I am a firm believer that a parent should also be watching their children while swimming and lifeguards are not a substitute for them to be watching.  I also expect my guards to get in the water for a rescue when needed.  Recently a parent jumped in to help her child and wanted the LG fired for not getting in the pool.  Upon review he did get up at the exact time, but never entered the water.  Does anyone have any experience talking with parents like this?  I don't want to just say, glad you watched your child.  Thanks!

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This is a common issue - both in pool and open water life guarding scenarios. I have been verbally abused on several occasions because a member of the public or parent reached a child before a lifeguard.

I always thank them (parent or public) and note we are grateful for their quick response. I then try to explain, politely, that our lifeguards pride themselves on their professionalism, however their job necessitates they watch everyone in the pool, which means they will not always be able to respond as quickly as a parent who is watching just one person in the pool - their child.

Also, as parents and the public are often in the water, while lifeguards are on the deck or a lifeguarding station, it stands to reason a member of the public will quite often be able to reach a person in difficultly before a lifeguard. They're simply closer.  

I might try to explain that thanks to a great deal of research on this topic, we now know it’s almost impossible for lifeguards to catch every incident immediately. There are a number of reasons for this, including environmental (e.g. the effects of glare, heat, noise) and cognitive (e.g. fatigue, task characteristics, high volume of information to interpret).

As a parent myself, I understand how emotional someone can get when they feel their child has been put in danger. Try to avoid being argumentative, as that will just inflame the issue (parents aren’t always rational when it comes to their children – myself included). Express gratitude, remain polite, explain the role of your lifeguards and the reasons parents and public will sometimes catch and respond to an incident before they do. 

Of course, I don't know the details of the situation you mention, so it's difficult to comment on that specifically - however, it seems you've reviewed the situation and determined the lifeguard wasn't negligent. 

I would take a step back and talk about layers of protection. Lifeguards are one of several layers of protection we put on pools (Rules, Personal Floatation Devices, Supervisors, etc.). We encourage active parent supervision as one of the most important layers (It's actually on our rules sheet in big bold letters on the top  "Parents supervise your children" then "No repetitive or competitive breath holding" and then "No Diving" as we are shallow water only, then the rest). Parents have more of an interest in their children's well being than a lifeguard does so they SHOULD be hyper vigilant about their kids in the water. It sounds like the guard was in process to respond but a parent hyped up on adrenaline beat your guard. While it doesn't look necessarily good in some ways it is a purely natural consequence of a parents emotional and physiological response to protect their children. Overall everything worked out good, the child was fine.

As a way to combat this though, we teach guards that even if a parent is beating them to a rescue, they still get in and approach. Then it is just, the lifeguard got beat by the parent, not the parent jumped in and the lifeguard did nothing. As a side note we encourage our guards to race each other (and frankly to talk smack) to situations. I even jump in and tell my staff that I'm going to beat them to a rescue, fully dressed. The thought is to build an atmosphere where the staff are literally chomping at the bit to jump in.

Bottom Line: The child was fine because a parent was protecting their child. Had the parent not been there the child still would have been fine as the guard was responding. This is the reason we have layers of protection and an example of two layers being directly viable (the guard and the parent). - Good Luck and keep positive.

Joe makes a good point. It's important to be seen to be acting. Even if a lifeguard knows a member of the public or parent will reach a swimmer in distress before them, and even if they realise that entering the pool may not expedite the rescue, it's important to demonstrate they have identified the situation and are responding. Remember, perception is reality. 

It's not a guarantee that  parents or members of the public will no longer take issue with your lifeguards in these situations - but as Joe mentions, it's a useful and prudent way to address these incidents. 


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