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As the end of summer approached, the prospect of filling the indoor pool weekday lifeguard shifts from 5 a.m until 4 p.m. loomed like a harbinger of doom.

Those weekday daytime hours seemed impossible to fill. I needed competent, smiling and reliable lifeguards, but after exhaustive advertising and recruiting efforts, I had no good prospects.

My solution was to run a lifeguarding class at the beginning of September. Rather than holding it on weekends, I would schedule the class for weekdays, 8 a.m. to noon, for two weeks. This, in essence, gave me a 40-hour interview to select the best recruits. More importantly, it gave me the opportunity to train those guards my way, and include the little intricacies germane to my facility.

My thinking was, if they can show up to the course for two weeks, they’ll be able to guard during those hours — and I was going to train them like I’d never trained any other group of guards. Needless to say, I had my own expectations for profiles of the prospective guards I would be teaching. Stay-at-home parents, and youngish retirees came to mind.

When the first day of the course arrived and I surveyed my charges, I was surprised to see all teenagers. This puzzled me. Why weren’t they in school? So after an initial pause, I had the prospective guards tell me about themselves and why they wanted to be lifeguards. I found that two of them were recent high school graduates who were not going on to college and had no desire to flip burgers. Bingo! Two kids who could help fill my daytime guarding wasteland. The other three really surprised me: They were all home-schooled kids, and the guarding class could do double duty for them by filling required physical education credits. Double jackpot! Three kids with totally flexible school schedules! 

These kids were all motivated. They all wanted jobs. They all wanted to impress me, and they worked their butts off to do it.  With a little extra time built into the course, I was not only able to meet and exceed the Red Cross lifeguarding course objectives, but I also began to give them practical training in the way my facility operated. They learned to check chemicals, perform secondary cleaning duties and role-play how to handle difficult customers. We even had a quick session on how to clock in and out when coming to work.

This turned out to be the best experience I have ever had as an instructor. These kids wanted jobs and would have tried to rescue a rhinoceros if I could have found one and coaxed it into the pool.

I was so impressed, I ended up hiring all five of my guarding students, and they performed well for years to come. A couple of them went on to work up 20 to 30 guarding hours a week. Others worked a couple of shifts per week, but they all did very well.

As the new guards worked into the schedule, I began to notice something very special about the home-schooled kids. Whenever I came on deck during a home-schooled guard shift I saw that the pool deck was immaculate. The chemical checks had been done, and they scanned diligently and continuously. Not to mention that as a whole, they were the most courteous, respectful and responsible group of teens I have ever worked with.