As aquatics administrators, we would all prefer to have a lifeguard staff consisting of individuals who are at least college age. But the reality is that many of us must hire guards as young as 15 years old to staff our pools safely.

Often, these young guards are not as motivated as the older, more experienced ones. An effective way to enhance their motivation is to implement a “Lifeguard of the Week” program.

The first step in developing such a program is to formulate a list of behaviors or characteristics you would expect to see in someone who would be selected as Lifeguard of the Week. These can include skills directly related to guarding, such as victim recognition skills, effective use of the whistle to correct/educate patrons and/or other characteristics, including showing initiative, working as a team player, and arriving on time for shifts and rotations.

The characteristics you choose should be those you would expect to see in your top guards. Asking for input from the more experienced guards also can be beneficial because it helps them develop a sense ownership in the program.

Once the list is finalized, it should be shared with the entire guard staff prior to actually implementing the program. Deciding whether or not a guard can be elected more than once also must be determined.

The next step is to purchase a “Lifeguard of the Week” rescue tube. It’s also a good idea to purchase some other small items that guards can choose from if they are elected “Lifeguard of the Week.” Items such as rescue tube key chains, “Lifeguard” visors and “Lifeguard” soda-can huggies are inexpensive and provide good incentives. All of these items are available from most of the large aquatics equipment/supply companies in their catalogs or online.

Determine the exact date you will start the program and inform your staff so they can begin to observe their colleagues and think about who best deserves their vote.

Each week, management can select the “Lifeguard of the Week” — or your guard staff can vote. (In the case of a tie, or a close vote, management can make the final decision as to who wins.)

If your guard staff will be voting, you’ll need to develop a ballot. It’s helpful to include the criteria/characteristics on the ballot. This reinforces those sought-after traits not only for your novice guards, but for the entire staff.

One week after you launch the program, you’ll be ready for the first vote. You may have to allow your staff to vote over a two-day period so those who might have been gone on “election day” will have a chance to vote. For example, you might have voting on Thursday and Friday, and announce who was elected “Lifeguard of the Week” on Saturday. You can also consider taking call-in or e-mail votes to alleviate the problem of staff members being off on the day that voting takes place.

Once the votes are tallied, the guard who was elected wears the “Lifeguard of the Week” rescue tube for the entire week until the next vote. If you’ve purchased any other motivational items, they get to select one of them when they learn they have won for that week. Winners’ names can be posted where you think appropriate (in the guard room, on a bulletin board and the like).

A “Lifeguard of the Week” program is inexpensive to implement and offers several benefits, not the least of which is providing novice and experienced guards with a list of behaviors or characteristics that you think are important to be effective and successful at your facility.

Remember, if you seek input from your staff when formulating this list of criteria, they will tend to have more buy-in to the program. It motivates people to model the behaviors or characteristics you think are important. Finally, those individuals who are elected “Lifeguard of the Week” are rewarded by being recognized publicly.