Developing and Enforcing the Rules in Multi-Use Aquatics Venues
Wednesday, May 3, 2023
It’s no wonder that leisure pools are becoming more popular around the country. As aquatics facilities need to attract more and different audiences, it only makes sense to offer features that will appeal to all ages, interests and energy levels.
But as leisure pools are becoming the norm, so is the need to stave off chaos.
Considering all the different types of programming that can take place at one time, it becomes more crucial to put rules in place to help manage the different visitors and demographics being served to stay safe and co-exist.
Here, seasoned veterans share offer some tips on how to develop and enforce the rules of the house, to ensure everyone’s safety and enjoyment.
Rule #1 is for the staff: Stay consistent
It may be tempting to allow infractions because the visitor is a regular, they are especially skilled, or the lifeguard just doesn’t have the energy to keep pressing the matter.
But enforcing the rules sometimes and not others causes confusion for the visitors and problems for co-workers. If one client is able to, say, jump off a starting block during open swim, they’ll be surprised when the next lifeguard tells them to stop. Not only that, other visitors will see it and think it’s okay.
“I think that’s the biggest issue we see at facilities,” says Juliene Hefter, executive director and CEO of the Association of Aquatic Professionals, who gained extensive experience as an aquatics director before taking her current post. “What we’re seeing is, ‘I come to a facility this day and they allow me to do something, and we come the next day and they don’t.’”
Consistency also gives you strength in numbers. On those occasions when visitors do resist a rule or argue with a lifeguard, the message is reinforced when multiple people on staff say the same thing, and when they hear it on multiple visits.
Devise program-specific rules, and make them known
Each program will need its own equipment and include students or participants of varying abilities. Training for competitive swim teams should not be treated the same as child learn-to-swim classes, for example. For each program, devise a set of rules and have participants sign off on them.
Be specific in your language. “Let’s say that during normal swim, there’s no diving off the starting blocks, but the swim team is allowed to do that,” says Kevin Post, a principal at St. Louis-based Counsilman-Hunsaker. “Does the rule mean starting blocks are only allowed during swim-team practice? Or does it mean anyone on the swim team can go off them anytime they want?”
Specify the viewer capacity for each program. How many students per instructor in child learn-to-swim classes versus SCUBA classes verses aquatic aerobics sessions? How many swimmers per lifeguard, instructor, coach or counselor in open swim sessions versus swim camp versus competitive training?
Document everything so that expectations are clear to both staff and participants. Include the rules in packets for each program that people register for, and have them sign a waiver acknowledging the expectations. If somebody is renting the space for a class or training, the entity holding the class says they will make their participants aware. Not only does this establish expectations, but it makes enforcement easier as well.
Most disobeyed rule: Minimum ages to have an adult present, or within arm’s reach
Those who work in water environments know that taking a child to the pool does not mean the parents get a break. If anything, the adult guardian needs to be even more diligent in the oversight of their charge than they are on dry land.
But some parents, unfortunately, look at the pool and its staff as babysitters. Others believe their children are skillful enough to be in the pool by themselves.
“That one we get a lot of resistance on, whether it’s parents coming in and just wanting their kids to swim and not wanting to get in with them, or the parents want to swim laps and [the child is] just floating in their life jacket,” says Ashley McKay, recreation supervisor over aquatics for the City of Plano, Texas. “They figure, ‘Oh, they have a lifejacket, they’re fine.’”
In Plano, any child under the age of 7 needs to have an adult within arm’s reach at all times. When small children enter the facility, the guardian is asked for the age. Those under 7 receive a wristband. If a child with a wrist band is seen without an adult, they’re asked about it. Lifeguards also have to be alert for cases where small children or their guardians have removed the wristbands. “We have our lifeguards keep extra wrist bands in their fanny packs, and while they’re walking around, they can ask ‘How old are you?’” McKay says.
Some parents are so opposed to this rule that they’ll visit a facility on different days, trying to figure out which lifeguards will let them slide (another demonstration of the need for consistency). After a certain number of warnings, they’re asked to leave for the day. And after a certain number of dismissals, their memberships are suspended.
Learn the local law on bans and advocate for new ordinances if necessary
Removing somebody from a property or banning them is never a desired solution, especially in municipal facilities meant to serve the public. However, if that is a tool you do need at your disposal, and you work in a municipal space, make sure local ordinances allow for people to be removed from government properties and potentially banned.
“In the public sector, where it’s publicly funded, it’s difficult to deny the public access to a facility unless there’s a process to go through,” says Shawn DeRosa, owner of DeRosa Aquatic Consulting in Walpole, Mass. “There might have to be a time limit on it, like you’re not allowed back this year. There’s likely a process they’d have to follow so it wasn’t an arbitrary, capricious decision for their rights to access to a public space to be taken away.”
Some municipalities might require a court order or police report, adds DeRosa, who also serves as director of the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation’s Bureau of Pool and Waterfront Safety.
If you occasionally need to ban individuals, but no rules exist allowing for bans or specifying when individuals can be prohibited, consider advocating for a new ordinance stating what types of behavior can cause people to be removed or banned from public property.
“City ordinances are helpful because it gives enforcement power to the Police Department,” DeRosa says. “If a city ordinance says there should be no foul language in a swimming pool ... I can ask the police to eject someone if need be.”