Making a Splash…

How do we reward our staff for a job well done?

Often a simple gesture of thanks goes a long way in the encouragement of outstanding performance.  Given the competing agendas of young adults, many seasonal professionals have found it increasingly difficult to promote attentive, focused and predictable performance of life guards.

Make a Splash Diving

Anyone that has ever sat in a life guard chair for a 20 minute rotation in the searing heat of summer knows the commitment required to remain diligent.

In central Ohio aquatics professionals gather quarterly in an informal “Aquatic Roundtable”.  With interest in promoting aquatics, members meet to discuss the trends, challenges and opportunities of the profession.  A diverse group of 35 members represent the entire aquatic industry including commercial suppliers, hotels and motels, colleges and universities as well as public and private pools.  Their facilities range from small hotel pools to major multiple pool natatoriums.

This spring members discussed the possibility of again hosting a summer lifeguard competition.  While past efforts were satisfactory it was decided to expand participation in an event.   It was decided to go in a new direction.  The challenge…

How can we thank our lifeguards for the valuable work they do?

How can we promote staff retention and recruitment?

How can we promote the diversity of the aquatic community?

How can we build relationships for future collaboration?

Ten members volunteered for a planning committee.  Meeting every two weeks for the next three months the event was defined, refined and promoted.  The result, a celebration of lifeguards and the valuable work they do.  Central Ohio’s “Make a Splash at the Midnight Bash” was a great success with several hundred life guards joining the fun. Aquatic professionals and corporate America came together for no other reason than to be grateful and say thank you.


The Ohio State University (a member of the Aquatic Roundtable), hosted the “Midnight Bash” in their beautiful McCorkel aquatic pavilion.  With the threat of possible inclement summer weather in Central Ohio, it was important that our planning not be effected by weather. The committee felt it was extremely important to find an indoor event space. Re-scheduling or moving the event at the last minute would have been a logistical nightmare.

For three reasons, the event was scheduled to begin at midnight.  First, to assure life guards would be available to attend.  Many pools do not close until late into the evening and we wanted their guards to be included.  Second, hosting a party in the middle of the night is unique, and this would be attractive to the population we were inviting.  Third, the host facility needed to be available; with little or no consequence to their membership or clients.

Given the unique timing of the event, personal safety was considered carefully.  Well lighted garage parking was made available immediately outside the entrance to the natatorium.  University staff supervised the garage before, during and after the event.  Parents or guardians not comfortable with their minor children attending were invited to join them.  An observation deck above the activity was available to anyone who merely wanted to observe.

The celebration was a two hour “swim party”.  Advanced reservations were required.  Those interested in attending furnished a list of their life guards planning to attend.  It was required that each facility also have a member of their professional staff in attendance throughout the event.  Admission was strictly controlled and monitored.  Anyone choosing to leave the event prior to the conclusion was not re-admitted.  Columbus Police Department furnished additional security providing two uniformed patrolmen.

For aquatic professionals, aquatic safety during the event was most certainly a primary concern; legal staff of the university were consulted.  A liability waiver unique to the event was furnished to participants in advance of their arrival.  Those under 18 years of age were provided a waiver requiring the signature of their parent and /or legal guardian.  These waivers were collected at the admission door and names checked against the advance roster of those planning to attend.  For security and identification throughout the event, all participant wrists were banded.

The university provided great support by life guarding the event with members of their professional staff; allowing their student life guard staff to join in the fun.  Professional staff also provided valuable custodial and maintenance support throughout the event and remained long afterwards to clean up and return the facility to status quo.  Several attending facilities also provided volunteer life guards that were rotated through the facility during the event.  University staff made certain any volunteer was well trained in the facility emergency action plan prior to their service.


Entertaining young adults is a unique challenge.  Friends attending were often from the same facility and most life guard staff did not know others in attendance.  The goal was to provide two hours of activity that would leave them wanting more.  One advantage to the programming was the facility itself, with five distinct activity areas for programming.  Program highlights included:

Varsity diving coaches were on-hand to teach the safe use of the 10 meter platform.  We knew this would be very popular, requiring an advanced sign up.  The result was a hilarious display of “bravery”.

