Lifeguard Competitions: An Effective Motivational Tool

Lifeguard competition has been proven to be a very effective motivational tool, as well as the basis for developing a seasonal or year-round lifeguard in-service training program.

by Gerald M. Dworkin
Printed in April 1986 Parks & Recreation

LIFEGUARDS! Man Your Buoys! (Bang!!) At the sound of the gun, six lifeguards (four men and two women) jump into the water with red rescue buoys in their hands. As the lifeguards swim toward the six struggling victims 25 yards away, their rescue buoys trail along behind them. As contact is made with the drowning victims, the lifeguards talk to them and then tow them back to safety toward the shallow end of the swimming pool.

While all this is going on, the bleachers, stands, and pool deck are filled with excited and cheering spectators, team mates, coaches, and more victims. This scene is typical of the activity and enthusiasm normally observed at a lifeguard competition.

Each year, approximately 300,000 individuals are trained in the United States in lifesaving or lifeguarding courses conducted through such training organizations as the American Red Cross, the YMCA, and the Boy Scouts of America. Many of these individuals go on to become lifeguards during the summer, or throughout the year, at either public, semi-public, or private aquatic facilities.

As recreation professionals, many of us are responsible for the recruitment, training, hiring, and supervision of lifeguards. Although the agencies listed above do a fine job in the development and administration of instructional programs to train lifesavers and lifeguards, the recreation professional is still faced with the responsibility of providing state-of-the-art in-service training to his/her lifeguards which is appropriate for the specific facilities in which the lifeguards will be working. In addition, the recreation professional is also faced with the responsibility of keeping the lifeguards highly motivated and skilled throughout the aquatic season, regardless of whether the facility is open during the summer season only or throughout the year.

One activity that is available to the recreation professional is the participation in or sponsorship of a community lifeguard competition for his/her lifeguards to be held at the end of the season. This type of activity has been proven to be a very effective motivational tool, as well as the basis for developing a seasonal or year-round lifeguard in-service training program.

Communities and municipalities are encouraged to sponsor local or regional competitions for the aquatic facilities within specifically designated geographical areas (city, county, state, multiple jurisdictions). Team events, rather than individual events, are encouraged as they produce the ultimate test and evaluation of an aquatic facility’s ability to provide good, effective lifeguard services. Parks and recreation departments, community swimming pools, country clubs, YMCA’s, American Red Cross chapters, and swimming pool service companies are all appropriate agencies and organizations to promote and recruit teams as well as to sponsor or co-sponsor this type of activity.

The benefits of participating in lifeguard competitions l are numerous. The lifeguards benefit from the opportunity to train and compete as a team, much the same as they would have to respond in a real aquatic or medical emergency. The aquatic facility benefits by having well-trained, skilled, and motivated lifeguards as a result of the ongoing in-service training program which would be implemented throughout the season in preparation for the competition. And the public benefits because of the competent lifeguard supervision which is provided as a result of the training and motivational activities. Even the lifesaving and lifeguard training agencies (Red Cross, YMCA, and Boy Scouts) can benefit because of the increased public relations and public interest in their programs due to the media coverage and enthusiasm generated as a result of the competitions.

Lifesaving Resources, an independent consulting company, recommends that all lifeguards be certified in the areas of lifesaving, cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR), and first aid. The lifeguard competition events should include a large selection of the skills which are included within these course curriculums. All events should include as much objectivity (timed events) in the judging as possible, in order to eliminate the human error factor inherent in subjective judging. For this reason, we encourage the use of timed events in conjunction with expert judging.

Lifesaving Resources has conducted many lifeguard competitions for over ten years using both timed events and human judging components. Judges have been recruited from one of each of the training agencies. Timers have been recruited from the competition spectators or have been preselected prior to the competition itself. At least one judge per lane is required and at least two timers per lane are recommended.

Six basic lifesaving events are recommended which are designed to evaluate the lifeguard team’s ability to handle most common aquatic emergencies, other than spinal cord related or diving related emergencies. These events are titled: Rescue Buoy Relay; Ring Buoy Relay; Lifesaving Carry Relay; Object Recovery Relay; Team Assist Rescue and Water Resuscitation Rescue.

The first four events listed require a rotation of four lifeguards from each team, while the last two events require two lifeguards from each team. Each event is evaluated against the clock with additional time added on for penalties resulting from incorrect technique or pro cedure. Gross infractions of the rules would result in disqualification from a particular event.

Municipal, county, and multiple jurisdictional competitions have been conducted in Westchester County, New York and in Houston, Texas. The competitions in Westchester County, New York have been held annually for the past 15 years and have been conducted cooperatively between the Westchester County Chapter of the American Red Cross and the Westchester County Parks and Recreation Department. The competitions in Houston, Texas have been conducted for the past three years and have been sponsored by the Greater Houston Area Chapter of the American Red Cross in cooperation with the Houston Chapter of the National Spa and Pool Institute (NSPI). In August 1985, the Greater Houston Area Chapter of the American Red Cross, in cooperation with the Centex Chapter of the Red Cross and the University of Texas, conducted the first State of Texas Open Lifeguard Competition. These competitions have been primarily designed for swimming pool lifeguards. The United States Lifesaving Association (USLA) has conducted similar competitions, for many years, for open water and surf lifeguards.

There is no better way to build the teamwork, enthusiasm, and skills needed by lifeguards to make their jobs both rewarding and fun and still provide the safest and most effective lifeguarding service possible to the patrons who use their facilities.

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