If you have been in aquatics for more than a few years, you’ve probably heard of a Shadow Guard Program. An aquatic supervisor or pool manager pairs a newer lifeguard with a returning lifeguard early on in their employment.  The two spend a day or more together, and the veteran lifeguard is supposed to pass on his or her wealth of knowledge and experience to the new lifeguard. 

But, in reality, these programs often turn out as “monkey see, monkey do” experiences, and often can be regarded as a waste of time and money by upper management. However, if a little bit of time and effort are put into preparing for a Shadow Guard Program, it can be a useful tool in training new lifeguards and providing a quality experience for re-educating your seasoned staff.

A Shadow Guard Program contains four important parts: staff selection, training, tools and dialogue. 

When creating a Shadow Guard Program, it’s important to pick the right veterans. Look at your veteran staff and ask yourself: Who are the truly great lifeguards? Who are the good teachers? Who are the ones who like to let me know how it should be done? These are the seasoned, veteran staff members who should be part of the Shadow Guard Program. They are the ones who are trying to show you they are ready for more responsibility, and this is a great opportunity for them to shine. 

As with everything we do, training is important. Once you’ve selected the veteran guards to be part of the program, you must train them on what is expected of them. Take some time to go over the important parts of your daily operation that you want them to review with the new guards. Have them focus on zones, five-minute strategy, rule enforcement, where to rotate after each chair, and other important parts of the lifeguard's day. Success often is found in the details, and this is where the details are taught. This is also the chance to “force” the veterans to review their base of knowledge to ensure it is solid.

Zone of Protection area diagrams are a great tool for new lifeguards in this program. Create these documents with a picture of the zone, when it will be used, its name and important rules to enforce while guarding it. Laminate a few copies and have the new lifeguards bring them from zone to zone as they shadow their veteran guards. The Zone of Protection area diagram also can be used when on break and preparing to go on the stand, as a quick reference for the new guard. 

Try being a good lifeguard without talking — it can’t be done. Open communication and dialogue between aquatic supervisor, pool manager, veteran lifeguards and new lifeguards are the keys to a successful Shadow Guard Program. All levels of pool management should be constantly checking with the veteran guards to see how the new guards are progressing through the program, and if extra training is needed. Talk frequently to the new guards as well, to ensure they are getting the most from the experience.

The benefits of a well-developed Shadow Guard Program can be endless. The new guards will have confidence that they are ready for the responsibility of being a lifeguard; they will have learned the details that will help them be successful; and they will have built a strong working relationship with a veteran lifeguard. 

The veterans are reassured that their new teammates are ready to watch their zones, know the important parts of daily operations and are ready to do their part to keep everyone safe. 

As aquatic supervisors, we don’t have to do all the training. We have a great resource at our disposal, and with a little preparation, a Shadow Guard Program can be the prefect tool to help new lifeguards become great lifeguards.