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Managing Young Lifeguards

In the aquatics industry it’s a reality that the majority of the staff you employ are probably under the age of 30. More than likely under the age of 20, even. Most will be teenagers, and for many it will be their first job.

While there can be great benefits to having young lifeguards, and even lifeguards in their first job, there can be some challenges you may encounter (or already have).

Young Lifeguards

Managing staff is one thing. But when your staff have as much responsibility as lifeguards do, and when they are young as most lifeguards are, there are additional considerations and strategies to help in managing young lifeguards.

For the most part, managing young lifeguards is the same as managing any other demographic, but with some intensification in certain areas. So while many of the things we talk about in this post are true for employees of any age group, they are of particular importance with young lifeguards; especially teens.

Clear Communication

This is a recurring point. So it may be made several times. Whatever we talk about, it is of the utmost importance that you are extremely clear with young lifeguards. If it is their first job, but even if it’s not, it can be one of their first experiences in a professional setting.

Clear communication is, of course, important for any employee, and any supervisor perhaps even more so. Whatever it is you are communicating, whether it’s expectations, or something as simple as schedule changes, clear communication is the cornerstone of building young lifeguards into successful ones.

That may mean communicating with them using the methods they do most, by email or text message. Many young lifeguards are more comfortable writing a message and communicating through text than over the phone or in person.

While it is of course necessary at times to speak face to face or over the phone, the importance having the ability to reach your young lifeguards through their chosen methods cannot be overstated. Which is why the ability to do so easily, as available through DigiQuatics, is extremely helpful.

Managing young lifeguards can be an intimidating thing; both for you, and them. It’s not a responsibility either of you should shy away from, especially because there are great benefits to be had from your young lifeguards.

The Benefits of Young Lifeguards

Young lifeguards, though sometimes requiring additional considerations, also provide additional benefits that aren’t seen with older, and even more experienced staff. Here are just some of the ways new, young lifeguards can be a positive.

No Old Habits

The saying goes “old habits die hard”, and for good reason, training staff for the way your operation works can difficult. If they’ve had other jobs with different training often times it can be extremely challenging.

Young lifeguards, especially ones who don’t have any work or any aquatics/lifeguarding experience, don’t have that issue. There are no bad professional habits to break.


Young lifeguards, and new lifeguards alike bring an energy and enthusiasm that may have faded from your department over time. Whether at the managerial level, or staff level, if you have young, eager, and energetic lifeguards on staff it’s sure to encourage similar behavior from everyone, even you!

Molding Young Lifeguards

With young, and first time lifeguards, you have the opportunity to train a staff member not only to the perfect employee for you, but for anyone. With good habits and behaviors that are key for any future positions. That is a great gift to give to future employers, but more importantly, to the employee themselves.

Set Clear Expectations

In order to reap the benefits of staffing young lifeguards there are important responsibilities on your part to consider. One of those is setting not just expectations, but clear expectations.

As with any employee setting clear expectations of your young lifeguards is extremely important, but more so for them. If it is their first professional experience, the expectations of the employee-employer relationship are more than likely unfamiliar to them.

Making sure they know exactly what they can expect from you, and what you expect from them is paramount. Without going into specifics here is a short list of just some of the important expectations to make clear to them:
* General policies (attire, who’s who) * Their schedule (when to arrive, how to change) * Subbing policies (how to find them, who is responsible) * Lifeguard responsibilities (guard stations, rules, Emergency Action Plans) * Secondary responsibilities (maintenance, swim instruction) * Customer service responsibilities (handle vs. get help)

Though these are just some of the things you’ll need to go over, it is important to be explicit in each explanation of each expectation. Though to you it may seem like common sense, for someone new to the workforce, or just to your organization, it may not be. And if you don’t set clear expectations with young lifeguards you’re setting them, and you, up for failure, instead of success.

Step-by-Step Instructions

Whether it is the details of an Emergency Action Plan (EAP), or simply how to clean the deck, it is crucial to provide explicit, step-by-step instructions on the responsibilities you’ve outlined for your young lifeguards.

What may seem like second nature to you, and your current staff can be like a foreign language to your young lifeguards. When it comes to every aspect of the job your staff are required to perform, explaining their duties step by step could seem like a waste of time, but it is not. Let’s look at a simple example: hosing the deck.

To you it is a simple task that shouldn’t need more explanation than telling them you would like them to do it. However, if you did explain it, it might look something like this:
Using a hose and scrub brush, clean off any debris, food or other leftovers from the day’s activities, and rinse it down the deck drains.

To someone who hasn’t worked at a pool before, or not at your pool at least, it may not mean a whole lot, or it may mean something completely different to them, like this:
Hose water all over the deck. Just to get it wet.

That’s a far cry from what you are looking for, but they don’t know any better. Chances are slim they have had to thoroughly clean a pool deck unless they were a lifeguard before. Even if they were it may mean the following to them based off their other experiences:
Hose, bleach and scrub to remove any dirt, and sanitize the deck.

Those are three very different interpretations of the simple task “hose the deck”. Now imagine if you didn’t give step-by-step, clear instructions on a more complicated task, like an EAP, The results could be extremely varied, and disastrous with something as imperative as an EAP.

It is clear that in order to see the results you expect, you need to give clear step-by-step instructions for exactly what you need done. No matter how small or simple the task may seem, there’s a chance they haven’t done it before, or at least not the same way you want it done.

Hold them Accountable

Just because they’re young, or this is their first job, doesn’t mean they should be any less accountable than an employee who is older, or perhaps more experienced.

Satisfaction with their job, and responsibilities doesn’t come by staff being able to shirk them off. Just the same as anyone, young lifeguards have the ability to perform any task you need them to, provided you show them what they need to do.

If they don’t perform the responsibilities though, that doesn’t mean you let it go because: “they’re young,” or “it’s their first job”. Those are excuses for you, the last thing young lifeguards want to hear is that they aren’t capable of something because they are too young. People everywhere, but particularly young people, want to be challenged, and want to learn.

Letting young lifeguards off the hook for their responsibilities, or writing it off to their youth is doing a disservice to you, and to them.

Hold your staff accountable for their actions and responsibilities, if you’ve done everything else in this post, they will have no excuses for their performance. Especially young lifeguards need to know that they, and they alone are accountable for their behaviors and responsibilities.

Give them feedback

Holding staff accountable for their performance and actions is key, but beyond that, praising and providing feedback are important in helping to grow young lifeguards into the quality people your organization wants and needs.

Providing your young lifeguards with feedback is important in their development, not only as your employee, but as a person. Throughout their lives, and certainly throughout their careers, your lifeguards will be evaluated, corrected, and praised. And that routine should start with you.

However often your organization requires it (or more often if you can), evaluate your staff member on every aspect of their job performance. Do not simply go over what they are good at, and what they are bad at. Go over specifically what they could do to improve the aspects of their performance that need it. Let them know what positive things they should continue to do.

More often than full written performance evaluations it is important to let staff know what they are doing is right or wrong as near the time of the task as possible.

When a young lifeguard needs it, provide the critical feedback to help them perform better. Make sure it’s constructive, and that it is timely. If you don’t provide that feedback for them chances are the problem will continue, or even intensify.

Whenever possible, let your young lifeguards know that they’re doing a good job at whatever tasks they are. Affirm the quality work they’re doing, and let them know you see that they’re doing a good job. That kind of on-the-spot attention can be a good reminder to your youth lifeguards that they have supervisors who want them to do well and recognize when they do.

These are some key strategies to help you manage young lifeguards in your organizations. What other things do you do to help your younger lifeguards? Have any experiences regarding the strategies we’ve outlined? Let us know below!

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