Camp Counselors’ Role Around the Water

With camp season upon us, many summer camp programs will be headed for the pool or waterfront. Whether you run a dedicated summer camp, or simply host summer camp programs at your facility, it’s important to think about how camp counselors can play a crucial role in supporting lifeguards.

It is important that counselors understand that water activities are not break time just because lifeguards are present. Rather, water activity time is when everyone needs to be at their most vigilant. By working together with lifeguards, counselors can add extra layers of protection—helping ensure that all activities are safe and appropriate, and that guards can focus their attention on guarding the pool.

Below is a list of responsibilities that can be assigned to counselors to help keep aquatic activities safe. Be sure to regularly communicate these expectations with your counselors throughout the summer. And if you are hosting camp groups at your aquatic facilities, it’s a good idea to communicate these responsibilities to camp leadership too.

  • Test. Mark. Protect: All counselors can assist lifeguards with the process of implementing Test. Mark. Protect. policies. For example, counselors can be responsible for checking that all campers in their group are marked every single day, and that the non-swimmers are wearing their life jackets properly and staying in their designated area in the pool.
  • Watch for Vulnerable Campers: Counselors are expected to be present in all areas of the pool, including in the shallow water. They should be a second set of eyes for lifeguards, not chatting or engaging with their peers. Rather, they should be aware of who the non-swimmers are in their group and keep a special eye on them.
  • Manage Campers in the Water: Counselors can assist the lifeguards in making sure that campers are swimming in the area that is specific to their ability. Placing counselors at the float rope, or where the shallow water ends, can help make sure that nobody goes into areas they are not supposed to. It’s also important to remind all counselors to count the faces, not just the heads, in their group often. This helps ensure that they know where their campers are, and also how they are doing.
  • Enforce Rules: Counselors can play an important role in enforcing rules and encouraging appropriate behaviors. Because they often know the kids and have a direct relationship with them, they know what to look for and can be proactive in re-directing behavior. This leaves lifeguards’ attention free to focus on scanning the pool. 
  • Assist with Non-Aquatic Activities: Some campers may not enjoy swimming, or might be having a bad day and choose not to swim. It’s important to have some counselors actively engaging with any campers not in the water to prevent any inappropriate behaviors. Having planned, structured activities in place will help make this task easier and more effective.