In running a sport or recreation facility or programme for teens and children, how do you best capture their enthusiasm? How do you get young people to share their ideas and feedback on equipment and events? What are the best communication channels to connect with them?
Above all, how do you know what’s cool in their world?
The answers to all these questions are well demonstrated by H²O Xtream, an award winning aquatic centre, that’s run by Upper Hutt City Council (UHCC). Young people don’t just influence H²O Xtream’s youth programmes, they lead the way.
The centre has an elected TeenBoard that discusses issues, recommends decisions, and helps to organise and run events. The TeenBoard structure has been in place for ten years and has proven very successful.
It works for the aquatic centre, it works for young people, and it works for the wider community of Upper Hutt. For anyone offering youth recreation/sport services, it’s well worth knowing about.
Background and partners
The Upper Hutt aquatic centre was built in 1996. It’s an extensive facility with a 25 metre lane pool, leisure/wave pool, three hydroslides, and more.
A review in 1999 showed that the majority of users were teenagers and children. This led to the centre being rebranded to specifically target the youth market - as H²O Xtream . A TeenBoard was established because, as Recreation Services Manager Alison Law says: “we realised we weren’t fourteen ourselves. What we thought was cool probably wasn’t cool for them.”
TeenBoard was kicked off with a member recruitment campaign: “Tell us what you want, what you really, really want.” About 60 teenagers turned up to a community forum and the first TeenBoard elections. Organised by H²O Xtream staff, it’s grown from there.
For the last couple of years, Hell Pizzas have come on board as TeenBoard sponsors, supplying t-shirts for all members, and free pizzas for all meetings. “Launch yourself down the eight metre vertical drop of the Xtream Speed slide ... take on the twists and turns of the MasterBlaster or face the ultimate challenge of our premier hydroslide 'Darkness Falls' … H²O Xtream has more pool inflatables than any other facility in New Zealand. We often design our own, like the X Assault, so they are unique and cannot be found anywhere else in the world!” - H²O Xtream web site
Initially TeenBoard consisted of ten to fourteen-year-olds. Now it has been extended to eleven to sixteen – about a dozen members in all. The group meets as a Board twice a term. “We’ve found the younger ones are really good at ideas. The older ones are really good at feedback – telling us, that’s no good, or that’s cool,” Alison notes.
If a key decision (such as the purchase of a new piece of pool equipment) needs discussing, core members can be brought together for extra meetings. “The Board gives us great ideas to help us keep in touch with what young people want. They also help to organise the many teen events we run, both during the term and the holidays,” says Alison.
H²O Xtream has TeenTime every Friday from 7pm to 10pm, every Saturday and Sunday, public holidays and every day during school holidays from 1pm to 5pm. During TeenTime, there’s music playing and no lane swimming. The pools are full of fun action, with giant inflatables, waves, slides, a Tarzan swing and more.
Helping to run TeenTime, and special youth events, is the key focus for the TeenBoard. Members make decisions on the design and purchase of the inflatables and other equipment. They help in reception, around the pools and in the bag area. They also help to run the programme and hand out prizes.
Special events extend beyond H²O Xtream, for example to the Upper Hutt Sports and Recreation Expo. “Some of the kids will be there helping all day,” Alison enthuses. “Sometimes we’ll say, you don’t need to come this time - but they still do. They really enjoy being part of [TeenBoard] and they sell that to their friends.”
Each September, there is an annual community forum and election for TeenBoard places. There’s no shortage of candidates. Members can be re-elected, so long as they’re still the right age.
Agendas and Agreements
TeenBoard has clear rules and a signed agreement, so everyone knows where they stand, and what they’re expected to do. Two adults attend all meetings. “It’s treated like a grown-up meeting. An agenda is sent out and all minutes are taken. We never have any problem with kids getting out of hand,” reckons Alison. “It’s an hour long meeting, with pizza afterwards.”
