11 Creative In-Service Ideas to Keep Your Lifeguards Engaged

Maybe you’ve been running in-services for a while, or maybe you’ve only just started after you read our Effective Lifeguard In-Service Trainings Post and are already looking for ways to challenge your staff and make in-services more enjoyable all around.

Whatever the reason, there are a number of ways in which you can change, develop, and otherwise improve your in-service protocols that will see improved attendance and skills from your lifeguard staff.

Why you Should be Creative with your Lifeguard In-Services

There are a number of reasons that being creative with how you run your in-service program is important. Let’s take a look at some of the benefits of bringing creativity into your in-services.

  • Creative in-services mean higher lifeguard attendance, which means more skills development.

  • Lifeguarding can be challengingly boring, but why let that tedium into your in-services as well? By being creative with your in-services staff are more engaged and can get more out of it, as opposed to just going through the motions.

  • Change is good, despite how much we all may fight it. But, by changing the things during your in-services, whether it’s what you emphasize, or how you practice it, the changes will certainly develop your lifeguard’s training further.

  • More fun. This one sort of goes along with #1, but the more fun your staff, and even you as a supervisor, have with in-services, the more functions they can serve. These can especially become great team bonding experiences!

All those reasons essentially add up to more effective, beneficial in-service training. So let’s move on into the creative ways to keep your lifeguards engaged in in-service trainings.

Point Based Competitions

Turning your in-service training skills into competitions can be a great way to foster an environment where people want to attend. Prizes for winners are nice, but not necessary (at least initially) as bragging rights can be just as, if not more, incentivizing. Here are some point based competitions that you can implement for various aspects of lifeguarding.


  • (1) Skills: When practicing different skills (such as passive submerged retrieval) during an in-service, have a clear outline of all the things staff need to do for any given skill. Then, staff will start out with a score of 100 and lose points for any and every mistake made, and the person with the highest score at the end wins.

  • (2) Scanning: Have objects hidden in the pool. Staff are given limited time to scan the whole pool, then are tested on what objects they saw. Whoever saw and remembered the most wins the competition.

Competition breeds excellence, so whenever possible, fostering friendly competition can be an effective motivator, and a great way to keep your lifeguards engaged during in-services.

Time Based Competitions

Similar to point based competitions, timed events can foster an attitude where performing quickly is rewarded. Again, bragging rights may suffice, but extra incentive is always nice. Here are some time based competitions you can implement for various aspects of lifeguarding.

  • (3) Endurance: Making sure your staff are capable of performing their responsibilities isn’t all about skills they’ve gained, it’s also about fitness. Everyone should have their staff complete some type of endurance swim to ensure they are equipped to handle difficult and lengthy swims in the event of a real emergency. Adding a speed factor to their endurance will help motivate them to maintain and improve their fitness level, inside and out of your provided lifeguard in-service trainings. This is particularly effective with sprint events, such as the brick sprint. (3b: add length to their endurance training if staff are not challenged, or for speed events add difficulty, like a weight for the brick sprint.)

  • (4) Skills: Skills again? Yes, of course! After your lifeguard staff has become so proficient with their skills that they no longer have anyone to compete against can be a great way to improve response times in the event of real life emergencies. EMS response times are going down, so we should be prepared for them whenever they arrive. It would always be bad news if EMS arrived before the rescue had been completed.

  • (5) Scanning: Another repeat? Again, yes! If staff are getting too adept at the scanning drills, change the amount of time they have to observe and search for items. (5b & c: change the objects up/involve lifeguard staff and have lifeguards observe behavior instead of objects, and try changing the locations staff perform surveillance from.

With timed competitions, it is extremely important to take steps to make sure that the effectiveness and quality of the skills and aspects being covered do not suffer in the pursuit of speed. Keep the points competitions and add in the time to make sure things are being done correctly, and timely.

