costs will always continue to rise, but sometimes they can rise suddenly with a change in regulations. These quick changes make it so that facilities are in the position of playing catch up financially. Be innovative and don’t be afraid to try something new to address the effects rising costs have on revenue.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Let Your Programs Be Known

Your facility may have some of the best programs and instructors in your area, but that doesn’t matter if you don’t have effective marketing methods. Effective marketing isn’t only marketing that advertises your programs, but it is also marketing that is cost-effective and time-efficient. Recently SAI posed the question about effective marketing methods to its clients, and six marketing strategies were consistently reported as being the most effective for retaining and gaining customers. These strategies can easily be layered to provide exposure of the great programs and services your facility offers.

  1. Word of mouth. If you do good work, people will tell their friends. In the same manner, if you do poor work, people will tell their friends. Let your quality programs and service advertise themselves.
  2. Social media. Keep your current customers and potential customers interested with new updates and information about what programs you offer. If you use social media, keep it active.
  3. Internal advertising. Don’t forget to post information about what programs you have to offer for customers to see while engaged at your facility. Move beyond the simple message board and advertise with banners or other signage in noticeable areas.
  4. E-mail listservs. Some facilities have found success with providing current and past customers with email alerts regarding upcoming programs.
  5. Paper brochures. Even though we live in a technology-driven age, the paper brochure ought not to be underestimated. A paper brochure can easily become a mainstay on a customer’s refrigerator and doesn’t require the customer to do extra work to seek out your programs.
  6. Community flyers and calendars. Integrate yourself into the community at large and reach potential customers who may not be seeking what programs you offer.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Millennials in a Solitary Position


Over the years a lot has been learned about the way Millennials work. Like every generation, there are very positive characteristics that shape Millennials, as well as some less desirable characteristics. For a generation that is accustomed to multitasking and always being engaged somewhere other than where they physically are, it can be very difficult for a Millennial to focus on one solitary task at a time without chatting with friends or using a phone. The constant need for connection makes Millennials adept for teamwork, but solitary tasks - such as being on duty on a lifeguard stand - can be challenging for such a social generation. Equally challenging is the task managers face on how to train staff to maintain focus during a solitary job such as lifeguarding.

Tina Kessler, a manager from the Bath & Racquet Club in Sarasota, FL, reported in SAI’s weekly Client Connection discussion that her method for helping employees stay on task while on duty is to not only do frequent walkabouts to evaluate employee performance, but to also engage employees about why they may not be performing to standard. The time Kessler spends with employees to determine what is hindering them from performing their best is valuable to Millennials. Instead of simply reminding her staff what to do while on duty, Kessler collaborates with her employees to figure out how to solve the problem.

As a generalization, Millennials like to be involved in finding creative solutions, and tend to dismiss prescribed methods of accomplishing goals. A way to motivate Millennials to change behavior is to incorporate them in the process of finding the best solution. For example, if an employee is having a hard time staying focused on scanning, and is often engaging in side conversation while on duty, instead of simply telling the employee that he needs to scan properly, try troubleshooting with the him to determine what would help him not be as distracted while on duty and establish any personalized methods to encourage him to stay focused.

Millennials are known to appreciate frequent feedback, but more important than the feedback is the collaboration on how to change the situation. Overall, managing Millennials tends to look more like working alongside them. This generation typically responds with a lot of enthusiasm and energy when they feel like they are part of the process, so the time it may take to adjust management styles to meet the need of Millennials will pay off.    

Monday, April 13, 2015

Fostering Manager Motivation and Engagement

The managerial staff at your facility sets the tone for the work environment that affects the entire staff. Even the most gifted managers can fall into complacency, negativity, or frustration. Here are some ideas collected from various aquatics facilities for fostering managerial growth and success:

Reiterate values. Don’t assume your managers have the same workplace values as you. If you want managers to be focused on the values you think are most important, remind them regularly. Make your values a mantra for your managers.

Give them a voice. People who become managers have an understanding of how things work, and most likely have ideas about how things could be done differently. Provide a forum for managers to freely express their ideas. Not every idea has to be taken, but giving managers the opportunity to contribute ideas is a certain way to keep them engaged. If it seems like some managers are hesitant to contribute ideas, one tactic used during meetings could be the round-robin approach that encourages everyone to speak during a meeting.  

