Why I quit Cheer leading, and Why I Don’t Want My Children to be Cheerleaders

I was a cheerleader in middle school and  High School. I was even a captain my sophomore, junior, and senior years. I cheered for five years, was a co captain for two, and head captain for one. I lived for cheerleading. It was my life and my identity. My teammates were my people

Cheer leading was one of the best things that ever happened to me. It made me comfortable with myself and taught me that it doesn’t matter what other people think of you. I was in the best physical shape of my life. I had a six pack, powerful thighs that didn’t fit in jeans, and arms that could lift other people effortlessly.

These benefits came with costs. My first two years of cheer were awful. Our coach was biased, untrained, and dangerous. The team was full of cliques. Our coach was fired after an incident where a teammate’s back was broken. I’m repeating this for emphasis; her back was broken.  I was the only one who returned to the team my sophomore year. We had a new coach and a fresh team. We focused only on basics, we stunted a few times, but never performed stunts because we weren’t ready. Our coach believed (and I thank her for this) that you should never progress in difficulty until the basics are consistently safe.

My junior year was when the team really began to stunt. We had more people and two coaches. I was in “dream team,” the most experienced stunt group on the team. Regardless of our experience, I was beat to hell. While injuries didn’t happen often they happened enough for it to make a difference.  I had teammates that had permanent injuries from impact and stress. I knew that most cheerleaders develop achy bones and joints later in life and it could/would happen to me. Nonetheless, I loved the sport because of the people on my team.

Cheer leading is dangerous and I recently learned that my cheer experience was unique because my good coaches were compassionate, safety oriented, and had reasonable expectations. Regardless, I did see cheerleaders get hurt. I saw flyers dropped, but I also I saw flyers come down hard on a base and not give two-shits about the pain she may have caused because it must have been the bases fault she didn’t ride the cradle. Cheer leading is dangerous for everyone involved.

My issue with cheer is that there is so much emphasis on the flyer’s safety, yet bad flyers hurt bases all the time and its expected to happen and no one really cares. There are memes about being proud of cheer related injuries and, frankly,  it’s upsetting. Stunt dynamics are entirely unbalanced. I was recently on a team that beat me up to the point where I had to leave (among other reasons related to academics). I can’t take the pain anymore, especially when I get hurt every time and I have been on a team before where I could go weeks at practice without injury or pain.

The safety of the entire stunt group should be equal to that of the flyers. I was on teams where flyers were pulled and replaced if they constantly hurt their bases and this encouraged them to be mindful. The flyers were scrutinized as much and more than the bases when it came to the failure of a stunt. It takes everyone in a stunt group to make the stunt go up and down safely, and the bases aren’t the only ones that can mess it up.

Cheer leading. is. dangerous. This live science article states that cheerleading injuries are often fatal or life altering. “High school cheerleading accounted for 65.1 percent of all catastrophic sports injuries among high school females over the past 25 years.”

I have seen this with the flyer whose back was broken in an unsafe stunt, and a back base who’s back will be forever crippled because of an unsafe flyer; I’ve seen this in my teammates who will always ache in their knees and wrists, including myself. This pain began when we were teenagers.

In addition to the danger, I also chose to quit cheerleading because it is not a part of my identity anymore. I tried to force myself back into cheer in college and it lasted less than a year. It had been three years since I had done cheer and I had moved on by the time I tried to do it again. I learned that my body couldn’t take the beating, especially on an unsafe team. I didn’t want to get hurt, or see someone else get hurt. Cheer leading isn’t worth it for me. I loved it in the past, but I hold no love for it anymore. I have distanced myself from cheer so much that I will not encourage my future children to be cheerleaders.

While I loved cheer and my teammates, I was on a unique and very safe team. My time on a college team has opened my eyes to the fact that my experience was rare. The people who had cheered before college came from competitive teams where unsafe practices were normal. Most teams don’t rotate coaches every year. A lot of teams don’t have multiple coaches. I’m thankful for the perspectives I received on safety, because I’m afraid most cheerleaders only get one perspective, and not all coaches are safe. I had one that wasn’t and I have met many just like her.

If mentally and physically safe cheer teams are not common, I don’t want any part of the sport. Cheer leading is an impact sport. I feel about cheerleading as I do about Football. Sports aren’t worth getting hurt over. While I will not encourage my future children to play impact sports, I will not forbid it and will support them in the things that they love, but you bet I’m going to get involved with those teams to make sure safety is the top priority.

