I sat at my desk one day in a creative planning mode thinking about training lifeguards and starting with the idea of asking myself what do I actually want them to do on stand? What is the outcome I want them to achieve? That thought process led me to think about “scanning” and I suddenly thought to myself that “scanning” the water was not really what I wanted my lifeguards to be doing at all.
If you were to give a new lifeguard tips on how to effectively watch water, almost everyone in the industry would use the word “scan”. It is in pretty much every lifeguard textbook and has been a key word for the 23+ years I have been in the industry.
I immediately looked up the word “scan” on my computer and this definition popped up:
The main definition of “scan” or “scanning” was to glance at or over something…Not exactly what I want my lifeguards to be doing. Drowning is a complicated process that can be very deceptive. To glance at or over people in my water is not the right mindset.
The word “scan” itself has a passive and unimportant connotation to it. If I was a teacher and gave my students a book and told them to “scan” over it, they probably wouldn’t open it…or maybe just look at title pages, or look for pretty pictures…but they surely would not treat that book like the content and information was important. They wouldn’t spend time on it, they would passively take in some information.
Same concept goes for “scanning” through social media these days. If I had a group get out their phones and “scan” through their favorite social media app, they would get their swiping finger out and scroll and scan until something caught their eye…maybe a crazy video, maybe a catchy headline, maybe a friend they haven’t heard from in awhile…but they certainly wouldn’t process everything that was going on in that app.
Now, to be fair…if you look at the history of the word “scan” it meant something completely different in the early 1900’s, then it does today. It was probably a word that was selected when the concept of lifeguards first emerged, and the terminology just stuck even though the definition and current application are much different.
Here in lies my dilemma, the words we use are important. Although, I as an experienced lifeguard knew that the idea of “scanning” or glancing at or over something was not effective for drowning detection, I wasn’t so sure my new or even experienced lifeguards knew that distinction. Our personal experience is powerful and if we have been taught that “scanning” is a passive and unimportant activity in other applications of our lives, it is easy to think we should do the same activity when we enter the lifeguard stand.
Scanning is not an effective approach. And if you are just scanning and waiting for something to wildly jump out at you in your zone, chances are you are going to miss some critical information related to the drowning process. So often, in drowning investigations we see lifeguards on video who are moving their heads and “scanning” their water, but they aren’t actually processing what is going on. Scanning is not the right approach.
I think lifeguards should never scan their water.
I want them to “investigate”. The word means…
…to examine, study, or inquire into systematically…to search out and examine the particulars of in an attempt to learn the facts about something hidden, unique, or complex…
Investigating is the approach I want my lifeguards to take in stand.
It is a mental shift. It implies importance, it implies a mental connection, the word wants you to process information which is so important in lifeguarding. When you are investigating something if you don’t understand something or something in the water is different, you check it out further. Super important concepts in lifeguarding.
Just because you are using your eyes does not mean you are actually seeing.
Now, don’t get me wrong…the transition to stop saying “scanning” or “scan” was not easy, but it was a mental shift I wanted my staff members to understand and was important for me to use the right terminology. Our vernacular is important. Lifeguarding is important and the words we use can better set them up for success in the stand.
Scan is a new four letter bad word.
Investigate > Scan