Let’s look at lifesaving — not the merit badge, the competitive sport

Dustin Massey Studio/The World Games 2022

In case you missed it, The World Games — an international, multisport event consisting of sports that aren’t in the Olympics – concluded yesterday in Birmingham, Ala.

Among the competitions you’ve probably at least heard of: drone racing, parachuting, bowling, racquetball and roller sports.

There are some that are variations on Olympic sports you already know: archery, canoeing, karate and powerlifting.

There are some you’ve probably never heard of: boules (it’s French for ball and includes games called lyonnaise and pétanque), dance sport (there are categories for rock and roll, Latin and “breaking”) and floorball (basically, floor hockey).

And then there’s the one that makes you go, “Wait, that’s a sport?” That’s right: The sport of lifesaving, not to be confused with the Lifesaving merit badge that’s earned by nearly 20,000 Scouts per year, is a competitive event at The World Games.

A closer look at the sport of lifesaving

According to The World Games website, the sport of lifesaving originated in Australia. It’s played in indoor swimming pools (though the 2005 and 2009 World Games featured beach lifesaving competitions) and consists of a series of competition disciplines intended to develop and demonstrate lifesaving skills, fitness and motivation.

The governing body of the sport of lifesaving is the International Life Saving Federation. (Based in Brussels, Belgium, the organization prefers to make “life saving” two words. Webster’s would argue otherwise, which is why the BSA uses one word.)

A lifesaving competition looks a lot like competitive swimming, until the athletes pick up their rescue tubes and, in some cases, a lifesaving dummy called a manikin.

A lifesaving competition replicates common water rescue techniques, including swimming and diving to recover a submerged manikin and carrying it to the finish line, and swimming to a manikin, affixing the rescue tube around it and towing it to the finish line.

Manikins can be either partially or completely filled with water to better simulate the weight of a real person.

Dustin Massey Studio/The World Games 2022

What we like

I watched a couple of hours of World Games 2022 lifesaving highlights online (but not during work hours, Boss), and I have to say: Not bad!

Just like in Olympic swimming competitions, there are different lengths of lifesaving races: 50, 100 and 200 meters. There are also relay races, in which one athlete has to pass off the manikin to another.

Maybe the most interesting are the races that include obstacles the swimmers must dive down to swim under, simulating a situation in which a real-life lifesaver might have to swim under a dock or other structure to perform a rescue.

Another thing that becomes clear when watching these competitions: The skills required to compete in lifesaving align very closely with the skills learned in BSA Lifeguard training. The United States did not have a water rescue team in Birmingham; however, there are similar lifeguard competitions held in the U.S.

Youth enrollment in Olympic sports such as gymnastics and figure skating tends to increase during Olympic years. If international lifesaving competitions help increase interest and awareness in what it takes to save someone’s life in a real near-drowning situation, I say go for it.

Dustin Massey Studio/The World Games 2022

Know of any former Scouts who have participated in lifesaving or lifeguard competitions? Let us know in the comments!

About Aaron Derr 468 Articles
Aaron Derr is the senior editor of Scout Life and Scouting magazines, and also a former Cubmaster and Scouts BSA volunteer.