Training lifeguards is a responsibility not to be taken lightly.
Following the same training procedures year in and year out as outlined by a certification body can be difficult, but there is another effective and responsible way to train staff while simultaneously creating a fun learning environment.
Although today’s standards are worlds apart from those established many years ago, I encourage you to raise the qualifying marks even higher.
At River Way Ranch Camp in Sanger, Calif., qualification procedures require trainees to tread water for a minimum of 20 minutes, and to swim 500 yards in 10 minutes. Although this may seem excessive, it ensures both a rapid and effective response during an actual emergency.
Additionally, there is a great value when camps are able to operate their own lifeguard-training program.
For instance, it allows the teaching of new procedures in a particular camp while training personnel in the global philosophies required of all lifeguards.
In-house training also decreases future in-service training time while increasing the level of knowledge, retention and understanding of the camp’s procedures and policies. And as the number of returning lifeguards increase to assist in training, the ratio of instructors to students rises. In addition to improving the learning curve, this method also prevents the need to contract out services.
When conducting a lifeguard-training program, focus on the areas most important to the camp.
For example, at River Way Ranch Camp, the most important technique is backboarding. A full eight hours is dedicated to acquiring this skill rather than the required two hours — staff members are required to do it blindfolded and in silence (without any verbal communication). To add difficulty for the strongest swimmers, participants are required to perform with one arm tied behind their back. These added challenges apply to both shallow and deep-water spinal situations.
Whether conducting your own training program or holding a weekly or monthly in-service training, consider adding these obstacles to improve skill development and enhance the staff’s ability to respond when called upon:
• Use inversion goggles for staff members who are practicing CPR.
• Make drills more difficult by requiring participants to perform a deep-water spinal drill without talking or with one arm tied behind their backs.
• Blindfold two of the three rescuers in a shallow-water spinal situation.
• Require lifeguards to tread water while passing a 10-pound brick, large ball, paddle, orange, apple and lifeguard tube (cannot touch water), book, glass of water (cannot spill), pillow (cannot touch water) or whatever else is available. Allow one item for every person, and then subtract two from the total number of items. For example, for 30 trainees treading water, begin with 10 to 12 objects and slowly add more until the desired number of 28 objects is reached.
• Recite camp waterfront rules while treading water or during various rescue procedures.
• Perform 50-yard sprint drills with baggy sweatpants or baggy sweaters.
Most of the above suggestions can be incorporated into a “Lifeguard Adventure Challenge” exam on the final day of class. While the “exam” title may seem abstract, the ultimate goal is to give a comprehensive, practical exam that is not based solely on multiple-choice questions and answers.
A Practical Test
First, divide applicants into equal teams. Give each team minimal instruction at each checkpoint. Each stop consists of a skill evaluation, a team-building exercise or an intellectual challenge. The team must complete the task accurately before moving on.
While tasks are performed, have designated “obstructers” talk through megaphones, throw water balloons, bang pots, use air horns, or employ an alternate method to distract the participants during the activity. This emphasizes the importance of communication, teamwork, listening skills and focusing on the task.
Checkpoints along the way are marked by pertinent lifeguard tasks and short quizzes on first aid/CPR. The team traveling from point A to point Z with the fastest and most accurate skill-completion rate wins, earning that team the coveted title of “champion” for the year.
For more information on how to run a more diverse and effective lifeguard-training program, or to add this ”final exam” to your schedule, please feel free to e-mail me.
Jerry Reid is the director at River Way Ranch Camp in Sanger, Calif. He can be reached via e-mail at email@example.com.
Lifeguard Adventure Challenge
A basic challenge typically has 15 to 21 rally points. The entire test usually takes about an hour to complete. Equipment varies depending on team size and length of activity.
Two rescue tubes
Clipboard and pen
Teams must travel together at all times.
Team equipment must be carried at all times.
Pens and clipboards may not get wet–ever.
Interference with another team is not permitted.
Instructions must be fully followed at each rally point.
The instructor/evaluator at the rally point has the final say — no arguing.
Teams must only travel from one rally point to another by foot.
Flip-flops or something similar must be worn at all times.
Start — ASC Pool: Swim drills to spread teams and groups out, can have team-building challenge here as participants exit.
Rally Point 1 — Ropes Course
Adult CPR challenge — use inversion goggles or something else to make the challenge more difficult.
Rally Point 2 — Barracks Lawn
First aid — severe bleeding, also lifeguard test question.
Rally Point 3 — Leisure Pool
Shallow-water spinal — use blindfolds.
Rally Point 4 — ASC
Tread water for 5 minutes holding a 10-pound dive brick, then deep-water spinal, then 250-yard swim relay using sweaters, sweatpants, rescue tubes, etc.
Rally Point 5 — Stage
Problem-solving challenge for teams (e.g., a helium hula-hoop).
Rally Point 6 — ASC
Passive drowning skills and two-guard extraction; infant CPR and head-trauma scenarios.
Rally Point 7 — Paintball
Two-person carry; first-aid challenge; lifeguard test question.
Rally Point 8 — Major Medical
Include four or five “patients” — a broken femur with massive bleeding, arrow through a shoulder, heart attack, etc.
Rally Point 9 — What Lake, Fountain Entrance
300-yard lake swim, escapes, multi-victim rescue and murky-water search.
Finish – Campfire