Positive Steps in Coach's Education
State activities and athletics organizations, national associations and even individual institutions are increasingly requiring cheerleading safety and risk management training for their coaches. The very fact that cheerleading is an athletic activity that involves risk should require that someone supervising the activity is well-versed in skill techniques, the use of skill progressions, safety training and other risk management procedures that have been developed.
At the college level, the NCAA recently made a requirement that in order to have catastrophic insurance coverage for their program the cheerleading squad must be supervised by a safety certified coach. The AACCA, along with providing this training, also made additional restrictions on where basket tosses and high pyramids can be performed. These two measures lead to a great reduction in the risk to cheerleaders involved in NCAA programs.
On the high school level, cheerleading coaches now have access to a comprehensive program developed by the National Federation of High Schools, the AACCA and educational organizations like Universal Cheerleaders Association. However, just like all other sports and activities, the NFHS does not actually govern cheerleading. That is done on the state level by each state's activities or athletics association. Most states actually do regulate cheerleading in one way or another, from requiring that schools follow the established national guidelines all the way to requiring specific training courses for their coaches prior to allowing teams to participate in partner stunts, pyramids and gymnastics. Some states do regulate cheerleading as a sport, but there is no indication that this has made cheerleading any more safe in those states. In fact, it could be argued that increased competition and decreased preparation time, just part of the requirements often placed on an activity being labeled as a sport, may lead to increased exposure to injuries.
All Star (Non-school) Programs:
There is another large segment of cheerleaders that have emerged on the scene during the past ten to fifteen years. Non-school teams, also known as "all star" teams, have formed in gymnastics centers and more recently in gyms devoted solely to competitive cheerleading teams. The primary purpose of these teams is to compete and to practice for competition. It is not uncommon for an all star program to encompass four or five teams and 100 to 150 participants. During the development and expansion of all star programs, there were no official governing bodies to provide any rules provisions or coaches training requirements, as these are private businesses outside the reach of state and national associations. However, in the past few years, the vast majority of all star programs and the competitions that they attend have joined with the United States All Star Federation, which has developed rules for the various participation levels and provides credentialing programs for their coaches.
These recent efforts and successes made in the area of safety rules and coaches training are so often overshadowed by statistics that are pulled from as far back as 25 years ago.
Changes Have Been Made For the Better
The last point to be made is that contrary to the information in recent articles, cheerleading skills are not more dangerous than they were ten, fifteen and twenty years ago. Cheerleading coaches and cheerleaders themselves will be the first to point to the rule restrictions under which they live. Prior to 1984 there were no cheerleading rules at all. Twenty five years ago, high school cheerleaders were building three level high pyramids and even flipping off of them. Not to an awaiting set of three catchers, but to the ground on their own feet - from fifteen feet in the air. At the college level teams used to be able to do two back flips in one toss. These double back flips are now prohibited for colleges, and high school teams may not flip at all. While skills are more intricate than in the past, they are no w performed at a lower level, resulting in more control in the event of an error.
We believe that most coaches and institutions do make safety a priority. With millions of children and young adults participating in cheerleading, there are going to be injuries as with any athletic activity. To discount the effect of a catastrophic injury or a death of a loved one would be to compound a tragedy. But to make it appear that cheerleading injuries are rampant does a disservice to every good coach supervising this activity.
Our job as rules providers, safety educators and coaches is to follow the accepted standards of care with regard to how we minimize the chance of injury. The job of parents and participants is to make sure they are participating in programs that are following the rules and to speak up if they have concerns. The job of governing associations is to provide a framework wherein the supervisors of our children are given the tools they need to provide a reasonably safe environment that minimizes risk while providing opportunities for athletic and personal development.
We all need to address the safety of our children when participating in an athletic activity. It is important to keep safety on the front burner. There are measures that can be taken to ensure that they are put in the best possible position to balance out the risks of participation and the rewards that also come with participation. We feel that at the same time, perspective should be given so that educators, parents and participants can make educated choices about how to specifically address those safety concerns.
For more information on the AACCA, NFHS and USASF programs, visit www.aacca.orgor call 800-533-6583.