An American Association of Cheerleading Coaches and Advisors
Addressing the Issue of Mats in Cheerleading
One of the most common questions we receive is "when are mats appropriate for cheerleading?" This is a very good question, and the decision is one that is usually shouldered by the qualified coach. The key, of course, is having a coach that is knowledgeable enough to perceive the limitations of squad members, their skill level in relation to the skill being attempted, their history with the skill, and the nature of the skill being attempted.
It is recommended that cheerleading programs use a matted or soft surface and additional spotters whenever attempting new skills. This is especially true for more advanced skills which require more height, difficulty or intricacy. For example, a squad may have practiced and perfected elevators to the point where they can perform them safely without a mat. However, if the squad is learning a transition involving elevators moving to another set of bases, it is advisable that they practice on a matted or grass surface. The addition of movement and the exchange of feet and hands that comes with changing bases warrant a more conservative approach by the coach.
Across the athletic spectrum, practice is the place where most injuries occur. This is due to many factors including fatigue, loss of concentration, and the development of new skills. The purpose of practice is preparation for the performance. Therefore, practice is inherently the place where cheerleaders will be attempting new skills. It is essential that cheerleading programs have access to safety mats for use when needed.
Another very important occasion for the use of mats is at competitive events for cheerleaders. While every skill should be perfected to the point where they could safely be performed without a mat, the addition of the competitive environment increases risk. At competition, the focus is directly on the cheerleaders and not on another team. There is also increased pressure, whether internal or external, to hold unstable skills that they would otherwise safely dismount. There is increased activity in the performance area, as several combinations of skills -- including jumps, tumbling and stunts -- may be going on at one time. For these reasons, AACCA has recommended that all competitions take place on appropriate matting, with professional spotters provided for increased safety.
While it is always advisable to err on the side of caution, it must be recognized that additional matting is secondary to proper performer readiness when it comes to safety. If the athlete is not qualified to attempt the skill, the increased matting will not provide a significant increase in safety. In addition, while mats are very effective at reducing the force of an impact, mats will not generally decrease the severity of injury in the event of a "sprain" or "strain" type injury.
For more information, the AACCA may be contacted at 1-800-533-6583, or on the internet at http://www.aacca.org.