Guest Column - April 2009
Find a printable version here

Aquatic Staffing: In-Service in Real Time

Lifeguard Training Through Daily Relationships

By Richard Rabold


f you have a typical summer lifeguard staff, they are probably 15 to 19 years old, students, seasonal, with less than 12 months experience and in their first real job. They have so much to learn in a summer of so little time.

To get these staffs up-to-speed, well-organized aquatic facilities have routinely produced a curriculum of in-services to provide the necessary training to help lifeguards perform their duties responsibly and skillfully. But, let's face it, traditional in-services have their problems. After putting together a meaningful series of one- to two-hour in-services to cover a prescribed agenda, you still have the challenge of finding times when all can attend. There are just too many things competing for their time with summer school, internships, second jobs, vacations, concerts and even friends. Realizing that your training goals fall short for each employee who can't attend, how about giving them their training during their regularly scheduled shifts?

Two important factors have an impact on lifeguard performance: the amount of supervision time spent monitoring and interacting with the guard staff, and that staff's ability to meet outside their scheduled work hours for training. An article, "Every 30 Minutes" by Tom Griffiths, director of aquatics at Penn State University, emphasized the importance of making sure lifeguards are on duty, properly dressed, positioned correctly and vigilantly scanning the water. He goes on to stress that this should be the role of management, supervisors, office staff, parent volunteers—some mature adult making the rounds. How about using that goal to significantly reduce the traditional, before and after work, training time?

Spending quality time with your lifeguards is about providing guidance when they are already "on the clock" and performing their duties. This communication becomes their education in a relevant, real environment. Management should invest time every day to observe staff, monitor scanning techniques, rotations, proper uniform and the use of rescue tubes. Without compromising proper scanning of any area, lifeguards should perform necessary skill checks as called upon, also within their regular schedule. Impromptu learning opportunities should be capitalized on immediately instead of waiting to be put on a future in-service agenda.

Eventually, well-done training while on-shift leaves little that requires traditional in-service meetings before and after work. As management and staff interact more within their regular work schedule, you will find your lifeguards doing their job better, patrons feeling more secure, and all enjoying their time at the pool more.