Open Gym Safety

Open gym is potentially one of the most dangerous situations happening in any gym, with potentially out-of-shape, untrained and gym safety-unaware attendees. Serious accidents can occur in a matter of seconds.

Zero Tolerance for Injury

There must be Zero Tolerance for injuries in the gym. There can be no general acceptance that “accidents will happen” or are inevitable. Even the smallest injury or an observed minor potentially unsafe practice must be cause for an intense serious review of any and all related safety procedures, rules and practices with the whole staff.

Gym Coaches Must be Lifeguards

Coaches (lifeguards) must constantly be aware that momentary lapses in safety could result in death or paralysis. That is the level of seriousness and intensity with which coaches (lifeguards) must approach the job of open gym supervision. Coaches, in an open gym situation, should be modeling swimming pool and ocean lifeguards training and supervision techniques.

Most Activity Will Be Safe

In general, say 99% of the time, children and young adults will not consciously risk doing anything that would injure them in the gym. Boys, more often than girls, are more likely to engage in risky, dangerous behavior, because of ego, hormones or because their confidence level exceeds their talent and ability level.

Inexperience in Gym Environment a Factor for Injury

Lack of awareness about potential danger points, dangerous practices, danger areas and dangerous activities still could put them, or others at risk in the gym.

Carefully Watch the “Birthday Boy”

At birthday parties, the “birthday boy” is often the most dangerous and at-risk child in the gym. Excessive excitement and pent-up emotions often cause them to do risky or unacceptable behaviors.

Go Over the Rules

15-30 minutes into any open gym (to allow for late arrivals), there should be a review of the gym rules for everyone attending the open gym. This gives brand new attendees and understanding of the rules and safe practices in the gym and reviews and reinforces them for everyone else.

When in Doubt, Stop It

Coaches should understand that they are fully empowered to intervene, at any time, when they are concerned about anything potentially unsafe going on in the gym, whether or not it is covered in the official rules of the gym. When in doubt, intervene and stop the potentially dangerous situation from interfering with gym safety.

Coaches Must Focus on Guarding Safety

Coaches assigned to open gym are lifeguards. No coaching. No spotting. No socializing.

Position Lifeguards Correctly

Lifeguard stations are one or more positions in the gym, where lifeguards have unrestricted line-of-sight to every area of the gym. In a normal rectangular gym building, this would be in one or more corners of the gym. If there are obstacles to clear line-of-sight, like above-ground pits or multiple gym rooms, there must be more than one lifeguard. There must be enough lifeguards that every area of the gym is under constant surveillance. Blind spots in the gym surveillance pattern are unacceptable.

Be Aware of Danger Points

Everyone participating, but especially lifeguards, must understand all of the possible danger points, danger areas, dangerous practices and dangerous activities that might go on in this particular gym and in gyms, in general.

Reteach “Stop, Look and Listen”

There are natural traffic areas in the gym, that just like roads, cannot be crossed without following the common “Stop, Look and Listen(?)” habit. These include the vault runway, tumbling trampolines and the tumbling diagonals on floor. No one is allowed to just run randomly across or around the gym without being aware of and checking out for danger or traffic when crossing any of these areas. Everyone must be aware of landing areas. There is no walking across (without observing the “Stop, Look and Listen(?)” habit) tumbling, vault, beam and bar dismount areas or under the bars without first checking for danger.

“Look Before You Leap”

For those on tumbling, vault, beam, bars or going into pits, the rule is “Look Before You Leap.” This is akin to the principles of defensive driving.

Set Up and Insist on Proper Matting

Participants and lifeguards must always be aware that proper matting is being used for whatever activity is going on. There is no such thing as too many mats or too soft of mats.

Pits = Better Gym Safety

No gym is completely safe without pits. There are certain skills, when being done for the first time and until mastered are only really safely done into a pit.

The More Tired, The More Chance of Injury

There can be a definite “Tired Factor” in gym injuries. As the open gym progresses, lifeguards must exercise increasing vigilance and be aware of, especially physically untrained or out-of-shape, participants being more at risk, from poor judgement from being tired. “Water” breaks, rest breaks, food breaks should be scheduled to minimize this problem. If necessary, lifeguards should impose mandatory rest breaks for individuals.

Scanning for Danger

Lifeguards must be constantly scanning the entire gym or their assigned area of the gym. This means that they are looking from left to right (or vice versa) scanning the gym for anything unsafe going on. Scanning is to be done constantly, even if talking to a participant or parent, lifeguards must continue scanning. Lifeguards must guard against focusing too much on any one area or activity (like watching a floor routine) instead of maintaining constant scanning of the gym

No Talking

Lifeguards should not be encouraged to talk to participants or parents while they are on duty. Talking only distracts them from their job. A serious injury can easily occur in less than five seconds, so any distraction to a lifeguard makes the gym potentially unsafe.

Whistle for Safety

Lifeguards must “whistle” to a stop any unsafe behavior. This means that any potentially unsafe behavior must be whistled to a stop immediately before any accident can occur. Attendees, just like with lifeguards at a swimming pool, must understand that they have a responsibility to stop what they are doing whenever they hear a whistle, look to the lifeguard and see if it is their behavior that is being whistled to a halt. “Whistling” can include an actual lifeguard whistle, a lifeguard’s natural whistling ability or a powerful command voice. An actual lifeguard’s whistle has the advantage of often having the right and safe response being trained and reinforced at swimming pools. Lifeguards should call over the person who was whistled to a stop and explain to them why they were stopped and what the safe behavior in that situation should be.

Rotate for Better Lifeguard Awareness and Safety

When multiple lifeguards are necessary or being used, they should have previously arranged their areas of supervision responsibility by splitting up the gym. Every half-hour or so, they should switch areas to keep from becoming complacent in their supervision of a single area and provide variety to keep them more vigilant. When lifeguards need to take a bathroom or other break, they must first let other lifeguards know, so their area will be covered while they are gone or get a temporary replacement.

Lifeguarding = Guarding Lives

Lifeguarding is a serious business, literally, potentially a life and death situation. Failure to perform lifeguarding safely or to ignore safe lifeguarding practices is a Firing Offense.

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