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Is Cheerleading Too Dangerous?

While watching this evening I caught a segment they did on the dangers of cheerleading, the growing trend towards higher, more dangerous stunts and tumbling, and the rise in injury rates among cheerleaders. So, in case you missed it, here is the news piece:

So, what do you think? Is cheerleading too dangerous? Should it be considered a high school sport? Should there be different rules for High School Cheerleading vs. College Cheer vs. private club programs?

Now that I have a child who is a High School Cheerleader, who is a “flyer” at times, I have a little different perspective – good and bad.

Cheerleading is a great next stop for competitive level gymnasts who have left gymnastics for one reason or another. This has been very true for my daughter. She went straight from competitive gymnastics to trying out for the JV cheer squad. The practices, community service (Pee Wee camps) they did, and camp experience gave her an immediate transition that was at a level she was used to and it also made the transition from middle school to high school easier.

At the high school and/or college level it is a team sport – whether they want to call it that or not – and team sports are a positive part of the high school experience. The camaraderie (girl drama and all) has definitely been one of the things my daughter has enjoyed most in her first season as a high school cheerleader. That said, with just a few weeks left in the season, she is ready for a change of pace and has opted to swim on the high school team rather than do winter cheer this year. She is swimming because her older brother is on the team, but I am going to guess she will miss cheer almost immediately.

I do like that at our high school the cheerleaders are treated like athletes. They have to have sports physicals, they pay the same athletic fee as the other sports, they have access to the athletic trainer and they all get their baseline concussion test before practices even start (and there have been quite a few of them who have been retested throughout the season). They also follow the high school athletic league’s guidelines on stunting (no more than two high) and tumbling. It is definitely a step in the right direction.

But as positive as this first experience with high school cheerleading has been so far, there definitely are plenty of things that do concern me – not just from a parent perspective but also from the 20+ years of coaching gymnastics that I have to draw on.

While my daughter’s squad seems pretty good about progressions and not rushing the girls to try new skills until they are confident with the pre-requisite steps, I still get concerned about the fitness, strength and focus of the girls in general. Those are things that take years to develop and you can’t expect a 14 year old who has only ever done parks and rec cheer clinics to have the skills to lift another athlete in the air let alone catch her if she falters.

Tumbling on an outdoor track or basketball courts scares me. I’m sorry, it just does! Even when I see the girls who I know can tumble, and tumble well, I just don’t like the pounding on their wrists and ankles – not to mention the risk of injury if something goes wrong.

Cheerleading and the dangers associated with it is an important issue – as are ways we can prevent sports injuries in general. I found out about a Twitter Chat on the topic that is taking place today from the Women’s Sports Foundation Facebook page:

Please join us for a Tweet Chat with ABC News’ chief medical correspondent Dr. Richard Besser. The topic is kid’s sports injuries. This is a great opportunity to get your questions answered and voice your concerns to some of the top experts in the country. Simply head on over to Twitter Tuesday, October 23rd, 1:00PM EST and search for the hash tag #abcDRBchat. Or enter that hash tag into and follow a streamlined version of the chat. We look forward to hearing what you have to say about this important issue!

I plan on joining in the conversation – how about you?

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