Lifeguards come from a wide range of backgrounds and experiences. Once they’re part of your guard group, they may form new relationships, date each other, break up and make up. Group dynamics may vary from camaraderie to open hostility. Yet no matter what the casual dynamics, once the emergency action plan is activated, all members of the lifeguard team must function together. The ability to put aside any personal feelings and work as members of a highly functioning team is not guaranteed with lifeguard certification. Group bonding, like any other lifeguard trait, must be developed.

Group bonding

Effective group bonding means:

• Sharing a physical task, with each member of the group performing at his or her highest level.

• Providing advice and coaching to other team members to assist each to reach maximum performance.

• Accepting advice and coaching from other team members to facilitate the group effort and improve personal knowledge and skills.

• Joining in constructive evaluation of group efforts so any needed improvement can be made without playing the blame game.

• Respecting and cooperating with all individuals on the team, regardless of personal opinions not related to job performance.

To reach a state of bonding, members of any group need to participate in common tasks. Sharing of challenging experiences provides common ground from which cooperation and respect develop.

With all the other knowledge and skills you must include in in-service training, how do you find time for group bonding activities? Build group bonding into activities involving practice of rescue skills and application of rescue knowledge. Following are examples.

Four-Man Tube Relay

Divide the group into teams of four participants each. One rescue tube is needed for each team. Distribute the teams in single file lines, one team to each lane of the pool. Team members should be evenly spaced the entire length of the lane.

On a given signal, the last one in each line (Person 1) puts on the tube strap, straddles the rescue tube and arm-paddles forward to the next person in line. Person 2 then joins Person l, straddling the tube, and both paddle forward to the third person. Person 3 then joins the first two straddling the tube.

The group of three paddles forward to the final team member. Person 4 joins the other three straddling the tube, and all four team members turn around and paddle  back to the start position.

Not only does this activity prove that a rescue tube will support multiple victims, but it also encourages teamwork while developing fitness. Team members must work together in stroking to complete the task. Body positioning with close proximity means taking care not to kick others.  Maximum effort contributes to performance speed. This activity can be performed as a race or a team accomplishment activity.

To increase the difficulty level, as well as reliance on other team members, the first three individuals in each line are blindfolded. Person 4 must give verbal directions to guide the team throughout the activity.  This adds the teamwork factor of having to listen and follow the directions of another person to complete the group challenge.


Relays such as the Four-Man Tube Relay are group events that involve each individual in performing a task so that the group can complete its challenge. The smaller the individual group or relay team, the more activity each individual member will have. The larger the group or relay team, the longer each person will need to wait for his or her turn, but the more group effort will determine the outcome.

While a relay can be performed in any depth of water, treading water during a relay increases the physical demands and helps improve physical fitness. Typical relay events include:

• Passing objects.

• Carrying objects or towing a victim.

• Traversing a distance.

• Performing a task.

Formations and activities

Typical formations and sample activities include:

• Single line. Pass a brick down a line of people and back to the start. Make participants keep the brick above the water to increase difficulty.

• Single line with a change of position. Pass a brick down a line of people and, when the brick is in the hands of the last person in line, that person swim-carries the brick to the head of the line and begins the pass again.

• Single line with traverse of a distance. A swimmer starts at the head of the line, swims to a predetermined point, touches the mark, and swims back to tag the next person in line. As the next person begins to swim, the first swimmer joins the end of the line.

• Double line shuttle. The relay team is divided in half, with each half in a single-file line, ends apart from each other. The first person at the head of one line begins by swimming across to the first person in the opposite line. Once there, he or she passes an object or tags that individual, who now goes across to where the first swimmer started. The first swimmer goes to the rear of the line that he or she just joined. The second swimmer passes or tags the person he or she meets at the head of the line upon arrival. In effect, when each person has had one turn, the two lines will have exchanged places. 

The relay can be doubled by allowing each person a second turn. This will return the lines to their original configurations.

• Pursuit. Relay team members are stationed equidistant around the swim area. The last swimmer in line begins the swim carrying/towing an object or victim.  This swimmer swims to the participant ahead of him or her, and passes the object to that swimmer.  As soon as the second swimmer has the object in hand he or she swims to the third swimmer, and passes the object.  This continues until the last person to receive the object swims it back to the start.

Many lifeguarding activities and games can be done as relays. This is particularly useful with large groups. Relays are good for developing team spirit because team records can be kept, with frequent team challenges used to stimulate changing the team rankings. Mixing team membership will set up situations when different groups of individuals must work together, regardless of prior experience.

Training activities described here are from Grosse, S. (2009). Lifeguard Training Activities and Games. Champaign, IL