Guest Column - April 2009
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Aquatic Staffing: In-Service in Real Time

Lifeguard Training Through Daily Relationships

By Richard Rabold


The Worthington Pools in Worthington, Ohio, is a complex of one indoor and three outdoor pools with a full-time seasonal lifeguard staff of 24. We have included in our daily routine the responsibility of managers, supervisors and adults to monitor, chart and provide feedback on all lifeguards' performances. We also structured weekly skill performances and educational goals required of our lifeguard staff, all done during their regular work schedule as part of that interaction with those supervisors. To our surprise, this was so successful that we were able to almost entirely eliminate traditional training sessions held at extra times before and after work.

How Can You Turn Daily Interactions Into Real Training?

  • Embrace the belief that training is an ongoing, educational process and part of management's daily responsibility.
  • Find ways to measure a lifeguard's performance.
  • Realize that information will continually be disseminated over a long period of time.
  • Be systematic about presenting material so that over time all predetermined information is covered. But be flexible enough to adapt to spontaneous situations.
  • Good record-keeping must be established to document which guards have received the prescribed training.
  • Some training will involve staffing a stand-in guard to take over "the watch" at post after post while the on-shift guards perform their skills.
  • Spend time with your guards at various times of the day and week to observe and measure their performance.
  • Communicate with positive, constructive interactions.
  • Provide for timely posting of information and group e-mail to keep your staff in tune with the latest information about your facility and the industry.

Advantages of On-Shift Training

Through the daily monitoring of lifeguards' performance, management will become more aware of the staff's strengths and weaknesses, lifeguards will understand their job better, and patrons will recognize a well-guarded facility. By merging important training into your lifeguards' regular work schedules, you will experience a preferred educational reality for all, and in a more efficient approach.

Relevance & Realism: Much of what you incorporate into on-shift training is automatically relevant because of the authentic environment you are doing it in. They don't have to imagine reality; they are in it.

Reassuring to Patrons: Training is visible to patrons, reassuring them of their personal safety. Patrons benefit from observing and possibly participating in the training.

Mental Focus: On-shift training helps keep lifeguards mentally engaged in their skills and responsibilities while performing their duties day-by-day. Impromptu learning opportunities should be capitalized on immediately instead of waiting for a future in-service agenda.

Instruction Matches Attention Span: On-shift training is delivered in five- to 15-minute bursts, ideal for maximizing their attention. And in most cases, guards are immediately sent back into their guarding responsibilities with ample opportunity to reflect on and apply exactly what they just covered.