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Working Innovatively, Creatively & Responsively

Working Innovatively Creatively and Responsively Dave Candler

Dave Candler


Dave Candler has been involved in teaching swimming and leisure management for over 25 years. Before becoming STA’s CEO in April 2016, he worked for ten years as the Operations, Swimming, and Training Manager at Inspire Leisure, one of the UK’s largest providers of swimming lessons. During this time, he gained valuable, insightful experience and gained multiple management qualifications that support his current role as CEO.

Dave was also STA’s youngest and longest-serving President, which allowed him to share his practical experience and influence the development of STA’s educational programs.  As a senior STA Tutor, he has also trained many hundreds (if not thousands) of teachers over the years.  This experience of working in a leisure environment (being on the other side of the fence) and being a Tutor has given him a greater understanding of the Aquatics industry and what is needed.

It’s fair to say that when Dave joined STA as the CEO in 2016, the organization was going through a challenging time. Still, he had the vision to build STA, change perceptions, and forge partnerships that would help unite/transform the future of the leisure industry. In doing this, he also wanted to ensure that training across all areas of aquatics was of the highest quality, fit-for-purpose for the employer and learner, and was accessible and affordable.  In turn, it provides more opportunities for people to learn an essential life skill and develop a lifelong, active enjoyment of the water.

To achieve this, he recognized the importance of having a solid senior management team around him who shared his drive, enthusiasm, and passion for the industry. Today, Dave is proud to say that despite limited budgets (and resources) and having to wade through many politically charged challenges, as a team, they have worked innovatively, creatively, and responsively – sometimes taking risks (and a punt) – to successfully create a level playing field which has solidified STA’s future.

“Dave’s commitment, drive and passion to the role and industry radiates through his work. His can do, upbeat attitude shines through daily and has had a positive impact on work ethic across the organization. His superb communication skills have led to the organization partnering with an array of organizations across the industry. In addition, I can honestly say he has inspired the company’s employees to work more effectively as a team. Dave is an innovator, someone who wants to lead the industry. He is not afraid of change or speaking out if it is for the greater good of the industry.  He listens and cares,” states Dave Lewis, STA President.

More recently, Dave has shown outstanding leadership by leading the Aquatics industry through the COVID-19 pandemic. For everyone, this has been a challenging and demanding time. Still, from the get-go, Dave wanted to make sure STA provided its members, customers, and swim school partners (which he refers to as the STA Family) with the right level of support at the right time. This included being the first to publish best practice guidance for the reopening of swimming pools, being the first in the industry to coin the phrase ‘COVID Officer’ and offer free CPD training, being the first to produce a comprehensive range of free risk assessment templates and the first to host free / heavily discounted educational webinars.

Dave also realized that practical support alone would not be enough; COVID was having a devasting financial impact on leisure pool operators. Efforts were needed to help reboot the industry concerning staff recruitment and training. In response, STA froze membership fees and reduced awards prices, introduced ‘Train without Limits’ (a new scheme that enables operators to run STA courses without signing and committing to long-term contracts), and proactively helped operators successfully secure CIMSPA’s Retrain funding.  More recently, STA has also entered into an Aquatics Apprenticeship partnership with ICON training.

All of this support resulted in STA achieving a way above average Net Promoter Score (NPS) of 84.3% (only around 10% of UK brands get an NPS of 40% or more – with the leisure industry averaging a score of 45%).

In August 2021, Dave was honored to receive ukactive’s coveted Outstanding Leadership Award, a special award because the UK’s physical activity sector votes for it. Alongside his role at STA, Dave is also the International Federation of Swimming Teachers’ Associations (IFSTA) CEO. Together with members from 23 countries such as Australia, America, Hong Kong, Malaysia, and Singapore, they work to provide and promote the highest standards of swimming teaching, water safety, and survival techniques.

As a charity dedicated to ‘working towards preserving human life by teaching swimming, lifesaving, and survival techniques, STA’s ambition is to train as many swimming and lifesaving professionals as possible. “The more people we can teach means more young learners have the opportunity to learn how to swim and gain a key life skill,” says Dave. “Therefore, they benefit from healthy competition because it drives innovation and their creative process to ensure the products and services are always in line with what the industry needs and want.”

“I believe STA’s key strength is that we are forward-thinking – we also listen, and are very responsive. Plus, all of our senior team members live and breathe leisure and they all have extensive, frontline, the experience of working in the industry; this, together with them regularly speaking with members, ensures they have the knowledge and understanding to recognize what the industry needs not what WE think it needs,” says Dave. “One of our main focuses, which has been further driven by the pandemic, is digital technology. We have invested significantly in a new intuitive bespoke software system that will streamline all course and compliance administration for our tutors to make it even easier for them to organise training courses and interact with their candidates.”


Dave Candler Award

“I believe STA’s key strength is that we are forward-thinking - we also listen, and are very responsive. Plus, all of our senior team members live and breathe leisure and they all have extensive experience of working in the industry.”

Dave Candler


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