A Widbit course was available in the 50 meter competitive pool.  For more information about this unique in-water obstacle course visit

Make a Splash Wibit

The leisure pool was equipped with log-rolling gear.  This provided participants with a unique physical challenge that was far more difficult than most imagined.

Creative competitive races and in-water challenges were conducted in the lap pool.  Prizes furnished by event sponsors were awarded.

Canoes were provided to teams in the large instructional pool.  The goal of course was to swamp the others.  Boisterous play was the result.

Music during the event was provided from a playlist composed uniquely for the event.  A volunteer assured the music would be well received (and not “lame”); admittedly a huge challenge.

Fortunately, the university has a professional staff member trained in broadcasting.  As a volunteer and equipped with the finest of electronic gear, his public address announcements helped greatly to facilitate good communication throughout the event in a very entertaining manner. Using the large digital scoreboard he was able to display the evening schedule of activities, thank sponsors and award prizes; an excellent and unique way to promote communication.  Facilitating communication proved an opportunity for a volunteer to add their incredible talent to the evening.

Food for the evening was provided by, the campus location of Canes, an event sponsor.  A terrific variety of drinks were provided through the generous support of the Coca Cola Corporation.


By utilizing direct mail and e-mail marketing two months in advance of the event and a dedicated website,  event details were provided to aquatic centers and pools throughout the Central Ohio community.  Registration was accomplished digitally.  Only a professional staff member of each facility could make reservations for their staff members to attend.  All correspondence was restricted to these professionals.  This assured that accurate and timely information was being communicated to those with responsibility for their “group”.

The advanced timeline for registration allowed the monitoring of projected attendance and greatly influenced the planning for food and prizes.


Event “out of pocket expenses” totaled $2,400.00.  These costs of printing, postage, web design, police security and supplies were covered by the cash donations of three corporate “aquatic related” sponsors.

Gifts in Kind in access of $10,400.00 covered the facility rental, food, beverages, the local newspaper acknowledgement of sponsors and 47 terrific prizes and giveaways.


Although thrilled with the success of the event, committee members wisely have reflected on the challenges of the experience and considered missed opportunities.  Their conclusions:

Lesson Learned: To promote accurate communication, a level of strict confidence should exist while in the planning stages.   Planning committee members should be careful to speak “as one” and share only accurate and complete information. With social media and instant communication it is critical that planning information be held in confidence and shared strategically.

Example: At the first meeting of the planning committee, the midnight time frame for the event was considered absent any event details or program rationale.  Upon informally learning of this consideration, YMCA senior administrators decided that their life guard staffs were not to attend.  This decision was never communicated directly to the planning committee but learned through hear-say.  Their decision not to participate was disappointing and frustrating to the planning committee (which at that time included two YMCA staff members).  Sadly their life guard and professional aquatic staff missed a terrific event.  If YMCA administrators had complete and accurate details of the event they would have had a more complete understanding of the event and chosen to support it or its planning by providing the committee valuable and timely  feedback directly. 

Lesson Learned: The conduct of a survey in advance of committee planning could offer valuable information to planners.

Example: One large local city park district would not permit their life guard staff to attend.  Due to city policy, the city would be required to pay their hourly staff to attend the event. 

Lesson Learned: While the word was out early about the event, some folks will wait to the very last minute to register, frustrating planning.

Examples: Promotion of the event depended heavily on aquatic professional staff sharing the event with their life guard staff in a timely way.  A major city (having more than 12 pools) did not tell their life guards until the week of the event resulting in a flurry of last minute activity.

Despite a cut-off date, reservations arrived the morning of the event.  We were able to accommodate.  However, given the success of this event, absent an enforced registration cut-off, next year’s interest could result in registration numbers overwhelming to planners.



To learn more of this event, its’ planning or execution, please contact Kurt Carmen at