One of my best friends (and an absolute waterpark groupie) recently asked me, “Why do the lifeguards bob their heads? Is it to see the water from different angles?”
This was a very good question, and a pretty good guess at the answer. A few weeks ago my colleague Maggie, posted a blog on scanning (as this is a frequent question). I thought I would use the answer I sent to my friend to shed even more detail on the purpose of scanning and the bobbing heads:
If you don’t move your head, and instead look from the “corner of your eye,” you are using your peripheral vision. Peripheral vision generally only shows motion, not detail. Someone drowning can easily look like someone playing from the corner of your eye.
For example, if you had to cross over Interstate 95 would you look for traffic using only your peripheral vision? Hopefully not! You would probably turn your head both ways, likely multiple times before you ran across. Yet, very often we see lifeguards who aren’t moving their heads to cover their zone of responsibility. We can safely assume these lifeguards would look both ways before crossing the street, but why don’t they scan the pool like they would look for traffic?
The difference is, crossing the street by relying on peripheral vision can result in your OWN injury, when lifeguarding, you are watching someone else’s life. We don’t instinctively treat both scenarios the same, even though both can result in death. We teach and train the lifeguards to cover the whole area with the same visual intensity they would use crossing the highway. We illustrate to them through activities that the best way to see detail, is to look at an area directly (that includes directly below their feet).
So, if you ask a lifeguard a question, and he/she doesn’t look at you while answering; remember, if he is looking at you, he is not looking at the water. You can’t save what you can’t see!