At one point in time, lifeguard training courses fulfilled the majority of needs for most aquatics programs. Upon completion of training, lifeguards were essentially ready to hit the deck and get
in the chair.
Those days are long gone. Pools are more innovative, which means
some traditional lifeguarding techniques have to change and adapt
to keep up. Instead of the traditional rectangular pools, many
aquatics facilities being built or renovated today are designed in
a variety of shapes and sizes, and with play features and other
attractions that make each facility unique.
Current lifeguard training programs provide what is considered the
basics — the foundational information and skills needed to
begin work as a lifeguard. These programs also introduce guards to
various types of rescue equipment, and effective surveillance and
However, these programs are not always effective at addressing
facility-specific needs, such as detailed emergency action plans,
scanning challenges or working as a team with fellow guards. In
large part because of the complexity of new and renovated swimming
environments, lifeguards need additional training to deal with the
unique aspects of the facilities in which they will be
A robust in-service training program is essential for building an
effective lifeguard team. Aquatics managers must take control of
their training programs to ensure that their teams can handle the
variety of situations that may arise. Here are five tips to get you
1 Provide facility-specific training. Each
facility is different, and each team of lifeguards has its own
dynamic and unique approach. Together, the team needs to learn how
to provide or adjust patron surveillance for unique facility
characteristics, plus the emergency procedures and equipment used
at the facility at which they are working.
2 Be sure your lifeguards can work as a team.
Aquatics managers must be sure their lifeguard teams — not
just individual lifeguards — are properly prepared to respond
to any emergency. The most successful emergency responses are
the result of effective planning and teamwork. Your staff should be
able to automatically respond in an emergency. To ensure that the
entire team is able to respond in various roles, each guard should
practice in the role as a primary rescuer and in the role of a
supporting rescuer on the team. Practice will make your lifeguards
(and you) feel confident in their responsibilities when an
3 Maintain sharp skills. Even with quality
comprehensive initial training, research indicates that regular
re-training is required to maintain the knowledge and skills
learned. In situations that require guards to apply skills learned
on an intermittent or infrequent basis, such as in a pool or
waterfront situation, it can be assumed that skills will decline.
To keep the skills of your guards sharp, you must provide regular
training that puts these skills to use.
4 Ensure physical competency. Another aspect of
qualified lifeguarding is having the physical ability to do the
job. Guards must be prepared for situations in which they have to
swim quickly to a victim, but still retain energy to make the
rescue. As part of ongoing training, guards should be tested on a
regular basis using a venue-specific water rescue competency test
that is timed and includes performance of CPR.
5 Keep up with changing standards. In-service
training provides you the opportunity to ensure that your guards
stay on the leading edge of changes in the industry. In 2010, we
saw updates to the Emergency Cardiovascular Care and First Aid
Guidelines and work on the Model Aquatic Health Code. In 2011, the
first-ever report of the Lifeguard Standards Coalition was
released. All of these efforts highlight the need for more or
continued training of lifeguards.
Training cannot stop after the initial session. It is the
responsibility of aquatics managers to develop well-planned,
ongoing in-service training that is conducted throughout the season
Such an approach is vital to building skills, creating confidence,
strengthening teams and, most importantly, saving lives.
For YMCA of the USA and the American Red Cross, the safety and
security of children and adults in and near water is of the utmost
importance. This includes teaching proper swimming skills and
ensuring that lifeguard staffs are well-trained and prepared to
safeguard individuals entrusted to their care.