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    November 2013

    Treating Cheerleading as a Sport

    Cheerleading, once the simple act of organizing a football crowd and waving pompoms, is now a year-round, demanding activity. Today there are more than 3.6 million cheerleaders age 6 and older in the United States. These cheerleaders perform complex stunts that resemble gymnastics moves far unlike the cheerleading routines of yesterday.

    Many K-12 schools and higher education institutions face the same question: whether to designate cheerleading as a sport. High school athletic associations in 29 states recognize cheerleading as a sport. However, the NCAA does not include cheerleading in its list of sponsored events.

    In reality, cheerleading is as competitive as other sports, with practice and travel schedules that rival those of other team sports. In addition, recent studies confirm that cheerleaders sustain injuries that are as frequent and serious as those of other athletes. Regardless whether a school or institution designates it as a sport, UE recommends treating cheerleading like one so that the appropriate resources are allocated to reduce injuries and potential liability.


    Reducing Injuries

    According to the Journal of Athletic Training (JAT), cheerleading injuries are on the rise. Emergency room visits by cheerleaders increased 541 percent between 1980 and 2007. The JAT supports giving cheerleaders access to the same resources as all athletes to reduce injury; benefits include improved coaching, availability of athletic trainers, better practice facilities, improved medical care, and limits on practice time.

    A study by the National Center for Catastrophic Sports Injury Research (NCCSIR) reported that half of all catastrophic female sports injuries between 1982 and 2011occured to cheerleaders (128 of 257 injuries). The data show that one in five cheerleading injuries is to the head and neck. UE recommends that cheerleading be included in an institution's concussion management policy to avoid these potentially serious injuries and their after-effects.

    The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) also supports treating cheerleading as a sport as a means to reduce injury, and proposes the following safety guidelines:

    • Train and certify coaches to ensure competent supervision
    • Have a certified athletic trainer or physician present at practices and competitions
    • Provide a written emergency plan to coaches, parents, and athletes
    • Train athletes on proper spotting and stunt techniques
    • Do not perform pyramids, mounts, tosses, and tumbling on hard surfaces
    • Do not attempt pyramids more than two people high
    • Immediately remove cheerleaders showing signs of head injury
    • Survey and report cheerleading injuries

    Additional UE Recommendations

    To keep cheerleaders safe and reduce institutional liability, require physical examinations before participation and strength training. Pre-participation evaluations establish a standard of health and identify athletes who may be at increased risk of harm. Finally, parents and participants over the age of 18 should sign a waiver (also called a release) that acknowledges the risks of cheerleading. Consult with legal counsel when drafting waivers.

    UE Resources

    Preparticipation Physical Evaluations for High School Athletes
    Waiver and Authorization Forms for the Intercollegiate Athlete

    Getting One Consent at a Time

    Additional Resources

    American Association of Cheerleading Coaches and Administrators: 2016-2017 AACA School Cheer Safety Rules
    Cheer Safe.org: Training Guidelines


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