In Michigan, we are never far from one of our 65,000 inland lakes and ponds. But with all the welcome waters that cool us down on a hot summer day come the real and present dangers of drowning. YMCA of Metropolitan Detroit offers many opportunities for children to learn to swim, but the seven Y locations also offer the chance to jump into the world of aquatics as a lifeguard.
“YMCA pools here in metro Detroit offer so much from swim lessons to lap swim to water exercise,” says Liza Brown, regional aquatic director for YMCA of Metropolitan Detroit. “And our No.1 priority is always safety.”
To help keep all swimmers safe, the Y trains and supports a team of on-duty lifeguards. In fact, when your child attends small group swimming lessons at your local YMCA, don’t be surprised if there are just as many trained lifeguards in and around the pool as there are kids learning to swim.
But lifeguards aren’t just high school kids working their first job. Lifeguarding is a great job for college students, recent grads, moms with kids in school, even retirees. We talked with a couple of YMCA lifeguards who shared five top reasons to become a lifeguard at the Y.
It’s a great job for all age groups
Thomas Abercrombie became a lifeguard at the Farmington Family YMCA in Farmington Hills when he was 17. “I can’t picture myself doing anything else,” says Abercrombie, who is now a Y aquatics coordinator and lifeguard instructor. “Being a lifeguard is a great starting job, and it’s great for being in school because it’s so flexible.”
Amanda Barone started lifeguarding at her neighborhood pool when she was in high school, but she returned to the role again throughout college. “I went to Wayne State and was there when the Boll Family YMCA opened and I enjoyed going to the pool there,” she says. “When I had my kids, I stayed home with them and we joined the Macomb Family YMCA in Mount Clemens. I was really excited to do that.”
Barone decided to retrain as a lifeguard and now works as aquatics coordinator at the Macomb Family YMCA. “I love working at the Y and really enjoy being there with my kids, too,” she says. “Now lifeguarding is a passion of mine.”
Individuals can start as a lifeguard and expand their skills to swim instruction or water exercise instruction, too. “You don’t have to be in high school or in college or even a student to be a lifeguard,” Barone says. “This job can be really fulfilling and fun as an adult, too.”
Expert safety training
The role of lifeguard carries a high level of responsibility and the YMCA provides all lifeguards with intensive training. “We certify our lifeguards through an international organization that is considered the gold standard of lifeguard training,” Brown says.
Prospective lifeguards undergo an intensive three-day training program to learn all aspects of water safety and CPR. Active lifeguards participate in in-service training for four hours each month and are subject to audits where they practice and show their lifeguard skills, according to Brown.
In addition to learning active safety techniques, they also learn preventive measures against any type of danger, not just drowning. And, because Y lifeguards get to know the members they serve, they learn to recognize when they might be feeling uncomfortable, or just off their game.
Being a lifeguard attunes your senses to safety all around you, Abercrombie says. “It’s a job that teaching you a lot about safety. If you go to work for a six-hour shift, you are constantly in the mindset of safety. After three years as a lifeguard, I can’t walk by a body of water without looking out for everyone and for the lifeguard,” he says.
And that “always-on” sense of safety extends beyond the water for Abercrombie, too. When his father had a heart attack two years ago, Abercrombie was able to talk with his mom about what symptoms to look for should it happen again. “The skills transfer all across different areas of your life,” he says.
Because Michigan is surrounded by water, Barone says she is vigilant about keeping her kids safe, and her training as a lifeguard helps. “I’m always in diligence mode because things can change when you least expect,” she says. “Since we are always near water in Michigan, water safety is an essential survival skill for all of us.”
It’s a portable and flexible job
As well as providing growable skills, the lifeguard job gives you skills you can take with you wherever you go. “I started lifeguarding at the Farmington Y, but sometimes I helped out at the Birmingham Family YMCA, and now I’m working at the Boll Family Y in Detroit,” Abercrombie says. “It’s a really nice skill to take anywhere and it’s a job that gives you the confidence to know that you can guard at any pool.”
Some lifeguards train at a YMCA in metro Detroit, but then go across the state to college, and they know that they can work in their new community, too, with a schedule to fit around other commitments.
“Everyone has something in their life that they need flexibility with. It might be vacations or even living in Florida for a few months. We work with everyone to ensure we schedule accordingly and work as a team to make the pool like a well-oiled machine that is safe and fun and a great service for everyone that comes through our doors,” Brown says.
A team environment within a strong community
Y lifeguards never work alone. “What people don’t necessarily realize is that it’s always a team effort. You have a family at the pool. We practice together, we train together and we work together,” Brown says. “We really rely on each other to ensure the safety of our members.” And the diversity of the team is its strength, Brown adds. “High school students, parents and retirees all serving as lifeguards together — we all gain something from each other.”
It’s a way to give back
Working at a YMCA gives lifeguards the chance to live the “Join, Give, Serve” mission every time they clock in. “I have worked in a lot of other programs and there is so much more of a community feeling of being part of a Y,” Barone says. “That’s why I really enjoy being there. And, it’s also an environment for my kids to learn about our community as well.”
For Abercrombie, working at different Ys has given him an appreciation for the value of working where he is most needed. “In the years since I started working as a lifeguard, I’ve seen a lot and that has really instilled the feeling of giving back and serving others,” he says. “That’s an important mindset, and I want to give back to the place that has taught me so much. It’s great to feel part of that community and it’s great to help others.”
YMCA of Metropolitan Detroit has several aquatic positions available and provides intensive training for each. Applicants 16 and older can train to become a lifeguard or swim instructor, and those 18 and older can become a water exercise instructor.
Learn more about YMCA of Metropolitan Detroit at ymcadetroit.org.