Aquatic Management Training

As a decentralized aquatic operation within a large urban recreation and parks department, swimming pools must be operated with a seasonal pool-management team consisting of a manager, assistant manager, and a senior guard. Before budget reductions forced the

Photos Courtesy Of Kimberly Washington

Photos Courtesy Of Kimberly Washington

city of Sacramento, Calif., to close a number of neighborhood pools, the department operated 22 aquatic facilities during the summer. In 2013, it operated eight swimming pools and five stand-alone wading pools.

A large number of municipal parks and recreation organizations operate pools from a seasonal model where facilities are open for a limited time, usually during summer months. The full-time staff may often oversee year-round programs and facilities in addition to aquatic programs. Also, many municipal and community recreation service-delivery models may have one or two staff members who have a variety of programs and facilities to oversee year-round. In these models, a large seasonal summer staff is necessary for these programs and facilities, and full-time staff members may find themselves over-worked in the summer but under-utilized during the school year. For this reason, training tends to be low-level for seasonal workers. Many recreation and leisure organizations cannot afford to pay for pre-service training for seasonal staff, and may make the training non-mandatory.

For more than 40 years, Sacramento’s recreation department has operated within this model. Because the full-time aquatic staff members cannot be in several places at once, 30 to 60 pool-management candidates are hired and trained to operate the swimming pools during the summer. In 2002, a management “school” was created so that second- and third-year lifeguards could attend specialized pre-service training. Because of the size of the aquatic operations, a 16-year-old lifeguard may work his or her way up the ladder to pool manager within 4 to 5 years. It is not unusual for staff members to remain employed with the organization for 8 to 10 years. Developing managers from within has proven to be a valuable investment in staff members.

Integrating Training Successfully

For lifeguard staff to be effective at operating a swimming pool, several facility-management concepts must be integrated into training:

  • Staff supervision
  • Safe chemical and equipment handling
  • Customer service
  • Program implementation
  • In-service training
  • Paperwork organization
  • Cash collecting and handling.

Concepts in public safety, skills in lifeguarding, first aid, and CPR also are reviewed.

In January, at the first management training, the last part of the day is dedicated to asking staff members to evaluate their previous summer by participating in a short SWOT analysis, measuring strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats. Questions like


“What went well?” and “What could be improved?” are answered in a small-group setting. Similar to participants in strategic-planning sessions, members of each group are asked to write on postcards what did not go well, and then the cards are passed around and read by the other groups. This allows for anonymity and honesty in answering the question.

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