Great question, Joe. The answers can be very telling. Look forward to what others have to say!
Since there has been no replies yet I'll kick in my two cents.
I’m going to focus on community aquatics. Our biggest problem is we are too risk adverse. I’m not talking about the Risk Management/Safety picture but in real willingness to innovate. Because the majority of aquatics facilities are public entities they have been weighted down by bureaucracy and directors who are looking to keep their head low and stay out of the line of fire of the elected officials. The elected officials who directly control and heavily influence down the food chain react to things for one of two reasons:
It is kind of a messed up system that only those who are ticked off show up to a public meeting to influence decision makers. Does anyone have a citizen who will show up to half the meetings of your governing body to brag about your facility? How about three times a year? The only reason your citizens show up is to complain because they didn’t get what they want, or the governing body is threating to do something they don’t want (i.e. raise prices, eliminate programs or close the facilities).
Given this situation we directly or indirectly make decisions to not make waves up the ladder. We all have a spoken or unspoken directive to go make more money and be profitable, but it is also tied to don’t make the citizens mad. One of the stock answers that keeps us open is we benefit communities and that benefit is worth it to subsidize the facility. While many of us are able to be creative and do better, we can only do so much.
True innovation will only come when someone has an opportunity to make a bunch of money. I don’t care how lovey dovey you are towards making “great places to recreate”, you will eventually get tired of the Bureaucratic System (BS) and either quit innovating and do good enough, or move on to something else. I can honestly say you can only continue to push the envelope if there is a reward system in place to keep hungry. A person can only fight so many loosing battles without big victory. That victory is money and that will not happen as long as we are working under public funding. How many times have worked 5, 10 or 20 extra hours in a week and not received any extra compensation for it? How many of us with spouses, boyfriend/girlfriends, families will subject our families to that for a “good government job” salary? After a while it becomes less about winning and more about getting by for the long term.
Here’s the kicker, I don’t have an answer yet. Every single pool I’ve worked at would not be open without that government funding. If it is not government’s money that subsidizes a pool, it’s typically somebody else’s money who dictates what you can and can’t do (HOA, School). I’d like to see an experiment where you take a brand new aquatics facility, 3 years of reasonable runway (money in the bank) to operate the facility and free reign to operate the facility. As the person in charge of the facility you get to keep the money you make (Or if you’re not profitable you don’t get paid).
This maybe an industry that will always just be good enough to stay open.
Piggy-backing on your reflections about public opinion on swimming pools (or more specifically, public opinion about public pools!)
This has probably been said a million times over, but we are in a very poorly understood (by the public) industry. To most people, we are exactly the same as their backyard pool or their neighbor's pool.
We are a hybrid service/revenue generator for our respective governing entities. The problem enters when we have been explicitly subsidized by (local/state/fed) government with the expectation to provide that service to the best of our ability. This is the "easy" part! The difficult part is when the elected officials forget the service we provide to focus on the bottom line or, as you put it, "not making people mad"! The tricky part is that our elected officials (most anyway) are members of the community and may share the same ignorance to things you, I, and other AquaPros see as "common sense".
As was evidenced by the passing of the VGBA (read: the language in VGBA and lack of "common sense"), our legislators know about as much about pools as our mom with two kids who just wants to get them out of her hair for a few hours!! Both of my parents were teachers and I have always grown up with the attitude that the only cure for ignorance is education and if that doesn't work nothing short of physical violence, loss of resources/time, or threats are going to work! So, given that none of us want to fight, steal, or threaten any of our patrons, we are left with education as our sole source of ammo in our fight against ignorance.
So, now what...? Do we require high schools to include a CPO course in their curricula? :)
In our community we had no summer swim team, no club swim team, and the high school team was decent but all of their "elite" swimmers were driving 45 minutes to a club team. I came to this area from Cincinnati where Aquatics (and more specifically, competitive swimming) was HUGE. When I got up here, I was appalled by the lack of understanding of Aquatics and was struggling finding lifeguards who didn't need to be taught to swim first! We started out implementing a summer swim team, then helped develop a club team, and worked even closer with our High School team. The results, my lifeguarding classes have been full and not only do I get to pick the cream of the crop from the classes, but I also know that those going to other local community pools are going there well prepared.
The added bonus that I did not expect was that all of these children competing on the teams had parents and guardians (go figure eh?!). These moms, dads, grandpas, and grandmas were now starting to talk to me in "aqua-jargon"!! It dawned on me that they had gone from complete ignorance to an actual understanding of aquatics. I have been able to turn these parents into our biggest supporters and, yes, we actually have had parents go to our City Council meetings to tell Council how well the teams are doing and how much they appreciate the City's support.
I only mention this specific example using competitive swimming because I wanted to illustrate the point that sometimes we can educate in more ways "outside of the box" than we originally thought!
I may not have answered your original question, but hopefully I've shared something coherent! I'm interested in following this discussion to see others' insights.
Thanks for the opportunity to share!
Dude that is awesome. It sounds like you deal with a lot of the same issues I do. It is a marathon to get the framework changed but I'm finally seeing the shift (A Full staff and full programs).