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The problem with pompoms

The score is tied. The fans are chanting from the stands while the anxious players take a time out. What this game needs is a good boost from the cheerleaders to bring the win home. But there’s more to today’s cheers than shaking pompoms from the sidelines. Cheerleading involves stunts, jumps, tumbling and gymnastics—it’s a tough physical sport.

With all of these challenging twists and turns, the risk of injury is a big concern. Cheerleading accounts for two-thirds of all catastrophic sports injuries, such as fractured vertebrae, paralysis and even death, by high school and college girls in the United States, according to the National Center for Catastrophic Sport Injury Research. As a parent, your main goal should be to make sure that everyone involved is safe. Consider these basic safety guidelines:

  • Cheerleaders should practice and perform either on grass (real or artificial) or on mats—not on concrete or the hard gymnasium floor.
  • Each cheerleader should wear soft-soled athletic shoes and no jewelry.
  • Make sure that coaches follow recognized safety rules and practices outlined by the American Association of Cheerleading Coaches and Administrators ( and that they have—and practice—an emergency plan in case a serious injury happens.
  • Ask the coach and assistant if they have an active CPR (Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation) certificate and if they’re trained in basic first aid.
  • Signed consent forms are mandatory so that your child can receive medical care if he or she is injured and you’re not there.
  • Tell your child that if he or she feels scared, pressured or uncomfortable about a doing a certain stunt, he or she should tell the coach or you about it.