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Cheerleading: Most Dangerous Sport for Girls

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Dr. Wendy Walsh: My two girls are gearing up for their second cheerleading competition, and I am a proud mama that they are both loving it so much and enjoy moving their bodies for fitness. But lately, I've become worried.

injured cheerleader

The image of a team of smiling girls in short, flared skirts waving pom-poms used to inspire thoughts of good, clean, safe recreation. Today, cheerleading is a serious competitive sport, and the bar has been raised so that routines almost always include gymnastics, aerial dance moves and other challenging feats of athleticism. And as the competition continues to heat up, so does the injury rate.

Congratulations, cheerleaders! Your sport is now the number-one "serious injury" sport for girls. Sixty-five percent of all catastrophic injuries in girls' high-school athletics happen on cheerleading squads. (That statistic is from a recent report by the National Center for Catastrophic Sport Injury Research at the University of North Carolina.) What's particularly frightening about that is, cheerleaders only account for 12 percent of the 3 million female high-school athletes in the U.S. Yikes!

Devastating cheerleading injuries include back and neck fractures that can cause para- and quadriplegia. These spinal-cord injuries often happen because many practice sessions are held on hardwood floors without mats -- and virtually all cheerleading competitions are performed without mats. I think it's time that cheerleading coaches and choreographers implement some national safety guidelines to keep our girls healthy. No sport is worth a broken neck!

What do you think?


next: Chart: When Preschoolers Are Quiet
73 comments so far | Post a comment now
Karine May 27, 2010, 5:45 AM

Please, do some research before saying stupid things!!!!! USASF has a safety guideline, so does NCA, UCA… and you’re talking about competitions not having mats… Where did you see that? Because I never saw a competition without mats…. The problem is many schools and states doesn’t consider cheerleading as a sport. That’s where we gotta do something.

Coach G May 27, 2010, 6:30 AM

Cheer is a serious sport, but there are safety rules. We have to follow NFHS rules like the other sports in our school. That study goes back 26 years, when the percentage for cheerleading was very different. We didn’t have all of the other options for female athletes. And, cheerleading goes the entire school year. I think those facts would change a little of the hysteria I see coming out of the news. We have boys carted away at every single football game, yet we haven’t had that kind of injury in cheer in the 7 years I’ve been coaching here.

Please help stop this attack on cheerleading and show it for what it is - a serious athletic sport that should be given the respect and support it deserves. My girls learn thing in cheer they aren’t learning in other sports, like being in front of a crowd and interacting with them as a leader.

Chrissy May 27, 2010, 6:35 AM

My daughter has cheered for 8 years, and we have NEVER been to a competition where they competed on a surface other than a mat. EVERY competition that we have been to for the past 5 years has had a spring floor - a surface comperable to a gymnastics floor. I am not arguing that cheerleading ISNT dangerous - but do your research - make sure the coaches and gym are certified. I trust my daughter’s coaches, and know that they are experienced, and safety certified - I would never let her cheer with someone who wasnt. If your kids are cheering on hard floors, and competing on them, I think instead of finding a new sport, you need to find a new gym.

Coach G May 27, 2010, 6:43 AM

Sorry, I just read that again and saw the “and virtually all cheerleading competitions are performed without mats”

WHAT?! I’m sorry. I like reading momlogic, but someone needs to do some fact checking. Virtually all competitions ARE on a mat. In fact, I don’t know if I’ve seen one without a mat other than one “mall competition” we were registered for 5 or 6 years ago. When I found out there was no mat and no spotters and they were using it solely to get parents and friends and teenage girls into the mall, we cancelled. I’m not putting my team in that position.

