Aquatics professionals understand the importance of in-service training for lifeguards. The American Red Cross acknowledges that this type of training is “especially important for seasonal lifeguards, who can lose knowledge and skills during the off-season.” Ellis and Associates recommends at least four hours per month be spent on in-service training. And several studies show that lifeguards feel in-service training is important and beneficial.

In spite of this, guards are not always enthusiastic about attending in-service training sessions and coming to work early for it. Yet operators and managers all know training must not end with the completion of guards’ certification course. It’s the job of the aquatics administrator to ensure guards are receiving the appropriate ongoing continuing education and to motivate them to participate fully.

One way to motivate your guard staff when practicing Emergency Action Plans, or EAPs, is to turn your in-service training into a competition.

At my facility, I divide the guard staff into four teams (because we rotate in four teams of two guards per team on a daily basis). There’s one team for each of our three pools, and one team for the group that is on break. Everyone goes to their guard chairs (two per pool) as they would on a typical day.

I then stage an emergency at one of the pools using a live victim (one of the guards not involved in the simulation) who requires EAP activation. Then the competition begins.

Guards must make an appropriate entry, approach, rescue, and remove the victim from the water. We switch to a manikin once the live victim has been removed from the water, so we can continue with a realistic simulation (caring for the victim who may have an obstructed airway, need rescue breathing, CPR and the like).

Teams earn or lose points as follows:

  • Each team that completes its part of the EAP correctly receives 5 points
  • Teams can earn points by noting errors in other teams’ performances (in the activation of the EAP, in CPR, errors in the choice of rescue and so forth).
  • Teams lose points when errors are detected by others, such as members of other teams or myself.

We employ more guards than the eight who are actually participating in the EAP drill; however, all are placed on one of the four teams. Those who are not directly involved in the EAP must observe, so they can help their teams earn points by noting errors that members of the other teams may be making. The extras rotate in at the end of each simulation. I change scenarios and the site of the emergency each time. The team with the most points at the end of the in-service wins. Winners could be rewarded with any of the following, which can be donated from local businesses:

  • A onetime cash bonus added onto their paychecks
  • Apparel (bathing suits, T-shirts, hats, sweatshirts, imprinted with “Lifeguard”)
  • Gift certificates from local stores or restaurants
  • Movie tickets.

There are many benefits to conducting competitive EAP in-service sessions:

  • Guards have numerous opportunities to practice the EAP from start to finish and from every position (crowd control, calling 911, assisting with rescue, effecting a rescue.)
  • Everyone is involved. Even those waiting their turns pay attention to every little detail because they may be able to earn extra points for their teams by noting errors other teams are making.
  • Guards have multiple opportunities to practice skills (rescue skills, removal from water, CPR, rescue breathing), though the primary focus of this practice is on the EAP
  • Guards love the competition
  • Guards love the rewards.

By conducting competitive in-service training for your guards, you will not only prepare them better for an emergency, but they’ll look forward to participating in your continuing education sessions.