Cheerleading Poses Risks to Participants

Dorian Martin Health Guide
  • I am dating myself, but I remember cheerleading as being just that – cheerleaders standing on the side of the field (or court) leading yells and trying to get the crowd engaged in the game. But times have definitely changed. Just watch the movie “Bring It On: All or Nothing” and your mouth will be agape at all the crazy stunts and tricks that cheerleaders now do regularly as part of their routine. For me at least, it’s reasonable to consider cheerleading no longer an activity; instead, I’d suggest it’s a full-fledged sport.

    Perhaps it’s cheerleading’s daredevil aspect that is causing a surge in popularity.  The number of students who participated in cheerleading either at school or in extracurricular competitive squads was over 3 million in 2003. These participants, who are age 6 and over, represent a tremendous jump in this activity, which only had 600,000 participants in 1990s. Ninety-six percent are girls, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics.

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    These cheerleaders now routinely do intricate gymnastics as part of their cheerleading routine, including tumbling, leaping, jumping, tossing and being part of a human pyramid. Therefore, it’s not surprising that cheerleading results in 60-70 percent of all catastrophic injuries in girls’ high school sports. Interestingly, though, the overall injury rate is low when compared to other girls’ sports, including soccer and basketball.

    And as I noted on a sharepost on the Alzheimer’s site, cheerleaders are at risk of injuring their brain.  Concussions are a risk for any athlete, but are of particular concern for those participating in cheerleading due to the nature of the activity involving height, inversion and rotation of the body as well as physical interaction and contact with other team members,” the American Association of Cheerleading Coaches & Administrators (AACCA) stated. Cheerleading was responsible for 64.8 percent of all direct catastrophic injuries to high school girl athletes and 70.6 percent of college girl athletes between 1982 and 2011, according to the National Center for Catastrophic Sport Injury Research.


    So what if you have a child who wants to be a cheerleader? How can you recognize whether they are safely participating in this sport? I’d suggest looking at the guidelines set up by the AACCA. 

    The AACCA also has developed a parent’s guide. Some of the suggestions in this guide include:

    • Finding out whether the cheerleading coach is certified through AACCA.
    • Making sure that the school has conducted appropriate background checks on the cheerleading coach.
    • Making sure the cheerleading coach adheres to accepted practice and performance guidelines.
    • Ensuring that the cheerleading coach teaches performance skills in the proper sequence through using skills progression training and has an emphasis on training all squad members in how to properly spot (assist or catch the top person in a stunt in order to protect that cheerleader’s head, neck and shoulders).
    • Learning whether the cheerleading coach properly balances practice time between athletic training and instruction on spirit leadership.
    • Ensuring that the cheerleading coach and squad have a comprehensive emergency plan in place to trigger a quick and effective response in an emergency situation with specific duties assigned to all responders.

    Additionally, some states are taking steps to oversee cheerleading to better safeguard the participants. For instance, the University Interscholastic League in Texas recently voted to bring cheerleading into compliance with the education code that focuses on the prevention, treatment and oversight of concussions.  This means that schools will have to create a cheerleading oversight team to ensure that the squad follows established protocol in order to remove a cheerleader who is believed to have suffered a concussion from practices and competitions. This team also would follow a protocol in order to allow the injured cheerleader to return to the squad.

  • Primary Sources for This Sharepost:

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    American Association of Cheerleading Coaches & Administrators. (nd.). Website.

    MedlinePlus. (2013). As cheerleading evolves, injuries mount.

Published On: July 05, 2013