I was just doing some web searches for “cheerleading injuries” and I keep seeing the headline “cheerleading injuries on the rise” going back 4 or 5 years, but the number of injuries being reported looks about the same, and always going back for 20 something years. Where are the statistics on the year by year? Where are the comparisons with other sports - and BOYS sports! What do the trends look like? I know every year it seems like there are new restrictions put on what we can do. This year our middle school isn’t allowed to do basket tosses and double downs, which I’m fine with. In the last few years, they’ve taken basket tosses and double downs off of the basketball court for high school also. What effect are those changes having on injuries? Why is no one drilling down on these statistics?

Megan May 27, 2010, 6:44 AM

Please, please, please think before you write something like this. Clearly at some point you have been misinformed. Every cheerleading competition has mats, no doubt about it. And every cheerleading league has safety rules. I understand that you are worried, but if you are really THAT worried, put your daughters in a different league.

Rich Allen May 27, 2010, 6:58 AM

Interesting how you spit out all of these facts yet you have no idea what youre talking about. Instead of sending your girls wherever you do, please do your homework. There are SEVERAL governing bodies for cheerleading that are ALL highly concerned with safety. Next, there are safety certification course that coaches should be taking. If you are sending your girls to a team that has non-qualified coaches and coaches that allow them to practice and compete without mats, then PLEASE take them away from that program and bring them else where.

Children get injured because of parents like you that aren’t being proactive about their safety, but instead throwing them into cheerleading blindly. If you tell me where you live, i could find a SAFE environment for them to cheer at that is within 30 miles of you, guaranteed.

Coach G May 27, 2010, 7:06 AM

Good point Megan. Dr. Walsh, if your daughters are cheering where they don’t have safety rules or a coach that knows their stuff, find another. There are certifications from the NFHS, AACCA, USASF and from camps. They need to keep getting education like any professional at places like CheerCon that just happened in North Carolina.

I found a study that responds to some of the “most dangerous sport” stuff and it makes sense. They don’t use participation numbers in these articles when they say it’s the most dangerous, and they just use girls for comparison because otherwise you’d see what boys sports look like. The study is from AACCA, which does safety training and just added the middle school rules. I thought that was the NFHS but I just read at the AACCA site that NFHS doesn’t deal with middle schools (makes sense, it’s National Federation of High Schools). The study is at http://aacca.org/safetystudy/index.htm so you can look at it yourself. There are some charts that really show the picture. I’m going to pull a couple of the stats from there just to show you how it’s different when you look at how many participants there are and that they go all year.

Catastrophic injuries:
Sport (Injuries per 100K)

1. Male Gymnastics (4.08)
2. Female Ice Hockey (2.76)
3. Male Ice Hockey (2.36)
4. Male Football (1.78)
5. Female Gymnastics (1.41)
6. Male Lacrosse (1.28)
7. Male Wrestling (0.93)
8. Male Baseball (0.45)
9. Male Track (0.40)
10. Female Soccer (0.40)
11. Female Cheerleading (0.39)

Emergency room visits:

Sport
ER Visits
Participants
ER visits per 1,000 participants

Soccer (girls)
72,470
5,296,000
13.68

Basketball (girls)
89,875
6,810,000
13.20

Softball (girls)
46,977
4,381,000
10.72

Cheerleading (girls)
25,474
3,402,560
7.49

Gymnastics (girls)
21,614
3,347,000
6.46

Volleyball (girls)
28,452
5,210,000
5.46

Maybe momlogic should do an article on how the statistics are different that we keep seeing in the news?

Cayte May 27, 2010, 8:04 AM

Such a short blog, but such a stupid one at that. Did you know it is illegal to compete without a mat. I am assuming your girls are in high school. High school’s do follow a national safety guideline. Maybe if you did the proper research you would know that. NFHS. National Federation of State High School Associations. This set of rules that you claim don’t exist are updated every year to prevent injuries. In this very much existing rulebook, it clearly states all cheerleaders must COMPETE on a mat. It never seizes to amaze me how cheerleading is not considered a sport until someone wants to talk about catstrophic injuries. How is it that 65% of all high school girl sports injuries come from cheerleading. If you did your research, you would know that majority of the schools in America do not even allow cheer squads to stunt. How can you get hurt cheering on a football or basketball player? Get hit by the ball? Tackled? Yes, just like any other sport, there can always be improvement. Next time, do your research before you make a fool of yourself.

