Cheerleading stunts require precision timing, extreme focus, and concentration. Safety rules must be observed at all times. In competition or on the field, make sure you only perform the stunts within your squad's ability level. Regardless of how tempting it is to add one more element to stand out, never add a new move to the routine at the last minute.
Cheerleading Injuries Are Increasingly Common
Cheerleading is no longer a sideline activity but a major sport, and statistics show the number of cheerleading injuries is rising. According to a 2017 report from SportsMed.org "Cheerleading has been shown to have a disproportionately high rate of catastrophic injuries (over 50% of all catastrophic injuries in high school girl athletes)..." They also state that the annual rate of cheerleading injuries has risen 189% from 2001 to 2012.
According to an American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) policy statement, cheerleading is responsible for approximately 66 percent of all catastrophic injuries to high school girl athletes over the last 25 years. The AAP claims the risk of injury is higher if:
- A cheerleader has a high body mass index
- A cheerleader has a previous injury
- Cheers are performed on a hard surface
- Stunts are performed
- Cheerleaders are supervised by coaches with inadequate experience
The most common injuries are to the lower extremities, especially sprains and strains. More severe injuries have been documented, however, such as fractures and head injuries. The potential for catastrophic injury led the AAP to recommend its pediatricians work with athletic associations and cheerleading organizations to make sure specific safety guidelines are followed. They also called for cheerleading be considered a sport to encourage safety precautions.
Cheerleading advocates would point out the importance and necessity of following safety procedures to minimize injuries. However, many also feel that while parents realize there's an inherent risk in football or hockey, they don't recognize the same risk in cheerleading. Recognizing cheerleading as a sport may help change this perception.
How to Minimize Injuries
One of the primary goals in cheerleading is safety. No one wants to see a squad member injured. At the least, it's embarrassing to flub a major stunt but at the worst, the consequences are catastrophic. However, there are steps you can take to ensure the safety of everyone on the squad. Risk is inherent in any sport, and there can still be an injury even while observing safety guidelines. Even so, not following safety guidelines makes serious consequences more likely.
Safety and Spotting
Before your squad attempts a stunt, the entire squad should feel comfortable spotting. This means flyers should know how to fall properly, and bases should know how to catch. It's instinctive to duck or get out of the way of flying objects, so the entire squad should practice fighting their instincts to catch the flyer.
In addition, you should always have an adult spotter. National competitions have adult spotters in the background. Your coach and/or spotter should have first aid training and be experienced cheerleaders.
More Safety Tips
Just a few more safety tips that will make cheerleading safer for the entire squad:
- Take off jewelry!
- Trim those nails. Cheerleaders should not have long fingernails that have the potential of scratching other teammates.
- Know your stunt. Watch a video of the stunt you're attempting and then walk through it. It's vitally important that every single member understands exactly what she is to do.
- Follow stunt progression. Don't advance to the next skill until you've mastered the previous one.
- Do not cheer or perform stunts on wet turf or grass; use floor mats whenever possible.
- Follow pyramid height restrictions and USA Cheer's safety rules.
- It's all about communication. The third (the person standing behind the stunts) should be the one calling the stunts and no one else should be talking during that time.
- Stay tight. Keep your elbows and shoulders in and muscles flexed.
Following these general guidelines will go a long way towards keeping everyone from flyers to bases safe during stunts.
Examples of Stunts Gone Wrong
At first glance, it looks like everyone is doing their jobs during this stunt gone bad. A closer look, however, reveals the real problem. Although it looks like the bases' arms were in the correct position, each person was spaced too far apart, and the flyer fell right through the wide open space left in the center.
This stunt ended with a base having a broken nose. From the video, it looks like the flyer didn't keep her legs tight through her final rotation and lost control of her descent.
The Importance of Proper Training
One thing's for certain. Cheerleading is here to stay. USA Cheer provides rules and guidelines for cheerleaders of all ages. Yet, unlike most other high school sports, such as football and basketball, cheerleading is often unregulated by state sports agencies. Consequently, many coaches are not properly trained on safety procedures and many squads don't follow safety guidelines. This is a problem because just winging it until you get it right may cause devastating injury.
Regulations Improve Safety
Some professional sports organizations, such as the NCAA, recognize cheerleading as a sport and have implemented regulations. For example, cheerleaders must have a physical before participation. Likewise, most cheerleading safety organizations would like to see cheerleading regulated across the board. As long as cheerleaders keep pushing the envelope with stunts, injuries are inevitable. But the risk of serious injury may be reduced if all squads and coaches receive proper safety training.