Is Cheerleading Regulated and Safe?

CBS news has recently run a story on the dangers of cheerleading. You can find the story at:

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The position offered by this news organization is that cheerleading coaching isn’t regulated and that this part of the major reason why there are so many injuries. This is a very controversial position. There are many organizations out there whose primary responsibility is to manage the safety of cheerleading at various levels [1], like the NFHS which governs public high school teams, AACCA which provides training and coaching to all levels of cheerleading coaches, or USASF which aspires to certify all All Star programs.

These organizations have quickly mobilized against this story. From their response I get two things. Firstly, they are doing their best to educate coaches and work on safety and making this sport a safer environment for students. Secondly, and perhaps more terrifying, they are afraid of what a story like this could do to the sport. Some college teams have already started to ban some aspects of modern cheerleading, like stunting, in order to try to prevent more injuries [2]. Some of these injuries have already had rippling effects on the cheerleading community.

Several years ago AACCA modified their rules to be more protective. They have reduced the level of difficulty allowed in certain tumbling passes, both in competitions and sporting events. College cheerleading has been taken down a notch since the days that I cheered in college, tumbling double fulls are now illegal, even in competition, amongst other changes.

The CBS article has bunch of misquotes and incorrect information. They state that there is little to no regulation on the sport, and that couldn’t be further from the truth (as mentioned above). They stipulate that cheerleading is a catastrophically dangerous sport, causing more than half of the 112 female catastrophic injuries in high school and college related programs in the past 25 years. This factor doesn’t include extracurricular motivated cheerleading like all star programs, so this number is probably even higher.

I’m not saying cheerleading is without risk, and that there weren’t a large number of catastrophic injuries due to cheerleading in the past years, but CBS is wrong. The report which they quote states otherwise. Of the 112 injuries, 80 were directly related to a sport. Cheerleading has 44 of these injuries, which is more than any other sport on this list. Of the indirect injuries (112 – 80 = 32), only seven were related to cheerleading. Okay, so cheerleading still appears to be a very dangerous sport. What this report doesn’t contain is the trend over the 24 years this report has been collected.

There are many questions that come to mind:

  • How many catastrophic injuries occured in cheerleading in 2006 vs. 2004?
  • Are there any trends in the data?
  • Of the schools where the catastrophic injuries occured, how many of the coaches were correctly certified by the terms that the state or the school district requires?

These questions are important because the safety of cheerleading has evolved since the beginning of this injury report. AACCA was founded in 1988. USASF was founded in 2003 [3]. Not all schools or gyms are currently certified by these organizations. As these organizations increase their presence, we begin to see noted improvement in the number of injuries (they are going down). This makes sense, increased education in the dangers allows coaches and administrators to better protect their cheerleaders.

This CBS news article/report is based on mostly conjecture, and poor quoting (based on the comments and the article distributed on Varsity). That being said, I still somewhat agree with their general position that negligence in coaching can cause injury. While it may be true that many schools and districts may, by law, require their cheerleading coaches to obtain certain certifications, not all enforcers of this policy know about this requirement. I see it like this, you wouldn’t take advice about how to sky dive from someone who has never even gone himself. The same holds true for some of the aspects of cheerleading. Yet of my high school cheerleading coaches, at least two of them had no prior cheerleading experience before being placed in charge of my team. I’m sure this occurrence is not unique to my situation.

What we should take away form this is that we need to continue to educate administrators about the dangers of the sport and continue to increase the level of training for coaches. Education won’t prevent all injuries, but it can help reduce the severity and frequency of injuries.

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