Linda May 27, 2010, 8:06 AM

Please, Please stop lumping all cheerleading into one category!!!As you said Cheerleading has become very competitive and includes gymnastics. Have you ever seen gymnists trained by a HS math teacher on a hard surface that has no training in gymnastics, then takes them to compete on a hard floor? No you haven’t and you never will. Schools need to open their eyes and keep these kids on the ground. We have been involved w/Allstar Cheer for 9 years and there are MANY safety procedures and coaches are certified and only certain skills can be performed at certain levels. Everyone practices on a spring floor and competes on a spring floor just like gymnastics. We have never had a catastrophic injury in our gym and its VERY rare to hear of one happening in Allstar Cheer. Come on it’s common sense. Does the football team practice on the basketball court with the dance coach? No. Call it a sport and treat it like a sport. Or call it an activity and keep your feet on the ground. I’m sick of people who don’t know what they are talking about asking questions to people who don’t know what they are talking about.

tumbleyoda May 27, 2010, 8:11 AM

Please do better research next time instead of trotting out statistics from an organization that is active in ignoring or diminshing all of the current safety guidleines in place because they do not conform to their agenda. Recent statistics would be bring a greater light to the issue you are trying to raise. Yes the sport is dangerous but so is crossing the street. There are no competitions held without mats that I have been to so what you may be alluding to are some rec programs, and some school programs who generally dont want to pay money for that equipment because it raises the price of their programs, in their mind making it unaffordable. That is the real disservice to the kids and the parents. Placing saving money over their safety. Certified Coaches have to be safety certified and pass tests in order to be registered as a coach.In some competitions they cant step on the floor without being certified and credentaled for the level they are coaching. While there is room for improvement in that process, there is a plan in place. What you dont mention is the amount of moms turned coaches so their daughter can be the “star” of the team, or volunteering so their school can have a sqaud because the school does not want to pay a certified coach, the parents that buy equipment to put in their basement and put trampolines in their yards so their children can hurry up and advance their skills outside the presence of a trained coach, kids horseplaying or performing skills unsupervised or when tired which greatly raises the specter of injury. Now that would be a study I would really like to see, if the moms and dads are willing to release that injury information.

Coachz May 27, 2010, 8:23 AM

I have never read such a silly, misinformed, badly researched article in my entire life. Please do your research before you make such ridiculous statements. I hope you weren’t paid for that article.

Darla Glazebrook May 27, 2010, 9:02 AM

This is the most rediculous post I have ever seen. Please do your homework before you post things that are completely insane. I have Been involved in the cheerleading industry in various roles for 30 years and I have never been to a competition without mats. If you are stupid enough to let your daughters compete on a hard floor, I feel sorry for them. Get your facts straight because you are printing untrue information that is hurting the cheerleading industry!

Dono May 27, 2010, 9:09 AM

um, first of all, you should really do a little more research before writing an article like this.
there are several governing bodies of cheerleading at all levels whether it’s highschool, allstar, etc.
there are very clear safety guidlines and rules as far as the legality of skills that can be we are allowd to compete.

Also, to say that “virtually all cheerleading competitions are performed without mats.”
is entirely false. because of certain skills we must be on a mat in order to legally perform. so i don’t know where you’re girls cheer but they obviously should be going somewhere else.

Although highschool across the country don’t all follow the same rules as it varies by state.
anyone wating to coach a team nmust be certified and have the appropriate credentials in order to do so. There are meetings that they must all attend on rules and safety every year.

next time you go about throwing out random facts and injury rates make sure you know what you’re talking about.
do a little more research…


Louise Wallace May 27, 2010, 9:28 AM

Cheerleading has become a serious competitive sport. That’s about the only statement I agree with in your article. There are risks in EVERY sport. The evolvement of competitive cheerleading in the last 10 years is amazing. My daughter was a competitive and school cheerleader and is now an instructor for NCA. They take certification and training very seriously.

