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Middle Management

I’ve heard the world of aquatics described by my aquatic professional colleagues across the country as multifaceted, ever-changing, demanding, sophisticated, rewarding and fun. I agree with all these descriptors and because there are so many descriptors, aquatic professionals must remain proactive and constantly think about ways to change, evolve and improve their operation to ensure the safety of their guests and the success of their operation.  One of the ways to go about this change is for aquatic operators to see the value of their middle management team members, head lifeguards, supervisors and leads.

Every aquatic facility should develop and implement an aquatic supervisor training program that adequately teaches part-time and full-time supervisors the demands and importance of their job. When you see an aquatic supervisor sitting on the job, scrolling through their mobile phone, reading a book or doing anything other than actively walking their facility and supervising their team members, the need exists for a supervisor training program at that facility. Unfortunately, I see the above-mentioned behaviors far too often when visiting aquatic facilities.

During my time as an aquatic director, I had an experience that served to change my approach to aquatics operations forever. It happened at the end of a busy weekend at the beginning of the summer, when, except for one individual, my lifeguard team members and I started to clean the facility. That individual just sat on a bench watching everyone else work. When one of my part-time supervisors noticed him and asked, “What are you doing?” without skipping a beat he replied, “I’m training to be a manager.” While he responded in a somewhat snarky tone, the truth behind the comment was startling. From his limited time working under the supervisors that I had hired and trained (not very well apparently), he viewed them as lazy and complacent. And, he thought that if he stayed around long enough, then he might be promoted to supervisor, and he could act just like them.

That moment, I knew that something had to change, and I went to work creating a custom, weekend-long, supervisor training program that encompassed not only the ins and outs of their position and daily responsibilities, but also the “why” behind those responsibilities. Merely training my supervisors on how to do everything would not be enough, I had to train them on the importance of those things. The culture of our operations and the engagement and productivity of our supervisor team immediately skyrocketed, evidenced by our lifeguard and guest services retention rates and lifeguard audit scores. Through this process, I came to the following three conclusions:

  • The culture of your aquatics operation depends on you developing a great one.
  • The success of implementing your culture depends on middle management.
  • As Sasha Mateer from Deep River Waterpark likes to say, “Great lifeguards don’t always make great supervisors.”


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