• Brandon Eckhardt is assistant director  aquatics at Missouri State Universitys Foster Recreation Center.  He also owns an aquatics management and training company.  He has 10 years of aquatics experience in municipal and university recreation programs.
    Brandon Eckhardt is assistant director – aquatics at Missouri State University’s Foster Recreation Center. He also owns an aquatics management and training company. He has 10 years of aquatics experience in municipal and university recreation programs.

In 2012, I had the opportunity to open a new aquatics facility. When I was hired, the facility was scheduled to open in less than four months; however, due to frequent rain and a construction delay, we opened several months behind the projected date. In the field of aquatics, where preparation is critical to success, a few extra months were helpful in assuring that everything was ready to go on day one.

Despite all of the planning, opening a new aquatics facility can be an enormous undertaking and quite stressful, especially for the first couple of weeks until everything is operating smoothly. Like many program administrators, I became very focused on management, our budget, and other administrative aspects of our program. Unfortunately, I simply did not have the time to swim laps, use the play features, or take an occasional trip around the river on an inner tube.

As soon as we opened, the feedback began coming in from various forms of assessment. While a vast majority of the comments were positive, several people complained about the water being too cold. Because we kept our water at 85-86 degrees, I brushed these complaints off. Our other comments included the river being too cold and that there wasn’t a clock in the pool. I brushed these off also because all of the water is nearly the same temperature (river or not) due to our circulation, and our special clock was on back order.

About a month later, one of our head lifeguards was unable to teach his in-service training session, so I filled in for him. After getting into the pool (literally for the first time), I realized that the water was actually very cold. In fact, I later tested it at 76 degrees using a manual thermometer and realized that the temperature on the controller was not accurate. In fact, the heating loop had never been opened. Also, the river felt much colder because a strong draft was created by a nearby door that was left slightly ajar for construction crews. Finally, the in-service then became difficult to teach because there was no clock. That was the moment I learned several valuable lessons.

The Lessons

1 Get out from behind your desk. Even if your job doesn’t require it, swim laps, take a water exercise class and lifeguard for a rotation occasionally. You can learn a lot from experiencing the pool from the point of view of your guests and staff.

2 Solicit, listen to and take seriously all feedback from your users. For every person who gives you feedback, there may be several others who feel the same way.

3 Don’t always trust your testing equipment. Sometimes readings can be wrong or you may be reading it incorrectly. Perform tests using a variety of methods, when appropriate.