Once upon a time, cheerleaders were simply relegated to the sidelines and cheerleading safety issues weren't even a concern. After all, what could go wrong while you're standing there yelling? Even a cartwheel here or there didn't pose a serious risk.
However, as cheerleading evolved, so did the athleticism required to carry out today's cheers and stunts. Cheerleaders fly, tumble and get tossed through the air. They perform stunts that even experienced gymnasts won't do. On top of that, unlike a gymnast, cheerleaders often perform stunts without safety mats.
Cheerleading Safety Issues Are Front and Center
Cheerleaders understand that there is an inherent risk in cheerleading. However, no one ever expects for cheerleading to lead to death or paralysis. As the media brings more attention to the types of injuries that are occurring in cheerleading, some organizations have made some positive steps to attempt to prevent catastrophic injuries. While you cannot prevent every injury from happening, the hope is that by placing regulations on the sport, the worst types of injuries can be prevented.
Progress Towards Injury Prevention
In the last decade, there has been more progress toward preventing serious cheerleading injuries.
Safety Certification for Coaches
It used to be that there was no recognizable entity offering safety certification or safety education to coaches. Now, most major cheerleading organizations not only offer safety education courses but host continuing education workshops during events such as cheer camp.
Better Rules Mean Less Injuries
The recent evolution of cheerleading has also brought a change to some of the rules. In 2006, a Southern Illinois cheerleader infamously fell from a pyramid during a half time routine at the game. That accident happened to be televised. The cameras were rolling and the incident was played over and over again as a clearly injured Kristi Yamaoka continued cheering with her arms from the stretcher. While she won the hearts of thousands of fans, her incident also brought a few new regulations to college cheerleading:
- Pyramids more than two people high were out.
- Cheerleaders must use mats to stunt.
While many cheerleaders found the rules stifling and annoying, the cheerleading industry made a big move towards preventing serious injuries to its participants. However, there are still many areas that need improvement.
Injury Prevention Hindered
Believe it or not, one of the biggest obstacles towards safer cheerleading is denying that it is a sport. This affects not only the quality of programs that are out there, but also the extent to which programs can be regulated.
Cheerleading Programs As an After Thought
Not always, but often, cheerleading programs are an after thought to an already existing program. There's nothing wrong with implementing cheerleading to go along side a sport, but with that said, the problem arises when untrained staff take over these cheerleading programs.
Coach training and education should be ongoing and not a one time certification. However, if cheerleading is an activity, and a peripheral activity at that, coaches are often the teachers and staff that happened to be available. In addition, some squads don't garner the type of funding that would allow coaches and other staff to further their safety training.
Cheerleading As a Sport
Another aspect towards making cheerleading safer is that there are organizations that regulate sports. They do this by setting rules and then refusing play for teams who don't follow those rules. However, if cheerleading is not considered a sport, it is not subject to the regulations of a league board. While some squads avoid difficult stunting for this reason, other squads don't, and this is a dangerous combination.
Addressing Safety Issues
In order to make cheerleading safer for its athletes, squads can:
- Hire coaches that have safety certification
- Pay for coaches' ongoing education in cheerleading management
- Submit cheerleading safety issues and concerns to governing boards that help make regulations that standardize safety procedures
- Put in place safety regulations to limit the type of stunting that squads can do
While cheerleading has made great strides towards making this sport as safe as possible, there are still some improvements to be made.