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Not Your Mother’s Cheerleaders

A reader of yesterday’s blog took me to task for my comment about competitive cheerleading.  I asked why anyone would cheer for other people instead of playing the game themselves.  Here’s what Allison had to say:

Competitive cheer is just that - competitive. Teams attend competitions, sometimes every weekend, around the state and country. The point is to demonstrate motion, voice, dance, tumbling, and stunting skills, and the teams are scored by judges, much like in gymnastics.

Well, I checked out the website Allison suggested, and she is right.  I stand corrected.  Competitive cheerleading isn’t about standing on the sidelines with pom poms while boys (or maybe girls) compete.  It is much more like competitive team gymnastics.

Cheering  In fact, as I did a little more research, it turns out that competitive cheerleading is considered by some to be one of the most dangerous sports for high school girls.   The National Center for Catastrophic Sports Injuries reports that cheerleading accounts for 65% of all catastrophic sports injuries for high school girls occurring over the last 25 years.

Both ABC and CBS did features on a study done by Brenda Shields, the Research Coordinator at the Center for Injury Research and Policy at Columbus (Ohio) Children’s Hospital.  The study, published in the journal Pediatrics, examined 209,000 children treated in emergency rooms over 13 years.  Injuries to female children from 12-17 accounted for well over half of their injuries.

Researchers noted that cheerleading has changed over the years to include much more tumbling and stunts, as my reader described.  Because of the demands of the sport, doctors recommend better trained coaches, more careful training for the athletes themselves, and more supervision.

I’d be interested in knowing if schools have adopted safer practices for competitive cheerleading since the report came out in 2006.  And my apologies to the kids.  It’s a tough sport.


Thanks for your response! You're right: competitive cheer is, unfortunately, one of the most dangerous sports around. Coaching has not caught up with the skills; in other words, many schools still have a staff or parent adviser, which worked pretty well when girls were standing on the ground doing arm motions with poms and megaphones. However, when you start throwing back tucks and building complicated pyramids, you've got to have a coach who understands skill progression and safety.

Your post is totally correct in stating that if there were more supervision and coaches who knew what they were doing, there would be less injuries. I think mandating of training and oversight from boards and coaches groups is why some formerly dangerous sports like football have improved their safety records. Like with football, many cheerleading injuries are the result of negligent coaches and advisers.

Cheerleading is a form of gymnastics, which everyone is open to join in. It doesn't matter if you're young or old; what matters is your passion and will to perform.

Cheerleading is a great exercise to keep your bones strong and flexible. However, there are so many risks. But with constant practice, you'll learn your way through it without injuries.

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