A lifeguard’s role on the pool deck is multifaceted. It involves successful navigation of high-stress situations, from
water emergencies to conflict resolution.
Everyday lifeguards are placed in situations where they must work
with patrons and employees to find solutions to any number of
problems. When a situation arises, guards need to react
appropriately and efficiently, with the goal of ensuring a quality
experience for all patrons. The best way to develop these critical
skills is through regular in-service training.
Using real-life scenarios as part of your in-service training is an
effective approach to developing critical thinking skills. Create
scenarios based on common disagreements that occur at your
facility, as well as the more rare, but conceivably destructive,
conflicts that could arise.
When conducting your scenario-based in-service, divide the
lifeguards into groups and assign each group a scenario. Each group
should consist of two lifeguards on duty and one supervisor on the
deck. All other lifeguards will act as patrons or program
participants and will be assigned various roles based on the
scenario. Have each group role-play their assigned scenario to a
point at which the situation is diffused by the lifeguards and
Do not offer advice or assistance while the scenario is being
conducted. This helps your staff members build their critical
thinking and decision-making skills. After each scenario, bring
everyone together to discuss and review the solution presented and
offer possible alternatives.
Following are some examples of scenarios and possible solutions
that can be used as part of your in-service training.
Scenario 1: Swim Testing
Problem: A lifeguard who is not on surveillance
duty approaches a family that has just entered the pool area and
offers to swim-test their children. One parent is immediately
offended by the idea of swim testing. Once the children’s
swimming abilities have been determined, the guard informs the
parent that the children must stay in the shallow water and be
within arm’s reach of a parent or be in a Coast
Guard-approved life jacket.
The parent becomes angry because he had not intended to swim with
the children, nor does he want them to wear the life jackets.
Possible solution: The lifeguard explains that the
aquatics facility’s No. 1 responsibility is to ensure the
safety of the children and adults in their care and that the swim
assessment is a tool used to identify nonswimmers. This knowledge
enhances the safety of all patrons.
The guard then explains the policy that a child may swim without
the aid of a life jacket if the parent swims with the child and
maintains touch supervision (guard should demonstrate) at all
times. The guard also may encourage the parents to enroll their
children in swim lessons and provide them with the date of when the
next session begins.
Scenario 2: Patron Mad at Lifeguard
Problem: A teenage patron breaks a posted rule by
diving into the shallow end of the pool. The lifeguard on duty
tries to correct the patron’s behavior by using an
appropriate decision-making model. A short time later, the patron
proceeds to break the same rule again and the guard attempts to
correct the behavior a second time. The patron becomes angry and
confronts the lifeguard about his perceived “misuse of
Possible solution: The lifeguard’s first
responsibility in this situation is to continue scanning the water.
In this situation, the guard should call the supervisor on duty for
help by blowing his or her whistle in accordance with the
The supervisor then takes over the situation, allowing the guard to
continue his or her surveillance duties. The role of the supervisor
is to stop further escalation of the situation and to work with the
member to find a resolution.
It’s important to remind your lifeguards that their primary
role is to scan the water and provide for the safety of the
facility patrons. Conflicts on the deck should be handled by a
supervisor or a guard who is not on surveillance duty. At no point
should a staff member have any physical contact with a patron in a
conflict situation. The staff should not physically remove someone
from the pool or the facility. If a situation reaches a point at
which someone is asked to leave the facility and he or she refuses,
the police should be called. A facility has the right to ask
someone to leave the premises if employees believe the individual
is a danger to others or themselves.
In an ideal world, everyone would follow the rules and show mutual
respect toward one another. However, conflict does happen.
Well-trained, professional lifeguards should be able to handle any
situation presented to them.