Posted On: September 24, 2008

Cheerleader Injuries: The Darker Side of an All-American Sport

A leading sports injury expert says that cheerleading has become one of the riskiest sports for women. Lifelong pain and disability, paralysis and even death are becoming more common consequences of participation in cheerleading.

The expert, Frederick Mueller, points out that most people still think of cheerleaders as mere pompom-waving eye candy and do not realize that cheerleading can involve dangerous gymnastic exercises. Because of this, schools often will not label cheerleading as a sport and choose to class it with non-athletic activities like working on the newspaper or acting in a play. This labeling contributes to the dangers of cheerleading:

The main problem, critics say, is that cheerleading in most states is not considered a sport; it's an "activity" such as chess club and debating. As a result, it is not required to follow uniform safety regulations, such as mandating off-seasons, routine physicals and soft surfaces that would minimize injuries. Coaches are not required to undergo standardized training.

There are obvious ways to minimize this risk. The coaches and administrators of cheerleading organizations quoted in the article point out that approaching cheerleading with the same care schools use in recruiting and training coaches for sports like basketball and football would make the sport much safe. For instance:

Several organizations also offer training programs for coaches, including how to minimize risks, teach stunts properly and respond to medical emergencies.

Among those organizations are the American Association of Cheerleading Coaches and Administrators and the National Federation of State High School Associations.

If your child is or wants to get involved in cheerleading, it is a good idea to talk to the coach first and see what kind of training he or she has had. It would also be wise to ask about safety measures the coach plans to implement to protect the cheerleaders.

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