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Doing The Wrong Thing For The Right Reason… Overtraining in Cheerleading

by Gwen Holtsclaw, President and CEO of Cheer Ltd.

It had been a great seminar.  The coaches at this national conference had listened intently as I discussed “The Ethics of Coaching.”   When I opened the Q & A session, I expected to get questions on a variety of ethical dilemmas like confidentiality, body image, and bullying.  I was wrong.

The first question was “Do you believe coaches are unethical when they knowingly overtrain these young athletes just to win?”  and that question opened the floodgates:  What constitutes overtraining?  Is overtraining even a real thing?   Whose “fault” is overtraining?

Let’s take the questions in reverse order.  Overtraining is not an issue of “fault.” Rather, it is a classic example of coaches and cheerleaders doing the wrong thing for the right reason.   Coaches practice too long, too hard, and too frequently because they want to create a successful and winning season for their team.  Cheerleaders work too hard, play past real pain, and ignore an injury because they don’t want to let the team down.  The reasons are right—the overtraining, however, is wrong.

Overtraining is definitely a real thing.  It masks itself as dedication and “no pain, no gain” when it is really an epic failure to balance hard work with proper rest and recovery.    Too often, cheer coaches fail to realize that they are not coaching full grown adults.  Children and teenagers are vulnerable to growth-plate injuries all the way to 18 years of age with 16-18 being prime injury years.  Overtraining has the most direct impact on these growth-plate injuries.

How can coaches know what constitutes overtraining and when they have crossed the line from a well-disciplined team to an overtrained team?  Take a broad look at your team and see if you detect any of these […]

2019-03-06T03:11:50-05:00August 14th, 2013|Safety|0 Comments

Increased Focus Helps Avoid Injury

Cheerleading, like all sports, comes with risk. We’ve all heard the phrase that “injuries are part of sports”.  That isn’t a reason to turn a blind eye to prevention and just accept that any injury is part of the game.  As coaches, as parents and as athletes we all must refocus our energies on preventing injuries. With this focus in your program, you lower the risk of injury and increase the chance that when there is an injury it can be attributed to an unpreventable accident instead of something that never had to occur.

According to the National High School Sports-Related Injury Surveillance Study, 60% of injuries most commonly result from a stunt.  It stands to reason that a focus on reducing the number of falls from stunts can result in a lower injury rate in cheerleading.

Falls happen. They happen when learning new stunts and they happen even after stunts are mastered. Again this is true of all sports. Who hasn’t seen an Olympic gymnast fall on the beam, resulting in a landing on the neck or head on the beam or simply having to step off after losing their balance on a turn. This is a skill she has been working on since she was probably 4 or younger.

But falls, no matter how small, open the window for an injury. Even when caught properly by spotters and bases, there is still a risk of injury. After all, the focus of the spotters and bases during a fall is to protect the head, neck and shoulder area of the top person. Landing on someone’s foot can still twist, sprain or even break an ankle depending on the force and angle of the […]

2019-03-06T03:11:51-05:00February 9th, 2013|Newsroom|0 Comments

Recent Cheerleading Safety Studies Show Cheer Injury Rates Low, Major Injuries Drastically Reduced

A review of available data shows that not only are cheerleading injury rates much lower than have been reported in the media, catastrophic injuries are on a steep decline over the last 5 years.


Catastrophic Injuries Trending Downward

Cheerleading Catastrophic Injury Trends 2001-2011

Chart 1: Cheerleading Catastrophic Injury Trends 2001-2011

Recent media reports incorrectly have claimed that cheerleading makes up the majority of sports injuries in high school and college sports. That claim is false and clearly refuted by simply looking at the publicly available data.  It is clear that the sport with the highest number of catastrophic injuries by far is football.  In fact, the National Center for Catastrophic Sport Injury Research 2011 reports shows that over the past ten years, there have been 358 direct catastrophic injuries for football and 62 for cheer. Football also has a far higher number of direct deaths, with 39 compared to 1 for cheer over this 10 year period (data is spread over two reports, here and here).

More importantly, cheerleading catastrophic injuries have been on a sharp decline since additional safety rules and safety training were put into place in 2005-2006. That year there were 12 high school and college catastrophic injuries. In each successive year, the number of catastrophic injuries has dropped, with only 1 reported catastrophic injury in 2010-2011 (See Chart 1).

Catastrophic claims with the NCAA have also dropped significantly. According to the Mutual of Omaha, “the Cheer Safety Initiative began in 2006 and since this time there has only been one injury for which benefits are payable under the NCAA Catastrophic policy and the injury is not truly catastrophic in nature.” Prior to this initiative, 25% of […]

2019-03-06T03:11:51-05:00February 6th, 2013|Newsroom|0 Comments

2012-13 College Cheerleading Rules Updated

The 2012-13 AACCA College Cheerleading Safety Rules have been updated to remove a newly-developed skill and to clarify the type of tower pyramid that requires an additional non-contact spotter.

