*Originally Published in American Cheerleader Magazine*
by Jim Lord
Executive Director, AACCA
Cheer often gets a bad rap in the media when it comes to safety. This is due to several reasons that require a long conversation about sociology, expectations, data reporting, misunderstandings about how cheerleading works and unfortunately, the reality that headlines attract attention. In truth, the risk of injury in cheerleading is about the same as other sports, if not lower.
The perception of cheerleading injuries goes back to the idea of the cheerleader as the “girl next door” or the “all-American girl.” She should be put on a pedestal and protected, never to risk injury like those boys playing that rough and tough game of football or even other female athletes. That perception often results in any injury being elevated and exaggerated, higher than it would be for another athlete. Think of the reaction to a female soccer player twisting her ankle compared to that same incident happening to a cheerleader on the sideline. This is directly related to the way the media attracts viewers. A headline needs to be as sensational as possible, which is why “Cheerleading is Dangerous” is more likely to be seen than “Cheerleading Proves to be as Safe as Other Sports.”
Another reason that cheerleading injuries are reported as being higher than other sports has to do with how data is reported. The two primary ways to report injuries are by (1) total number of injuries or (2) injury rates. Consider a volleyball team with 12 players. They play for three months, practicing and playing games four times a week. During their season, they have five injuries. Now, take the same school’s cheerleading team composed of 16 members. They cheer for football and basketball, over the span of eight months, practicing and cheering games four times a week. During the year, they have 10 injuries. One report might read that cheerleading suffered twice as many injuries as volleyball, which is factually accurate, but paints an entirely inaccurate picture of the risk of participating in cheer versus volleyball. If you consider the number of opportunities for potential injury (three months compared to eight), the cheerleaders actually had close to half the number of injuries per 1,000 exposures (4.9) than the volleyball team (8.7).
In fact, the data shows that cheerleading injuries are not only in the normal range, but they’re actually decreasing. This includes general injury rates as well as concussions. Most importantly, catastrophic injuries (major, life-changing injuries) are down drastically and have shown a downward trend since the 2005-06 school year. (Visit cheersafe.org for more.) That decline is due to several factors, including (1) rule changes to specifically address head, neck and shoulder injuries, (2) increased requirements for coaches’ safety education and (3) an increased awareness of the importance of cheerleading safety, primarily the use of proper skill progressions and knowledge of each cheerleader’s ability level. Congrats to you! You’re putting into practice the important lessons taught in the AACCA Cheerleading Safety Manual, and the results speak for themselves. We can always improve, but it’s important to take the time to recognize one another on a job well done!