Cheerleading Sport or Not? My Full Answer

July 5, 2014

A couple of weeks ago, Dr. David Geier asked me my thoughts after the American Medical Association declared cheerleading a sport. Here is my full answer to his question…


Is cheerleading a sport? Ask me that 5 years ago and I probably would have laughed in your face. Today, however, I have a much greater respect for cheerleading. Personally I would agree with the roughly 30 state associations who now consider it a sport however that designation is not clear in all cases nor shall we construe that the designation as a sport provides specific safety requirements as proposed by the American Academy of Pediatrics. Here in Illinois, cheerleading is considered a sport by the IHSA which requires that cheerleaders must complete all paperwork just like any other athlete. This is a good thing. Cheerleaders in Illinois must have a physical on file, they must be educated in concussions, and starting here very soon their coaches will be required to be educated in concussions. But the AAP proposed that making cheerleading a sport would automatically provide them with enhanced healthcare in the way of athletic trainers. While I’d love to see that, currently the simple designation of being a “sport” does not grant that as truth. Just ask the 50% of high schools nationwide who operate an athletic department without one. From a legal standpoint that mandates the above such as what the IHSA requires, designation as a sport is a good thing. Could the IHSA mandate those things without the “sport” designation? Sure they could! And for those states who do not currently consider it a sport, I would appeal to them to mandate those sorts of things. The designation itself does not matter to me. Research has shown cheerleading accounts for 66% of catastrophic injury in the high school female athlete. Most injuries occur in practice although the rate of injuries in practice is much lower than in “other games” and in competition. Practice injuries are at a rate of 0.5 per 1,000 athletic exposures while “other games” see injuries at rate of 1.0 per 1,000 AE and competitions see 2.0 injuries per 1,000 AE. “Other games” are defined as things such as football or basketball games. Simply put, the sheer number of injuries in practice outweigh the injuries during competition and sideline cheering, however the injury rates are higher those other times. I think the main reason for that is simply the number of times teams practice and the practice facilities they have available to them! At my first school, our cheerleaders often practiced in the cafeteria. And it’s my understanding that doing so is not unheard of. Therefore they are practicing on a surface that is demonstrated to not be safe for cheerleading activities. But I’m sure for some schools, they may only see a cheerleading mat floor surface when they go to competitions. I finished my paper with these thoughts…..

Further recognition as a sport by athletic associations and the medical community should also lead to further development and improvement of rules, competition surfaces, and regulations. This is important for continued improvement of the sport so that it can succeed safely in the future. Cheerleading can no longer be neglected and regarded as an afterthought. Medical professionals and athletic administrators must include cheerleading in conversations about sports safety just like any other sport. Cheerleaders should be required to undergo pre-participation exams, be involved in strength and conditioning programs, and have access to qualified medical professionals during competitions and practices. The safety of the cheerleaders and the liability of the schools depend on it.


One Response to “Cheerleading Sport or Not? My Full Answer”

  1. Derek Says:

    I’m the same way, earlier in life I totally blew it off as considering it a sport. But after watching competitions and actually paying attention to it, I now have a whole new respect.

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