5 Ways to Understand Where a Lifeguard is Coming From

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

I teach lessons at a pool that is particularly tough on swim safety rules. There are a lot things you cannot do, such as running and jumping into the water or swimming with noodles. Parental supervision rules are complex and pool freedom is broken down by age and ability; it often reads like a law book.

To a newcomer, at a pool like this you might be feeling like you signed up for the wrong place. Who in the world wants the welcoming wagon to be some 17-year old boy telling you what you cannot do in the pool while looking down at you from his vintage white-rimmed Ray-Bans? But you know what … I get it. The longer I teach and the more drowning data and stories I come across, the more I realize it is absolutely important to be super-conservative around a body of water at all times. From a kiddie pool to a river stream, put safety first.

I know lifeguards can look dopey and young.  But if they aren’t giving you slack about something be worried: The tougher the pool policies are, the better trained the lifeguard staff is. And the safer your family will be. Here’s 5 ways to understand where a lifeguard is coming from.

  • They don’t want to tell you what to do, but they are forced to. It takes TONS of courage for a teenager to come over and ask you or your child to stop doing something. They are only doing it because their job is on the line if they don’t. If an accident happens, their response behavior will be reviewed. If they are found negligent, depending on the severity of the accident they can be fired, and the person who certified them is also held accountable, along with the pool manager. It’s a chain of people that take the fall.
  • They cannot take your word for it if they don’t know you. When it comes to swimming, parents constantly over-estimate their child’s cognitive abilities and under-estimate their physical abilities. Those are the Academy of Pediatrician’s words. Until you get to know the lifeguards on duty — meaning chit-chat, letting them see how your kids swim — they are not going to take your word for it about your kid’s awesome swim ability.
  • They only have one set of eyes. Eyes that must scan the entire pool constantly, watching dozens of pool bodies and trying to see below or beyond the splashing. Drownings occur all the time in pools that are under capacity and  fully staffed with seasoned professionals. It’s a stressful job to be accountable for all this as well as what you cannot see.
  • Their life could be changed forever if something bad happens. I don’t even want to “go there” with how I know a few former colleagues feel about having lost a life while on duty. When I was a lifeguard, an older gentleman had a heart attack at the pool I was guarding. He lived, but I will never, ever forgot how terrifying that was. And I will always feel proud about the time I performed a double-rescue with two kids clinging to one another underwater.
  • They are putting themselves on the line to save your life. Every day they come to work they know today could be the day they might have to use CPR. If something bad happens, all eyes are on them to fix the problem. Which is why a lifeguard dedicates so much time to prevention or enforcing safety rules — so they won’t have a problem to fix.

New Safety Rule: “When in Doubt, Sit it Out”

Monday, June 7, 2010

A few weeks back I made a predication about several swim stories that would be hitting the media this summer. One of them was about a focus on safety, which I turned out to be right about because a national swim safety campaign has just launched.

And now I’m right about another summer swim story that has hit the newsstands: A recent drowning. And there’s nothing to be smug about when you’re right on something like this.

An 11 year-old girl was swept away into the Pittsburg Marina on Saturday, which is located in the San Francisco Bay Area. These are rough sea waters. She slipped off a jetty rock in a county park and her body was found the next day about 50 yards from where she fell. She did not know how to swim. She was attending a birthday party.

I did a search for 11 year-old drownings and I came across some very surprising, sad — and preventable — drowning stories. An 11 year-old drowns taking a pool cover off. An 11 year-old drowns while babysitter was making a snack inside. An 11 year-old drowns with three seasoned lifeguards on duty. In some of these stories, the kids could swim. In some of these stories, they were warned to be careful.

It just goes to show you no one is drown proof. It’s time for me to re-think a question I like to throw back to parents when they inquire how soon they think their child will be pool safe: When you’re ready to drop them off at a pool party with limited adult supervision, then you know they’re pool safe.

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The Red Cross has several self-explanitory and easy to remember phrases about swim safety. For example: Reach or Throw, But Don’t Go. And: Think Before You Sink. I have one to add: When in Doubt, Sit it Out.