Stay technologically relevant. Not every facility is going to have the resources to be completely up-to-date on technology, but it’s helpful to be as up-to-date as possible. For a generation who is accustomed to using technology wherever and whenever possible, it can make tasks that don’t use technology seem less important or unnecessarily time-consuming. Implementing tasks that seem out of date quickly lead to a lack of interest and motivation. If you’re unfamiliar with ways your systems could be improved with technology, as your staff for suggestions. Someone is likely to be eager to provide a technological upgrade.

Stay in the habit of learning from others. To help bridge generational gaps, and promote the value of everyone’s ideas, a facility director noted that she pairs off her staff by partnering someone of a younger generation with someone of an older generation. Depending on your facility, the gap in age among these pairs may be larger or smaller, but either way, this sort of pairing can foster mentorship and mutual respect among the generations. Managers and staff who better understand each other are more likely to work together effectively as a team.  

Be consistent. Consistency is key in everything. In this situation, having consistent communication is very valuable. Without consistent communication it is impossible to get a sense of your facility’s pulse and morale. Having consistent meetings is an effective way to determine the mood and perspective of managers.

Circle the wagon. A facility director reported that she sends nightly emails to communicate with staff. These emails could be used to not only provide a positive outlook for what is to come at your facility, but could also be used to debrief about anything that may have occurred. If written in the right tone, emails can be an excellent way of communicating information, goals, and values.

Keep in fresh. Redundancy breeds boredom and complacency. Keep your trainings fresh and as innovative as possible. Something as simple as using alternating locations for seasonal training can help keep perspectives fresh. Allow your managers some autonomy in determining how to keep things interesting.

If you have any additional ideas for keeping managers motivated and positive, please share your comments. Additionally, an interesting article about keeping employees engaged can be found here.  

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Defining Drowning

It's almost that time of year when we start to hear a lot about "dry drowning," "secondary drowning," "near drowning," and "delayed drowning." What do these terms actually mean? Are these terms accurate? SAI founder, Jill White, collaborated with the SAI Medical Directors, Dr. Justin Sempsrott and Dr. Seth C. Hawkins to articulate clear and accurate terminology for drowning. Here is the complete SAI Position Statement on the definition of drowning.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Tips For Seasonal Staffing

It can be difficult to find and retain quality employees, especially for seasonal positions. It can be even more difficult to keep a consistent level of employment when the majority of employees work around an academic calendar.  A recent discussion among program managers provided some good tips and strategies for attracting and hiring employees.

  • Use social media. Keep your Facebook page, Twitter account, and blog active and attractive.
  • Don’t underestimate local contacts. Hiring quality seasonal staff isn’t something that should be a priority only a few months a year. Instead, throughout the year time should be spent networking with local schools, workforce centers, and job placement agencies. It is very helpful to have a direct contact within agencies and schools who will promote your available positions and who will be able to refer quality applicants directly to you.
  • Use the training course as the first interview. The longer you spend with an employee candidate, the more you get to see his/her skills, and the easier it is to know if the candidate has the maturity and fit you are looking for.
  • Ensure your wages are competitive. You get what you pay for.
  • Provide incentives to continue working through the season. Seasonal work can be extremely challenging at the end of the season. The staff pool tends to thin out and managers are left to fill in for the missing employees. Gift cards and bonuses are popular incentives to encourage employees to stay for the entire season.
  • Plant seeds through your workplace culture. Remember to encourage your staff and foster an enjoyable work environment. A positive work atmosphere is contagious and attracts positive employees.  
  • Think outside the box. Don't be afraid to hire someone outside the norm. A program manager noted that her facility has had great success with employing empty-nesters to teach swim lessons. These somewhat untraditional hires have been very reliable, enthusiastic, and flexible. Additionally, their schedules are not dependent on an academic schedule.
  • Document what works and what doesn’t. Seasonal staffing can be extremely hectic and it is easy to forget from one season to the next what worked and what didn't. Keep record of your strengths and weaknesses in hiring so that they can be modified and improved in seasons to come.