If cheerleading evokes memories of pom poms and splits and pep rallies for you, chances are you may be envisioning some future role on the squad for your daughter.
But cheerleading has evolved into an intense sport that rivals gymnastics when it comes to skills, and football when it comes to serious injuries like concussions and spine injuries. This week the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) is releasing a new policy statement yesterday urging greater safety and injury prevention efforts.
“Over the last few decades we’ve noted an increase in the number and severity of cheerleading injuries,” notes pediatric sports medicine specialist Cynthia Labella, M.D., a member of the AAP council on sports medicine and fitness and co-author of the new guidelines. “It has become extremely competitive in even the past few years, incorporating more complex skills than ever before.”
Cheerleading has also increased dramatically in popularity—the number of girls ages 6 and up participating in the activity has reached 3.6 million in the U.S.— yet only 29 state high school athletic associations currently recognize cheerleading as an actual sport. The National Collegiate Athletic Association does not even include competitive cheerleading in its list of sponsored sports. Designating cheerleading as a sport—a main goal of the AAP—would ensure that its participants have access to the same level of qualified coaches, athletic trainers, and pre-season physicals that other school athletes currently receive, notes Dr. Labella.
Still, the danger factor begins well before high school. While cheerleading injuries typically rise with age as the competition heats up and the complexity of stunts increases, parents still need to take special precautions when signing up younger girls for squads run by private clubs. Younger cheerleaders are possibly getting even less safety supervision than middle and high school athletes, notes Dr. Labella.
“Parents should find out if the coach has taken a certification program, has an emergency action plan in place, knows CPR, and can recognize the signs and symptom of concussion,” she emphasizes. “You should also inspect the facilities and the condition of equipment like floor mats.”
Other key recommendations from the new AAP guidelines:
- Cheerleaders should be trained in spotting techniques and only attempt stunts after demonstrating proper skill progression.
- Pyramid and partner stunts should only be performed on a spring or foam floor, or a grass or turf field. Stunts should never be performed on hard, wet, or uneven surfaces. Pyramids should never be more than two people high.
- Coaches, parents, and athletes should have access to a written emergency plan.
- Any cheerleader suspected of having a head injury should be removed from practice and competition until cleared to participate by a health professional.
Tell us what you think. Would you let your daughter join a cheerleading squad? If she is already a cheerleader, what do you think of the safety precautions being taken by her league and coach?