You’ve heard it before — “If you don’t use it, you lose it.” This simple phrase rings especially true when referring to lifeguard skills.

Regardless of the time of year, whether summer or winter, in-season or off-season, lifeguard skills will be called upon for use when least expected. You can’t choose when someone will begin struggling in your zone, or when someone may have a heart attack or seizure at your facility. It is therefore extremely important that these skills are honed on a regular basis through in-service training, everything from scanning and guest-in-distress recognition to CPR and first aid. Skills should become automatic.

For those operating in non-summer months, you, like your seasonal counterparts may be echoing the sigh of relief heard around the aquatics industry with the onset of fall, and are now in the throes of a long winter.

Though year-round operators have the challenge of continuing to motivate, educate and lead off-season staff members, there’s a natural tendency to let your “foot off the gas” as you ease into the winter and spring months Seasoned operators know they must maintain their focus on safety. But they may need to change their message to avoid stagnation. Changing your in-service routine may be just what your lifeguards need to refocus their vigilance on aquatic safety.

When planning in-service training, many have found a quick activity at the beginning useful to get everyone awake and working together, sort of an icebreaker. It is also important to spend some time working on scanning and/or guest recognition during each training because lifeguards should be utilizing that skill the most, and it’s the cornerstone for guest safety. It’s also a good idea to evaluate your team’s weak areas, and work on those skills. Remember that you should essentially cover all areas of guards’ original training over a multiple-week period. Finally, don’t forget to keep things fun! Guards learn and retain much more when they’re having fun. It may also encourage them to participate in regular in-service training.

Below is a sample of a one-hour in-service plan for a CPR in-service that can be used as a guide and tailored to meet your needs.

Ice-Breaker/Game 8:30-8:40 - Look Down, Look Up

  • Have guards stand in a circle facing the center with shoulders touching, looking down.
  • When you say “look up,” everyone has to look up and look at another person’s face.
  • If two people are looking at each other, they are both out.
  • Everyone else stays in and closes in the circle.
  • Then say, “Look down”… etc.
  • The last two people win.
  • Additional rules: You cannot look at the same person twice in a row.

Scanning 8:40-9:00 - Scanning Memory

  • Place 10-15 objects under separate towels.
  • Have guards turn their backs.
  • Uncover all items
  • Allow everyone to turn around and scan the area for 10 seconds, then turn back around.
  • Cover all of the objects with towels.
  • Let each person come up and try to guess what is under a towel. If they get it right, they get to go again.

Skill / Topic Activities 9:00-9:10 - Pump It Up CPR

  • Have the guards do some physical activity — that is, swim/run a couple of laps, jumping jacks and the like.
  • Then have them transition directly into CPR scenarios.
  • Note: This gives them an idea of what it will be like in a real situation.

9:10-9:30 - Team CPR Scenarios

  • Run multiple full CPR scenarios.
  • Try to make them as realistic as possible — that is, put family members and so forth.
  • What to look for:
  • Did they meet the objective?
  • Were ratios/cadence correct?
  • Did they use body substance isolation?
  • Is the technique they are using effective (open airway, mask seal, obstructed airway sequence and the like)?
  • Was placement correct (hand placement, etc.)?

Maintain your lifeguards’ vigilance not only on the lifeguard chair, but also in the training room. Don’t let the hangover of summer and the winter blues affect your operation. Make sure to keep things fresh and new for your lifeguard team. They definitely deserve it, and so do you!