This is really one for the parents or guardian, but a lifeguard can use it too. The objective is for the person in charge to use their judgment skills and erring on the side of conservative (or safety), to make a child sit it out around a body of water if they don’t feel or know if their swim skills are strong enough.

Yes, it sucks to go to a pool party and have the mamma in charge make you sit while the rest of your friends swim. And it seems rather controlling for a parent to never let their child be alone around water. Yet all of these situations draw attention to the fact everyone needs to learn how to swim and pool safety should always be the number one priority. It might be embarrassing. People will take it personal. And they should — they just take it personal in the wrong way. Because I’ve seen it cause pointless drama over and over again between lifeguards just doing their job and the parents who put the need for freewill over safety rules. Being benched at a birthday party near a body of open water  because you cannot swim isn’t fun, but it keeps you alive.

Best Summer Swim Products!

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Like the rest of the world, I’ve bought into my fair share of a hope-in-a-jar and expensive swimsuits that promised I’d do the freestyle faster. Here’s a quick roundup on what works:

Target brand’s Up & Up Sport Sunscreen Continuous Spray (SPF 30). Don’t take my word for it — take Consumer Reports. In their July 2010 issue they labeled this spray sunscreen the best based on UVB and UVA protection plus its ability to stay on after water. I don’t particularly care for sprays because they feel oily and weird.  Banana Boat tested well, too.

San Diego Hat Company. A variety of cute and well-made hats with wide brims and able to take on water wear. However, the straw-made ones tend to loose their shape when wet.

Inexpensive SPF face moisturizers. I take a lot of my hair care advice from consumer advocate Paula Begoun. She loves to demystify expensive products. These products are as good as the expensive ones: Aveeno Radiant Skin Daily Moisturizer (SPF 15); Beauty Without Cruelty SPF 15 Daily Face Lotion; Cetaphil Dailt Face Moisturizer SPF 15; and just about every Oil of Oly product that has SPF 15 in it.

Inexpensive shampoos. Remember with hair: It’s dead so it cannot be ‘revived’ or the ends ‘healed.’ And the only thing that makes those so-called chlorine-stripping shampoos special is chelating agents found in all these shampoos: L’Oreal Vive Nature’s Therapy; White Rain Extra Body; and Pantene. Step it up a bit in cost to: Kiehl’s, KMS, Jason Organics and ISO.

Best inexpensive hair line. I swear by Neutrogena Triple Moisturizer found at Target. Get the shampoo, conditioner and leave-in stuff if you can find it. Before you get in the pool, wet your hair and run a dab of the leave-in through your locks.

Dolpin “Uglies” Swimsuits. Made from 100% polyester. I wore mine an average 4 days a week and it lasted about a year before the colors really started to get dull. Very inexpensive with a variety of wild styles. I suggest buying from Swimoutlet.com as I find their prices are about 20% cheaper than elsewhere. Very true to size — I’m thin and a small was too small.

Do you have a product to add? Or a question about a particular one on the market? Post your questions here and I will answer!

8 Important Questions You’re Not Asking Your Instructor

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Got lessons going on this summer? So you’ve figured out class times, pool location and the parking situation. After navigating your child successfully through swarms of families at the facilities, you’re able to drop the kid off to where (and which teacher) he/she is supposed to be with. And when it is finally all over, you’ve got to round up the little one , dry off, change wet clothes and probably go pick up another one or get dinner started (maybe both). It’s easy to forget about the 8 key questions you need to ask your  instructor about swim lessons:

What swim skills can my kid work on? Listen for key words like straight kicks, back floating, big arms. If your teacher says they need to work on coming up for air, that means your child definitely needs you close in the water for assistance. By focusing on what they need to work on, this is as close of a question and answer you can get to figuring out when your kid will be swimming on their own.

Can you recommend a good pair of goggles? Goggles can be incredibly inexpensive, like around $4, but not work right. And they can be very expensive,as high as $20 and still not work right. You want to find out what kind of eye size and materials work best for your child’s face, and a teacher knows. A good pair of goggles is priced right in the middle and usually made by Speedo.

