SIP 060: How to run effective trainings

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Summer is here with seasonal staff. Are you ready to train them well?

The summer is almost upon us and you’re going to start running training classes for your summer and seasonal staff. Slap on the sunscreen, wear a floppy hat, and get those kids moving!


This is our guide to running effective training sessions.  We are going to assume that you are a park district or a large program that has hired a decent sized staff and are running either lifeguard, swim instructor, or all staff training sessions. Your goal is to both create a team and a culture with these people (integrate old and new) and give out a wide range of information that the staff will need to know.


We have two ultimate goals in our staff trainings this summer:


  1. Provide information and experience staff needs to do their job.
  2. Foster team culture: working together


There is a wealth of information about “running a good meeting” and some of the key points are essential for you the manager or the aquatics professional. Remember our two key goals: provide information the staff needs to do their job, and creating a team culture.  Those will drive all things, but we’ll separate out our guide into three different categories to make things easier for you to plan, execute, and evaluate.




When I worked at my outdoor pool over the summers every Friday we had a meeting at 9am. Every week the whole staff got together for an all staff meeting and training session. Before you get in front of your staff the most important thing you need to do should already be done: know what you’re going to say and do.


Have a plan. Sit down or pull up last year’s trainings and review what exactly you’re going to accomplish in your meeting and training. Know exactly the things you are going to focus on and distil down to the most basic items what the staff needs to learn, know, or take away from your meeting.


Know what you want your staff to take away from the meeting.

Know what you are going to do exactly at the meeting to get that result.

Prepare any necessary materials or flyers before your meeting to distribute or use as props.




I recommend you write up an agenda, or a timeline, or a guide for yourself. Write something down like a list that will keep you on track and provide a guidepost if you take too long on one item or forget something.


In general, with all staff meetings I prefer to follow this formula:


  1. Introduction, recap of recent week.
  2. Any new information that is simple, easy, and relevant to many people.
    1. (The “You must take a shower” person will now be stationed at the end of the walkway so they can also see the deck and remind people not to run”)
  3. Announcement about what you’re going to be doing in the training today.
    1. “Today we’re going to review CPR, then split into groups and play a few games. Our goal today is getting better at communicating during swim lessons and we’re going to focus on that. Then we’ll regroup and I have you’ll have a chance to ask questions about anything going on this week.”
  4. Stick to your timetable. If you took too long to setup, allow some time to actually do your activities, but keep things moving. Avoid prolonged tangents or time wasters.




We want participation. Remember our goal is to both provide relevant information and training but to also provide a team building environment so participants feel closer to each other.


I recommend small group activities with clear goals and instructions. You can see our training modules here:


For CPR you can write up a clear scenario and allow teams to fully act out in a real way as possible the procedures they’d follow to provide care.


When training for specific skills you can be more creative. If you want to do an activity for scanning, you can put someone in the lifeguard chair, and another person behind them. Blindfold the lifeguard in the chair and have the person behind him throw objects into the pool. The lifeguard then has 20 seconds to scan and see if any object is on the bottom.


Follow this formula for the activity:


  1. What do you want to focus attention on? What skill?
  2. Can you isolate that skill?
  3. How can you stimulate that skill, or use that skill to accomplish something?
  4. Can you put a roadblock up that the skill might be useful in overcoming? Or by not using the skill you’d fail at?
  5. How do you use multiple people?


Explain why


when you are done, explain why you did everything.  “We played the scanning and the blindfold and throwing game so you could see how difficult and important it is to scan using three-d triage. Remember, the bottom of the pool is the most dangerous because it is hardest to see and most fatal.

Better swimming.
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