Ins and Outs of Lifeguarding: Appreciating the Heroes in Red and White

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The “Ins and Outs” of Lifeguarding: Appreciating the Heroes in Red and White

By Kate Walter, Swimming World Intern.

Lifeguarding: the quintessential summer job. Perched on a stand towering over the water or seated at the guard office welcoming swimmers in. Most people are familiar with the masses that make up this ever-popular trade, but few realize what the work actually entails. Here’s a deep dive into the world of lifeguards and all they do to guarantee we can have fun in the sun.

Spick and Span: Pool Maintenance

“Something most people don’t know about lifeguarding is that most of the work you do isn’t actually watching over the pool; it’s taking out the trash, cleaning up tables and chairs, cleaning the bathrooms or giving people band aids and that sort of stuff,” says a lifeguard interviewed by SW. It’s time to leave the notion that all lifeguards do is get paid to tan at the door; or at the foot of the pool so to speak. While it may go unnoticed by a pool’s members, each morning the bathroom is magically tidied up, and the chairs and umbrellas are neatly aligned (at least if the guards are doing their job correctly). From cleaning the bathrooms, which one guard says is her least favorite task “if it’s especially dirty,” to scrubbing the tiles and brushing algae from the pool, lifeguards deserve more credit than they are given for keeping their environment spick and span. 

Lifeguard Life Lessons

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Photo Courtesy: Austin Kirk

Like any other job, lifeguarding can teach you important lessons and fundamental skills that you won’t be able to learn anywhere else. After all, in what other profession will you become a master toilet-scrubber and an expert communicator? “Lifeguarding has taught me how to better communicate with both kids and adults especially in situations where, for example, they could be doing something dangerous and don’t understand how they’re breaking the rules,” says a guard interviewed by SW. “I’ve also learned how to handle a position that requires lots of responsibility and authority which can be a lot to adjust to as a teenager.” Another guard speaks to the value of hard work: “I’ve learned that there’s a difference between just doing your job and doing MORE than your job. Those who do even a little bit more than they have to are always recognized and I’ve learned to always strive to do more than I have to. While lifeguarding may just be a summer job for some, the lessons imparted and the experiences had will stick with you for a lifetime. 

To read more about the benefits of lifeguarding, read this article.

Pros and Cons

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Photo Courtesy: NeONBRAND on Unsplash

My favorite part of lifeguarding is getting to work in an environment that I love- the pool!” It’s no secret that swimmers live and breathe chlorine, which is why lifeguarding is a dream come true for many! Other pros include working with friends and developing relationships with pool members. “My favorite part of being a guard is definitely when all of the kids during swim season come hang out with us in the guard office between their practices,” says one guard. “Seeing how much they look up to us is really inspiring. Another guard says her “favorite thing about lifeguarding is watching the little kids play and have fun because it reminds me of when I was a little kid at the pool.” Oh, to be a mermaid/merman again!

Despite the many perks that accompany the job, lifeguarding has its downsides as well. “My least favorite part is having to handle patrons who aren’t willing to cooperate with the rules. This is probably the most difficult part of the job because many don’t understand everything we do is for their safety and well being.” Another guard echoes this concern: ” My least favorite part is having to deal with belligerent patrons. I don’t think that they understand that everything we’re doing is for their safety and so the pool can run efficiently.”  Especially for guards who are on the younger side and may have friends who are members at the pool, it can be hard to be taken seriously when enforcing rules. The training to become a lifeguard can also be quite tedious as well; there are classes to take and tests to pass. 

To read more about the pros and cons of lifeguarding, read this article. 

Bay Watch? Not so much….

Sorry to break it to you, but lifeguards don’t always run in slow motion or have eight-packs like Zac Efron. TV shows and movies tend to glamorize the job. “Many times Hollywood always shows a romance aspect to the job. . . it always seems exaggerated and at the end of the day we just want to make sure everyone leaves the pool alive and well, so it’s best not to chat/ flirt with a lifeguard on duty,” says one guard. “Lifeguarding is nowhere near as extreme or dramatic as Bay Watch or shows/movies like that,” adds another. “Also, I never see lifeguards cleaning in movies.” So when Dwayne Johnson is shown scrubbing a toilet in Bay Watch 2, then we can talk. 

Even Olympians need a lifeguard

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Photo Courtesy:

One guard tells SW that “people rarely ever need to be saved. I’ve been a lifeguard for almost two years now and I’ve never had to save someone, and I think less than 10 people have had to be “saved” at my pool. Also, when someone needs to be saved they’re usually not actually drowning or dying, they just need a little help to get to the wall.” While this obviously differs from pool to pool, lifeguards must undergo CPR training and First Aid in case of an emergency. They may use these skills to varying degrees, based on the age and swimming ability of patrons, and various other factors. 

A New York Times article published during the 2016 Rio Olympics titled “Lifeguards at the Olympic Pool? ‘Yes, It’s Necessary’” underscores the necessity for lifeguards, even at the highest level of competition. “Yes, it’s necessary,” said Danielle Martelote, 25, the lifeguard supervisor at the Olympic Aquatics Stadium. She cited the possibilities of debilitating cramps, heart attacks and head-crunching crashes into the wall,” according to the NYT article. “It’s a one-in-a-million type of event, but we’re prepared,” said another guard.

So the next time you decide to roll your eyes while being told to stop running on the pool deck, or decide to overlook the seemingly endless supply of hand soap in the bathroom, take a moment to appreciate the unsung heroes in red and white who make it all possible.

-All commentaries are the opinion of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Swimming World Magazine nor its staff.

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