Thursday, July 18, 2013


As a parent we believe that when we send our children to the local pool, the lifeguards will keep them safe. But what we need to remember is that most teens who are watching over local pools are teens, young teens.

The younger the guard, the less likely that they have had enough life experiences to handle all situations that can occur at an aquatic facility. Training can only account for so much, as far as response to an incident. This is where proper management by an aquatic manager/aquatic specialist and better hiring practices, as well as extra on site training, could make a difference.

Teens will be teens, and so the management needs to be mature enough to manage the teen years of a guard as well as the pool facility. Just recently, on the 4th of July, my family was at our local park for the festivities. The area of the park we found as a suitable site for our gathering just happened to be near the aquatic center. For hours during the day and evening we watched the many mistakes that the local teens made as lifeguards.

From taking their eyes off of the pool to visit with another guard while sitting in their station chair, to totally turning their backs on the pool area to talk to friends on the outside of the fence, as well as enforcing rules on one group of children, but allowing others to break the rules, these young guards were in drastic need of more training and a manager that could maintain a safer location for area children to swim.

Most lifeguard training programs actually train a guard to prevent incidents from happening so that there is no need to an emergency response. As a last resort, guards are trained to make an emergency rescue and extraction from the pool. When in service training is not done on a regular schedule and the hot days of summer continue, most teen guards will lose their concentration and focus on keeping their eyes on the public in the water. And most guards cannot even tell you what the state bathing code sets their pool patron level to be, or what mandated equipment is required.

Another misconception about lifeguards is that they are the strongest swimmers at the aquatic facility. Well, they really should be but that is not always the case. If a guard can meet the minimal standards of the training course they are in, they will receive their certification. But remember, the certification, although it has to be renewed every few years, just means that they at least met the minimal standards of the course on the day the certification cards were handed out. There are no guarantees unless the manager over them has policies and standards in pace to assure their skills are met, including swimming levels, on a weekly basis.

A lot of local pools will also use guards to teach swimming lessons. But unless the guard has taken an instructor course in learning about learning styles, teaching methods and stroke mechanics, they may be doing more harm than good with their swimming lessons. Again, the manager should be held accountable for the level of knowledge and skill of their guards.

As parents, most do not know what it takes to be a good guard or swimming instructor. They just trust that they are making the right choice because it is at the local pool or aquatic center. I would encourage parents to ask questions about qualifications and background of guards and instructors. If you do not get an answer that seems right, find somewhere else for your children. And never let your young children go to the local swimming pools with out you.

Some cities are beginning to see the need for stronger training and management in aquatic settings. They are looking at changes and hiring qualified managers as well as guards. Unfortunately, a lot of the times it is large cities that make this step forward and smaller ones just look away and hope that nothing happens. You might find this link with a news station in the Houston area interesting and informative as to how some steps to better and safer aquatics is happening in the Houston area.

Here is to being informed and keeping safe around water.

*Mary Myers is a former American Red Cross Instructor Trainer for WSI, First Aide, CPR, AED and Supplemental Oxygen. She has also trained with YMCA and American Learn To Swim Teachers. She is a member of US Swim Schools Association