UF Researcher: P.E. Teachers And Coaches Can Make Sports Safer

Published: February 22 2000

Category:Education, Family, Law, Research

GAINESVILLE — A 40-year-old North Carolina man attempts a back flip at a local YMCA at his instructor’s urging and winds up paralyzed.

As his teacher pitches, a Massachusetts high school boy playing a game of stickball sustains a severe permanent eye injury because he wasn’t wearing a mask.

A 9-year-old girl in South Carolina is told to dive through a Hula Hoop into a forward roll during gym class at school and is left temporarily paralyzed.

All three incidents were preventable tragedies that left one person permanently injured and another facing a civil lawsuit, said University of Florida Professor Dan Connaughton, who worked as an expert witness in all three cases and numerous similar ones.

However, Connaughton found in a study of one Florida school district that the majority of physical education teachers didn’t have adequate knowledge of negligence, risk management and liability concepts.

In a study presented at the National Technology Conference in Physical Education and Sport, Connaughton, an assistant professor in UF’s department of exercise and sport sciences, described several World Wide Web sites that can help physical education teachers and coaches make activities safer while protecting themselves against liability.

“It amazes me, as an expert witness, that many of the cases I’ve been involved with were easily preventable,” Connaughton said. “In the vast majority of cases, the people in charge never intended to harm anybody. They’re trying to help people, but they either don’t know about the proper precautions they need to take or they don’t use common sense.”

In the case of the North Carolina man, his instructor had never taught gymnastics to an adult and neglected to attach a harness to him, one of the basic safety precautions for beginning gymnasts. The Massachusetts boy had a mask nearby, but his teacher never asked him to put it on. The 9-year-old South Carolina girl received faulty instructions for the dive through the hoop and landed on a mat too thin to soften the impact.

“No physical education program can be risk-free, but not taking the proper precautions can increase the chance of injury and a resulting lawsuit,” Connaughton said.

Physical education teachers and coaches should take the time to educate themselves about safety precautions, accepted standards and practices in the sports they teach and lawsuits that have resulted from negligence, Connaughton said. That will help make organized sports safer, reduce the incidence of injury and protect coaches and teachers from liability if an injury occurs.

“There’s more opportunity for children to be injured when they’re participating in physical activities,” said Judith Young, the executive director of the National Association for Sport and Physical Education. “A big component of safety-related issues is that teachers should know how to do activities properly so that they’re prepared to minimize risk. We should take advantage of the research and information available.”

Connaughton recommends these Web sites:


Kristin Harmel
Dan Connaughton

Category:Education, Family, Law, Research