Have you watched a youth competitive cheerleading squad lately? Now think back to your youth and what cheerleading looked like then. It is hard to deny that youth cheerleading squads have become more competitive and athletic throughout the last decade.
As our youth have strived to reach the top of their game and become advanced in their skills (tumbling, tossing, building pyramids, etc) we have watched the rate of injuries quickly rise also. The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission reported a 400% increase in clinic emergency visits for cheerleading injuries from 1980-2007 (4,954 vs. 26,786). Shields and Smith (2009) point to most of these injuries occurring in practice (85%) and mainly among high school cheerleaders (51%), rather than in those at the collegiate level.
Cheerleading has become a high-risk sport and is being recognized as such. The increased skills and competitiveness has been associated with increases in catastrophic musculoskeletal injuries and other health hazards. Risk factors for cheerleading injuries include: 1) previous injury; 2) cheering on hard surfaces; 3) supervision by untrained rather than trained coaches; and 3) increased BMI. Over time, the American Association of Cheerleading Coaches and Advisors and the National Federation of State High School Association have enacted rules to reduce these risks and institute new safety rules.
Policy Statement from the American Academy of Pediatrics, Council on Sports Medicine and Fitness. “The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that its chapters and individual pediatricians, especially those serving as school physicians, advisors, or consultants, work with their interscholastic athletic associations and other state and local cheerleading regulating bodies to ensure that the following guidelines are followed to reduce cheerleading injuries.”
1. Cheerleading should be designated a sport so that it is subject to rules and regulations set forth by sports governing bodies (eg, NCAA, NFHS) and school athletic departments. Designation of cheerleading as a sport will afford it the same benefits as other sports, such as availability of athletic trainers, improved access to medical care, limits on practice time, better facilities, certified/qualified coaches, and inclusion in injury surveillance data.
2. Cheerleaders should have a preparticipation physical examination before participating in a cheerleading program and should have access to appropriate strength and conditioning programs.
3. Cheerleaders should be supervised by qualified coaches who have been trained and certified in proper spotting for gymnastics and partner stunts, safety measures, and basic injury management.
4. Cheerleaders should be trained in proper spotting techniques and should only attempt stunts after they have demonstrated appropriate skill progression and proficiency required to complete the stunt. Spotters and bases should have adequate upper body and core strength and balance to support flyers.
5. Technical skills, such as pyramids, mounts, tosses, and tumbling, should not be performed on hard (eg, concrete, asphalt), wet, or uneven surfaces or surfaces with obstructions. No cheer events should take place on dirt, vinyl floors, concrete, or asphalt.
6. Pyramids and partner stunts should only be performed on a spring floor or with a landing mat on either a traditional foam floor or grass/turf.
7. Pyramids should not be more than 2 people high and should only be performed with spotters.
8. Coaches should follow rules for execution of technical skills set forth in the most recent version of the NFHS Spirit Rules Handbook (http://www.nfhs.com/c-229-spirit.aspx) and the AACCA Cheerleading Safety Manual (http://aacca.org/content.aspx?item=Safety/2011-12SchoolCheerleadingRules.xml).
9. Coaches, parents, and athletes should have access to a written emergency plan, designed by school administrators in conjunction with the team physician and/or certified athletic trainer. Whenever possible, a certified athletic trainer or physician should be present at practices and competitions.
10. Cheer competitions should be held in venues that are compliant with guidelines of the National Cheer Safety Foundation and the AACCA.
11. Any cheerleader showing signs of a head injury should be removed from practice or competition and not allowed to return until he or she has received written clearance from a physician or qualified health care provider. Coaches, parents, and officials should be knowledgeable regarding the cause, prevention, recognition, and response to concussion. Free online educational materials are available through the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (http://www.cdc.gov/concussion/) and the NFHS (http://www.nfhs.org).
12. Surveillance of cheerleading injuries should continue. All catastrophic injuries should be reported to the National Center for Catastrophic Sports Injury Research at Mueller@e-mail.unc.edu or National Cheer Safety Foundation at http://nationalcheersafety.com or by calling their Injury Reporting Hotline at 1-800-596-7860 ext 201. Research regarding injury epidemiology, mechanisms, and effectiveness of safety measures is necessary to guide new rules and recommendations for improving safety.
As in any sport, having a cheerleader both physically and mentally prepared may aid in prevention of injuries.
What are your thoughts? Is enough being done to protect our youth? If Cheer was officially recognized as a varsity sport and had consistent guidelines, would our youth be safer?