OK – Time to vent here.  I’ve been in the industry for a few (about 12ish) years now and I have been to tons of conferences, seminars, retreats, and trainings and I keep hearing over and over again how hard it is to convince our patrons, our bosses, and the rest of the world that we (Lifeguards/Aquatics) are a profession. 

In this month’s Aquatics International Magazine on Pages 16 and 52 there are two pictures of lifeguards on the pool deck watching the water with their rescue tubes behind their head/back. 

I don’t know about anyone else but these images just make my blood boil.  I didn’t even read the article until later because I got a bad taste in my mouth in the first three seconds.  How are we as an industry still allowing this to happen?  All I can think when I see these pictures are “what would that guard do if they had to actually get into the water to make a rescue?”  We have been working for years to erase the image of the “carefree teenager” who is just getting a paycheck.  Yet industry publications like this and the AI website (that has a picture on the home page of a lifeguard that is wearing his hat all backwards and kicked to the side with his feet crossed) keep perpetrating this stereotype and some operators are still proving them right. 

In the “Watch the Watchers” article on page 53 one of the points is “Conduct lifeguard quick-checks.  These are quick observations and assessments of the lifeguards to ensure that they are rescue-ready.”  If I saw ONE of my 100+ year round guards on the stand with the rescue tube behind their back/head I would strongly say they are not “rescue ready.” 

When you look and act like a professional – you are a professional. Later they go on to say “While lifeguarding often is viewed as an entry level position, and performed by young adults, it should be treated with the same level of attention and seriousness of any emergency response professional.”  I have looked thru several of the recognized Lifeguard Training agencies manuals and couldn’t find this as an authorized way to carry your tube - ever. 

While I’m not sure if the authors of these article got to choose their own pictures someone made the choice that this is what a lifeguard “looks” like.   I use these images to train my staff exactly how NOT to look.  I posted these pictures in my break room and was amazed at how many responses I got from my staff. 

Look at this lifeguard from your patron’s point of view – do they portray someone that you would entrust your life too?  Look at this Lifeguard from your staff’s point of view – do you want them emulating this behavior?  Look at this Lifeguard from your boss’s point of view – does this Lifeguard deserve to be paid what they are worth? 

It all starts with a culture of excellence – you must act like a professional at all times.  Our industry will never get rid of this image if we as the industry allow this image to prevail.  Maybe it was a bad day, maybe these are really good kids, maybe that’s OK in your facility, or maybe the guards in the picture just look plain lazy and make the rest of us look bad.  If you were on the deck “Watching the Watchers” would you say something to this guard or just let this happen.  I once heard a speaker say “Face the facts – you’re either a lifeguard or your not.”  The most important thing you can do as an Aquatics Professional is fix what’s wrong.   

We ALL get lumped together in this field.  Remember this summer when there was a cloudy water tragedy in a pool on the East Coast?  I got calls for days clear across the country with questions about how this could happen.  

Images of unprofessional Lifeguards tarnish the standards for the rest of the organizations that are working hard to do it right and get the recognition this industry deserves. 

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I agree, Cody, this is unacceptable. It was the first thing I noticed about the article, also! We do need to work to change the image that lifeguarding is just an "easy tan" summer job. I do a staff training that attempts to instill the importance of image to my staff.

I start with having two lifeguards stand in front of all staff, one dressed professionaly wearing a uniform properly, and holding tube correctly, in a rescue ready position, the other altering the uniform every way imaginable, rolling sleeves/tying up sleeves, rolling shorts, hat backwards, swinging whistle, dragging tube, etc. Then I ask staff to point out all the differences they see. We start discussing whether they can still do the same job regardless of appearance, etc. Inevitiably, there will be a staff member (we'll call him Fred) that insists that they can do the same job, regardless of their appearance (although most staff argue the rescue ready position).

Next I toss out several Twinkies into the audience and ask them to smash the twinkies as much as possible without opening the packages. I then hold up the smashed twinkies, and I hold up a normal one, then I say since Fred participated in the discussion so much, he gets first choice of which Twinkie he wants. Fred will inevitably choose the "nice" Twinkie. I then ask him why, since they both contain the same ingredients, can "do the same job" why he would choose the "nice" one. His reasoning will just emphasize the point, that regardless of abilities/ingredients, customers will not be confident of staff ability to perform if they do not look professional.

Great idea Lisa! I'm going to have to steal that one. 

Thanks for starting this discussion, Cody. As the editor of Aquatics International, it's my responsibility to present accurate, professional information to the industry. I apologize for failing to do that with this article, and I'll endeavor to do better in the future. One way you and other professionals could help me is by sending me pictures of lifeguards in professional poses, or acting in a professional manner. One of the biggest challenges I have in putting together a monthly aquatics magazine is coming up with images to illustrate our articles. I have a very limited photo budget. So often we go to outside sources such as iStock, or even Flickr, which obviously isn't cutting it. Getting photos from professionals such as yourself would solve this problem. The one caveat is that they would have to be high quality, 300 dpi in order to be usable in the magazine. If you or anyone else would like to contact me further about this, please feel free to give me a call at 503-288-4402. Or email me at gthill@hanleywood.com.

Thanks again for doing your part to elevate the professionalism of the industry!

Maybe I'm really relaxed because I'm listening to a song by Bobby McFerrin, or maybe it is the increased fiber intake. The pictures didn't bother me. Certainly not to the point of blood boiling.


The pic used for "Watching the Watchers" on page 52 could very well have been intentionally showing the incorrect way to hold a tube. It could fit the article. So I don't see the reason for complaints. They both seem to be in front of shallow water. I know that doesn't make a big difference, but it may explain why the lifeguard appears more relaxed than you prefer. Either way, both guards seem to be watching the water. I'm just lucky if (in the rare instances that I have to lifeguard) the word "GUARD" is upright. When I grab a tube, I have a 50/50 chance - but get it wrong 90% of the time.


Photos posted to articles are often just used to give a little visual appeal & don't always have anything in particular to do with the story. It was also posted in an Aquatics Professional's magazine/site. My patrons don't subscribe. Even if they did see it, they don't know the correct, by the book, way to hold a tube. I've never received a complaint about how my lifeguards were holding the tubes.


But my patrons do notice my lifeguards. They notice if the lifeguard is paying attention & looks to be in a position to help. Those kind of things. Granted, our guards should look professional, but I don't think the photos warranted this much attention, much less criticism. And how "professional" our profession is is another discussion.


I'll agree that these photos don't go by the book. I also agree that they wouldn't be the best image of proper lifeguarding. But it was just one (maybe two) image(s). I would ask that we cut the authors some slack. I'm sure a discreet email would have been just as effective at getting them to make corrections as a complaint posted in the forum. I just don't see the big whoop - especially to get some so upset.


Now, if you'll excuse me...

I don't think I was that upset with Aquatics International, realizing they probably chose from stock photos available, as most magazines do. I will admit though, I believe there was more repsonsibility on the part of Aquatics International in this case, because they do represent our industry, and especially regarding the topics of the articles, to either use better pictures, or point out the flaws in the ones they use. I think my disappointment lies in the fact that the poses used in stock photos are not professional poses. That is what seems to me to pinpoint the problem, the profession not being viewed as professional. I realize that photographers that stage those shoots have no knowledge of the industry, but that is where we need to step up and change that image. Probably the best way to do that is to follow Gary's suggestion and help magazines like Aquatics International by sending them professional looking shots to use, then eventually, everyone whether they are in the industry or not, will start understanding what lifeguards should look like.

well said Lisa, I agree. :)


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