As a “doctor”, I would think YOU more than anyone else would do their research before bashing a sport you obviously know NOTHING about.

These athletes are finally starting to get the recognition they deserve. Flip, unknowledgeable articles such as yours are damaging.

Do your homework.

Julie May 27, 2010, 10:44 AM

There is a big difference between recreation (Pop Warner), school, and all-star cheering. Although there are exceptions, all-star cheering does not have the high rate of injuries you are referencing. All skills are taught in progressions (there are 5 skill levels as well as age divisions for each level), skills are performed on foam block mats or spring floors, coaches are certified and the sport has a governing body (USASF). As in any sport, parents should do their homework and make sure that whoever is coaching their child is properly trained to do so, and that the equipment used meets appropriate safety standards. My children have been involved in both Pop Warner and all-stars. We left our Pop Warner program due to unsafe coaching techniques (however there are some great Pop Warner programs); we are at a wonderful all-star program but any concerns I have are addressed with the coach/gym owner immediately. I’m not saying my children will never be hurt, but they are at as much risk on the basketball court or the baseball field. Think before you type please!

Cheerdiva May 27, 2010, 11:15 AM

Wow! How old are these statics and info that was given in the original post?? Cheerleading like any sports comes with injuries. With any sport the 1st and foremost important is SAFETY. All sports whether professional, school, Allstar/private are governed by a higher agency which are bound by safety and training guidelines. If your child(ren) are participating in a sport and not being taught how to be safe within their sport. You need to find another activity. My daughter has cheered(allstar) for 6 years and she is 11 and has NEVER EVER competed nor practice on a wooden/bare floor. I have seen HS/MS cheerleader perform at basketball games on a wooden floor, but when tumbling and stunts become involved a mat is placed on the floor. Cheerleading gets a bad wrap all the time and the reason is because SO MANY ADULTS are misinformed and spew incorrect information. If you would like to have factual TRUE information check out www.usasf.net and click on GYMS and find one closest to you and drop in and see how athletes are trained and ask questions so you are better informed and can post correct information for your readers.

ryan May 27, 2010, 11:24 AM

you’re ignorant. ..
many practice sessions are held on hardwood floors without mats — and virtually all cheerleading competitions are performed without mats

thats not even close to being correct. all star cheerleading is a big percent of cheerleaders and we have to follow the USASF guidelines which basically says you HAVE TO USE SPRING FLOORS. we are also coached by people who know what they are doing, not the 60 year old english teacher at my high school. My coaches were level 9 and 10 gymnastics coaches before they opened up their first gym 16 years ago..


pleasethink before you type and don’t type at all if yo dont know what you’re talking about

Whit May 27, 2010, 12:14 PM

wow…do some research before you decide to write a lame article. Allstar uses SAFE spring floors. Pop Warner and High School even uses mats. Expecially since you live in South Caroline, I would think that you would know a little more abot this. ughhh frustrating.

Anonymous May 27, 2010, 12:21 PM

This has to be the worst and most uneducation article on cheerleading I have ever seen. You would think a “doctor” would do her homework, but apparently you’re just another stupid doctor and no one knows how you got through medical school. I’m sick of stupid people. Take your daughters to an allstar gym. Every INCH of floor is covered in mat, and most of the time, it’s SPRINGY mat. Please, get a brain.

Rita May 27, 2010, 2:02 PM

I was going to type in what I thought but it seems everyone who commented already said what I wanted to say! Another momlogic blog that didn’t have the proper research done. I wonder where momlogic finds these bloggers. Please do your research before you write such an article. I don’t know what kind of cheerleading competitions you’ve seen, but I have never seen one that didn’t have mats. If your daughters are performing cheerleading stunts on hardwood floors, then you need to find another gym.


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