Separate Outstanding From Adequate

By Beth Morrow
Photos Courtesy of Dru Belli

When the time comes to hire a new aquatic director for your summer-camp program, or if you are seeking to groom current employees for promotion to an aquatic supervisory position, do you know what you’re looking for? Beyond a comprehensive knowledge of water-safety issues and a strong background in lifeguarding skills, what qualities separate outstanding aquatic director candidates from those who are merely adequate?

In addition to having the aforementioned knowledge, excellent directors consistently exhibit qualities that fall into seven broad categories. Observe candidates in these areas to see how they measure up.

1. Experience
Besides being the most obvious consideration in the choice for a new director, having experience as a lifeguard in a variety of locales and situations is an outstanding indicator of a candidate’s leadership potential. Candidates who hop from pool to pool without purpose or who have been let go by previous employers generally aren’t seeking a long-term experience in the aquatic field. But candidates who wish to gain experience through multiple opportunities are more likely to be interested in developing a meaningful working relationship in the field. Leaders don’t wait for opportunities; instead, they seek challenges.

2. Passion
Piggybacking on the component of experience, the passion an applicant brings is the second greatest indicator of success in a job. While not everyone shows his or her exuberance outwardly, careful observation can reveal an innate desire toward turning a lifeguard job into an aquatic career. Does the candidate enjoy the job for more than receiving a paycheck? Is there an interaction with campers, peers, and administrators from a genuine standpoint or a superficial one? Does the person clock out mentally, or is there an indication that he or she is willing to take the extra steps to ensure programs and routines flow smoothly?

3. Knowledge
Successful directors in any field have a wealth of skills that, when combined, can be called ”knowledge” but go beyond the typical definition. True, valuable knowledge is a combination of self-assuredness and common-sense behavior that come through when a person is faced with a variety of situations. It is the ability to share that knowledge in a confident, not condescending manner. A candidate’s presentation of knowledge is as important as the knowledge itself.

4. Work Ethic
This trait is easier to assess in a candidate who is already in an organization. If not, a phone call to the applicant’s previous employer can provide insight. Is the candidate punctual and prepared? Does the person often call off for vague reasons? Is this someone who can genuinely be counted on to do the job according to the standards campers and parents expect? Another facet to consider is whether the candidate has an honest work ethic, meaning he or she will not be easily swayed when other employees choose behaviors counterproductive to their duties.

5. Maturity
Maturity is the ability to treat every person and every situation with an open-minded fairness. While immaturity involves selfish behaviors, maturity is the culmination of self-awareness and expectation. While maturity may not be as important a quality to observe in older candidates, it should be a significant consideration in younger ones. Being able to trust an aquatic program to someone mature enough to handle the responsibility is a crucial consideration in the hiring process. Without it, time will be wasted in work that needs to be re-done or delegated to another person.

6. Trainability
Transitioning from the role of a lifeguard to that of an aquatic director requires a real growth in skills and abilities. Is the candidate open to learning and putting in the time and energy required to understand the necessary roles? Is education something he or she seeks for improvement or simply done for the sake of meeting requirements? Does the candidate ask quality questions that show an ability to think in broader ways?

7. Attitude
Attitude can’t be taught or professionally developed, but it can make or break a candidate in terms of what he or she can add to a program. Maintaining a positive attitude under pressure is important, as is the ability to remain flexible in the face of change, whether to routine, schedule, or expectation. And remaining responsible to one’s duties with which the person has been entrusted despite a variety of changes is the hallmark of a quality candidate.

Running an effective aquatic program is full of complex and demanding tasks, but choosing an outstanding director shouldn’t be. Spend some time observing these qualities to see what sets the top-level performers apart from the mediocre contenders.

Beth Morrow is a freelancer, educator, and summer-camp program director for CampHamwi, a residential camp for teens with diabetes. Contact her at