I was looking for state laws regarding “Swim at Your Own Risk” signs for another blog when I ran across the following article: Lack of School Lifeguards Prompts Questions.
In particular, I was taken aback by a statement by San-Diego–based water safety consultant Alison Osinski when she said: “We’re asking them to do two jobs at once - teach and lifeguard - and that’s impossible,” With all due respect to Ms. Osinski and those who share this conventional wisdom, I strongly disagree.
While lifeguards in a lifeguard station scanning an area of responsibility certainly should perform no other duties, including, but not limited to, teaching lessons, the same is not true for swimming instructors and coaches. Instructors and coaches have a primary duty to supervise their group and account for their participants at all times. Although this is accomplished by course planning, assessment of participant ability, class organization and management, instructor positioning relative to the class, the use of safety equipment and accountability checks, etc., these tactics and others are as effective as scanning, if not more so when focused on the group appropriately and consistently. In the absence of lifeguard service, these methods can provide comprehensive and adequate supervision of the group. If lifeguards are also stationed, their supervision of the pool area is secondary to the supervision, control, and accountability provided by the instructor/coach.
If the group is too large to be supervised by one instructor/coach, money should be spent to provide additional instructors so the group can be divided to provide effective supervision before money is spent on a stationed lifeguard. While being beneficial, lifeguard services for instructional programs are secondary supervisors.
Every time aquatic experts point to the absence of a stationed lifeguard as the root-cause of a drowning during swimming instruction, they miss the main point that a swimming instructor or coach must be taught how to be an effective supervisor of their group at all times first and foremost.