Chutes and Ladders Covid Edition

Manda Groff-LGIT-WSIT-AqP  | Aquatic Coordinator 

Parks and Recreation  |  Department of Community Services  |  Gwinnett County Government

Manda Groff and her son Greyson

Sitting down to play a game of Chutes and Ladders with my 8-year-old, I couldn’t help but compare the last 18 months of my life at work to feeling like we were trapped in a never-ending game of Chutes and Ladders.  Never knowing from day to day what square we may land on and if we were going to be sent spiraling down the Chute or climbing up the Ladder to advance.  Looking back and trying to process what has occurred since the initial news of the COVID-19 outbreak, the subsequent shut down, and the phased re-opening in the ‘new normal’; I began to look at each stage and challenge as either a Chute or a Ladder. In case you have never played chutes and ladders, or if it has been a long time since you have played the game let me refresh your memory. 

The board game has 100 squares, and the goal of the game is to move through the squares as fast as you can to reach the 100th square first.  All players start at a square 1 at the beginning of the game and take turns spinning the wheel to determine how many squares you can move forward on each turn.  Along the board are a series of squares that contain ladders and some squares that contain chutes.  If you land on a square with a ladder, you can jump ahead and skip over squares giving you an advantage over the other players.  If you land on a square with a chute on it, you slide back down losing a lot of the ground you had already covered.  Throughout the game you have opportunities to jump ahead, all the while knowing there is the emanant danger of sliding back down.  Some of the things I noted about the game is that anything can change at a moment’s notice and that there are times even if it looks like the other players are ahead of you and that no longer have a shot at winning, there is still the possibility that you could pull ahead.  

Playing a game that is based purely on chance with no real strategy involved it isn’t exactly like life because in real life there are still many things that are in our control.  However, this past 18 months has taught us all that there is a lot that is out of our control and that even with the best plans, lets be real in aquatics we are all planners, we cannot control every outcome.  This brings me to the first lesson; chutes are a part of life.  In March of 2020 we were excited to begin our summer 2020 hiring and training season.  We had school visits lined up, job fairs secured, events planned, Lifeguard Training classes registered and full of potential new staff.  We were ready to hit the ground running and make 2020 the best summer yet!  And then we started to hear the news of COVID pandemic spreading throughout the world.  We began to see schools and businesses shutting down.  The world appeared to just stop almost overnight.  All our plans were cancelled and put on hold indefinitely.  Chute.  While at the bottom of this chute, back at square 1 we had the opportunity to go back to the drawing board.  As we looked at the challenges of reopening during a pandemic, we were able to assess our operations and restructure.  We were able to ask ourselves some hard questions about how we could safely operate our facilities to meet the needs of our patrons.  Through this restructure we created ladders of opportunity to change things that had always been done the way they had been done.  We took this opportunity to institute change and make it function better than it did before the pandemic.  Ladder.

Throughout the reopening process we have experienced many Chutes from staffing shortages, chlorine shortages, muriatic acid shortages, changing government executive orders, and COVID exposure outbreaks to name a few in the long list.  This has led to many Ladder opportunities such as creative recruiting in our community, working with vendors to secure alternative products and delivery systems, and implementing regulations to keep our staff and patrons safe.  We saw the aquatic community connect and network to combine resources and ideas to support the industry so we could have the best chance of survival. 

While we love the thrill of the playing the game Chutes and Ladders, it becomes a little less exciting when it feels like we are trapped in the game in our daily work and personal lives.  A few lessons we have learned in the aquatics industry as we navigated through the COVID pandemic is that we must accept that Chutes are a part of the game and to not be discouraged when we slide down one.  We also learned that falling down a Chute may be a good thing and an opportunity that we would not have had before.   Most importantly we learned that there are Ladders everywhere, some we build ourselves and others we seek out through networking when we take the time to look. 

Reaching the 100th square will look different for each of us of in our communities and may take a varied amount of time to accomplish.  For us getting to the 100th square would include being fully staffed, running facilities full of programming, offering exciting community events, and running operations under normal capacities and conditions.  While we do not know when we will reach our 100th square to complete the game we will continue to plan, prepare, and navigate each Chute and Ladder that we encounter.  Looking back what were some of your Chutes and Ladder opportunities that presented themselves this past year? How has your team grown through these challenges?  How to you feel more prepared for what the future may bring?  Oh!  On a side note, my 8-year-old won the game we played the other day. 

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