I use water exercise for every level of my clients, from my elder recreation class to my college athletes.
For some unconventional props I have used ropes for tug o’ war, push pull exercises, etc. I have used balloons to bat around in different ways like trying to keep the balloon from touching the water, a volley ball like game. I have used splash balls for ball tag.
There are a lot of ways to keep things fun and upbeat. Below is an answer I just gave on keeping classes fun.
For the water aerobics classes, I use a number of different things to keep it from getting flat. Like putting in a song/music from a popular dance craze that was big when my students were in their teens/twenties. Like the “twist”, “hokey pokey”, and the “mashed potato” for my seniors. When that music starts I call out “dance break” and then start dancing and call out the dance (just in case some of the participants don’t catch on as quickly or my dancing is unrecognizable).
With my athletes (usually high school aged heading to college) I will stop everything for a canon ball contest or throw a ball into the center of the pool and the first one to throw it back to me (I actually have to catch the ball or it has to land near me), etc., the winner gets one of my promo t-shirts or picks the next exercise of the sesson, etc.
Often an idea will occur to me during a class and I will write it down right after class. Then I can work on how to use it in a class sometime in the future.
I teach a series of Aquatic Exercise CECs (Beyond Basic H2O and HIH2O) to Fitness Instructors that include a lot of ways to make the classes more fun. Along with a lot of ways to cue and keep the class flowing, etc. I find that aquatic exercise is one of the most beneficial, yet under utilized, forms of exercise for all levels. It is really unfortunate. I have used water exercise to improve, prehab, rehab, and cross train even elite athletes. Many of these clients were at their wits end with issues of pain and injury. Some found conventional training methods unable to give them the freedom of movement to achieve their goals. But to this day, I have never had a client who didn’t reap big benefits from my aquatic training methods (even collegiate swimmers). EDIT