The Starfish Aquatics Institute: Making a Difference One Facility at a Time

Jill and Robin White were the proprietors of several aquatic facilities across the United States in the late 1990s and had developed their own training systems for a management services firm they operated. The greatest health risk facing users of an aquatic facility is drowning, so the Whites filled a void in the lifeguard and aquatic safety training industry and developed an experimental learning theory aimed at reducing the risk of drowning. Inspired by the “Starfish story,” the duo now runs the Starfish Aquatics Institute, which offers a risk-management system for aquatic facilities and competency-based training.

The Starfish Story
The inspiration for the name of the Starfish Aquatics Institute came from the fabled “starfish story.” In the short tale, a woman is found walking along a beach tossing the starfish washed up on shore back into the ocean. When asked by an older man why she was wasting her time, the woman simply replied that they would die if she didn’t. After explaining her reasons for the seemingly ridiculous act, the woman tossed one more out to sea and said, “It made a difference to that one.”

Starfish Aquatics Institute
The Starfish Aquatics Institute, known as SAI, is the only water safety certification agency providing certifications in every facet of aquatics: a lifeguard training curriculum, a swim instruction curriculum, and pool operator and community safety training. The SAI serves clients around the globe with a two-fold approach that has trained thousands of lifeguards and helped hundreds of thousands of people learn how to swim since its founding in 1999.

SAI does not achieve its broad goals of saving lives at aquatics facilities without help, though. To that end, a network of authorized providers willing to accept the high stands of training excellence promoted by SAI are allowed to deliver the training programs. Through a group of independent instructors and educational institutions, lives have been saved through aquatics education at facilities including, but not limited to, the following types:
• Waterparks
• YMCAs
• Parks & Recreation pools
• US Military MWR sites
• USA Swimming teams
• Swim schools

Mission, Values, and Impact
Starfish Aquatics Institute has been successful not because it has blocked out the competition, but rather because it has embraced other groups that share the same goal of preventing drowning deaths and worked cohesively with those organizations to improve safety at aquatic facilities around the world.

The mission of SAI is to “reduce drowning and save lives by providing reputable and responsive aquatic safety training programs and services delivered to the public through a network of friendly, knowledgeable aquatic professionals.” To achieve this mission, SAI has a number of valuable relationships that include ties to Human Kinetics (a publishing partner), the American Safety & Health Institute (an educational partner), and Landmark Learning (educational partner).

A lot of aquatic safety organizations have similar goals to prevent drowning deaths, but it is the values of SAI that make it so successful. Their title as the fastest growing agency and their recognition from Aquatics International can be attributed to the principles that guide SAI, including partnerships over competition, leadership over complacency, integration over segmentation, and responsiveness over bureaucracy.

Along with the recognition received by the company, co-founder Jill White is consistently named one of the “Power 25” in the world of aquatics professionals and has been recognized by the World Waterpark Association with the Al Turner Memorial Commitment to Excellence Award for “leadership, commitment to aquatic excellence, and creating a sense of community, collaboration, networking, partnering and influencing growth by consistent example of business and operational excellence.”

Thanks to the Whites’ approach to program development at Starfish Aquatics Institute, the company partners with countless other organizations that share their vision and understand that through teamwork they can achieve more. The programs are integrated in the interest of providing concise, practical, and relevant training with real-life situations as the guide. Overall, the SAI strives to serve others in a leadership role so that safety behavior is truly changed at aquatic facilities, rather than information simply disseminated. In this way, SAI believes it can have a more positive impact on health and safety at aquatic facilities.

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