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Avoid the "Us vs Them" Mentality

by Katy Coffey

If you ask the majority of aquatic fitness professionals about their relationship with management, more often than not, their answer will lean towards ... "there's plenty of room for improvement!" As we have discussed in blog posts of the past, strain between management and aquatic fitness staff can stem from many common problems:

  • Lack of understanding the aquatic format

  • Feelings of isolation from the rest of the fitness community

  • Inequality in pay compared with "land based" formats

  • Disagreement on programming priority for pool spacing

  • Communication

Part of our passion here at S’WET™ is to change the perception of aquatic fitness, but also focus on education and collaboration for both the instructor and the facilities.

As we start the new year I am going to set up a challenge for the aquatic fitness professional who might feel frustrated with their relationship to management. I have been in aquatics and recreation management for over 15 years. Today’s blog will be reflecting from that lens as well as polling some of my former aquatics director colleagues.

I challenge you to take a moment to reset your past experiences with your staff and management, and see if there are things that can help eliminate the "Us vs Them" mentality.

Do more. Learn More. A lifeguard’s job is 100% about eyes on the pool and safety. If you are working at a 1 guard facility, the reality is that it is not the job of the guard to change lanes and clean up equipment. If this is the situation at your pool, chat with your supervisor about the best course of action to handle setup and tear down before and after class. Learn how to loosen and tighten lane lines yourself, and have clear directions from your manager about who is getting paid for that time.

When it comes to aquatic’s managers, don’t assume anything. Managers have to deal with Board of Health Compliance, chemical imbalances, programming with lessons and teams, lane usage, member retention, budget, and most importantly, safety for lifeguards and staff recruitment. It is an impossible job. If your equipment is dry rotting, breaking or is no longer sufficient, make sure you communicate the needs to your manager. Document in an email the request, and follow up as needed. This way there is a clear communication chain that can help support your case.

Chat with your manager about what are the budget expectations on other programming. What are they expected to bring in with lessons, swim team and other programming? Why is this important? These paid programs are often what keeps the pool from losing money. Also the temperature of the pool will directly reflect the needs of the greatest programming draw. If your pool has a massive competitive clientele, the temperature of the pool will be in the low 80s. Meaning a stretch and flex class might be frozen! Understanding the needs of the pool and how the temperature will reflect, may help you program your class better. A quality S’WET™ class (no matter the skill level) will warm up in the first 5 minutes in a cold pool and the class will appreciate the cooler water for it.

Learn your state's protocol on aquatic management. Every state has different expectations about pool spacing, chemicals and depth. I encourage all instructors to read up on their local city and state regulations in better understanding your pool’s compliance.

Ask how you can promote the department as a whole! You are part of the aquatic team! If there is a big flick and float event coming up, mention it to your class. Many of your participants might have children or grandchildren who might like to attend. You can help build community among your members beyond the 55 minutes of your class.

The greatest challenge I give you is to remember that it is not "You vs Them."

I know sometimes it might feel like that. When a member speaks to you about a complaint, instead of throwing your manager under the bus, respond as part of the team. "That is a great suggestion, Nancy. Let me chat with my manager and see what we can do about that request." Then loop back to your manager and share the concern.

Being part of the solution makes any staff member feel accomplished. If you have an idea, chat about it and see if the solution might fit into the programming and safety guidelines that your pool has to follow. Help be the bridge of communication between the staff and the members.

All too often we get frustrated at the situation and challenge the members to "attack" management on your behalf out of frustration. Even if the manager is 100% in the wrong, being attacked by the members will only burn more bridges. Instead, take the time to communicate with your manager about the issues, bring a few possible solutions and then follow up with an email documenting your takeaways.

No matter how long you have worked at your current location, take a moment to step back and refresh your outlook on your facility. Give this challenge one month and then report back to this blog! We would love to hear how it went, and see if any changes were made to better your professional experience.

Do you have other ideas on how staff can connect better with their managers? We want to hear from you!


About the Author:

Katy Coffey is a S’WET™ MASTER TRAINER teaching aquatic fitness in Boston, Massachusetts. She's been working in aquatics since 2002 and currently holds Instructor Training certifications for the American Red Cross, ASHI and YUSA. She is also an AFAA Certified Group Exercise Instructor, an AEA Aquatic Training Specialist, Master Trainer with Aqua Body Strong and holds a collective of 15 additional fitness certifications for both land and aquatic fitness training.

Contact Katy here:




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