Cheerleading: The Most Dangerous Sport for Girls?

When I was teaching middle school ten years ago, I was asked to coach the new cheer squad. I was a state certified athletic coach, and a Tae Kwon Do instructor, who had more than the required first aid training and physiological background knowledge, but I declined to take on the position. Why? Because when I asked about training, I was handed a three-ring binder with a dozen pages of basic information and told “don’t worry, you’ll be great.”

Cheerleading is not your grandma’s pep squad anymore, and as I am technically old enough to be someone’s grandmother, I feel qualified to make this assessment.

According to the National Center for Catastrophic Sport Injury Research at the University of North Carolina, Cheer makes up 65 percent of all catastrophic injuries in girls’ high school athletics, which is scary when taking into account that cheerleaders are only 12 percent of the 3 million high school girl athletes in the U.S.

In fact, in the last 26 years, 72 girls have suffered catastrophic injuries participating in cheerleading. And two have died.

“Catastrophic injuries” are not sprains, strains or even the occasional broken arm or ankle. These injuries have lead to permanent disabilities because of skull fractures or broken necks and backs.

30,000 cheer squad members are seen in emergency rooms every year, with the average age of the injured being just 14 and a half years. The number of ER visits by cheerleaders has tripled since the mid-1980′s when cheerleading became more about gymnastics than waving pom-poms and inciting enthusiasm.

What hasn’t changed is the lack of regulation. As Cheer has become more athletic, it’s failed to attract the attention of state athletic agencies, which regulate high school sports. Cheer is a sport without oversight in all but two states. Michigan and West Virginia are the only ones to require cheer squads to adhere to the same safety rules as all other athletic sports. And even scarier — only 13 other states even require the American Association of Cheerleading Coaches and Administrators (AACCA), at minimum, to certify their coaches. However, AACCA certification requires coaches to take an online test only. And it doesn’t require coaches be trained in gymnastics or spotting techniques.

As cheer has become more and more about the tumbling, spotting–someone who is stationary and supporting the athlete in a maneuver–has become more important than ever. In most states there is no requirement for the spotter to be a trained adult. Often the teenagers are spotting for each other with disastrous results.

Many of the moves performed place athletes high in the air over hard surfaces that don’t cushion falls. Unqualified coaches ask equally untrained students to perform technically difficult acrobatic stunts, dangerous enough, that the potential to leave teens permanently disabled exists.

Though regulated at the college and competition level, Cheer remains an unsupervised sport at the junior high and high school levels and teens, the vast majority of them girls, have the life-long scars to prove it.


photo credit: thanks to lifeabundantly via flickr


Jessica L.
Janne O5 years ago

Couldn't agree more, Nyack

Dawn S.
Dawn S.5 years ago

I'm sickened by the nastiness of some of these comments. You're clearly missing the point. Cheering is dangerous and unregulated, think twice before letting your kid do it.

Jen A.
Jen A5 years ago

To Clohe G. - "For your information all the girls on my squad have straight A's so we do put a lot of effort into school. the coaches makes sure of that to. if you dont have all grades above a B then your off....sorry about some of my spelling...just know that is actually hard being a cheerleader and it takes cometment."

Dear, dear Clohe, if you spent as much time studying as you do practicing, perhaps you will learn how to spell. Yes, I know you apologized but the most simple words, you can't even spell!! How in the world can you and your teammates be getting A's when you don't know how to spell? Thank God my kids don't go to your school because obviously they are not teaching you the most basic requirements! Oh by the way, did you also spell your name incorrectly? Should it be Chloe???? Just wondering!

On another note, I was a cheerleader in junior high and high school, but the emphasis placed on cheer now-a-days is different. You didn't need to tumble, split and do all those gymnastic stunts to become one.

Although many don't consider cheerleading a sport, I do. "Sport (or, in the United States, sports) is all forms of competitive physical activity which,[1] through casual or organised participation, aim to use, maintain or improve physical fitness and provide entertainment to participants. I do not like the idea that girls think they are automatically popular because they are on a squad. Talking the nonsense "cheerleading" talk and attitude also has to go.

emma s.
emma saunders6 years ago

cheerleading should not count as gymnastics, neither should trampolining. acrobatics gymnastics 4 ever! xx

Clohe G.
Clohe G.7 years ago

sorry about some of my spelling

Clohe G.
Clohe G.7 years ago

Okay none of you are being fair. We work hard to get to were we are. My squad is apart of a magior distrect in kansas, we have a ton of training and they make sure we know what to do. For your information all the girls on my squad have straight A's so we do put a lot of effort into school. the coaches makes sure of that to. if you dont have all grades above a B then your off. Its not about being popular or getting the guys, its about showing your spirt and showing how strong you are. Most girls are not likley to drop girls because we want there posision. Baseing is awesome and you get to actually show that girls are not wempy. It's so not like movies. And i will not take on bit of your comments because most off you have not tried it and dont know how hard it is. WE DO KNOW THE RISKS AND WE PROTECT EACH OTHER FROM THAT HAPPENING. again we are extremly well trained. we work 8 hourse a week at practice. so trust me we know what we are doing. some might not but most girls dont want to take the chance of getting hurt. You all are being roud and putting us into stariotipes. Its not fair you have no clue what commetment we put into this SPORT. so dont put us down tell you know how it all works. I hate how people are always like that towards cheerleaders. im not trying to be a brat or disrespect you in any way. just know that is actually hard being a cheerleader and it takes cometment.
Thx for reading,
Cheer Freak For Ever

Lucy Miranda
Lucy Miranda7 years ago

Annabell, are you a teenager? You sound like one. It is the school fault for not having safety guidelines for cheerleaders.

Ekaterina Buslayeva
Hakim M7 years ago

the only reason girls want to be cheerleaders is because they want guys to notice them. Cheerleading is too sexualized and whats the point of cheerleading?

Nellie K A.
Nellie K Adaba7 years ago

That's funny that it's the "most dangerous sport" for girls. To me it's like a dance or choreography. Maybe it's because it's sexualized and girls are always sexy. Cheerleaders only cheer for boys teams. I haven't heard that girls die from this type of gymnastics, I hope everything improves. I don't hate this routine I'm between love/hate. I watch stereotypical cheerleading movies like "Bring It On" and the followings, sequels, prequels.... with the popular girls and the rivalry. Maybe the girls should have protection gear like the sportsmen in contact sports.... Never cheerleaded. I'm not acrobatic. I'm from Belgium and I live in NY. I admire that sport/gymnasticts/dance choreography.... I wish the best for the cheerleaders and the schools/college/institutions/competitions..... It's kind of an art even though I heard in my senior year in high school that girls like that are kind of too sexy or something.

Sasiporn P.

Thanks for the information.