Can I leave the pool area? Some teachers love that question and nod their head vigorously in agreement. It sounds harsh, but this is what you want to do for a whining child that won’t listen to your warnings to stop. With lifeguards on duty, this might be a good time to make some calls or get in a little time for yourself.

Is my child behaving in group class? Tell the teacher it’s okay to be honest. If you don’t like the answer, in my opinion hang close to the next class and step in before the teacher does when they are acting up. You don’t want the teacher to use your child’s valuable turn or time disciplining instead of swimming.

Is my child learning about pool safety? There’s a national push right now to educate families and industry professionals about the importance of doing the little safety things around a pool and spa. Make sure you are both understanding the big picture.

Will you be teaching the next group session? The objective is to try and follow the instructor you like and to stay away from the ones you don’t. Trusting (or disliking) a teacher can really impact a child’s swim progress.

Do you teach private lessons? This is in case you feel your child needs more one-on-one attention. Maybe privates are the instructor’s specialty. Maybe you can cut the cost down by adding just one student/friend to make it a semi-private. Perhaps there is even a time to come for a lesson that works even better for your schedule. Just ask.

Do you teach lessons year-round or anywhere else? This is a great question if you are fishing around to see if the instructor might want to come teach at a different pool — specifically one located in your backyard or a neighbor’s. It might not be policy or the best move for the instructor to blatantly take your number (a.k.a business) in front of co-workers or pool managers. Let them navigate you through the hint.

10 Ways to Increase Your Summer Swim Business

Friday, May 28, 2010

Boy, I don’t know what’s been worse this season: the economy or the weather. Swimming is now both a temperature-contingent activity and a cost-contingent one, too.

I’ve dolled out advice for parents seeking to stretch those recreational summer dollars, but this entry is for all you swim instructors with a side or home-based swim business. All of these ideas do not cost a lot of money or have liability issues. Here’s 10 ways to drum up more summer swim business.

#1: Call up your past clientele. I’ve never called up a client/family that hasn’t been happy to hear from me. If they don’t want lessons, I bet they know at least one person who does.

#2: Volunteer at school-related events. Now more than ever communities are trying to raise money for schools, and events naturally follow. Have a sign on your ride at a Bike-a-thon.  Pass out swim caps (very inexpensive when ordered in bulk) with your swim business on them at an art fair.

#3: Donate your services at an auction. I went to the Marin Builder’s Association crab feed a couple months back and ran into a swim family of mine. The big to-do of the night was an auction and tickets were about $5 each. During the auction, I was thinking how cool it would have been to donate free swim lessons. I know one family that would have bid on them!

#4: Hello! Social networking on Facebook and the like. Post your business on a social-based network. Start a Tweet account for daily pool updates. Do an email blast. Create an account for your local mother’s club website. I just read a study how 83% of people first go to the interest to check out a business.

#5: Strategically-placed fliers. One parent recommended a good way to get my swim clientele would be to give a bunch of fliers to the elementary schools. Some schools do a “Friday Flier” kind of thing and all kids go home with a bunch of fliers.

#6: Become an expert source. If you join a website like HARO (Helping a Journalist Out), you receive a daily email with a list of articles writers need sources for. I’ve been offering myself as an expert to any summer-related queries in a quick and easy email to the writer. If a writer does contact you, they  interview you and print your info, like a website or where you work.

#7: Piggy-back on bigger names or businesses. I won’t suggest starting your own blog unless you plan to grow it (and become my competitor). If you work for a community center, club or private business, and they have a website, ask the IT or web administrator to include a swim lesson page and bio on you. It’s a win-win for both.

#8: Stick your business card on houses that have pools. Hey, I get tree-service guys doing this all the time because we have a huge redwood in the back. How can you tell a house has a pool? I take walks in neighborhoods and on trails that have big hills so I can spy down on my town.

#9: Follow that pool-man. And stick business cards in the mail box. It might not hurt to going into your local pool store and ask if you can leave business cards.

