An Expert’s Response To Cheerleading In The Media

IMG_0908As cheerleading has grown and become more popular, so has the issue of safety in cheerleading. And mainstream media has taken notice. From ESPN to network news, reports on cheerleading safety seem to hit the air almost every other day now. Recently, Laura Ling reporting for KCET (southern California’s public broadcasting station) contributed to the many reports and aired a story on the growing concern of catastrophic injuries associated with cheerleading. See the story here.

Like many of the other news reports on the risks associated with cheerleading, the 11+ minute story includes data on cheerleading injury statistics, an account of an accident that happened at a cheerleading practice that left Patty Phommanyphong with permanent brain damage and an interview with Kimberly Archie, the founder of the National Cheerleading Safety Foundation.

However, this report differs from previous stories on the same topic by also mentioning a few examples of what can be done to improve cheerleading safety. This includes having a qualified coach, practicing indoor on mats, properly warming up and always following the proper skills progressions. In her report, Ms. Ling opens the door to an important conversation that if flushed out would begin to educate parents, athletic directors and school administrators on what can continue to be done to steadily improve cheerleading safety.

Picking up where Ms. Ling left off and continuing that conversation, below are four main points that clearly outline what every responsible adult of a child participating in the activity or sport of cheerleading should ask of the coach, school or program.

1.     Ensure that the coach is properly qualified and educated in the technical components of cheerleading. Every coach should first and foremost be CPR and First Aid certified and trained in the use of an AED (automated external defibrillator). They also should have an emergency medical plan ready in order to handle any medical emergency. However, in order to help prevent many of the accidents that lead to these medical emergencies, cheerleading coaches must be properly educated and competent in the technical components of cheerleading: stunting and tumbling.

Appropriate questions to ask of any cheer coach include: What is your experience coaching stunting and tumbling? Where were you trained? How long have you been instructing cheerleaders in stunting and tumbling? Are you willing to further your own education? Are you familiar with and do you follow the AACCA Cheerleading Safety Rules (the industry standard for the technical components of school based cheerleading)?

2.     Ensure that the coach understands all skill progressions and is committed to following them. As in any sport or skill, fundamentals are imperative for success. However, when it comes to cheerleading, inexperienced and uneducated coaches will often overlook certain basics in order to move on to the more advanced skills. Cheer coaches must be properly educated in not only how to teach skills, but in what order those skills are meant to be taught. Regardless of the squad’s desire to improve and advance, cheerleading coaches, as the responsible adults, must temper their athlete’s expectations and reinforce the importance of perfecting the fundamentals before continuing on to a more advanced skill.

Appropriate questions to ask of any cheer coach include: What will be the first skill you teach my cheerleader? Are you familiar with all stunt progressions? What is your philosophy on advancing cheerleaders on to the next skill?

3.     Ensure that the coach/school/program provides the cheerleading squad with a safe practice environment. Just as football players would not practice without helmets and pads and wrestlers without mats, cheerleaders practicing stunts and tumbling tricks should do so on carpet bonded foam mats (cheer mats). Yes, these mats do cost money and yes, they do require a space to be stored, two issues that often prevent schools from having mats in the first place. However, football pads, baseball helmets and other safety equipment for school based activities and sports fall subject to the same two issues and are more often quickly resolved. If protecting our athletes and cheerleading safety is to be a priority, then purchasing safety mats and working through the logistics of storing them must also become a priority.

Appropriate questions to ask of anyone in charge of the cheerleading program include: Does the squad practice on cheer mats? Does the squad practice indoors? What is the school’s position on allowing or restricting the cheerleaders from stunting on hard surfaces?

4.     Ensure that the coach and the cheerleaders attend a safe summer camp and/or bring in professional help throughout the year to continue to further their education. Summer cheerleading camps are the most common and easiest way for coaches to continue their technical education and for cheerleaders to get the appropriate skills training they need. Also, camp companies will work one-on-one with squads throughout the school year to continue providing the correct training to cheerleaders after camp is over. However, with all the camp options out there, it’s important for coaches, school administrators and parents to do the research necessary to pick the safest camp offered as not all camps are the same or keep the same standards.

Appropriate questions to ask of anyone in charge of the cheerleading program include: Does the coach and squad attend a summer camp? Does the squad attend a camp that’s held indoors or outdoors? Are the cheerleaders on cheer mats at camp? Are the instructors at the camp qualified/experienced adults? Does the camp have an onsite medical staff in case there is an emergency? What will the coach and the cheerleaders learn at this camp?

It’s time to begin the conversation about what we all can do to collectively improve an activity and sport that so many children, teenagers, adults – athletes – love and have a passion for.

With a greater awareness, education and understanding of what it is that our young cheerleaders do both on the sidelines of games TSC CEO and on the competition floor, we as responsible parents, coaches, advisors, athletic directors, administrators and teachers can continue to see them safely shine in the spotlight and participate in an activity and sport that so positively shapes who they will become as adults.

Dave Kirschner

President and CEO of The Spirit Consultants (TSC) – www.thespiritconsultants.com

Co-Founder of the California High School Cheer & Dance Association – www.chscda.com

Co-Owner of Cheerleading Skillz OnDemand – www.skillzondemand.com

Do you think cheerleading is dangerous?  Is your team following the rules?  Become A Cheer NN Reporter and tell us what your team is doing to keep your cheerleaders safe.  Or Contact Us if you have questions on resources for cheerleading safety.