For a little over a year now, I’ve been working as the aquatics director for a new community natatorium at a high school. The pool is a first for the school district, and the community awaited its opening with great anticipation.

Upon entering my new position, my experience as an aquatics professional was limited; however, my personal experience includes a lifelong involvement with aquatics, from lifeguarding to swim lessons to competitive swimming and coaching.

That said, I was excited about the opportunity to take on the aquatics director role and felt confident in my abilities.

Little did I realize just how much the job would require, beyond confidence and a love of aquatics.

From the start, a majority of our participants have been new to aquatics, and I assumed that as they became accustomed to the facility, routine would fall into place. At first, I thought it did.

About nine months in, pool scheduling and course programming were running smoothly, enrollment and staff numbers were up and growing, and my professional relationships with stakeholders were solidifying. But after reviewing correspondence from some of the parents with children in our programs, it became clear that something still wasn’t clicking.

One parent raised concerns over the attentiveness of some of the instructors and guards during preschool learn-to-swim lessons. Another parent questioned the teaching methods of our diving coach. In fact, parents with all types of questions were constantly confronting me on the pool deck. “Are all the instructors following the same curriculum?” “Should my child be in a higher level?” “Why is the water so cold?” On further reflection, I realized that it seemed every parent I spoke with had a question, request or concern specific to their child. 

My initial instinct would have been to respond with assurance, but I learned early on that generic responses don’t accomplish much and usually only frustrate parents more.

With some guidance from my supervisor, I was able to piece it all together. It appeared I was giving too much attention to the big things, areas such as scheduling, staffing and relationships. What I really needed to do was take a look through the eyes of the patrons.

Doing so allowed me to see the small concerns and incidents that I previously would have disregarded, and I came to understand that these “little things” often are what parents notice most.

Now I make it a point to be available to answer parents’ questions, especially during the first few days of a program. I’ll spend time in the stands talking to parents, answering questions and explaining our programming. We’ve made other simple changes, too, such as asking our instructors to face the entire group of students while working one on one, and communicating to guards that every incident should be responded to and handled with urgency.

The good news is, our patrons have recognized our efforts. Less than two months after receiving a correspondence from one of our learn-to-swim parents, I was contacted again. This time that parent expressed enthusiasm for the adjustments.

1. Sweat the small stuff. This is especially true when dealing with parents. Every correspondence, question and concern has value and is important.

2. Communication is key. Obtain feedback from parents. I look forward to hearing their opinions and suggestions. It provides an additional perspective and enables me to direct aquatics programs that everyone in the community recognizes and looks forward to being a part of.

3. Change is good. If something isn’t working, don’t be afraid to take the time to analyze the situation and fix it. Sometimes even a small “tweak” can make a big difference.