In response to the recent cheerleading injury study released in the journal
Pediatrics, we would like to applaud the call for safety training for coaches.
The AACCA has been providing safety training for cheerleading coaches since
1987. In that time, the AACCA had conducted safety training for over 20,000
coaches. Unfortunately, whether through a lack of emphasis or funding, or due to the plague of coaching turnover experienced across
the spectrum of athletics, there are still many coaches that do not take advantage of the risk
management course offered by the AACCA.
The AACCA has partnered with the National Federation of High Schools in their
Coaches Education Program to offer a very comprehensive training course for
spirit coaches, and it is our sincere hope that this study will encourage
schools, districts and even state associations to require coaches training for
their cheerleading coaches. Several states have already taken this bold step,
including South Dakota, Minnesota and Vermont, while many others offer NFHS and
AACCA safety courses at their coaches conferences.
The study in Pediatrics has put the spotlight on the need for coaches
training and for better statistical information for this athletic activity. Unfortunately, there are also some that have taken the study and used it to
proclaim things as ludicrous as "cheerleaders are getting hurt more than the
players". There is nothing in the study which suggests that, and anyone
attending athletic events regularly will recognize that the incidence of injury
on the field is certainly higher than on the sidelines.
Cheerleading emergency room visits should be viewed next to other athletics
in order to provide some perspective. In addition to this perspective, we need
accurate participation numbers and the number of exposures to injury in order to
more accurately gauge and compare injury rates. We have listed several
other athletic activities from the
for the year 2004, and from ages 5 - 18. Keep in mind that each of these
activities has different levels of participation, but that most of them are
primarily a one-season activity. Cheerleading participation continues
Estimated Emergency Room Visits
Figures are for 2004
One alarming statistic to come from the study is that the emergency
room visits rose 100% in the 13 year period of the study, while participation
rose only 18%. The increase is a concern, and we have to balance out being
alarmist with understanding that cheerleading has become an athletic endeavor,
equal to any other athletic opportunity to which young men and women have
access. In addition, the advent of "non-school" cheerleading -
called "all star" cheerleading - has created programs that practice solely to
participate in multiple competitions. These programs, along with the
increasing number of school programs that are participating in more
competitions, has increased the opportunity for injury. There are simply more
athletes performing at more events than ever before.
There are two issues with how the "100% increase" statistic is being
presented by the media. Many people reading the headlines will not make it far
enough into the article to realize that the increase is over a long period of
time. "100%" is a much more inflammatory number than saying the injuries rose
"8% from the year before". In the only article we've seen to compare
cheerleading emergency room visits to other sports, the cumulative 13-year
figure was given for cheerleading, and it was compared to only one year of
football-related ER visits.
As stated earlier, we feel that the low increase in the number of cheerleaders
is incorrect. With the advent of all star cheerleading over the same time period
of the study, and especially in the last five years, there are many more cheerleaders now participating in many more
events. Some all star cheerleading gyms have over 1,000 participants. If
the participation numbers do not count these athletes, we cannot get an accurate
reflection of the state of cheerleading.
The question is, "what is an acceptable risk for our young athletes?"
Cheerleading is clearly athletic, and that athleticism brings many benefits to
the participants in the same way as do other athletic endeavors. With those
benefits come inherent risks. Our role as administrators, educators,
coaches, parents, and athletes is to manage that risk to an acceptable level,
keeping in mind that the idea that our children should not risk any harm also
means that they will not risk success.
There has also been mention of the idea that there are more injuries than
this due to cheerleaders receiving treatment from their family doctor or the
school athletic trainers. This is certainly more true of other athletic sports
in the school system, as cheerleading programs often do not have ready access to
the athletic trainers at the school. As we recommend in our safety course,
coaches should err on the conservative side and get an athlete to an emergency
room if there is any question of whether or not they should go.
The last point we wish to make is to be cautious of the recommendation that
designating cheerleading as a sport will improve the situation. In order to be a
recognized sport by the Office of Civil Rights, cheerleading programs must be
primarily competitive. The unintended consequence of this action is that a team
that cheers for 10 athletic events for their school would have to compete at 11
events to be "primarily competitive". Currently, most school teams across the
country do not compete at all, and those that do compete usually only
participate in 2 or 3 competitive events a year. The other alternative
would be to create a program that does nothing but compete, whereby the number
of athletes doubles, and the injury numbers would quickly follow suit.
Our purpose is not to diminish the fact that cheerleading is athletic, and
that it does carry risks to the athletes that participate. Our overriding goal
is to minimize injuries to participants, to continue to have cheerleading as the
healthy athletic activity that it is. However, without perspective,
parents and administrators are likely to overreact by putting undue restrictions
on cheerleading programs. If cheerleading injuries are unacceptable, we had
better eliminate tackling from football immediately to save our young athletes
who die at an average of 4 per year in football.
How do we keep cheerleading safe? The answer is for activities and athletics associations, administrations,
coaches, parents and athletes to recognize cheerleading for what it is - a very
athletic activity that requires the proper environment and the supervision of a
mature, qualified coach that only allows his or her team to perform skills they
are qualified to attempt.
For more information on area safety courses, visit