Teamwork and Leadership Emphasis

Teamwork is an integral part of any aquatics organization. When it comes to emergency response it is of particular importance. So let’s emphasize it during your lifeguard in-service trainings to stress to staff just how important, and difficult, it can be! Here’s how:

  • (6) Silent Practice: To challenge your staff, when performing skills or events that require multiple lifeguards, make it mandatory that they not speak. If they speak they are disqualified. This can help staff focus on their own skills, while aiding your staff in identifying areas for improvement.

  • (7) Single Leader Practice: If silence isn’t working for your lifeguards, or just for a different challenge, try limiting the number of people who can speak to one. By giving one person the ability to aid others, and provide directions when needed, staff can learn to depend on each other, and again can identify weaknesses to improve on.

  • (8) Dictator Practice: Just because your lifeguards have mastered the silence or the single leader doesn’t mean there aren’t other methods to challenge them further. Appoint one person in each group the supreme dictator of that group that must give ALL directions to staff. And no one can perform a skill unless explicitly told to do so by the dictator. While this can be difficult at first, once staff get the hang of it, it can really help your lifeguards hone their skills. Remember to start with easier skills, such as active victim rescues, before moving on to more difficult ones.

  • (9) Rotating Dictator Practice: Once staff have gotten comfortable with no leader, a single person leading, or a supreme dictator running their practice/skills sessions, it may be time to introduce another challenge. Having a single person that gives ALL direction is great. But it can be difficult for the weaker staff, while not challenging your skilled and experienced lifeguards. By having the position rotate between staff, they have to be comfortable and confident enough in their skills to be able to pick up wherever they’re told to, and provide instruction. Choose between timed segments of when the dictator is changed and checkpoints. Each can offer unique benefits.

Teamwork, like others that lifeguards have, is a skill. One that can be learned, taught, practiced, and cultivated, and the same goes for leadership.

Just because your lifeguards are not part of your management structure yet doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be placed into leadership roles. In fact, it can be an effective tool to see who among your lifeguarding staff are capable and prepared for supervisory positions.

By adding different aspects of lifeguarding to your in-service skills trainings, you can help your employees to become not just effective lifeguards, but effective members of society and of any work environment. Remember, lifeguarding is often a first (or early) job, and as such it’s important that we instill in our staff the qualities we want to see in all our employees.


Giving staff awards and recognition for desired behavior, or excellently performed skills and responsibilities is an effective motivator in general. So why not apply those same principles to your lifeguard in-service trainings?

While not all staff will immediately understand the responsibility and importance of each and every lifeguard, they can be shown this over time. And in the short term, other ways of adding importance can be a great way to get the best from your lifeguarding staff.


  • (10) Fun Awards: Not every aspect of a lifeguard training in-service has to be focus on the serious nature of the position. Everyone has found enjoyment in their lifeguarding jobs over the years, in one way or another. So why not encourage that kind of fun in your staff. After all, their enjoyment and happiness is an important key to retaining staff. So why not provide them with some fun and silly motivation or incentives? Give staff various awards that have to do with the skills or emphasis of your in-service trainings. A good example is an award for most realistic drowning victim.

  • (11): Seasonal Awards: If you have ongoing lifeguard in-service trainings throughout your season(s) of operation, motivation from your staff can also be increased through long-term goals. Provide staff outlines for the long-term (whether seasonal or otherwise) awards and their accompanying rewards in order to keep them coming to your in-services and striving for excellence. Some good examples of seasonal awards going off of the ideas above are: fewest points lost, fastest brick sprint, fastest perfect back-boarding.

Whatever the award, or if there is a reward, recognizing excellent performance and behavior inside your in-services can be just as important and effective as doing it outside of them.

Whichever methods you choose to introduce to your in-services in order to keep your lifeguarding staff learning and improving, it is key to always make sure safety is the most important goal being worked toward.

Have other suggestions for ways to improve lifeguard in-service trainings? Have some ideas we didn’t mention? Tell us below!


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