Running Effective Lifeguard In-Service Trainings

So you’ve been able to successfully recruit lifeguards for your staff. They’ve been trained for emergency situations and oriented to your operations. But only one of those two things will they necessarily use every day. After lifeguards have finished their lifeguard training courses, it doesn’t mean they’re done training until the next time they have to recertify. That’s far too long! Skills of any type fade away quickly if not used regularly. If your lifeguards aren’t given a proper place to practice and hone their skills after their initial training, they’ll begin to forget what they have learned, and that could spell disaster if an emergency occurred. This not only raise issues with risk management, but lives are on the line.

So what can you do? The most sure fire way to combat the loss of skills, and make sure your staff is competent and confident in themselves and each other is to run effective lifeguard in-service trainings.

What is an In-Service

In-services go under many different names, such as skill practices, drills, or practice sessions. Call it what you will, but they’re an important part of operating a safe aquatic environment, both for your aquatics staff and patrons.In-service is, at its core, a staff only training session. During that training session your lifeguarding staff is given the opportunity to practice their emergency situation response and skills in a safe and controlled environment. Giving staff the opportunity to maintain and improve upon their lifeguarding skills is an invaluable tool for your lifeguards. Of course, honing your lifeguarding skills is vital for keeping your patrons safe in the event of an emergency.

What are the Benefits of In-Services

The benefits for holding regular lifeguard in-service trainings are numerous. From any way you look at it, there benefits for almost every aspect of your organization. And they all work toward ensuring you have a safe pool, with a well prepared lifeguarding staff. So let’s get into some of the most important benefits that effective lifeguard in-service trainings provide.

Open Lines of Communication: Providing your lifeguards the opportunity to ask questions they may have about emergency situations and emergency response procedures, does wonders for staff communication. Having an open dialogue during in-services serves to increase their familiarity and understanding of their lifeguarding skills, but it also serves another purpose. By being accessible and willing to answer questions you ensure staff know you are available for their future questions, and that can go a long way towards opening up lines of communication between your staff and their supervisors.

Teamwork: Perhaps one of the biggest benefits of lifeguard in-service training is the opportunity for your lifeguarding staff to become familiar with each other. Encouraging teamwork, and teaching your staff how to work as a unit can be key in performing well in high-stress emergency situations. And again, any teamwork built during in-service training is sure to carry out into other aspects of their job performance.

Mental Preparedness and Readiness: Preparedness and readiness may seem like two words for the same thing, but in an emergency setting, it can have two very different implications, with each being equally important. During in-services your lifeguards gain mental preparedness, becoming mentally prepared if an emergency situation occurs. Readiness, on the other hand is less about the skills they’ve acquired and honed, and it’s more about their ability to use them. It’s always a fear people have, that despite their training, and how prepared they are, they won’t be mentally ready to act.But practicing their skills, and going over emergency scenarios with staff can go a long way toward empowering them and making sure they are not only mentally prepared for an emergency, but mentally ready to act.

Physical Prep and Conditioning: Performing a deep-water head, neck, or spine injury rescue can be a very physically demanding incident. Making sure your staff are physically capable of performing a rescue of any type at any time, is not only a matter of skills, and mental acumen, but also of that of physical ability. Aerobic conditioning and physical preparations are important to making sure your lifeguard can handle the rigors of a real emergency situation, and in-services give them the opportunity to improve their conditioning in a number of ways.

Maintain and Hone Skills Developed in Lifeguard Training: As stated above, if you don’t use your skills, you lose them. Which is why affording your lifeguarding staff the opportunity to practice, maintain and improve the lifeguarding skills they learned in the training courses is of the utmost importance. Each lifeguard is certified on the day of completing their lifeguarding course that they are capable of the skills required, but without continual repetition of the skills, knowledge, and experience accompanied with each aspect of emergency response, their capabilities can fade away.Regular practice of each aspect of lifeguarding, from surveillance to rescues and first aid, keeps the information fresh in their minds, and the skills at their fingertips.

