Instructor reviewing primary assessment with lifeguards. (Photo(s) credits: Carol Berendsen, Emily Plurkowski, Mills College)

As we move closer to summer, it’s time to energize the winter staff and get them working as a well-oiled lifeguarding machine. There are several dry land skills that every lifeguard should be proficient at before transitioning into the water. This article focuses on important dryland skills.

We’ve all seen it: a lifeguard stops providing care to put their gloves on. They take their time making sure each finger fits just right while precious seconds tick away. Remind your lifeguards that the goal is not to be slow and methodical; the goal is to be quick, safe and professional. Achieving these goals takes practice. Even though gloving up is a simple task, it is fiendishly hard when it is a timed activity.

GLOVING UP PROGRESSION DRILL: Start with all lifeguards lined up holding a pair of gloves. Have several boxes of gloves available. OBJECTIVE: Each lifeguard must get gloves on, with hands in the air. TIMING GOAL: 10-15 seconds to complete the objective.

Go through the drill until all lifeguards have passed within the allotted time. Then repeat the drill one more time. This is to verify that team progression is occurring. Then reduce the allotted time to 10 seconds.  If gloves become compromised (too much sweating or tearing) get another set. Gloves are not expensive and should be used.

Your staff will quickly realize that snug gloves don’t allow for the quickest response. Provide large and extra-large gloves for this drill.

Taking gloves off and prepping to repeat the drill should take about 10-15seconds; rapid repetition is the key to this drill. Watch that guards properly remove their gloves so that skill is reinforced.

Emphasize that this is training, and in training you’re allowed to make mistakes. That’s why we train, so that in real incidents we are less likely to make mistakes. 

Lifeguards should be proficient with gloving up in 10 seconds before moving to the variations.

Gloving Up Progression Variations:

  • Add fanny packs with gloves stored inside. Fanny packs should be worn in the correct position as if one were lifeguarding. (Complete within 15 seconds)
  • Glove up progression in the water with wet gloves (20 seconds, then reduce to 15 seconds)

Gloving up progression drill variation done in the water with wet gloves

The following variations will be done in pairs. One lifeguard covers the eyes of the lifeguard doing the drill. Drills will thus be done blindfolded:

  • Glove up (15 seconds)
  • Use fanny pack and glove up (20 seconds)
  • Glove up in the water (20 seconds)
  • Use fanny pack and glove up in the water (20 seconds)

Challenge your lifeguards by having them gloving up with wet gloves and blindfolded.

Before moving onto the next drill, review the following skills:

  • Carotid Pulse Check (pulse check is done on the same side as the rescuer)
  • Rescuer Position to the victim, both lateral and cephalic (important for pocket mask use)
  • Head-Tilt/Chin-Lift and Jaw-Thrust with head extension

Three to five minutes should be spent on this review, at most, since there will be the opportunity to utilize these skills in the next drill.

PRIMARY ASSESSMENT PROGRESSION DRILLS: Position manikins to allow a lifeguard team to work effectively together around the manikin. Teams should consist of 2-4 lifeguards (similar to staffing levels during lap swim, recreation swim, or swim lessons). Fanny packs should be worn in the correct position and stocked with gloves and a pocket mask. NOTE: This drill assumes the victim is dry and found on land.

OBJECTIVE: Complete the following skills:

  • all lifeguards with gloves on
  • check for responsiveness
  • activate EMS
  • look, listen and feel for breathing with a pulse check for 10 seconds

TIMING GOAL: 20 seconds to complete the objective.

Lifeguard teams should start at the same time, 10-20 feet away from the manikins. Once all the teams have accomplished the objective within 20 seconds, add two more skills to the progression objective:

  • Pocket mask assembled with one-way valve and ready to use
  • Rescuers in position to provide care: rescue breathing

The timing goal remains 20 seconds. Once all the teams have accomplished the objective have lifeguards rotate positions and repeat. Only rotate when all lifeguard teams have met the objective at the same time. After all lifeguards have played all roles, move into the variations.

Primary Assessment Progression Variations:

  • Rescuers in position to provide  additional care: rescue breathing and CPR (complete in 20 seconds)
  • Rescuers in position to provide additional care: rescue breathing with BVM use (25 seconds)
  • Rescuers in position to provide additional care: CPR with BVM use (25 seconds)
  • Staggered arrival of the lifeguard team: Primary lifeguard arrives, 5 seconds later secondary lifeguards arrive (20 seconds)
  • Staggered arrival of the lifeguard team: Primary lifeguard arrives; secondary lifeguards arrive after EMS has been activated. Secondary lifeguard simulates what they’d say to 9-1-1. (20 seconds)
  • Repeat initial drill and reduce timing goal to 15 seconds

Important note: Count out loud for all of the drills to establish the cadence and speed that the individual/team needs to work. Verbal counting allows you to change the tempo, make adjustments as needed, and enhances your presence with the staff. Speed up your cadence as you near the end of a drill to build urgency, slow it down if staff experience unanticipated difficulties.

Assembly line configuration allows the instructor to have access and view all the staff participating in the drill


The most important goal for all drills is to meet the objective. People have their own way of putting on gloves or stocking their fanny packs. Remember, being too technical kills creativity, flexibility, adaptability, leadership, and teamwork; all traits that will be needed during an aquatic incident.



Back to Basics 1-Hour Training Curriculum (12 lifeguards)

Briefing: 5 minutes

Gloving up Progression Drill: 15 minutes total

  • 15 second count: 6 minutes
  • 10 second count: 4 minutes
  • Dry land blindfolded: 5 minutes

Skill review: 5 minutes

Primary Assessment Progression Drill: 25 minutes total

  • Progression 4 skills: 10 minutes
  • Progression 6 skills: 5 minutes
  • Rescue Breathing and CPR: 5 minutes
  • Staggered arrival: 5 minutes

Debrief/Break-down: 10 minutes


 Feel free to contact me at, if you have any questions.


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Comment by Algreatus "Gator" Batton on February 19, 2013 at 12:08pm

Looks like a have a new drill for our quarterly in-service in March!

Comment by Emerson Yellen on February 14, 2013 at 10:11pm

Pete came and ran an in-service training at our facility this past month. I have to say I was a bit nervous just knowing the personality of my young guards and how intense Pete can be. It was amazing! The staff loved it and Pete was fantastic! The skills he covered were practical, day-to-day skills (taking on and off gloves) and well as emergency skills (BVMs and in-water ventilation) and presented in a interesting way. He had everyone's attention from beginning to end. Some of the staff who were working and had to go our second in-service that we offer the next day (that Pete was not doing) were even quite jealous. Pete even took time afterwards to speak with me about how to run a similar, high-intensity in-service. I cannot thank Pete enough for his time and would strongly encourage anyone with the opportunity, to have him come to your facility. Thanks again, Pete!

Comment by Traci Farris on January 28, 2013 at 3:52pm

I attended a NCAMA workshop last week and Pete presented Back to Basics to a group of approximately 50 people.  I loved the training and will definitely incorporate his ideas into my in-service trainings this summer. I would highly recommend this training!

Comment by Jim Wheeler on January 27, 2013 at 9:01am

Another great blog Pete, Back to Basics has always had a place in my heart.

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