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Graphic by Nick Orabovic

Lifeguard in-service training programs not only can improve emergency preparedness, but also facilitate individual employee development into contributing members of the community. That?s where our concept of Level 5 in-service training comes in. We fine-tuned it to enhance the development of the individual employee and to function as a recruiting tool for future lifeguards.

Level 5 refers to a structured, comprehensive system that incorporates all areas of lifeguarding skills and knowledge. But it takes this a step further with an outcome-oriented, benefits-based approach that enhances individual development. A Level 5 strategy is not necessary to have a successful in-service training program, but it ensures that such training reaches its maximum potential.

Level 5 is the highest level that can be attained in the hierarchy of lifeguard training. Each level of training continues to build and develop a competent and effective lifeguard. Though components of Level 5 could be incorporated alone, they are more beneficial when implemented with the training of the other four levels.

The structure of Level 5 in-service training comes in the form of weekly sessions that are 60 to 90 minutes long, depending on the size of group. Over the course of 12 weeks (a typical three-month season), all knowledge and skills are reviewed and practiced multiple times. To maximize efficiency and effectiveness, as well as ease facilitation, each session follows the same general format. The information, and session, is divided into the following categories:

  • Team building
  • Policy and procedure review; professionalism; and guest service training
  • Preventive lifeguarding
  • Emergency response skills
  • Leadership and mentoring

All necessary lifeguarding skills and knowledge have been systematically categorized and assigned a designated week on the schedule (most appear multiple times throughout the 12 weeks). For example, the emergency response skills are categorized into four basic topic areas: CPR/AED, first aid, spinal injuries, and water rescues. One topic is covered each week, with each topic reviewed at least once a month. A similar process can be applied to all the other skills and knowledge of lifeguarding, including site-specific information to be supplemented by each agency and facility.

A few important components to a successful lifeguard in-service training program are purposely left out of the Level 5 structure. These include pre-service training/orientation and swim conditioning. Because pre-service training is Level 2, it should be addressed separately, realizing that without the foundation of quality pre-service training, Level 5 cannot be attained. Fitness is the other component that needs to be addressed by each agency and lifeguard. This is a crucial part of any quality in-service program and can be included in the formal training sessions or as a separate aspect, but it still must be part of overall in-service training. Both components are needed in addition to the other parts of the system to reach Level 5 potential.

Another key to Level 5 success is mentoring and it can have a far-reaching impact. That?s because every lifeguard eventually will go on to become one of three types of community members according to the benefits-based staff model.

If the experience was positive, but not particularly influential, lifeguards go on to become contributing citizens without looking back. If the experience had a great impact, they eventually become ambassadors for the program. If it had even greater impact, they move forward and become aquatics or recreation professionals. After all, many current aquatics directors and lifeguard managers chose the field in part due to mentors recognizing their potential as young lifeguards and encouraging them through the ranks.

Not only do the employees gain valuable life experiences through mentoring, but they will, in turn, promote the local recreation department and aquatics center.

Application of the benefits-based staffing model is one of the attributes that sets Level 5 apart from, and above, other levels of staff training. But it does require the lifeguard manager to take on the role of mentor.

A true mentor is a salesperson. The question is then: What is the mentor selling? Mentors, in the lifeguarding context, must sell the guards to themselves. It is the utmost responsibility of a mentor to recognize the potential of individuals and help them to reach it.

Mentoring can be accomplished through well-designed in-service training. It is during training, more than any other time, that managers have the absolute attention of guards. But it extends far beyond the confines of in-service training. Managers also must seize teachable moments as they occur. Educational posters or articles in the lifeguard office are another method.

Regardless of how managers achieve it, mentoring is the key to realizing the potential of Level 5 training. Incorporating these concepts will ensure that in-service training has a meaningful, long-term impact on your staff.