#10: Get business cards. If you don’t have them, they are free at VistaPrint.com (okay — you’ll pay under $6 for shipping. I’ve used this service many times and it takes about 10 minutes to design a professional card). Have all your info and title. Always have them on you. That means keep them in a plastic bag on the side of the pool when you are in the water. Heck — laminate them.

Group Lessons Breed Multitasking, Yet Multitasking Doesn’t Work

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Photo courtesy of mbgrigbyI’ve suggested many times group lessons are a great way to save money when revising your swim budget. By increasing the class ratio, you decrease swim costs. My advice doesn’t change, nor does my side note about group lessons delivering results for the adjusted, not the fearful.

Up until recently, I wished I was a better group lessons teacher. I’d take on group lesson classes time and time again just to try to increase my teaching abilities in quantity situations. My conclusion? I’m personally throwing in the towel on group environments that equate to over 2 kids. There are two major reasons as to why: One, because I develop guilt-based stress for knowing I’m not delivering the goods or swim skills for the money;  and two, because it is proven multitasking doesn’t work.

In fact, this multitasking article in New York Times shows that is can take a person 15 whole minutes to refocus after an interruption.

I don’t think I need to paint the picture of a 6-to-1 (students to teacher) ratio with a bunch of 4 to 5-year olds in a beginner’s swim class. Someone is crying, someone is climbing out; someone else has just jumped off the pool stairs without permission and another has to use the bathroom. There’s another kid underwater not listening. The one quite child left needs help with his goggles. I love children, but you get what I’m saying. And you’re paying for all of this. Even when the kids by some miracle are all on the same page, the nature of swimming still equates to one turn at a time. Divide your ratio by the time in the class and tell me how many turns that is.

But wait — there’s the distraction of teacher multitasking to configure into that number. A good estimate  to account for the interruptions multitasking breeds is to take away a full turn. I’m a freak like this because it’s not a soccer field, its a dangerous body of water and your kids must learn how to be safe.

I’ve broached this subject a few times, but here’s a new way to look at it. Let’s say you have 1/2 hour class or swim time. Assuming you have a focused and competent teacher, here’s how a half hour lesson  looks in a private one-on-one versus a group lesson:

Private one-on-one lesson. In a 1/2 hour, depending on skill level, your child should be able to: submerge face under water dozens of times; practice climbing out of a pool dozens of times; demonstrate holding onto pool edge; make numerous trips around shallow end with teacher assisted or unassisted; practice jumping off side with or without assistance; display and receive technical advise on kicking, arm circles; blow bubbles endlessly; learn a new safety skill; review all the above; be able to play a few minutes with pool toys. And they develop a stronger bond with their teacher and better pool behavior.

Group lesson 6:1 ratio. In a 1/2 hour, depending on skill level, your child should be able to: submerge face about 3 times or watch how it is done; practice climbing out of pool 1-2 times; jump 1-2 times or watch how it is done; swim or receive teacher assistance a short distance 3-4 times (teacher cannot leave students alone too long); kick at stairs with some advice; show arm circles; display or watch bubbles; maybe learn a safety skill if attention is present; and no time for toys as their aren’t enough and are too much of a distraction.They cannot remember their teacher’s name and they might have been cold and/or acting silly between turns.

So you see the major differences are  performing the actual skill a lot, or a limited time, or not at all. No matter the skill level, all kids are under the same fair equation or “6 divided by 1 minus multitasking = My Turn” formula. With a wary or nervous child, there is just not enough time or focus in a turn for the teacher to both develop the trust needed to convince them to perform and then actually get them to do it correctly and well. And for the perfectly adjusted child, their potential is held back by the lowest-skilled kid, as a teacher cannot create an unsafe environment by moving too far from the herd. Singular attention breeds results. Numbers breed multitasking and multitasking doesn’t deliver.

National Swim Safety Campaign Launches Today

Monday, May 24, 2010

Today marks the kick-off for a national pool and spa safety campaign brought to you by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) or PoolSafely.com. (Not a typo — it is pool “safely” as opposed to “safety.” I asked).

