Just Add Water

By Erin Policinski
Photo Courtesy Of Scott Paulus

Any camp director can hire staff members and then provide lifeguard-, boating-, and swim-instruction certification prior to the start of the summer season. However, there are certain drawbacks to staffing a waterfront with newly certified staff members.

Questions may arise as to their preparedness:

• Will they be ready to respond in an emergency?

• Having had little actual practice, will they be able to successfully instruct the camp’s specific swimming/boating curriculum?

• Will they be able to adapt to the individual camp’s waterfront if they learned their skills through a course at another facility?

• Can skills learned in an indoor pool translate easily to an open body of water?

To combat these challenges, camp directors may consider implementing a waterfront staff-in-training program as part of the regular programming for older teens. In this way, camp directors are able to grow a staff that is not only familiar with the camp’s waterfront, but also well-versed in the unique programs the camp offers.

An additional benefit is the ability to engage a camper population whose participation may be declining. Not only does this type of program offer specific skills, but it offers campers a concrete step in becoming part of the “oh-so-cool” camp staff.

So what does a waterfront staff-in-training program look like?

At its core, it is similar to a counselor-in-training program. At the beginning, focus on familiarizing campers with what it means to be a member of the waterfront staff and skills certification. Bring in instructors from a certified organization (e.g., the American Red Cross) to certify campers in lifeguarding, water-safety instruction, boating, etc.

In an ideal situation, a staff member would also be a certified instructor for each waterfront skill to be taught to future waterfront staff.

With the program spanning several weeks, there will be enough time to cover the course curriculum. This gives participants the opportunity to fully understand the material, as opposed to feeling pressured to “hurry up and finish” the course in three days or a week. It also gives campers the opportunity to practice skills and ask questions until they feel comfortable.

Once campers are certified or trained, it is time to learn how to put the new skills into action—and most importantly—how to apply those skills at your camp. While training should include a general overview of how to teach swim lessons (because not all campers may stay to work at your camp), campers will learn why things are done a specific way at this camp, especially in adapting to the unique conditions at the waterfront.

In the final part of the training program, campers can shadow current staff members in these aquatic positions. Campers can also serve as assistants to the camp staff and—when appropriate—step up and implement the skills they have developed.

For example, a camper may, under the guidance and supervision of camp staff, teach the J stroke to a group going canoeing for the first time. There is no better way to become confident in one’s ability than by teaching that skill.

Another element to be included in a waterfront staff-in-training program is giving campers an understanding of what it takes to apply for, interview for, and accept a waterfront position at a camp. With the cooperation of the camp director or other administrative staff, the camper can follow the camp’s actual hiring practices as much as possible.

This exercise gives campers the ability to practice skills that are not necessarily essential to their being quality waterfront staff, but are just as important for their growth.

While camps may not hire every camper who participates in a waterfront staff-in-training program, opportunities are provided to familiarize current campers with aquatic policies and procedures, thus leading to safer and higher-quality waterfront programs.

Erin Policinski is the Aquatics Coordinator at the Monroe County YMCA in Bloomington, Ind. Reach her at (812) 961-2178.