quatics managers are faced with the responsibility to ensure their lifeguards are trained to the highest standards, and training those staffers isn?t getting any easier. The most prevailing model used throughout the industry involves scheduling in-service training before or after pool hours, and monitoring required attendance. The challenge here is to ensure full attendance by an enthusiastic staff at repeated one- to two-hour sessions outside regular work shifts.

Every person I have ever talked to who is responsible for training eventually mentions how frustrating it is to schedule in-services so that all can attend. Even the best in-service can?t hit its mark when one or more staffers, for whatever reason, are not in attendance. We have spent a lot of time tweaking this system with creative solutions such as multiple sessions, videotape, online information, role playing, fun activities and enticements.

Yet there is almost always that one guard (at least) who just does not fit the schedule. Unfortunately, our system usually puts the responsibility of attending on the lifeguard, and often we fall into the trap of escalating the punishment of missing required seminars with the false hope that there is eventually a point where no one would dare miss a session. Maybe what is getting in the way is this old mind-set of how to convene training sessions.

After countless different attempts to get guards to come to me and be less reluctant to put in those extra hours, I changed my way of thinking. Their training is so important that I decided to take it to them.

Ultimately, it is management?s responsibility to have a well-trained lifeguard staff, so why not rethink in-services and center them within your lifeguards? work schedules to avoid competing with their already cluttered lives of sports, education, internships, family vacations, concerts and even shopping? It becomes management?s responsibility to incorporate each lifeguard?s training as a natural part of their work week. Call it on-shift training.

Our experience with on-shift training was overwhelmingly positive and gratifying. Most of our training centered around measuring each guard?s scanning time, looking for systematic and purposeful scanning patterns, and scanning at and below the surface of the water. This was added to our past commitment to the Sit/Stand/Stroll of the 5-Minute Scanning Strategy.

We learned which factors caused distractions from good scanning techniques and intervened immediately with guards who showed weaknesses. And we supported all with positive, constructive comments. We also chose to avoid the sense of competition and approach everything as continuous education.

What would it take to support on-shift training? Here are some things to consider:

  • Realize that information will continually be disseminated over a period of time.
  • Be systematic about presenting material so that over time, all predetermined information is covered.
  • Establish good record-keeping to document which guards have received the prescribed training.
  • Some training will involve staffing a sub-guard to take over ?the watch? at post after post while the on-shift guards perform their skills.
  • Understand that your lifeguards may have homework.
  • Make trainers available for varied hours throughout several days weekly, so as to catch each guard for their training.
  • Recognize training as an ongoing, educational process and part of management?s daily responsibility.
  • Provide for timely posting of information and group e-mails, to keep your staff in tune with the latest industry information.

It is not my intention to suggest that off-shift training does not have its place. Pre-season orientation for those summer operations still seems like a perfect time to schedule extra periods to bring in your staff as a whole. I am sure there are other appropriate times, too. However, when I forced myself to find on-shift alternatives, I not only found it doable, but a much more rewarding educational experience for all involved. Here are some reasons why:

  • Relevance and realism. Much of what you incorporate into on-shift training is automatically relevant because of the environment where it is being conducted. They don?t have to imagine reality; they are in it.
  • Reassuring to patrons. Training is visible to patrons, reassuring them of their personal safety. Patrons benefit from observing and possibly participating in the training.
  • Mental focus. On-shift training helps keep lifeguards mentally engaged in their skills and responsibilities while performing their duties day by day.
  • Instruction matches attention span. On-shift training is delivered in 10- to 15-minute bursts, ideal for maximizing their attention. And, in most cases, guards are immediately sent back to their guarding responsibilities with ample opportunity to reflect on and apply exactly what they just covered.
  • Improved retention. Routine and frequent training improves retention. On-shift training is constantly occurring, especially from the perspective of the lifeguards because they think every day is potentially a training day.
  • Cost savings. Off-shift payroll involves extra hours for the entire lifeguard staff, approximately three to five times a summer for one to two hours each session. The extra hours required for on-shift training is limited to paying sub-lifeguards a limited number of days.
  • No more ?Be there or else.? Reduce or eliminate punitive requirements by management for lifeguards not attending off-shift training.
  • Improved management presence. Management is more thoroughly involved in daily monitoring of lifeguards? performances, thus continually developing good job performance habits with persistent, encouraging feedback. The real concept that managers should be embracing is that ?training? is an ongoing, never-ending process of continuous education. It is not isolated to special sessions, nor does it have an end or a final summit.