It is a first-of-its-kind nationally addressed approach to sparking a conversation about swim safety education with families, pool operators and industry professionals. Much of the focus is on pool and spa entrapment, but I see this wrapped up in a major message about preventative measures using key phrases such as “performing that extra pool-safety step” or implementing “a personal system of safety.” However families and pool professionals are to remember it, I like what I see because it will bring light to a lot of overlooked yet simple ways to increase water safety.

This also coincides with the CPSC’s annual reports on children’s submersion and entrapment incidents. For the complete report, click this link. Here are some findings:

  • 78% pool and spa-related drownings are younger than five (between years 2005-2007)
  • Total drowning for these years/age equals to 299 fatalities
  • 74% of these drowning occurred at a residence (I’d like this to be defined a little more, but I’m thinking private homes)

The American Academy of Pediatricians also came out today with similar suggestions and preventative measures, and have revised their definition of drowning. This will help present and collect data better. Also, here’s some more big news:  The AAP has lifted its advisory against swimming lessons for children between the ages of 1 and 4 years. However, the AAP is quick to point out it this doesn’t mean they now recommend lessons for this age group. They also noted that there is no evidence that infants under 12 months should receive swimming instruction. All that is a post in itself and you can read the policy statement here.

The AAP gives us something really interesting to add  to our statistics above :

  • 32% of the drownings occur in an artificial pool

Makes sense: The majority of artificial or plastic pools — inflatable or portable  — do not have fences or alarms. It doesn’t matter if there is just 1-foot of water in one of those little ones. If the majority of children who drown are younger than five, we’re talking coordination and strength issues and if they haven’t had lessons, aren’t equipped to deal with pool safety issues as well.  Artificial pools appear to breed entrapment, with their slippery surfaces, cold temps, tight fit and unsturdy sides. We look them over so easily.

I know this paints a picture you don’t want to look at, but I think that’s the point of the “Pool Safely” campaign. By carefully gathering this important but unfortunate data correctly, these organizations can find out what the problems are, revise their advice (like the AAP’s “lift” or “relaxization” on waiting formalized lessons age), talk to the public about it with this current campaign, and prevent the problems from growing. Thinking over the cause and numbers, do you have any great pool safety advice to share? It’s time to look at this issue from all angles and solutions.

Public Campaign Set to Launch About Pool & Spa Safety

Monday, May 17, 2010

I received a press release the other day from the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) about a pool and spa safety campaign set to launch on May 24th, 2010 to “start a national conversation to change the way Americans think and act about pool safety.” This event will better tie consumers to PoolSafety.com, the agency’s website. Olympic swimmer Janet Evans will be there.

Much of this current stir has to do with the Virginia Graeme Baker Pool and Spa Safety Act, federal legislation signed into law in 2007 designed to mandate new safety requirements with pools and spas. We’re specifically speaking about proper drain covers here — pool and spa pumps are so incredibly powerful they can suction and keep a person submerged underwater. The law is named after little 7-year old Virginia who drowned due to a faulty drain cover.

Virginia’s mother, Nancy has been an amazing force in enacting this bill. Therefore she’s been an amazing force in getting out pool safety. While the media event will focus much on drainage compliance, general pool safety topics will be addressed as well as annual report on childhood drowning. While I won’ t flying to the International Swimming Hall of Fame in Florida to be there, I do have access to interviews.

Remember a few posts ago when I looked into my crystal ball and predicted the media would be covering more pool safety topics this summer? I’ll keep my finger on the pulse of this topic and when I find out something more to add, I’ll post.

3 Important People Who Thought They’d Never Learn to Swim Laps — And Did

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Are you visiting my site because you did a search for “how to swim laps”? (This Squidkid.org post often comes up as one of the number one web addresses to find good information on this subject). If you are here to learn about freestyle or any other proper pool stroke, I want to talk to you today about not feeling nervous when it comes to swimming laps correctly and well. And I want to share with you three important people that felt like they weren’t doing it right when they started either.

