Gymnastics risk management news

Vol. 1, 2018

Supervision means safety

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.

Young kids in leotards looking at instructorWe 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


Check your equipment

It is good practice to check all safety equipment before and after each use to ensure that it’s in proper working condition. Replace or repair it immediately if any problems are noted. Some other things to consider: 

  • Select equipment based on the planned activity, and make sure it’s appropriate for the age, size, and skill level of the gymnast.
  • Periodically evaluate how your equipment is arranged. If your class size has grown, you may need to arrange equipment to avoid accidental collision of gymnasts with equipment or other athletes during practice or tournaments.
  • Make sure the floor padding is thick enough to cushion a landing. Place and properly secure mats under equipment so they do not move.
  • Inspect the floor surface and mats. Consider replacing all mats that show signs of excessive deterioration.

Kids grow quickly and at different rates, so it’s important for parents and coaches to monitor protective gear regularly. Depending on the activity, gear can include special gymnastics or athletic shoes; handgrips; sweat bands; wrist, ankle, or torso belts; and knee, elbow, and heel pads.

One way to get parents and kids interested in equipment safety is to host a sports clinic. Have a professional coaching group talk about the inherent risks of sports participation, proper technique, rules, safety equipment, nutrition, drug and alcohol abuse, sportsmanship, and having fun. If possible, have parent(s) participate. Ask parent(s) to sign a Certificate of Attendance -- this document is extremely helpful in the event of a claim or lawsuit.

Periodic checks with the Consumer Product Safety Commission will alert you to product recalls and provide additional safety tips. Check their web site at or call their hotline at 800-638-2772.


Documentation can lead to gold medal success

In the event your club is faced with an accident that results in a claim being filed against your insurance, how well you document events is critical in helping a claims manager address liability issues.

In Herb Appenzeller’s book, Risk Management in Sport – Issues and Strategies, Second Edition, the following several key points address the sports facility risk management documentation process:

  • Keeping good records is essential – in court, it helps demonstrate safety inspections were done or what preventive maintenance was performed
  • Be diligent and thorough in regards to documentation related to an incident
  • Know the statute of limitation, or the length of time an injured individual has in which to initiate a law suit in your jurisdiction. Maintain all records at least until it expires.Especially in the case of an injury to a minor, the time can be much longer.
  • Develop a good system for organizing and cataloging all records associated with an incident, even if it occurred several years ago.


  • Appenzeller, Herb. Risk Management in Sport – Issues and Strategies, Second Edition. Carolina Press Company. Durham, NC. 2005
  • Gymnastics Risk Management Safety Course Handbook, 2013 Edition (Revised 2014). USA Gymnastics, Inc., Indiana. 2013
  • Martens,Rainer. Successful Coaching, Third Edition. Human Kinetics. 2004


See you at the USAG National Congress!

USAG National Congress Trade Show 2018 logo 

Come visit us at the Markel booth to talk to us about your gymnastics insurance needs and to register to win a $100 gift card to the USAG store.

The information provided in this article is intended for general informational purposes only and should not be considered as all encompassing, or suitable for all situations, conditions, and environments. Please contact us or your attorney if you have any questions.