Tis the season for vigilance to drop off faster than the speed of sound. That's right it's August. The time of the year where managers and guards alike cash in, kick their feet up and put it on cruise control for the rest of the season.

Don't let this happen.

Becoming complacent can be a dangerous thing at an aquatic facility. Webster's defines being complacent as follows:
Main Entry: com•pla•cen•cy

Function: noun
Inflected Form(s): plural -cies
1 : self-satisfaction especially when accompanied by unawareness of actual dangers or deficiencies
2 : an instance of complacency

I believe #1 is where most aquatic staff does awry. By August, the staff has all the functions of a lifeguard or manager mastered. He or she has a doctorate in lifeguarding. There is nothing more they can learn about the profession, and everything is second nature to them.

You can calm down now because we all know there is always something that can be learned or improved upon. Unfortunately, management and your lifeguard staff may not know this. There's the old adage, you don't know what you don't know. So you need to educate them. You need to make them aware that the pool is just as dangerous now as it was in June. Then again they may know it is just as dangerous, but they are preoccupied. By what you ask? Well let's see what we are up against:

1. School is just around the corner-Regardless if they are in high school or college school is fast approaching. They are already preparing for it.

2. Fall extracurricular activities-This is a big one because these can also drain the energy from your guards. Whether they are in band, football, soccer, etc. They are being pushed mentally and physically. They will not be the same guards that you had in the beginning of the summer.

3. The calendar-It is August. They see the finish line. They are most likely counting the days.

4. They are burnt out- Your staff has endured the heat and sun and if you are like us in Cleveland they endured the cold, rain, cold rain some sun and some more cold and rain. I think it snowed one day too. I digress. Regardless the weather, your guards have taken some punishment. They are fine with that since they have an eye on that finish line but make no mistake they are not performing the way they once did.

5. Pool attendance has dropped-Usually around July 15 we see a huge decrease in pool usage. There are several reasons for this. The pool has lost its newness. You are 6-7 weeks into the season. It has become a "been there, done that" activity. Vacations seem to kick in the second half of the summer. The other reasons I listed above. Your patrons have kids and they are dealing with school and fall sports. There is too much on their plate and so the pool gets pushed to the wayside. This creates a boredom factor for your staff. Now that their bather load has been cut to a fraction of what it was guards think they have it on easy street.

Unfortunately, you have no control over the list above. You cannot control the weather, stop time, the arrival of school or what activities your staff participates in.

There is something you can do!

1. Make sure you and your management team are focused. This is the most important thing you can do. If your management team is getting lethargic, then so will the rest of the staff. It is just as important now for your management team to lead the charge. Sit down your team and talk to them about the remainder of the season. Impress upon them the importance of finishing strong. Focus on your successes to get them re-energized.

Now that you have the managers back on board you need to get after your lifeguard staff. Here are some tips:

1. Continue your in-services and audits. I hope you do these in the first place!! Do not slack off on these in August. If you start to let these things drop off then you are sending the wrong message. Try to be creative with your in-services. Inject some fun into your in-service and watch your staff react.

2. Talk to your staff about the pool being as dangerous now as it was in the beginning of the season. Then prove it. Designate a wall in your guard room and post articles on recent rescues and drowning. Show them that these things do not stop just because they are almost done for the season. Follow http://twitter.com/HastingsWtrWrks or http://twitter.com/aquaticsintl on Twitter and you will get all the current stories you will need. It is a real eye opener.

3. Money talks. I really feel it is important to have a bonus program. Our bonus program requires that guards work until their last day. The last day is whatever the guard themselves has designated. We require that they give us three weeks notice. That way they are committed to a certain day. We also require that they leave in good standing. No guard wants to jeopardize their bonus with a week or two left in the season. This will ensure they do not coast the last week or two.

Taking these steps will greatly improve your staff's performance in what can be the most grueling month of the season. The first step is you, yourself need to be on board. Mentally we want to be done training guards. We want to feel like we have taught them what they need to know and know it is up to them. This is a slippery slope. Resist the urge to coast to the finish line.

Less than 30 days to go! Finish Strong!

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Comment by Brandy Larsen on August 26, 2009 at 10:14am
Great ideas. I keep my pool open till late September, and each year it seems to get harder and harder to keep the guards from slacking off on their responsibilities. We of course keep our in-services going, but I don’t have a bonus system. That’s definitely something I can think about starting for the 2010 season.
Comment by Gary Thill on August 10, 2009 at 9:45am
Thanks for the awesome post Bob! Great advice and a timely reminder to all aquatics pros! Very well may save some lives!

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