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Effective coaching supervision

Many of the gymnastic claims Markel receives result from the lack of proper supervision. Some experts will argue that a large percentage of athletic injuries result from a lapse in direct or indirect supervision.  Supervision is more than just overseeing participants’ activities.  As outlined by Successful Coaching, Third Edition, there are nine legal duties a coach is responsible for performing:  

  1. Properly plan the activity.
  2. Provide proper instruction.
  3. Provide a safe physical environment.
  4. Provide adequate and proper equipment.
  5. Match athletes to their skill level.
  6. Evaluate athletes for injury or incapacity.
  7. Supervise the activity closely.
  8. Warn of inherent risks.
  9. Provide appropriate emergency assistance.

We also see many claims involving coaches who don’t match the student’s level of experience with the task or exercise. Although programs differ, the activities associated with supervising them are very similar.

Along with the responsibilities above there are additional areas of supervision a gymnastics environment requires. According to the Gymnastics Risk Management Safety Course Handbook, these areas of supervision include:

  • Facility supervision: Provide for overall facility supervision, including the safe arrival and departure of participants.
  • Class/activity supervision: Recognize the hazards and potential injury-causing elements of a particular activity.
  • Gender-sensitive supervision: Develop, publish, and follow plans and policies to supervise opposite-gender athletes. Include a procedure for special care when an athlete is stranded after a practice or class. As a general rule, a single coach or instructor shouldn’t be alone with a single athlete.
  • Emergency supervision: Train supervisors to be aware of all emergency procedures, how to handle an injury, how to summon aid, and how to handle peripheral problems while they (and emergency personnel) attend to the injured athlete.

As you engage in supervisory activities, or assign supervisory tasks to someone else, it’s important to set a high standard of professionalism and accountability to make them effective. Don’t place inexperienced and unskilled supervisors in situations beyond their abilities. (In the event of a lawsuit, plaintiff’s counsel will closely scrutinize this aspect.)  Match different teaching styles with different learning and training situations.


  • Martens,Rainer. Successful Coaching, Third Edition. Human Kinetics. 2004
  • Gymnastics Risk Management Safety Course Handbook, 2013 Edition (Revised 2014). USA Gymnastics, Inc., Indiana. 2013