Effective Supervision

Every year in parks and recreation departments across the country, coaches and supervisors take center stage as a new group of athletes files in to participate in swimming lessons, basketball camps, gymnastics, and many other adrenalin-pumping activities.

A supervisor needs to be in visual contact with all participants at all times. Photo Courtesy Adam Henig

Exactly what is expected of a supervisor of these programs? Supervision includes monitoring not only the athletes, but also the facility and equipment, and the environment around the activity (e.g., distractions).

In almost every lawsuit claiming negligence, lack of supervision is included as a cause of injury. Proper supervision is a legal duty for all instructors and perhaps the most crucial factor in a safe environment in the gym.

Stand Where You Can See Everyone

Best practices dictate that all participants remain within the supervisor’s field of vision at all times. In practical terms, the instructor needs to decide how to provide direct supervision (teaching or spotting a skill) while maintaining indirect (visual and auditory) supervision.

Typically the instructor selects the activity with the highest risk and maintains closer and more direct supervision there, while other students are independent of the supervisor’s direct attention, but remain within visual contact.

Look For Hazards

The first task of supervision is to remove any hazards. Require all instructors to inspect the facility, the equipment, and the environment before any activity is allowed. Remind them to be aware of any potential problems, tripping hazards, obstructions, etc., paying special attention to walkways and traffic patterns between events.

Setting physical limits also helps; however, physical limits should not exceed the ability to see and hear all that is going on.

Knowing the activity and location in advance can aid in limiting potential challenges.

Recognizing participants as well as their weaknesses or strengths also may assist in curbing problems. For instance, a student who is prone to overconfidence may exceed his or her abilities and suffer an injury.

One key factor in maintaining quality supervision is to clearly set and explain expectations daily with students prior to any activity.

Anticipate Problems

Try to be aware of what may happen. Many times, individuals miss the signals of potential problems ahead. If an instructor is aware of a group’s or individual’s moods, he or she can step in to help steer the group in the right direction.

It's important for a supervisor to make class members aware of the rules. Photo Courtesy Kimberly Saxton

Head Count

Use a head count every few minutes to ensure accountability. It’s difficult to keep a group together, and there always seems to be someone wandering off. The instructor should try to be in position to react quickly.

Policies and procedures also should be in place for any transfer of supervision. Students are the responsibility of the gym until they leave the property and supervision is transferred to another authority (e.g., parent/guardian).

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