MIDDLEBURG — 1. At least two lifeguards, or one guard and a supervisor or other staff member (helper), to keep everyone out of the water while the guard takes a real break.
2. The guard gets a real break every 30 minutes.
3. The guard knows to change his point of view of the pool often, never staying in the same spot for too long. Staying in the same spot decreases his attention span.
4. Minimal distractions for the guard: No earbuds in his ears, no cellphones, no eating while watching the water. (Talking is OK and in fact keeps guards alert, but eyes always on the water.)
5. I ask the guard to show me his cellphone. If he can do so without standing up and walking inside to get it — he’s fired. I’ll watch my own kids, thanks. If you see your lifeguard texting while he or she is supposed to be watching the pool, you do not have a lifeguard on duty.
6. In larger pools, multiple guards should rotate chairs or positions every 15 minutes. Again, changing the view is better for the attention span.
7. The guard has constant access to water (dehydration effects brain function) and is protected from sun exposure as much as practical.
8. The guard on duty is experienced. The Red Cross age requirement to be a “certified lifeguard” is 15. Fifteen! Yes, they have to start sometime, but personally I am not prepared to make life-or-death thinking the sole responsibility of a 15-year-old, for their sake as much as anyone’s. They can work with and support a third-year veteran like Mike while they gain experience and actually see some distress vs. drowning scenarios first.
In the end — it really is about understanding the lifeguard’s job. They are there to prevent drowning. Drowning can happen in as little as 20 seconds, so a lifeguard’s primary job is to pay attention and think. They should be treated and managed and supervised in a way that supports that reality. They need breaks, they need no distraction, and they often need help — in addition to that Red Cross card they got two years ago.