“You’re Either a Lifeguard or You’re Not!”

Ever teach a Lifeguard training class where on the first day when the youth jump in to do the prerequisite distance swim they look like a cat that fell in the water? I never cease to be amazed by the people that sign up for a Lifeguard class. Amazed that some are such mature and smart youth that are interested in a job that serves community and works around the water, and amazed that some think they want to do a job that they have absolutely no real knack for.

It has been suggest by many informal conversations with my peers that the average life expectancy of a part-time Lifeguard is approximately 1.8 years, or about two seasons. Don’t get me wrong there are many Lifeguards out there that have been working for many more years than this, but generally we hire a bunch and a few hang around for 4 or 5 years and even less of them work longer than that. I believe this is because you are either a Lifeguard or you are not. Our esteemed profession is not for everyone. Some young people “get it” right away, some never “get it” and a chosen few fall in love with it.

It is this last group, the “chosen few” that truly impress me. I have had the pleasure of training over 1,500 experienced lifeguards from over 50 agencies over the past year and the quality and commitment of these individuals is awe inspiring. When young people pay out of pocket to attend an advanced training programs on their day off it impresses me and makes me proud of our legacy as life savers. Almost anyone can be a Lifeguard, pass the class then find an agency that is having a hard time getting staff and away you go. But not everyone can be a good lifeguard and even less can stand the test of time. This summer take a minute to acknowledge and reward the ones that “get it” for they truly are the future of our great profession.

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Comment by Judy Morton on July 1, 2009 at 10:57am
Bravo Jim and Gary: I manage lifeguards and am constantly fighting for raises especially for those who are experienced and have additional skills. Yesterday one of them asked me what would happen when the minimum wage changed since he is making $7.25 now. My response was sad: "Everyone is supposed to get raises when this happens." He knows I can't guarantee this. Interestingly, the State of Kansas minimum goes up today. I'm really curious: there was an expended staff meeting yesterday. Can't wait to hear the results.

I often have guards with limited experience who expect to make $8.00 plus. Not going to happen in our facility. Part of the reason is that I am not going to pay a guard more than I make. I say that because I am more than a guard. I have additional responsibilities that require experience and maturity. My boss says he can't do without me. But he also can't seem to get me a raise. It's a very sad situation.

Fortunately I have additional employment that pays much, much more than Assistant Aquatics Manager. Without that I could not survive on what I make here.
Comment by Gary Thill on June 30, 2009 at 10:18am
Well said Jim! Committed lifeguards do deserve our utmost respect. I worry though that the industry doesn't give them the respect they deserve when it comes to pay. I've heard from many beach guard operators that they don't have trouble keeping and maintaining good staff because they pay so much better. They treat guards like the professionals they are. Until the pool and waterpark aquatic side accepts that notion, they will have to rely on guards who truly love what they do, despite how they are paid. Seems like would we would have more than a chosen few if that were the case.

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