As summer approaches, most aquatics facilities begin hiring and training new and returning seasonal lifeguards. First-year novices are only prepared with training from their initial lifeguard training class. They lack the understanding of site-specific demands from the facility’s design and architecture, emergency protocols, and daily operations. Second-year lifeguards, advanced beginners, have little understanding of situational awareness. Their experience is limited to roughly three to four months of lifeguarding. Their knowledge retention is dampened by an eight- to nine-month winter hiatus. They’re probably not in peak physical condition, and their lifeguarding, CPR and first-aid skills are rusty, if not completely gone. Most second-year lifeguards don’t have the ability to prioritize between critical and non-critical situations, and treat all with equal attention. Lastly, they feel they are better prepared than novice lifeguards and are entitled to not train as hard.

A goal of every aquatics agency is to synchronize the first- and second-year lifeguards into a functional and efficient team. As a trainer, you need to focus on having lifeguards respond to an aquatic incident with a sense of urgency, identifying and filling gaps, so the rescue, extrication and patient care are rapid, appropriate and uninterrupted, all within 1.5 to 2 minutes.

For the lifeguard team to meet this goal, they should respond with automaticity. T. Wheatley and D. M. Wegner define this trait as, “Automatic thoughts and behaviors … that occur efficiently, without need for conscious guidance or monitoring.” To develop automaticity, trainers must identify the low-level physical tasks that make up each skill, then use short, high-repetition drills that develop muscle memory. Lastly, the trainer should sequence the tasks to recreate the lifeguarding skill.

Here’s how to develop automaticity:
• Identify the low-level physical tasks within each lifeguarding skill.
• Practice each of these tasks separately until it becomes automatic.
• Combine tasks through drill progressions that complete each skill.
• Practice known variations or complications associated with each task.
• Modify the time, training space, equipment used, and team staffing within each task or skill.
Below is a low-level physical-task breakdown for skills that first- and second- year lifeguards should train on during in-service:

Skill: Primary assessment
>> Tasks:
• Glove application
• Rescuer placement around the victim
• Activate EMS
• Opening the airway
• Pulse check on victim
• Proper placement of the rescuer to do, “Look, listen, and feel”
• Prepared to provide the care needed after primary assessment is done

Skill: Giving ventilations with a resuscitation mask
>> Tasks:
• Rescuer placement around the victim
• Opening the airway
• Mask assembly
• Proper mask seal
• Proper ventilation
• Proper rate of ventilation

Skill: Giving ventilations with a BVM
>> Tasks:
• Rescuer placement around the victim
• Opening the airway
• BVM assembly
• Proper mask seal
• Proper grip on bag
• Proper squeeze on bag
• Proper rate of ventilation

Skill: Passive Victim Rescue
>> Tasks:
• Rescuer entry
• Rescuer approach
• Victim placement onto rescue tube
• Rescue tube squeeze between the rescuer and the victim
• Bringing the victim to the surface

Skill: Towing
>> Tasks:
• Victim placement onto rescue tube
• Securing victim to rescue tube while towing
• Towing kick

Skill: Removal from water with a backboard 2 or 3-person
>> Tasks:
• Bringing the backboard
• Handing off the victim
• Backboard placement in the water
•Turning victim onto the backboard
• Sharing the victim and the backboard
• Backboard removal

Skill: CPR 1-person , 2-person, 3-person
>> Tasks:
• All Tasks from Primary Assessment Skill
• Rescuer placement around the victim (chest and airway)
• Proper arm placement for chest compressions
• Proper hand grip
• Proper depth of compressions
• Proper rate of compressions
• Changing from chest to airway
• All Tasks from Giving Ventilations with a Resuscitations Mask or BVM
• Changing from airway to chest

Skill: AED
>> Tasks:
• Turn on AED
• Clear victim’s chest
• Open pads pack
• Attaching the pads to the victim
• Follow AED prompts
• Standing clear from the victim
• Pressing the button

Skill: Conscious choking
>> Tasks:
• Glove application
• Activate EMS
• Rescuer placement at victim’s back
• Proper hand placement for back blows
• Supporting victim with other hand
• Back blows delivery
• Rescuer placement to the victim to give abdominal thrusts
• Proper hand placement for abdominal thrusts
• Proper hand grip
• Delivery of abdominal thrusts
• Changing from back blows to abdominal thrusts
• Changing from abdominal thrusts to back blows

Skill: Conscious to unconscious choking
>> Tasks:
• All Tasks from Conscious Choking Skill
• Rescuer placement to lower the victim to the ground
• All Tasks from Unconscious Choking Skill

Skill: Unconscious choking
>> Tasks:
• All Tasks for CPR 1-person, 2-person, 3-person Skill
• Proper hand grip to look in the airway
• Looking in the airway
• Proper grip to finger sweep
• Finger sweep
• Re-tilt the head

Skill: Oxygen administration (unit fully assembled)
>> Tasks:
• Turning on oxygen supply
• Adjusting flow rate
• Attaching the proper oxygen adjunct
• Verifying oxygen flow
• Placing oxygen delivery device on victim

It’s important for the trainer to assess each low-level physical task for variations, complications or critical thinking concurrent with the task. For example: Glove application should be first drilled with guards standing with gloves in hand. Once guards have shown proficiency, the trainer can reduce the time to finish the task, or drill on variations: glove application with rescuers walking or running, gloves pulled from a fanny pack, wet gloves and hands, wet gloves pulled from a wet fanny pack, or glove application while sizing up the scene.

Depending on the specific task, each drill should take 5 to 15 seconds with a downtime between drill repetitions no greater than 10 seconds. This format should allow high repetition and for first- and second-year lifeguards to begin developing skill automaticity. The trainer decides which tasks should be combined to form a sequence and which can be distributed among the lifeguard team to build efficiency and speed. Remember: Most lifeguarding skills can be shared by a team.