Life by the Poolside: An Interview with Dale Neuburger
Ever since the first indoor pools were created in the early 19th century, competitive swimming has established itself as an essential part of the sporting world. In fact, swimming is one of just four disciplines to have been a part of every modern Olympic Game since the first was held in 1896.
Today, aquatic sports have diversified in every sense - supporting greater participation of people from all over the world through aquatic federations in every country and encouraging the growth of unique disciplines in increasingly competitive environments. To understand the evolution of aquatic sports over the years and the impact it continues to have on communities, we decided to borrow some wisdom from the former Vice President of Fédération Internationale De Natation (FINA), Dale Neuburger.
Dale Neuburger has devoted a lifetime contributing to the growth of aquatic sports around the world. Having dived into competitive swimming during high school at Williston Academy, he closed out his swimming career in 1971 at the Collegiate level at Princeton. Neuburger then began his administrative career when he was appointed manager of the new Natatorium which had opened on the Indiana University–Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI) campus in Indianapolis in 1982. Since then, Dale Neuburger has been engaged in all facets of aquatics: lifeguard, instructor, coach, technical official, event manager, Board member, and administrator.
As a volunteer, Dale Neuburger has served on the Boards of a variety of sport-related organizations, including the United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee; the International Swimming Hall of Fame; United States Aquatic Sports; USA Swimming; and FINA. He coached swimming at Syracuse University; he managed the country’s premier competitive aquatic facility, the Indiana University Natatorium; he was event director for eleven National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) championships and ten aquatic Olympic Trials; and, he has been the Technical Delegate/Event Director for swimming competition in four Olympic Games – Beijing, London, Rio, and Tokyo. Dale Neuburger continues to advise municipalities and private sector owners about the value and opportunities associated with aquatics.
Here are some excerpts from the interview:
1. After 4 decades devoted to the world of aquatics, how would you sum up your experience looking back?
Dale Neuburger (DN): My mother took me to swimming lessons when I was five years old, it was an act of love by a woman who never learned to swim. Now, decades later, my life has revolved around aquatics, in one form or another. I even met my future wife while we were both working at a swimming pool! Every important moment in my life has occurred in or near water. It has shaped my professional life, my volunteer involvement, and my passion for youth engagement and healthy lifestyles.
2. Throughout your time in the aquatics world, what are some of the obstacles that have consistently challenged swim schools and trainers?
DN: The statistics are overwhelmingly clear: if a parent doesn't know how to swim, the likelihood is close to 80% that the child will not learn to swim, and fear of water is passed on from generation to generation. Therefore, swimming schools sometimes struggle to connect with the communities they serve, despite the pathway to lifetime enjoyment that swim schools provide.
3. What is the biggest impact that the pandemic has had on swim schools and aquatic centers in general and how do you see the situation evolving this year?
DN: In many countries worldwide, organized physical activity was curtailed, including recreational, instructional, and competitive programs at swimming pools, despite strong evidence that pools provided one of the safest possible environments during the pandemic. Now that the world is entering a new phase – with the pandemic evolving to an endemic – the social interaction and healthy physical activity that swimming pools provide will become increasingly important.
4. Having been part of prestigious platforms for competitive swimming globally, how do you feel the sport has transformed over time?
DN: The growth of our sport can be measured in several ways. First, we now have six aquatic disciplines – pool swimming, open water swimming, artistic swimming, diving, high diving, and water polo. Each provides significant development opportunities. Second, we are truly a global sport, with 209 National Federations worldwide. Third, participation by girls and women has grown exponentially, providing a much wider platform of engagement and enjoyment.
5. How has the use of technology helped swim schools and trainers? What more could technology do for aquatics training in the years ahead?
DN: Technological advances have transformed all competitive sports, swimming included. In simple terms, we are smarter and better informed today than ever before. Twelve-year-old swimmers have a higher level of technological sophistication and technical expertise than I had when coaching years ago. And, for swim schools, technology can help to streamline operations, utilize pools and adjacent space more efficiently, and provide a better customer/client experience. Really, we have very exciting times ahead!
6. What advice would you offer to swim schools and training academies looking to get their swimmers competition-ready?
DN: Today, there is a wealth of technical information available to swimming instructors and coaches, and in some cases, advances in science provide information that is counter to what we were taught years ago. As the science of our sport has evolved, there is a necessity to embrace it and utilize it, becoming more modern and more technology-friendly. The instructors and coaches at the top of the profession have adapted successfully to technology – embracing it, rather than fighting it.
7. A lot has been done to address diversity, equity, and inclusion in recent years, particularly in America. How do you see the way forward for greater inclusion and equity on a global scale?
DN: Sports activity provides the ideal context for greater diversity, equity, and inclusion – perhaps more than any other platform. As swimming has grown over the past 30 years – in 1992, there were 109 National Federations; in 2000, growth to 174; and in 2022, there are 209 – opportunities at all levels have increased dramatically. But there is still much work to be done. The International Swimming Hall of Fame has a simple mantra: “Every Child a Swimmer.” This should be our goal because the enjoyment of activities in and around water – fishing, water skiing, snorkeling, canoeing, sailing, for example – is based upon the simple objective of learning to swim. And, we have the “cure” for drowning: learn to swim programs for all elementary school-aged children.
8. What are some of the latest trends for swim sports venues to generate revenues that help in long-term sustainability?
DN: Swimming pool design has changed significantly over the years, and pools now create multiple revenue sources across four basic platforms: instruction, recreation, competition, and therapy. No longer are pools necessarily rectangular, and if they are, bulkheads can create multiple simultaneous and varied forms of utilization. Wave pools and water parks demonstrate that aquatic environments can provide unmatched family enjoyment. And, swim schools are utilizing warm-water, shallow depth environments to produce highly successful business operations in non-traditional locations. In short, aquatic facilities have transformed from “money pits” to “money generators,” and it is clear that municipalities view aquatic facilities far differently today than in previous years.
As aquatic sports continue to evolve, athletes and trainers will work with improved training models and growing standards of performance. Thankfully, technology today is growing at a faster pace, delivering smarter solutions to sports facilities that will help ease communication challenges, streamline operations, and simplify facility management to optimize the swim school experience for everyone. If you run a swim school or an aquatic sports facility, find out how you can uphold the highest standards at your facility with Omnify. Sign up for a Free Trial and get started today!