Innovative Aquatic Staff Training Techniques

By Joey LaNeve, Aquatics Supervisor, Queen Creek, AZ

Training lifeguards using new and innovative techniques is an extremely important part of any successful and safe aquatics program. Gone are the days that aquatic staff managers can run in-services with your “classic” victim/rescuer drills that involve going out, getting a patron in distress and bringing them back to the wall. Those types of drills have a place in an initial certification course to learn the motor skills necessary for a rescue but do little to prepare a lifeguard for an actual emergency. As summer approaches it is important to utilize innovative training methods to ensure that staff are prepared for a busy summer season. Here are some ideas of innovative ways to train staff for this summer: 

  1. Virtual Reality Scanning Training – New lifeguards are not often exposed to very many hours of scanning practice before being put on stand during a busy open swim shift with a full zone. Using Virtual Reality technology can help give staff important recognition training in a controlled environment. You are starting to see this technology become more active within some of the major lifeguard certification agencies but there are several options for you to incorporate into your in-house training. The first step would be to pre-record a scanning video from a lifeguard’s POV during a busy time at your pool (or simulate a busy pool with staff). There are several inexpensive models of phone VR headsets on the market that can allow staff to experience scanning using a phone and the pre-recorded video. Record a couple videos showing different zones, different victim types, different scanning obstacles, etc. and you have an opportunity to really diversify your library of training opportunities. Always follow this training with a debrief on what they saw or didn’t see to reinforce the concepts. 
  2. Gamification – This isn’t necessarily a new training technique but friendly competition and prizes go a long way in creating a fun environment while still training the skills we need our guards to know. Creating a leaderboard of the top 3 performing staff on skill audits each week gives staff a chance to celebrate each other’s success and creates some competitive motivation for staff to learn skills and do better on their audits. 
  3. Train the soft skills – We expect our young staff to do a lot of teamwork, communication, leadership, and problem solving that they do not have a lot of real-world experience with. By investing time to train and reinforce these skills you will see a translation to their daily duties and more importantly, to emergency situations. Our young staff are often very willing to learn, we just need to engage them in the right ways to make sure they are successful when we need them to be. 

In conclusion, training a successful lifeguard team requires some innovative thinking. Do not be afraid to go outside the box with training ideas to ensure that staff are prepared for real-world situations specific to your facility(ies). The more time and effort you invest in training, the better your staff will perform when it counts.

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