Supervision of children, in our case young gymnasts, is a critical responsibility of gymnastics coaches and gym staff. General supervision is one of the four types of gymnastics facility supervision. Logically, it should be one of the most obvious supervision systems in a gymnastics facility, but often gym management and gymnastics coaches are completely unaware of the term and of their responsibilities to provide it.
Rather than waiting for opposing lawyers in a lawsuit to point out such responsibilities, gym owners, management and gymnastics coaches should educate themselves to their responsibilities and develop a system of general supervision in their gym.
General gym supervision refers to the fact that gyms – the whole gym – should always be supervised at all times when gymnasts are present. While coaches usually understand that they are supposed to supervise all the gymnasts in the group they are teaching or coaching, they often look no further around the gym than their own small group.
Even if every gymnastics coach and instructor is closely supervising their own group carefully, most gyms have no one supervising the whole gym or the areas of the gym where there are no gymnastics instructors. In fact, most gyms probably have no system at all for managing and maintaining general gym supervision.
What could go wrong without general gym supervision?
The most common danger would be that a young child who is not in gymnastics classes wanders onto the gym floor. They become a danger to themselves and other gymnasts in class, because, especially if they are not in a gymnastics class, they may not understand at all the potential dangers of the gym and may walk in front of a vaulter or tumbler or under a gymnast dismounting from the bars or beam. This gives the potential for injury to both the child and the gymnast. Even if a coach was paying careful attention to their class, they may not have seen the wandering child, especially if they were not aware they had any responsibility to do so. Parents on the floor, even if they are chasing their young child to get them off the floor, are often just as much a safety hazard and have as little understanding and awareness of the dangers as the young child.
What other kinds of safety problem situations does general supervision need to deal with?
Instructors of preschool class gymnasts and other very young class gymnasts may lose a child temporarily while they are leading them from event to event or activity to activity. Since many gyms do not have a completely separate gym area for preschoolers and young gymnasts, even a temporarily lost gymnast could again collide with another class gymnast or team member doing another event. Gymnastics coaches and instructors could also lose sight of and lose young gymnasts temporarily while they are focused (as they must and should be) on spotting a gymnast doing a dangerous skill.
It is not uncommon for team coaches to have to spot team gymnasts and not watch the other gymnasts they are coaching during which time another gymnast could have an accident the coach does not see. In many gyms, team gymnasts are sent to training equipment to do skills or drills not under the direct supervision of a coach. Again, there is the chance that an injury could occur that the coach does not see.
It is also not uncommon that when two different coaches and classes are using a shared pit, or other equipment like a tumble track, floor exercise mat or rod floor, that safety conflicts can occur and two gymnasts head toward the same space at the same time.
Because of all these potential problems and because coaches and instructors do have specific supervision and spotting responsibilities, they cannot always focus on watching either their own whole group or the rest of the gym. That means there are inherently general supervision gaps during even great coaching.
While the ideal solution would be to have at least one staff member who did nothing but general gym supervision, in much the manner that a pool lifeguard functions, most gyms cannot afford or afford to waste a full-time general gym supervisor. Gym owners and managers will have to make the decision for themselves if they want to pay for a staff member just to do general supervision, but there should always be at least one senior coach who is assigned general supervision responsibility and all coaches and all staff members, including front desk staff, should be taught to scan the gym regularly for unsafe situations. Gym owners and managers could also barter or solicit volunteer team or other experienced gym parents or teenagers to help supervise the gym. In that case, there should still be a professional senior coach with the overall general gym supervision responsibility.
General Supervision of the Gym
While because during spotting, it is not always possible, whenever it is possible, coaches should position themselves or position their class so they can see them while they spot. Ideally a coach would position his waiting class so he can see both them and have a view of the entire gym as well. Like I said this is not always possible, but classes should be arranged so coaches can observe them immediately before and after spotting and if possible so the coach can see the whole gym. For example, on a single bar skill, the coach could have the gymnast turn around and do the skill the other way so the coach has a view of their other gymnasts and the whole gym.
Coaches, especially the senior coach assigned to general supervision, must be trained and train themselves to check the whole gym regularly for safety problems or potentially dangerous situations. They should train themselves to do this in much the same way drivers learn to check their rear view mirrors regularly. Whenever they can take a brief break from their own spotting or specific supervision, they should scan the whole gym for potential problems.
The senior staff member assigned to the task of general supervision must pass it off to another senior staff member if they must leave the gym floor or gym for any reason. If they leave the gym area for any reason or cannot generally supervise, they should verbally pass their general supervision responsibilities on to another coach temporarily or permanently.
There should be a schedule or plan for general supervision responsibilities for every minute the gym is open. The coach who has primary general gym supervision must know they are in charge. All coaches and staff should take responsibility for regularly scanning the gym the same as they would do if they were in charge. For liability protections, there should be staff and coach training ans a written plan of general gym supervision
Video supervision is becoming more and more economically feasible with the dropping prices of multi-camera security camera systems, but supervision that is too far removed from the gym floor will not be able to warn gymnasts or coaches if they do see a dangerous situation or problem in time.
Put a General Gym Supervision Plan into Action
Gym owners and managers should immediately put a general gym supervision plan into action, add it to their training program and check to see that the plan is actually functioning well. Coaches should develop the habit of scanning the whole gym, whenever possible for safety problems or situations.
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