Few jobs are as challenging and emotionally rewarding as being an aquatics director. You are teaching young people how to save a
Working with them is invigorating, fun and, at times, frustrating.
There are days you seriously start to wonder if they're listening.
Are they going to remember to tighten the backboard straps enough?
Will they remember to call 911?
We all have our favorite things to emphasize during in-services. My
pet topic is communication. Every single training, I seem to find
myself repeating, “Don’t forget to TALK.”
Rescues are team efforts, and the team members need to communicate
clearly with each other. It’s important not to forget the
victim. A victim will be scared, may be unable to move or talk, or
may be in pain.
With a little bit of luck and a well-trained staff, we’ll
never discover if all those pieces of information sank in. But
every once in a while, the unthinkable and unpreventable happens,
and we discover that those lifeguards we worked so hard with, were
I wasn’t there to see the training come together for two of
my lifeguards, Sarah and Emily (not their real names). They had
worked for me for three years before going to college. So they
spent a lot of time hearing me say, “Don't forget to talk to
each other and the victim.”
During their first year of college, I received an e-mail from
Sarah. She and Emily had been spectators at a swimming event when
one of the participants decided to do a flip off the side of the
pool and hit her head on the gutter. The lifeguards on duty quickly
brought her to the side of the pool, but the situation became
chaotic. Nobody was talking to each other — nobody went to
get the backboard, nobody was controlling the crowd and nobody was
giving any directions. On top of it, the victim was panicking
because nobody was talking to her either.
Sarah and Emily stepped in — one giving directions to the
guards and spectators, and one focusing on, and talking to, the
victim. Sarah said it was scary to see the lifeguards forgetting
important steps, but it felt great that she knew what to do. She
wanted to thank me for making them practice talking during rescues
because it had turned out to be enormously important.
Two weeks later, Emily stopped by. She didn’t know Sarah had
e-mailed me and proceeded to tell me the story of the backboarding
episode. She ended with, “I just had to come tell you
‘thank you’ for the in-service trainings. I
didn’t like them at the time, but they really helped. We knew
what to do.”
It blew me away. Both of them had truly gotten it. Not just the
important basics (yes, the straps were tight and, yes, someone
called 911), but that this lifeguard business is about caring for a
real person. I have doubled my efforts since then to make every
in-service valuable, and to be sure they hear me say, “You
HAVE to talk to each other and the victim.”
In-services are tiring for everyone and when you've been an
aquatics supervisor for more than a few months, you know
you’ve repeated some things over and over. There are times
you’re convinced not one of those young lifeguards is
listening. I hope you never have the opportunity to find out, but I
can tell you from experience, your lessons are getting through and
every word is worth it.