Make safety part of cheerleading

Photo courtesy of Metro

By: Metro Creative

Cheerleading can be a physically demanding activity full of stunts, dancing and tumbling. Although it was initially designed to entertain and motivate crowds during sporting events, cheerleading has become a competition in its own right and features seasoned athletes who dedicate themselves and commit to year-round rigorous training.

Active Network, a company that provides software as a service for sports activity and participant management, says that more than 3.3 million Americans participate in cheerleading each year. Sometimes referred to as spirit sports, cheerleading also is popular in Canada. Over the last 10 years, several cheerleading gyms have opened in Alberta and other areas of the country. Cheerleading teams perform tumbling, dance, gymnastics, and acrobatic stunts. Particular squad members are selected to be ‘flyers’ who are lifted or tossed in the air by their ‘bases,’ according to Sports Medicine Update.

An increasing level of complexity and stunts can put cheerleading athletes at high risk for injury. The University of Rochester Medical Center says many cheerleading injuries now occur when athletes perform risky maneuvers. Data collected by the National High School Sports-Related Injury Surveillance Study from 2009-2010 through 2013-2014 indicates cheerleading has a disproportionately high rate of catastrophic injuries (over 50 percent of all catastrophic injuries in female high school athletes), including skull fractures, death, cervical fractures or major ligamentous injury, spinal cord contusions, paralysis, and severe head injuries resulting in permanent brain injury, compared to other sports.

To stay safe during cheerleading competitions, participants and their parents should understand the activity is not without risk. However, certain steps can make the sport more safe.

• TeensHealth from Nemours says flyers might want to consider wearing a lightweight cheer vest while practicing to protect themselves from bruising and injuries.

• Cheerleaders should wear the proper footwear, which includes rubber-soled shoes.

• Landing mats or spring floors that absorb impact should be used during practices.

• Restrict pyramid heights to prevent falls. Children’s Hospital Colorado says that pyramids may only be two levels in high school, and in college they may only be 2.5 body lengths.

• Cheerleading coaches should ensure that participants understand and can perform basic skills before introducing more advanced acrobatic/gymnastics maneuvers.

• The USA Federation for Sport Cheering mandates the use of spotters for pyramids and basket tosses, and they should be used in both practice and competition. These spotters must always be present and properly trained.

• Coaches should be certified by the American Association of Cheerleading Coaches and Advisors. This program is to educate cheerleading coaches at all levels. Apart from the AACCA, safety guidelines can be obtained from other organizations, such as the United States All Star Federation, CheerSafe, and the National Federation of State High School Associations.

These are governing bodies that were established to set rules for cheerleading safety to limit risk and help protect athletes at all levels of participation.