A Splash of Confidence: YMCA Global Guards Academy

Last updated: August 21, 2017, at 12:54 a.m. PT

Originally published: April 20, 2017, at 2:32 p.m. PT

Swimming isn’t just a lifesaving skill, it helps kids thrive in and out of the water. Swim lessons help kids and teens develop confidence by building their skills and giving them opportunities to be leaders among their peers. But when youth don’t have access to develop water safety skills, they’re more at risk for drowning and also miss the chance to participate in fun, meaningful recreation activities.

Over time, traditional lifeguard hiring methods have created a diversity discrepancy between pool staff and pool users. Youth of color are ten times more likely to drown in a pool than other kids of the same age. We’re changing that narrative by creating new training opportunities for youth who may currently lack skills, but are full of aspiration. Aquatics Director Nick Montgomery is bridging that gap and building a new generation of leaders through Global Guards Academy.

Nick describes his ah-ha moment:

“I was tired of turning these kids away who wanted jobs, so I thought, ‘let’s make a program that doesn’t just teach them swimming but really shows them that when they’re giving it effort,’ we’re going to support them to reach every level of success.”

Global Guards makes an intentional effort to ensure aquatics staff are representative of the community they serve. Partnering with a local high school, Nick works with the career counselor to advertise the program and offers a PE credit for participation. But as he explains, “At the end of the day I’m not looking to just create lifeguards. I’m looking to create confident young leaders with bright futures.”

Kitnoi, 16, just achieved her lifeguard certification after graduating from Global Guards and now mentors other participants.

“It was challenging and long hours but worth it because you make connections with your peers and your mentors. You’re working together to build up other youth and I think that is really important,” she explains.

According to Nick, “At the end of program, they’re very capable lifeguards but also lifeguards with character. They aren’t just showing up for the paycheck but kids that care about the community and want to give back.”

Both Kitnoi and fellow Global Guard Abdul credit the experience with boosting their confidence, leadership, and communication skills. For Abdul, making new friends was an added bonus.

“I don’t have many school friends and now I have a lot at the Y. With their support I was able to make it through the lifeguard certification test.”

For Kitnoi, before Global Guards she never thought lifeguarding was an option. But now she sees herself as a leader with the confidence to be responsible for others safety.

“I learned things that fit into every part of life. Communication, being comfortable with myself, and having a growth mindset.”

Nick doesn’t want the Global Guards’ growth to end at the Y.

“Down the road sometimes you’re going to feel like you’re drowning and I hope they can look back on their experience and think, well I succeeded and became a lifeguard, so if I can keep treading water here, I’ll get through other obstacles.”

WATCH Transform With Us: Kitnoi

Locations: Matt Griffin YMCA