Risk management and coach training integral to safety
In the last 20 years, high school cheerleading has morphed from an activity on the sidelines of the athletic field to a highly competitive sport. This and the increasingly difficult stunts cheerleaders perform are contributors to the increase in serious cheer-related injuries. However, findings of a recent study published in Pediatrics show that cheer injuries tend to be more severe in nature but fewer in number in comparison to almost all other high school sports.
The study’s results found that only gymnastics had a higher proportional rate of injuries than cheer that resulted in athletes being benched for periods of three weeks to an entire season. Other significant findings are that male cheerleaders are more likely to experience injuries and that most injuries occur during practice.
What’s behind the injuries and how to prevent them
Nearly half of cheer injuries are suffered by cheerleaders who make up the formation bases for pyramids and other stunts. Fliers account for 36 percent and spotters 10 percent.
Concussions, while the most common cheer injury, were significantly lower than all other high school sports combined. However, most cheer concussions were the result of elbows and other body parts hitting a cheerleader’s head rather than the head hitting the ground or other surface. Other common cheerleading injuries are ligament fractures, sprains, and muscle strains.
The complexity of the stunts performed and the height at which cheerleaders fly mean that having an experienced coach is integral to each team, according to Mark Riederer of Pediatric Orthopaedic Surgery and Sports Medicine at C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital at the University of Michigan.
Proper safety equipment, making sure the cheerleaders are all at the same performance level, and having an athletic trainer on the high school staff can all help reduce the risk of injuries.
Sport or extracurricular activity?
Approximately 400,000 students across the U.S. participate in high school cheerleading each year. This number includes more than 123,000 who participate in competitive squads that include dynamic tosses pyramids, and other stunts in their routines.
Not all schools classify cheerleading as a sport. The distinction between cheer as a competitive sport and a non-athletic extracurricular activity is significant because sports incorporate stricter safety rules. For cheer rules would designate practice locations that are relatively free from distractions and specify coach certification requirements.
All in all, cheerleading is not a particularly dangerous sport and appears to be safer than other sports, said Dustin Currie, lead author of the study. But, he added, precautions to minimize the potential risks of injury and to alleviate parents’ fear of participation in cheer should be a priority.
According to John Sadler, this information is consistent with our studies on youth cheer outside of school sports. We see relatively few injuries by frequency but some are severe. Therefore, quality, high limit Accident and General Liability insurance is still a must. Also, there is definitely a correlation between injuries and the quality of coach training and certification, as well as the standards that are being followed.
We have several articles on the topic of cheer safety on our blog and in our risk management library. And please contact us or click here for further information or a fast quote for cheerleading insurance.