TeenBoard is involved in the marketing of the programmes they’ve helped to set. “I have quite a nice marketing budget for a pool,” Alison acknowledges. In the past, advertising has included regional television. At present it includes bus backs, mall light boxes, radio and cinema advertising, with emphasis on holiday periods. “The TeenBoard kids featured on our TV ads. This year they went to the radio studio and did the voiceovers for generic radio ads that we’ll be using each holidays. Basically it’s the teens selling to the teens, which is what it is all about,” she explains.
At Christmas, there’s a targeted letterbox drop. Flyers are sent to schools and included in Hell Pizza boxes. “We go to schools and talk at assemblies – we have a really good relationship with schools,” Alison says.
An email magazine with an events calendar is sent to a database of over a thousand young people. Texting is also used (board members receive $20 free texting) to communicate news of coming events.
Valuing board members
Members receive free swims and hydroslides while they are on the TeenBoard, as well as the Hell Pizza at each meeting. They also get a free t-shirt and they’re welcome to attend staff events such as barbecues. But it’s worth noting that for most, these extras are a bonus, not the motivation for standing.
- Event example
Michael Jackson revival night. “We were planning a winter themed event, but after his death a couple of the TeenBoard members came in and said we should do a Michael Jackson revival,” says Alison. “One of the staff dressed up as Michael Jackson, the others wore gloves and hats. It was really well themed. We had singing and moonwalking competitions. There were 420 younger kids, from 5pm – 7pm, and 220 teens, from 7.30pm – 11pm. The kids came up with the idea – it was completely theirs.”
- Event example
CSI Night. “The CSI night was the TeenBoard’s idea. There were some really cool things – a murder mystery, a crime scene, an autopsy tent. I had messages on my phone afterwards from parents saying what a great idea it was,” says Alison. Some 420 children and teens attended.
- Keeping on target
TeenBoard is crucial toH²O Xtream knowing its primary audience, and delivering solutions that connect. “We’re really focused on what we are,” enthuses Alison, “we get it right from the start.”
- Boosting numbers
Visitor numbers underline the accurate targeting. Every Friday, up to 150 (average 120) attend TeenTime. Special events can attract over 400 (each paying $7). Of all visitors during school holidays, 55 percent are between ten and fourteen years old (the target market); and overall visitor numbers are trending up. In the 2001-2002 year, the centre had 236,000 visitors. By 2006-2007, there were 251,000. In 2007-2008 and 2008-2009, visitor numbers were tracking towards a new record high, but both years, the pool then had to be closed for maintenance. “We just need a full year to set a new record” says Alison.
- Building awareness
H²O Xtream has built up a considerable reputation, and there are many young visitors from other regions. During school holidays (when there’s daily TeenTime) up to 65 percent of visitors come from outside Upper Hutt – including Wellington, Lower Hutt, Porirua and the Wairarapa. Seven percent are from even further afield, and up to two percent are from overseas.
- Staying positive
TeenTime has become the core youth recreation option for Upper Hutt. So in a broader sense, it’s keeping young people entertained and off the streets, in a positive, controlled and healthy environment. There’s widespread community support (that’s underlined by the sizeable marketing budget). Parents are also keen to see their children become board members.
- Opening doors
For a dozen TeenBoard members each year, it’s a valuable learning and networking opportunity – including the chance to gain real-world meeting skills. Members embrace the responsibility. “Some stay for several years. They can be quite gutted when they get too old,” says Alison. A number of TeenBoard members have gone on to become staff at H²O Xtream.
As well as being extremely popular, H²O Xtream has picked up a number of awards, including the NZ Recreation Association’s 2007 Outstanding Pool of the Year. Looking ahead, it’s a matter of refining rather than reinventing. TeenBoard is of course in touch with latest trends – which continually feed into the H²O Xtream programme and strategies. As Alison concludes “They keep us on track. They tell us what we need to do.”
Contacts and links
To find out more about H²O Xtream, visit www.h2oxtream.com. For details about TeenBoard, contact Alison Law, Recreation Services Manager on 04 527 2148 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. On request, Alison can email the TeenBoard Agreement, meeting protocol and other documentation.
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