Tim Ferriss, author of  “The Four-Hour Work Week.” Tim Ferriss took Generation X and all the above by surprise with a controversial #1 New York Times book about lifestyle designing that serves as sort of a manifesto for the working traveler or anyone else wanting to regain their freedom, among other things. Recently, Ferriss learned to swim laps and he wrote about it here. Of course when Ferriss does it, he learns how to do it with the utmost efficiency or in 10 days.

J.D. Roth, blogger and founder of Get Rich Slowly (and Get Fit Slowly). I’ve had a few guest posts at J.D.’s site and find his approach to offering personal finance advice sound, unique and often very touching. He contacted me when he wanted to get back into swimming laps after a decade-long absence and I gave him and his readers some advice found here. J.D. is frequently mentioned in many of the big financial magazines and also just came out with this first book called “Your Money: The Missing Manual.”

Heather Boener, writer and career coach. Heather is a friend and member of a San Francisco-based writer’s group I belong to. aside of penning articles for Yoga Journal and the SF Chronicle, Heather also runs a blog geared to deliver serenity to the self- employed found here. I was able to asked deeper questions about lap swimming, how she got into it and what it means to her. I think you will really relate to her. She had a lot of fears when first starting, such as body image, knee pain and if she could do this without her glasses. “I just had to be willing to risk looking foolish at first, or feeling foolish,” she told me. Here are some highlights from her email on swimming:

  • Being in the water turned out to be a cure for self-consciousness — I felt strong inside my own skin.
  • Once I realized everyone went through struggle of learning how to breathe correctly I stopped panicking about it.
  • Water is calming, meditative and like an escape, unlike plugging into your iPod on the elliptical trainer.
  • Swimming is much like yoga, with a subtle focus in shifts and stance making it much easier and relaxing.

Remember a journey of a thousand miles begins with one step. Learning to swim laps requires patience, persistence and practice.

Learning to Swim is Like Learning to Budget

Friday, May 7, 2010

This might be a bit of a stretch to make the connection here, up I’m up for the challenge. I have been writing a lot of personal finance pieces lately and need to shake out what’s swirling in my brain. I personally love to talk about improving credit scores, best interest rates and debt settlement scams. Maybe you do to — or want to know more. Either way I think you will find this post amusing.

Okay. How learning to swim is similar when learning to budget.

Swimming and saving are two things that take time. I think a lot of people give up on savings accounts because they think stowing $25 on the first shot is not good enough. That’s like saying because your fearful child didn’t swim across the pool on the first lesson they aren’t doing a good job. Deliver huzzahs for small efforts. They add up to progress.

Don’t compare other situations to your own. It’s not how much you make but rather what you do with your money that matters. So it’s not about the fact your child is 3-years old and his same-aged friend is swimming circles around him. Swim ability is not defined by age but a host of different factors. Jimmy doesn’t need to keep up with Jonesie in the pool.

Create a budget (and swim schedule) and stick to it. You’ll make the most progress with these two subjects if you stay regular about  practicing them, especially when you need to most. This means working with a resistant swimmer (or saver).

Don’t get in over your head. Good safety pool rule for newer swimmers and those with too many credit cards.

Stay away from businesses that offer the impossible. I don’t have much respect for debt settlement companies that promise to “reduce what you owe in half!” because studies and articles show (like this CNN Money one) they have like a 10% success rate and put people into future financial ruins. If anyone flat-out quotes to you exactly how many lessons it will take to get your child swimming, they are estimating the impossible.

Ignoring the signs today means a struggle tomorrow. While it’s true some kids just aren’t ready for swim lessons, it’s important to be proactive with swim skills and get assistance in the form of assessments or lessons with the right teacher. Same goes for spending outside your means, which equates to future debt.

Invest today and it will pay off tomorrow. The more you spend time with your child in the pool today, the more it will pay off in confidence, safety and the importance of health and fitness in the future. Same goes with investing in your company 401(k) plan or a Roth IRA.

Does anyone have any clever examples to share? I’d love to hear them here at Squidkid.org.