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Lifeguards and Swimming Instructors


Swimming was used first as a survival and hunting skill, and then became a popular sporting event. Hieroglyphics in Egyptian tombs dating from 2500 to 2000 B.C. depict human figures swimming. Around 78 A.D., swimming was introduced and promoted in England, and by the 14th century, knights were required to be able to swim in their full body armor. The Olympics included swimming as a sport in 1896 for men and 1912 for women.

As swimming grew in popularity as a form of recreation, people frequented local beaches and swimming pools. Soon, there came a need for guards to patrol the waters and rescue swimmers in distress. There also came a need for certified instructors to teach new swimmers proper techniques to help them avoid emergencies in the first place.

The first lifeguards were loosely organized in groups similar to police or fire departments, and were often employees of the local government. However, training was not standardized—guards used a variety of lifesaving methods. The 1956 Summer Olympics in Australia spotlighted the profession with an exhibition/competition of international lifesavers. As a result, techniques, experience, and equipment such as the rescue tube, rescue buoy, and surfboard, were introduced to lifeguards worldwide. Today, lifeguards must meet strict standards of physical condition, professional training and skill. Many lifeguards use Open Water Lifesaving: The United States Lifesaving Association Manual as an important training guide.

Teaching techniques have also evolved over time. The dominating stroke for many years was the breaststroke, which was done with the head either in or out of the water, a side arm motion, and frog-like movement of the legs. Though this method of swimming was effective and thought to be graceful, it was not the fastest technique. In the mid 1950s, English amateur swimmer J. Arthur Trudgen took a trip to South America and noticed swimmers there with a different style. He brought the stroke back with him, calling it the Trudgen stroke, which, with changes from another competitive swimmer, Frederick Cavill, later became the still popular "crawl," or freestyle stroke. This technique, with arms moving up and over the head and legs kicking in a scissor-like motion, was soon used in competition and broke records of all distances. This freestyle stroke, along with the backstroke, the breaststroke, and the butterfly, are the main swimming techniques taught by instructors today.