Change 1: Prohibits the “no-hands” handspring entry

The wording “or leave the floor unassisted” was added to rule C-2 in order to prohibit the “no-handed back handspring entry” for stunts.  This skill involves the top person performing a back handspring type of entry, but with her arms extended to her side instead of landing on the performing surface. The base catches the top person in this inverted position at the waist prior to loading her into another stunt. The obvious concern on this type of entry is that failure of one person – the base – would lead to a direct impact of the top person on their head, neck and shoulders.  This change is consistent with the existing rule that prohibits the full release of a top person to an inverted position.

Note that this rule change does allow a spotter to be in contact with the top person when she leaves the floor and until the base has contact with her.

This rule change does not affect most “no-hands” front handspring entries as the top person bends over and the base is in contact with her waist prior to the feet leaving the ground.  That would be leaving the ground while being assisted, and therefore is legal. However, if the top person left the ground before there was any assistance by a base or spotter, it would be illegal.

Change 2: “Tower” pyramid clarification

The initial rule E-3 requires that an additional spotter who is not in contact with the pyramid must be placed behind “tower” pyramids.  The […]

2019-03-06T03:11:51-05:00February 6th, 2013|Safety|0 Comments

You Are Your Sister’s Keeper

When it comes to cheerleading, one often-repeated mantra is that safety is everyone’s responsibility. This usually is seen as the coaches being responsible for their actions and cheerleaders being responsible for their actions, but it really is much more than that.

Having the responsibility for safety shared by everyone means that each of us is invested in one another’s wellbeing. After all, we aren’t always the best judge of our own abilities or limitations.

Situation #1: Imagine you see a teammate working on standing tumbling. It’s late in the day. She just came from soccer practice with you two hours ago and you know it was a grueling outdoor session that left you both physically drained. She wants to please the coach and push herself by working on her back tucks, but you can tell she is just a few attempts away from possibly landing on her head. You want to say something, but you know she won’t listen. What do you do?

Situation #2: Consider another scenario. Your back spot just got hit in the face with an elbow during a twisting dismount. The coach couldn’t see it, and your teammate says she’s fine. You know that it was a pretty good hit; on the next attempt, she is clearly disoriented and says, “What are we doing again?” You’ve taken the free online concussion course and you also know that if she just sustained a concussion, a second one could be life threatening. What do you do?


FIRST, FOLLOW YOUR INSTINCTS. If you think you should say something, then say something. Three tries from now may be too late, and you’ll regret not speaking up when it would have made a difference.

2019-03-06T03:11:51-05:00January 31st, 2013|Safety|0 Comments

Back to School Safety Check

“Back to School” means new clothes, new friends and new routines—cheer routines and daily routines

One of those new “routines” should be a “routine” safety checklist as you begin your new cheer season.back-to-school


The most important routine you will ever learn is your Emergency Action Plan (EAP). We all work hard to keep cheerleading safe, but accidents and even non-cheer medical emergencies like heart failure can happen at any time. Be prepared for these by developing and regularly practicing your EAP.


Coaches need to be up to date on the latest rules and teaching techniques. Rules change annually, and new skills are developed along with those changes. Coaches should be trained in basic first aid and CPR as well as how to operate an AED if available.


If your school has the other athletes baseline tested, get involved and join up. If they do not, try to find a local resource that can get your team tested. These tests are used to determine whether an athlete who has suffered a traumatic brain injury (TBI) has fully healed and is truly ready to return to participation. Failure to recognize a brain injury and having a subsequent concussion can have catastrophic results, including a higher risk of death.


Be sure that the area where you are practicing or performing is level, dry and free from obstructions. Stunting and tumbling practices shouldn’t be held in places like a cafeteria or hallway without the use of mats. If you are concerned that there is not enough room or enough ceiling height, speak up and modify the activity or change the environment.


The reason you can probably walk to your classroom blindfolded at the end of the school year […]

2019-03-06T03:11:51-05:00August 1st, 2012|Safety|0 Comments

Taking Out Double Downs

Taking Out Double Downs by Jim Lord, Executive Director, AACCA

When the 2012-13 high school cheerleading rules were released, we knew people were going to be upset. Regardless of the new skills we were now allowing, we knew the main focus was going to be on the removal of what is widely recognized as the pinnacle skill available to high school cheerleaders – the double down. Many, especially those programs and athletes who have worked very hard to achieve this skill, questioned why we removed it. To get to that point, I will need to back up just a bit.

Earlier in the year, the rules committees for the National Federation of High Schools (NFHS) and the American Association of Cheerleading Coaches and Administrators (AACCA) held a conference committee to look at areas where we could more closely align our two sets of rules.

It was a great opportunity to share each group’s concerns about particular types of skills and decide where we could find common ground. I was pleasantly surprised that much of the conversation centered around what rules restrictions were obsolete; were we holding on to restrictions just because we had always had the rule, or was there evidence that a particular skill or type of skill was unsafe? It was this conversation that led to the rules changes that now allow all low-level inversions and braced rolls/flips with specific controls on them.

As is our responsibility, we also looked at whether or not there were trends or concerns that needed to be addressed by a rules change. The topic of double downs came up, as it has for several years. Both rules committees have seen a trend towards the performance of more double downs but without an […]

2019-03-06T03:11:51-05:00April 8th, 2012|Safety|0 Comments