Keep Up to Date: Finally, the science behind rescues, CPR, and lifeguarding procedures as a whole is always advancing, and as it does, so do the skills lifeguards utilize.With any changes, or new information, holding regular lifeguard in-services can be the most effective way to ensure your staff are up to date on all the latest information.

What Should Be in an In-Service

Hopefully you are now convinced that the benefits of holding lifeguard in-service trainings are too numerous to ignore. So now let’s look at what exactly should be in an inservice?

General Guidelines of In-Service: Before getting into the specifics of what each in-service training should contain, there are several general important factors that need to be present. The three basic keys to keep in mind when designing your curriculum for in-service trainings is to keep it:

  • Challenging
  • Changing
  • Entertaining

Challenging: If your staff aren’t being challenged with difficult situations, scenarios, and physical tests, how can they expect to tackle a real-life difficult situation? Challenging your staff is key in making your lifeguard in-services valuable for everyone. Don’t just give them the easy stuff and call it good, make them work, give them something to work at, to work on, and to work toward.

Changing: So you’ve challenged your staff with the most difficult scenario you could dream up, and lo and behold, they mastered it. Now what? Now you change things up, the key to keeping your lifeguard in-service trainings challenging is to keep changing them. Keep evolving them. Your trainings have to evolve as your staff does in order to keep everyone operating as their peak.

Entertaining: This has been one of the most difficult things to develop and maintain for lifeguarding in-services. Finding a balance between fun for staff, and the seriousness of the job at hand, can be a difficult, and it all starts with you. Emphasize the importance of the training first and foremost. Try to keep things upbeat and entertaining through activities that help skills or physical endurance. As an example: rather than just having members swim their distances simultaneously, turn it into a team relay. Or, once staff have mastered an in-water skill, have them work on how efficiently/quickly they can perform said skill. But be sure to emphasize that doing the skills correctly is more important than doing them quickly.Keeping your in-service trainings entertaining will help keep your lifeguards interested in attending them, and help keep you motivated to improve them for everyone.

Specifics of In-Services

While there are many things each in-service should contain, there are a few, that must be included in each and every lifeguard in-service training. And they are:
* In-Water Skills scenario practice: It is best to focus on three main rescue groups during every in-service: active victim rescues, passive victim rescues, and head, neck, or back injury victim rescues. All should be performed at the deepest part of your facility pool. While difficult, it is an excellent standard that everyone must meet. * On-Deck Skills scenario practice: Whether it’s some type of first aid, or other deck-based emergency/care situation it’s important not to allow the non-life threatening skills and knowledge fall into disuse. * CPR/AED scenario practice: One of the most important skills lifeguards have is CPR, and the use of the AED. Keeping these skills sharp and ever in the forefront of your lifeguard’s minds can save lives.

Those are three main areas that should be in each in-service you run. But that is by no means an inclusive list. Here are some other things that should be part of your in-service curriculum:
* Fitness aspect: swimming timed laps, treading water, or brick sprints. * Emergency Action Plans: go over what each staff member should do for various scenarios. * Q&A session: where staff can ask any training related/scenario response related questions.

An example of what an in-service schedule might look like can be found here. But remember, find what is important for your facility and your lifeguards, and start there.

Supervisory Considerations

Here are some final things to keep in mind on your supervisory end in order to ensure your lifeguard in-service trainings are as effective as possible:

Make it Mandatory/Incentivize it: Make sure staff attend in-services, making it mandatory is best, but that doesn’t mean you can’t incentivize it as well; for example, if staff complete their in-services perfectly they earn a party. This fosters teamwork and encouragement as well.

Offer Frequently, Require Frequent Attendance: Offer several options so that all staff have the opportunity to attend in-services. And require staff to attend regularly; monthly is effective and efficient.

Document It: Keep careful records of the skills covered, and how adept the individual lifeguards each were at them, seek out those struggling with skills and guide them. Keeping track of your on going training is important for legal purposes as well.

Make it a Priority: For yourself and staff, making in-service trainings a priority is key to ensuring the program has an impact on your lifeguards, and the safety of your organization.

Have any other things you think MUST be included in in-service trainings? How often do your lifeguard have to complete in-services? What does your curriculum look like? Tell us below!

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