I had my class in a line, flying like birds down the tumble strip on our way to pit time. Beside us were some level 8 girls working their passes into the pit. I saw him out of the corner of my eye. He was excited to get to pit time. Before I knew it, he BOLTED, sprinting and jumping into the pit.
Little did he realize, one of the team girls was mid-pass, screaming because she saw him, and back tucked OVER him and they both landed tangled in the pit. No one was hurt, but it was one of the scariest moments of my coaching career.
I had to face the facts: I had a RUNNER. It puts me in a cold sweat just thinking about it.
Runners are arguably the most disruptive and dangerous behavior in the gym because of the unpredictability of when and where certain young gymnasts will run. A runner in an empty gym is disruptive enough, but runners in a gym full of rec and team kiddos? So scary! The runner not only has the potential to hurt themselves but they can also hurt other gymnasts if they get hit while others are tumbling or swinging on bars.
It’s hands down one of the most challenging, (but also common) behaviors in a preschool gym class. We’re in luck, though, because there are some strategies you can use to keep kids with you and not running all over the gym.
Alright, I'm going to be realistic here and pretend there are no other staff members available to support you in this class. Floater coaches are fantastic, but not every gym is able to support an extra staff member on the floor (my programs never had floaters).
Here are some strategies that help eliminate runners:
1. Look For Patterns
Start by looking at the ages of the runners and see if there's a pattern. If they're all two and three, it may be better to have those gymnasts in parent tot still. If their parent is in the gym to support them, they are less likely to run out. Anything under three is super young to be in an independent class (plus it's REALLY hard on you to coach twos on your own!), and if your runner gymnast is very young, it might be a sign of transitioning into an independent class too soon.
Other questions to ask and look for patterns:
What time of day/night? It's possible this child/children are in an evening class, maybe trying a day class (if possible) when the child is more fresh might help.
Is there a pattern of when each child runs? (during transitions, certain rotations, leaving mama in the lobby, etc?) if you know when they run, it'll be easier to come up with solutions.
What is your ratio of coach/gymnast? If it's high, you can't possibly watch all those kiddos at once, allowing ample opportunity for your runner to bolt.
2. Chop It Up
Often, a class of very young gymnasts aren’t yet able to follow the whole circuit with 6-7 stations, so they get board and take off. Chop the circuit in half and do two 3-4 station circuits.
This really works because your gymnasts are able to master a small circuit, stay engaged and focused on the work and not on looking over or running toward their parent. Chopping a circuit into two smaller ones keeps things fresh, so gymnasts’ stay excited and on their toes about what’s coming next.
3. Brain Break
Try adding a 'brain break' from your direct instruction in the middle of class and see if that helps. Your flow might go: warm up, rotation one, brain break of bubbles or parachute, etc., then rotation 2, ending activity, goodbye song, lobby.
Adding that 'break' in the middle of class is two fold: it'll give kids a small break from your direct instruction (AKA talking), and add incentive for them to follow directions and stay with you.
4. Live By The Biggest of ‘The Big Three’
There are three big rules of being in the gym (if you want to know more, check out this post), but the major one is staying with our coach when we’re in the gym. If you’ve got a runner, repeat and live by this rule all class long.
Say things like “ok, let’s make a line behind me because we stay with our coach when we’re in the gym!” Keep that child physically close to you, and when you’re transitioning from one rotation to another, hold their hand.
5. Find a Win
When you have a disruptive behavior like running from class, it’s important to find any 'win' for that child. If he/she is staying with you in a time when they'd generally run, find something small to praise.
Any super simple positive praise like "I see your feet on that beam, keeping your body safe!” or “I see your body behind mine in our line!” can help. Start very small, if needed, to reinforce the positive choices your runner gymnast is making.
6. Ask About Home
Sometimes when certain gymnasts show undesirable behaviors, like running, seemingly out of the blue, it’s because there has been a significant change at home. This can be anything from a new baby or moving houses. Ask parents gently if there have been any changes at home, then you can give your gymnast some extra attention and grace around the upheaval in their home life.
7. Train a Junior Coach
Yes, I know, if you had an extra coach, you’d use them right? I get it.
Even if you don’t have a full blown coach available to help with a runner, it is the perfect time to train a junior coach in preschool. Runners are top priority, safety speaking, so adding an extra junior coach into that class will be worth it.
Safety in Leadership!
Runners are a challenge, but by putting these strategies in place, it will help keep everyone safe and decrease the likelihood of one of your gymnasts bolting across the gym, giving you (and everyone else) minor heart palpitations.
The safety of every gymnast is top priority, so do whatever it takes to maintain that environment. Keep with it, and if all else fails, bring in the parent to help for a few weeks and see if there is improvement. Be firm about your expectations, you are a leader and you’ll be great!