Keep Your Pool from Closing: Embracing an Aquatic Health Club Model for Sustainability

It’s a stark reality that many pools have shuttered due to operating at a loss. When faced with significant repairs, owners or administrators often opt to close the pool to save costs. However, this decision, while seemingly economical, escalates the risk of drowning in the community and eliminates a safe space for individuals to exercise and enjoy the water’s benefits.

As a fellow Aquatic Director, I’d like to share a valuable lesson I learned: Meeting the budget is not just important, it’s crucial to keeping the doors open! Equally vital is the skill of programming and marketing what you offer, as it’s the lifeline of your aquatic business. By mastering these aspects and transitioning to an “aquatic health club” model, you can keep your pool afloat and set the stage for a thriving aquatic business.

Health clubs rely on multiple types of programs and memberships to remain viable and relevant. Pools should operate in a similar manner. A key to success is understanding and developing a working relationship with all four program pillars to help build a solid foundation and sustain your facility. The four program pillars are

  1. Learn-to-Swim
  2. Sports/Recreation
  3. Fitness
  4. Therapy

Each pillar offers a unique revenue stream and service to the community.

Instead of perceiving the four pillars in isolation, adopting a holistic approach is essential. Visualize the pillars as puzzle pieces that, when skillfully integrated, form a captivating picture. Each program pillar contributes unique elements to what we call the aquatic continuum, a dynamic and interconnected system that propels the success of your aquatic center. This approach not only amplifies the effectiveness of each program but also unlocks a world of possibilities for your aquatic center, inspiring and engaging both staff and patrons. This model also fosters opportunities to work with non-disabled individuals and those facing challenges.

While the four pillars are integrated, it’s crucial to recognize that the ‘learn-to-swim’ program is the bedrock of any pool or aquatic center. It serves as a vital feeder system for your other water programs, making it a cornerstone of your success. The value of a high-quality swim instruction program cannot be overstated.

Consider re-evaluating the programs you offer. You can use these four pillars to establish your aquatic health club model. While most aquatic facilities offer learn-to-swim programs and swimming access, many need a focus on fitness and therapy. Understanding how the program pillars assist each other will allow you to be creative in designing, developing, and delivering the best health and wellness services to your community and pave the way for a more prosperous and sustainable future for your aquatic center.

Keys to Changing the Business Structure

  1. Know the cost of operating the pool/aquatic center
  2. Revisit your staff structure
  3. Evaluate your current programming and restructure

TAP into your resources to explore the implementation of different water specialty programs.

Total Aquatic Programming LLC, Sue Nelson, Aquatic Program Specialist,


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Juliene Hefter

Juliene is the Executive Director/CEO of AOAP. She has a background in running and operating diverse aquatic facilities and venues and is a national and international speaker on a variety of topics. She is also an expert witness/consultant.

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