The increase in cheerleading personal injuries is taking people by surprise. What was once a fun and spirited activity is now leaving many young cheerleaders disabled. Experts are attributing the dangers of “cheering” to inadequate safety measures, improper training and the increasing competitiveness of the activity.
If you’ve seen a competitive cheerleading team lately, it’s no shock that competition is tough. Cheerleaders take on stunts and tosses reminiscent of gymnastics. These stunts require immense balance, strength and practice, and if a “flyer” — the one being tossed in the air — falls, she is facing an impact of 2,000 pounds, according to sports show “Sport Science.”
What is a surprise is that high school cheerleading is still not recognized as a sport in most states, including California, and that the increasing number of cheerleading personal injury accidents may be due to lack of regulation. The inconsistency in requirements and training for cheer squads, whose equipment consists mostly of their own strength and a football field sideline, and coaches is proving detrimental to the “sport.”
One volunteer coach from a Los Angeles high school told LA Times reporters that, “the girls learn from previous girls; I just supervise,” implying that she has received no training to properly coach the girls in difficult stunts. When asked if she ever worries about personal injury resulting from high-flying attempts she replies, “That’s what emergency cards are for.”
The truth is that most school have inexperienced coaches. This is likely due to the increase in expenses that would be required to pay for a well-trained coach and since most high schools have a cheer squad, it is doubtful that most squads would be able to afford the same sort of experienced support that, say, a gymnastics team has. Maybe this is why far fewer high schools have a gymnastics team.
Some school districts have adopted “spirit rules” which suggest that coaches pass a safety course provided by the American Association of Cheerleading Coaches and Administrators (AACCA). Coaches that take the course are made aware of the risks involved in cheerleading and how to minimize them. While a coach can pass the course with a 70, the vast majority (in the upper 90% range) make above an 80. Furthermore, the new online course requires that the coach correctly answer every question, or it takes them back through that portion of the course until they answer correctly. No course should ever be considered to be the end-all of training, but something has to be the start! Cheerleading coaches, just like other athletic coaches, should be properly trained, hired on their experience, and supervised by the school administrators. Parents looking out for safety for their children would benefit from Parent’s Guide to Safety.
When it comes to the catastrophic injury these young athletes are sustaining, clearly a move to consistent expectations must be made. Jim Lord, the director of the AACCA, believes “the coach of any team who performs stunts should have CPR and first-aid certifications, a background check and advanced cheerleading training.”