The surprising similarity between cheerleaders and football players: injury

When one thinks of cheerleading an image comes to mind — that of popular high school girls with pom-poms on the sidelines of football games, cheering modestly through megaphones embossed with sparkly names. However, the reality for many cheerleaders looks much different. Cheerleading is often linked to football, with cheerleaders supporting the players on the sideline of an important game. However, the two sports are also connected in a very different way — they both have incredibly high injury rates. In fact, cheerleading accounts for more than half of “catastrophic” injuries to female athletes — meaning severe injury to the spinal cord or brain that can result in long-term medical conditions. The risks become evident when one examines competitive cheerleading, a high intensity sport that consists of a mix of dance, gymnastics, and tumbling and puts immense strain on the bodies of female athletes.

In recent years, competitive cheer has become extremely popular among young female athletes. Competitive cheerleading teams perform two-and-a-half-minute routines and compete against one another in competitions across the country. They are scored by judges on specific criteria, such as difficulty and execution. Some popular cheer teams around the US include Cheer Athletics, Top Gun All Stars, and California AllStars.

Keira Hester is a CHS sophomore and a current member of a California AllStars competitive cheer team. She practices three to four times a week and travels with her team in competitions around the country.

“Injuries are extremely common in competitive cheer,” Hester said. “The type of skills we… practice could potentially be really dangerous, and that is definitely something that my teammates and I are aware of.”

According to Children’s Hospital Colorado, the most common cheerleading injuries include strains and sprains, back injuries, and concussions caused from lifting stunts and repetitive tumbling. The year-long season that competitive cheer imposes means that athletes train for a long period of time without giving their bodies a chance to recover. While the popularity of cheer continues to increase, many people are still unaware of the competitive nature and dangers of the sport.

“I wish more people knew about the competitive side,” Hester said. “I think that a lot of people have the wrong idea about what cheerleaders do.”

The mix of dance, tumbling, and gymnastics combines to create jaw dropping and difficult routines. Yet, many still imagine pom-poms and sideline chants instead of these incredible routines. So, during next fall’s football season, remember that the cheerleaders have a lot more in common with those on the field than one might think.