Aquatics Blog

Coaching and Counseling Staff

In an ideal world, inspiring staff through our positive attitude and exemplary work ethic would be enough to teach them how to be outstanding employees, however, this is not reality.  Staff will make mistakes, choose not to work hard, and fail on multiple occasions.  Coaching and counseling staff does not take the place of discipline when it is clear the employee has a blatant disregard for their work, but rather serves as a tool to improve employee performance for the majority of well-meaning staff.  How you approach them at the moment of failure sets the tone for that teachable moment.

While discipline such as a lecture, scheduling for undesirable shifts, or a reduction in hours may feel like justice for the discipliner, it does very little to improve the relationship with the employee and only teaches them that you are the enemy and they must try harder to hide their failures in the future.  Your reaction to their mistake is the first indicator to your employee whether or not you are there to teach or to punish.  When approaching an employee to discuss an issue, keep your tone of voice pleasant and professional.  Depending on the gravity of the situation, select an approach that will allow you to keep the employee listening and attentive, but aware that there is an issue that needs to be addressed.


When using the self-discovery approach, the idea is to ask the employee questions to walk them through the process of answering their question or rectifying the problem themselves.  While this approach requires practice to master, it can be extremely helpful with staff who lack confidence in their decision-making skills and ask you question after question, even when they know the correct answer.


EXAMPLE: Your cashier asks you again what time you are closing that day

JANE: What time do we close today?

YOU: Jane, where do we keep information related to our programs and operations?

JANE: Maybe in our brochure?

YOU:  Where are our brochures located?

JANE:  Behind the counter in the drawer.

YOU:  Great! Looks like you answered your own question!


This was a very simple interaction, while situations involving customers can be much more complex and contain details that the employee needs to work through with additional questions.  The most important part of any coaching approach, but especially Self-Discovery, is that your tone remains friendly, patient, and not condescending.


The perception approach is based on the idea that the employee is unaware of the consequences or appearance of their actions.  Explain to the employee what their behavior or actions look like as their supervisor and what it can appear as to a customer.  This is often combined with the Self-Discovery approach to assist the employee in being able to reach the same conclusion on their own in the future.


EXAMPLE: You approach an employee who is leaning against the lifeguard stand or river fencing

YOU:  Good Morning Jimmy, do not take your eyes off the water, how is it going today?

JIMMY:  (straightens posture) Going good, just watching my water.

YOU:  I noticed when I walked up that you were leaning on the river fencing.  I understand that this particular station can be tiring, however, what kind of message do you think that sends to me as your supervisor?

JIMMY:  I don’t know, probably that I don’t care.

YOU:  Exactly.  And while I know that you enjoy your job, it is important that the customers also understand that you enjoy your job and take it seriously. If you had children in the river and saw a lifeguard leaning, what might you think?

JIMMY:  That they were tired or didn’t care or weren’t paying attention.

YOU:  You got it!  Thank you Jimmy!



Self-discipline is a skill that many staff learn with their first real job. Many times, they are not fully aware of the responsibility they hold while lifeguarding.  Failing to show up for a shift, goofing off during their shift, or missing work entirely can have fatal consequences for others and giving staff the tools to instill self-discipline can help them immensely.  This approach can be used when the staff member is well-intentioned but just does not seem to be “getting it.”


EXAMPLE:  Jimmy is consistently late because he is searching for his uniform at home.

YOU:  Jimmy, good morning!

JIMMY: Hi, sorry I’m late, I couldn’t find my uniform this morning.

YOU:  I think you have mentioned that before.  I also struggle getting out the door in the morning.  I have     found that putting all the items I need for the next day by my front door makes it much easier and then I don’t forget things as often.


While some staff may not appreciate or benefit from this type of coaching, many appreciate the guidance.



Direct feedback is the most common way supervisors approach their staff. Let’s use the same situation with Jimmy leaning on the river fencing, but use a Direct Feedback approach.

YOU:  Jimmy, stop leaning on the river post.

JIMMY:  Okay (straightens posture)

The likelihood of Jimmy leaning against the post in the future is pretty high, assuming you are not around to watch his every move.  Let’s be honest, who has time for that?  Direct Feedback should be reserved for when there is an immediate danger that needs to be remedied.  For example, Direct feedback would be appropriate if there was a lifeguard who abandoned their post to get a drink of water.  Once the scene is safe, follow up with your staff member using another approach to turn it into a teachable moment. While the Direct Feedback approach requires the least amount of forethought and effort initially, in the long run, building a strong relationship based on using teachable moments will create a staff culture of self-accountability and buy-in towards your goals.  Once staff understand why they should or cannot do something, they will more often encourage others to do their best and buy-in as well.  Developing a culture of buy-in and positive accountability in your facility starts at the top, with you.  You set the tone for the relationships you have with your staff and model how your subordinate leaders maintain their relationships with their staff as well. Once the positive culture is fully developed, your customers will begin to reap the benefits, and so will your bottom line.

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