The gymnastics world tends to be very dismissive of cheerleading. The eternal complaints against it are most often that cheerleaders do not exhibit great form and obviously do not master four apparatus' like gymnasts do. Great powers of deduction but how does that make it any less worthy of admiration or acknowledgement as a sport? Because of course, that is the other great annoyance I have surrounding cheerleading. It's classed as dance.
- Cheerleaders make up just 3% of female high school athletes. Yet they account for 66% of all catastrophic injuries in this category. These are not the incredibly common injuries like strains etc., but serious, disabling and fatal ones. College cheerleading has a slightly higher injury rate. Statistics are from the National Centre for Catastrophic Sports Injury Research annual report from 2008, compiled by the National Cheer Safety Organisation.
- There are more than 60 national and regional cheerleading competitions in the US. This means that winning nationals means absolutely nothing, it cheapens the reputation of the sport, and further prevents it from being declared a sport in the future. It's hard to get an exact figure- I've seen a lot of references to 'more than 60' and one for 72.
Injuries happen in any sport. It's just that most sports (including gymnastics, which is the second offender in the above statistic, at just under 10%) do all they can to limit them, and have as much safety equipment or protection as possible, as well as highly trained coaches and top class facilities. In cheerleading, that is not the case. NCAA insists on college cheer coaches being trained to a certified health and safety programme, but there are still a lot of holes regarding this at school and college level especially the fact that it's not part of NCAA by virtue of not being a sport. College has rules, and all-star is governed, but thay still have problems and everything below them is a free-for-all. Check out the mats and floor they use! All star equipment is not adequate, and further down the line it's worse with lots of reports of extremely old, thin mats that don't cover enough area, or any mats all all- like those who practice in school canteens or carparks. Obviously they can't use giant padded mattresses because of the speed, pace, dance and even surface needed...but they could use 8 inch mats, with extra ones where tumbling passes end in the corners and possibly under the pyramid too if that's not too much of an obstruction, which I suspect probably would be. The height they get, the speed of the routines, the neccessary synchronisation, the hard pounding of the multiple tumbling runs..it is a recipe for disaster. And no team is immune. Cheer Extreme Senior Elite, the team above, are highly regarded as being the best- or at least, having the most difficulty. In a routine only a few weeks back, the difficulty is clearly higher than the one from a few years ago shown above, even in the jumps they do, but especially the stunts. There are 2 falls though neither hit the ground thankfully, and 2 near collapses that I can see and they appear to have received a big deduction for not having another flier (the girls who are in the air) assist at the most intricate parts in the pyramid towards the end, which I would agree with- the point flier (the centre girl who assists in tossing the others) looks to be under a huge amount of strain. And that is coming from the top of the sport, where the girls train substantially more than the majority of cheerleaders. This extremely high level of stunting is pretty rare, but the same height and therefore the same risk is present in pretty much all levels.
I have a lot of respect for cheerleaders. What they do is incredibly difficult and just amazing to watch. Here in Ireland, cheerleading does not exist at all and the idea of my secondary school having a squad or having a squad at local GAA (our national sports) matches in the rain and mud is hysterical. Hence having no exposure to cheerleading except episodes of Sabrina and Sweet Valley High and the film Bring it On. The day I stumbled across all-star cheerleading routines on youtube was a great day because they are utterly mindblowing. Finding out how at risk these girls are and how their sport is perceived...not so much. So, cheerleaders don't do standing fulls and backhandsprings with perfect form? Well..so what? It's not something they have to care about, so why would they bother? And since when is gymnastics a bastion of perfect form anyway?
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In short, I'm sick of seeing how maligned cheerleading is in some circles. It's not your cup of tea? Fine. But no need to spread negativity about it. Not liking something is fine. But you should respect the hard work and talent that goes into it. The fact that cheerleading remains in a dangerous limbo when golf and darts are going to be Olympic sports in Rio is frankly, sickening.
Oh and this is worth watching. Penn and Teller's episode on cheerleading- contains profanity, footage of injuries/falls and very very brief nudity at the start. I will say that the 30,000 ER visits is a little misleading, because the vast majority are not kept in, or serious or even treated. The huge increase is concurrent with the huge increase in girls taking up cheerleading compared to stats from decades ago., and the fact that cheerleading is a year-round sport means that its injury rates cannot be directly compared to sports that only run for a season, like football. That's why I used the stat above instead of 30,000 cheerleaders admitted to ER!!!!!!!!!111for shock value. But it's still a very good video. Look out for the part showing a practice session, 30 seconds in a girl lands on her head in a tumbling pass and doesn't get up. What does the coach do? Rush over and implement emergency procedure to assess the presence of concussion or anything worse? Haha, you must be joking. The girl is asked if she's okay and continues. With no assessment. It's the worst part in the whole thing and shows just how big the problem is.