Cheerleading Safety Month
Let’s face it; the world of cheerleading has changed dramatically since its early days of pompoms, megaphones, a toe-jump and a few high-kicks. In the beginning, their purpose was to lead fans in cheers to help support their team, hence the name cheerleading. In 2017 the sport is now full of gymnastics, endurance, and stunts, some of which involve throwing a girl 25-30 ft in the air. In fact, many competitive squads don’t even have sports teams they are cheering on. All-Star cheer teams participate solely to compete against other competitive cheer squads. Since the sport has become more difficult and require a higher degree of athletic ability, it has also seen a major increase in injuries. In 2007, cheerleading accounted for 70.5% of all collegiate female catastrophic sports injuries and for 65.2% of all high school female catastrophic sports injuries.
Startling Cheerleading Safety Statistics
- In 1980 emergency rooms saw 4,954 visits due to cheerleading injuries
- In 2011 the number of emergency room visits due to cheerleading injuries increased dramatically to 36,925
- Head injuries account for 39% of all cheerleading injuries
- The highest rate of injury occurred during a practice
With the increase of injuries, rules and safety guidelines were introduced by schools and cheer companies to help protect their athletes. Due to these regulations, cheerleading has seen a drop in both catastrophic and emergency room injuries since 2005. This progress continues as organizations are helping to educate coaches, school systems and participants on proper technique and safety precautions and regulations.
Top Safety Tips for Cheerleaders
Safe Practice Area
Since most injuries occur during practice, it is important to make sure that while learning new stunts or working on gymnastic skills, cheerleaders are on a floor that absorbs impact and are using the proper mats or spring floor when available. Never practice on a hard surface such as a basketball court or concrete.
Make Sure the Coach has the Proper Certifications
Cheerleading coaches should be certified by the American Association of Cheerleading Coaches and Administrators (AACCA) or a similar organization. It is important for the coach to be fully aware of all rules and safety precautions that should be in place, as well as proper technique for spotting, stunting and gymnastics.
Learn the Proper Skill Needed for Gymnastics
Oftentimes those not formerly trained in gymnastics can be spotted easily by the trained eye. Have they been taught proper technique or have they been self-taught or trained by someone without a gymnastics background? It is best to have someone that is trained in gymnastics to work with the squad or have the squad go to a gymnastics training center a few times a month to learn proper technique to reduce risk of injury.
Always Warm-up Before Practice
The squad should take the time to perform the proper stretches before each practice, game, and competition to keep muscles warm and loose. Due to the nature of the sport, flexibility is necessary and will help to avoid injury to tendons and muscles.
Always Have a Spotter
Even if the cheerleader has performed a stunt or pyramid one hundred times, they should always have a spotter available to catch the flyer should something go wrong. During practice, a front and back spotter are needed and any additional “hands” will help to ensure the safety of the flyer.
Start with the Basics
Start small while learning to stunt and don’t move to a more complicated stunt until both the bases and the flyer are completely comfortable with the basic formations. Confidence, experience and technical expertise will strengthen the squad and enable them to move on to more difficult stunts as they grow as a team and learn each other’s strengths and weaknesses.
Stop if you Suspect a Head Injury
Head injuries are the most serious injuries in any sport and require an athlete to be examined by a sports medicine trainer or physician. Sometimes the athlete will try to shake it off and carry on, but it is important to evaluate them to rule out a concussion before continuing any activity.
Be Mindful of Body Image
Cheerleading is a competitive sport on more than just an athletic level. Oftentimes the pressure to be the best flyer, be at the top of the pyramid or fit into that small uniform add to the already overwhelming societal perception that young women must maintain small figures with a low body-weight. Keeping a watchful eye on the athlete’s weight loss and energy level is important in the sport of cheerleading. Discuss proper nutrition and exercise with the squad and never be afraid to have that uncomfortable conversation with an athlete that could be susceptible or is suspected to be struggling with their body image.
Due to the necessary safety regulations being put in place, cheerleading injuries have been decreasing over the past decade. While this is great news, it is important to always be mindful and stay up-to-date with the latest research and guidelines. Cheer-Safe is a great resource for any squad, both school-age and collegiate to keep up with safety guidelines for everyone involved. As with any sports injury, it is important to see a specialist if an athlete has been injured. It’s better to be out for a few practices or games than miss an entire season. So cheer loud and be SAFE!
Cheer Safe - www.cheersafe.org
Program for Injury Prevention, Education & Research
Journal of Athletic Training