Safety Concerns

The sport of gymnastics can be a very high-risk, dangerous activity, particularly in a Grade Eight Physical Education classroom, as there are numerous factors, such as chronological and developmental levels, ability levels, strength and flexibility issues, cognitive and behavioural self-management of the students, and equipment and facility concerns, that make it a potentially hazardous activity. 

In order to have a gymnastics unit that is fun, challenging, safe, and a positive learning experience, the teacher and the students must place safety high on their list of priorities.  If safety concerns are not met, injury, legal liability cases, and the termination of gymnastic activity may result.

    Having said that, gymnastics can and should be a vital part of Physical Education. With careful planning, proper instruction, and vigilant supervision, gymnastics can and must be safe, enjoyable, and challenging for everyone involved.  The concerns that must be addressed include teacher-based safety concerns, student-based concerns, equipment-based concerns, and adequate warm-up and instruction.

Teacher-based concerns

    The teacher must do several things to ensure the safety of all participants during a gymnastics unit.  First, the teacher must clearly state the safety rules that everyone must know and abide by.  The teacher must develop concise written guidelines for class and student conduct (Hacker, Malmberg, & Nance, 1996), and then MODEL those expected safety behaviours while around students.  Second, the teacher must ensure that the students are dressed appropriatelyfor gymnastics; the students should be wearing comfortable, breathable clothing that will allow them to move freely in every plane and direction, and with shoes that provide adequate support and traction.Third, the teacher must plan the activities with the school’s goals and objectives in mind (Hacker et al, 1996); furthermore, the teacher should develop their own goals and objectives for the class and the specific unit, and strive to meet those goals as well.Fourth, the teacher must plan the activity properly, so that the class is effective, efficient, and enjoyable- the “three E’s”.Fifth, the teacher must provide proper instruction.This entails simple, clear instruction given to the students so they are not confused, and the use of proper progressions to help the students learn the skills.Sixth, the teacher must supervise the class carefully, positioning themselves in a location where they can see the entire class at all times.Seventh, the teacher must get to know their students, and understand their strengths, weaknesses, abilities and personalities so they can adjust the class and their teaching style as needed.Eighth, the teacher must keep records on file for all the students.These records should include emergency information and contact numbers, as well as safety warnings and progress reports.Ninth, the teacher must provide a safe learning environment, and warn the students of inherent risks (Hacker et al, 1996).And finally, the teacher must keep informed of the latest knowledge and advances in gymnastics so their students receive the best (and safest) possible instruction (Hacker et al, 1996).

Student-based concerns

The student must learn to self-regulate; that is, the teacher must guide them towards a state of self-regulation.What is meant by this statement is simply that the teacher must help the student become more responsible for their own safety by increasing the student’s awareness of others around them, the equipment and space they are using, and an awareness of themselves and how they move.For example, if a student recklessly launches themselves off a small trampoline before the previous person has gotten out of the way, the teacher should stop them immediately and ask them why they should not do what they just did.When the student has come up with the correct response, encouraging them to find a safer solution (i.e. the person who goes off the trampoline calls “Go!” when they have safely vacated the landing mat) rather than spoon-feeding them a possible solution should foster and develop safer behaviour and self-regulation in the students.

The students must also be aware of the goals, objectives, and rules of the gymnastics class.This should be done in the first class, and reinforced throughout the unit.Having a brief written or oral quiz or including safety points as part of a class project can help ensure that the students are aware of safety concerns at all times.

Equipment concerns

The teacher is responsible for ensuring that the facility and equipment are well-maintained, clean, and safe to use.Ideally, the teacher will be assisted by the students’ watchful eyes, as they can report any hazards or equipment faults that the teacher may have missed.

Proper warm-up

Gymnastics can be very demanding on the body; therefore, a proper warm-up is needed every class to prepare the students to perform.The teacher must ensure that the students are getting a proper warm-up every class, just to get their blood moving, their heart rate up, their body temperature up, their muscles warm and ready for activity, and their minds excited and focused on the lesson.A simple 5-10 minute game or activity that gets the students moving and performing a skill related to gymnastics is all that is needed.