Cheerleading is now the cause of at least two-thirds of the worst injuries that female high school athletes suffer. This is worrisome, since more than 3 million girls over the age of 6 participate in cheerleading.
Why all these injuries?
For one thing, over the past 10-15 years, the sport has become more physically demanding as cheerleading squads have had to add progressively more complicated acrobatics to their routines.
Some new guidelines
In October, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) responded to this situation by issuing new guidelines for cheerleading, in hopes of improving the safety of this increasingly popular sport. Here are the AAP’s key points:
Give cheerleading designation as a sport. Currently, the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) doesn’t recognize cheerleading as a sport, and in fact only 29 states do treat it as a bona fide sport. The feeling is that formal recognition would attract more qualified coaches and trainers to the sport, and would improve the medical care available to these athletes.
Require all participants to have a preseason physical exam.
Require all participants to be trained in spotting. Most of these injuries occur during pyramid formations, lifting, and tossing—and yet many participants haven’t been trained in proper techniques. And the AAP recommends that pyramids never be more than 2 people high.
Pay attention to surfaces. Recommendations include that if cheerleading routines involve complex moves and pyramid formations, such routines must be done either on springy/foam floors or on fields of grass or turf.
Sideline those with head injuries. If a cheerleader is thought to have suffered a head injury, she or he should be removed from the activity and not allowed to return until evaluated by medical personnel.
Have a written emergency plan. And allow coaches and parents to have access to this plan.
How up-to-date is your school’s program?
If your child participates in cheerleading, it is worth your while to find out whether your school’s program knows about these recommendations and then adheres to them.