On Guard

It is good practice to run an emergency drill at least once per week to keep lifeguards’ skills sharp. These drills must be separate from in-service training so lifeguards can actually recognize an emergency and make decisions about how to act appropriately.

Drills don’t always need to be worst-case-scenario, backboard-type drills; practicing likely scenarios can be just as valuable:

• Occasionally “plant” a camper into a scenario and ask that person to do something out of the ordinary, like purposely not moving his buddy tag when he leaves the water to go to the restroom. Then watch to see how long it takes the lifeguards to notice that the numbers are off and note the reponse.

• Ask impromptu questions when guards are on duty, like, “Keep scanning. What would you do right now if that camper slipped off the ladder and hit her head?” Talking through these scenarios can make lifeguards much less fearful of an emergency situation and much more confident that they can respond.

Set up an environment where lifeguards can do their job.

If a camp requires lifeguards to fill out paperwork, conduct safety checks on equipment, etc., remember that those are secondary tasks that must take a backseat to swimmer surveillance when lifeguards are assigned to a post. But let’s be honest—if time is not planned for guards to do those secondary tasks, they aren’t going to let those things make them late for dinner or miss part of their break. Instead, those tasks may intrude into their surveillance time.

Guards may not see the harm in checking buckles on lifejackets while they “simultaneously” keep an eye on the beach. They may think it makes sense to check for loose ladders while on a walking patrol. In a matter of seconds, an aquatic emergency may occur that should have been prevented with numerous guards on duty.

Emphasize that the primary responsibility of lifeguards is to perform undistracted surveillance while there are participants in the water. Reiterate that you have provided scheduled time for them to perform their other duties. (If you don’t already provide this, it’s time to start!)

Make sure someone is supervising the supervisor.

A supervisor should be more than an experienced lifeguard. This position isn’t simply for someone who can create schedules, test pool water, and call buddy checks. Nor should the position be handed to the most senior lifeguard by default.

Like any other supervisor, he or she must have skills in handling conflict, evaluating staff, and providing effective feedback. Specific training is required to manage employees in addition to managing a waterfront, and the supervisor must be mature enough to approach lifeguards and correct bad habits or behaviors.

Additionally, like all other supervisors in a camp, the aquatic supervisor needs supervision. Who is responsible for making sure the supervisor is doing his or her job well?

To be sure, adopt the “360-degree” evaluation model, and provide a venue for lifeguards to offer feedback about their supervisor. After all, guards see the supervisor at work more than anyone else in camp, and teaching the guards what to watch for in someone else will fortify those concepts in their own minds so they can also apply them to their performance.

Effective supervision of aquatic staff is as much about training and accident prevention as it is about emergency response. By ensuring that lifeguards can and will do their job appropriately all of the time, you can have confidence that one of the camp’s most popular programs will be a safe experience for all participants.

Heidi Krueger is the Director of Summer Camps for YMCA Camp Wabansi and YMCA Camp U-Nah-Li-Ya in Green Bay, Wis. Reach her at heidi.krueger@greenbayymca.org.

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Related posts:

  1. Camp Aquatic Safety
  2. PRM — Prevention, Recognition and Management
  3. Cool Pools, Waterfront & Shade Structures
  4. Wading Through Possibilities
  5. Testing The Waters

One comment on “On Guard

  1. Sharon Smith on said:

    Lifeguards must possess all the qualifications. I agree with the satement “Certified” is not the same as “qualified.” This is absolutely true. LifeguardMaster.com

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