Supervision and Instruction

April 07, 2011

Ian McGregor, Ph.D.
President, McGregor & Associates

Insufficient supervision and lack of appropriate instruction in sport and recreation are the most frequent types of negligence seen in the courts. Hence it is critical that effective supervision and instructional policies are developed which clearly spell out the requirements and expectations in these two areas.

Step 1: Develop a Risk Grid
From a risk management perspective, it is (always) important to look at issues through a ‘high-risk’ lens. In other words, what are the key supervision and instruction issues relating to ‘high-risk activities’ or ‘high-risk participants’?

Hence your starting point should be to look at the Risk Matrix and develop a program/ participant ‘Grid’ that separates your activities and participants into higher risk and lower risk categories.
Your Grid might look something like this (illustration only):

Higher Risk                                              Lower Risk
Karate Instruction Program                     Tennis Lessons
Rugby Club                                            Ballroom Dance Club
Summer Camps (all)                              Intramural Volleyball
Elder aerobics classes                             Drop in Table Tennis

The key point is to focus on these identified higher—risk areas

Step 2: Focus on the key Supervision/ Instruction Issues
From a risk management perspective, the KEY issues are:
Qualifications & Certifications of Supervisors/ Instructors
Supervision Ratios
Lesson Plans & Progressions

Qualifications & Certifications
Hiring the right person for the job is critical! In the case of activity supervisors and instructors, this means they must be properly qualified. Three key steps to follow in the hiring process:
a) At the department, level determine minimum levels of qualification required for all supervisory/instructional positions that involve high risk activities. The qualification levels may vary from activity to activity depending on a number of factors, but the concept of reasonable standard of care must dictate all decisions in this regard.
b) Obtain proof of technical competence from prospective employees. Certification by recognized sport/recreation authorities indicates technical competence at a certain level. File copies o each individual’s certifications.
c) Test qualifications. In some situations, e.g. hiring lifeguards, it may be possible and desirable to test technical competence prior to official hiring. Also, in situations where the actual teaching of certain skills is an important component of the job, this qualifications testing process will provide an opportunity to determine the applicant’s ability to teach others.

Supervision Ratios
Determining supervision ratios can be challenging. For the pool situation, lifeguard-to-bather ratios are determined by law, or recommended by national organizations or regulatory bodies. But for many other activities, determining reasonable ratios usually boils down to using common sense. Factors to consider when determining how many supervisors are required include:
Nature of the activity (high risk/low risk; high skill/ low skill)
Age, condition and experience of the participant
Number of Participants
Physical environment

Lesson Plans & Progressions
Activity instructors are inherently supervisors, hence all supervisory guidelines apply to this group. What distinguishes instructors from supervisors is the fact that in addition to supervising a group, instructors actually instruct/ coach/ teach participants.
The two key issues for instructors center around
(a) lesson plans
(b) progressive instruction.
It is essential that instructors (a) teach activities in a progressive manner and (b) document (through lesson plans) their instructional process or any standard protocols they follow. Administrators should review and file these lesson plans.

One last point
Activity supervisors/ instructors need to be supervised! This ensures that they are efficiently and effectively performing their duties, staying current with changes in industry standards, and the reasonable standard of care requirements are being met. This entails ongoing performance management and review.

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