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Recommendations from the National Center for Catastrophic Sports Injury Research

Cheerleading Safety Checklist

Cheerleaders in huddle

The number of cheerleading injuries has risen dramatically over the past three decades as the sport has grown. According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, there were:

  • an estimated 4,954 hospital emergency room visits in 1980 caused by cheerleading injuries;
  • By 1986 the number had increased to 6,911;
  • in 1994 the number increased to approximately 16,000;
  • in 1999 the number increased to 21,906; and
  • in 2004 the number increased to 28,414.

According to the National Center for Catastrophic Sports Injury Research, over half of all catastrophic injuries to female athletes at the high school and college level occurred in cheerleading.

Safety experts, including the NCCSIR, the American Association of Cheerleading Coaches and Administrators (AACCA), and the National Cheer Safety Foundation, therefore suggest the following steps to help prevent cheerleading injuries:

  1. Cheerleaders should undergo preparticipation physical evaluationsbefore they are allowed to participate, including the taking of a complete medical history.
  2. Trained coaches.Cheerleaders should be trained by a qualified coach with training in gymnastics and partner stunting. This person should also be trained in the proper methods for spotting and other safety factors.
  3. Cheerleaders should engage in proper conditioning programsand trained in proper spotting techniques.
  4. Proper training.Cheerleaders should receive proper training before attempting gymnastic and partner type stunts and should not attempt stunts they are not capable of completing. A qualification system demonstrating mastery of stunts is recommended. Most states require adherence to the skill restrictions put in place by the National Federation of High Schools. Skills progression training ensures that cheerleaders build upon mastered technique when learning more difficult and advanced stunts or tumbling, i.e. cartwheel to round-off to back-hand spring. Spotters are responsible for assisting or catching the top person in a stunt with a priority to protect the head, neck, and shoulders of the top person coming off of a stunt.
  5. Supervised practices. Coaches should supervise all practice sessions in a safe facility. Practice guidelines issued by the American Association of Cheerleading Coaches and Administrators (AACCA) require direct supervision by a coach with practices held in a location suitable for the activities of cheerleaders (i.e., use of appropriate mats, away from excessive noise and distractions, etc.)
  6. Ban mini-trampolines.Mini-trampolines and flips or falls off of pyramids and shoulders should be prohibited.
  7. No dangerous stunts.Pyramids over two high should not be performed. Two high pyramids should not be performed without mats and other safety precautions.
  8. Emergency plan.If it is not possible to have a physician or certified athletic trainer at games and practice sessions, emergency proceduresmust be provided. The emergency procedure should be in writing and available to all staff and athletes.
  9. Continued research.There should be continued research concerning safety in cheerleading.
  10. Return to play guidelines.When a cheerleader has experienced or shown signs of head trauma(loss of consciousness, visual disturbances, headache, inability to walk correctly, obvious disorientation, memory loss) she/he should receive immediate medical attention and should not be allowed to return to practice or cheer without permission from the proper medical authorities.
  11. Certification.Cheerleading coaches should have some type of safety certification such as offered by the American Association of Cheerleading Coaches and Administrators. The AACCA course features safety awareness training with a safety test administered at the end of the training session and is required for all NCAA cheerleading coaches, and by school districts and states around the country.
  12. Proactive parents. The AACCA advises that "parents have a role to play in ensuring that their child is able to reap the benefits that come with the activity while being protected from unreasonable risk. If a parent has a concern about safety, they should bring it to the attention of the coach. If a satisfactory response is not received, they should contact the administration to make sure proper procedures are in place for safety."