Cheer leading gave me confidence, performance and leaderships skills; but these skills are no different than what I learned in theater, robotics, and choir. We need to emphasize team activities that are not sports in schools. Sports are overvalued in American schools, increasingly dangerous, and they don’t provide children with experiences any more significant than other, non-physical activities. I know a woman that needed multiple surgeries on one knee because of softball before she was 17 years old, she didn’t even like the sport, her parents did.

I will not make my children play sports period, and I will also not encourage them to play sports because I don’t think they are important. While encouraging physical activity is important, there are alternatives to sports. I loved Yoga when I was in high school. I also walked and danced. At this point, sports are glorified and push kids to play to the point of injury, sometimes irreparable and lifelong injury. I want nothing to do with that.

I know there are a lot of people who love sports, especially cheerleading. I did too. I don’t want to persuade or convince anyone to think the way I do, I just wanted to provide some perspective on why I quit cheer, and why I don’t want my children to be cheerleaders.

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6 thoughts on “Why I quit Cheer leading, and Why I Don’t Want My Children to be Cheerleaders

  1. Thanks for this article Brett! What an eye-opener! I’m a Canadian and here cheer-leading doesn’t seem to be as important as it is to our American neighbors. At least while I went to school anyways–many moons ago! But I never saw the need for cheerleaders–sorry–hope I didn’t offend. I guess my feminist views over-shadow this topic. It has always amazed me how women and girls will go to such lengths physically, emotionally, and mentally to be accepted. All to be eye-candy for the male population. No sport/activity is worth getting injured/killed over.
    I don’t have children but I have 5 nieces and I have told all of them that building your mind, heart,and soul is just as important as building yourself up physically. I have always told them that being a better person and helping others and doing what’s right is far more important than sacrificing your health to look a certain way.
    I have a cousin that many years ago she tried so hard to please her snobbish mother that she ended up in the ICU because of the effects of yo-yo dieting/weight loss fads and dangerous weight loss gimmicks. She could never compete with her two slim younger sisters. Because of the abuse of laxatives,diuretics, binging and purging etc she ruined her health and bowels, intestines,colon,etc and takes a fitful of medications per day just to keep from going back into the hospital. She is now a normal weight. I asked her once if she regretted losing all the weight she did the hard way–she told me “No’ because now her mother accepts her because of her dramatic weight loss after her first ICU visit. She almost had to die before her mother would love and accept her and she still is brainwashed into believing that the way she lost all that weight was acceptable!! Unbelievable!
    I’m off topic I know but cheer-leading, weight loss, body image and acceptance are all so intertwined for the female psyche.
    You’ll make a great mom one day, Brette and your daughters will be taught well by a forward thinking and progressive parent!

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    1. Thank you for this article. I am the safety coach you speak of. I’m extremely cautious and I’m not into extreme stunts.
      I am blessed to be at a private small school and I do believe there is a benefit to cheerleading if there are the right coaches in place. My team is both the dance and cheer team.
      I do not cut which for me makes my job tricky. I try and use every ones gifts to the best of my ability. Ladies that normally would not make a sport team can be a part of a physical active group. Plus I have ladies that it is their calling and make their college teams when they leave me.With that everyone learns how to work together and work hard to achieve something they all can be proud of cause ultimately it is their body’s out in front of their peers. They also learn how to appropriately support their peers without social media.
      What I feel is in life no matter what job, activity, or hobby we spend our life in front of people and I hope this helps in some small way to give ladies the courage and esteem to do what they want and to go for it feeling confident to the best of their ability and work hard.
      From the sounds of it you would make a great coach and be the change that is needed to this sport. I can’t do it alone. Lol

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I think that’s a great article! Safety should ALWAYS be a number one priority, and nowadays at cheer camp, safety is always placed as number one priority. I think the reason behind injuries is not the cheerleaders fault but rather the coaches faults if anything for not training the cheerleaders properly or the school for hiring under-qualified coaches! However, what the previous comment said earlier about cheerleaders being “ eye candy” is far from the truth. I cheered because I developed some of the best friendships in my life through cheer, because I loved the sport and the stunting tumbling and dancing involved. NONE of what I do is because I want to please guy!! I think that’s completely inaccurate and while some cheerleaders may feel that way, a lot of them that I have come in contact with are very good people who just love the sport.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. All of my closest friends were cheerleaders and to this day I think of my teammates as MY cheerleaders because I had such a supportive and loving group of guys and gals I got to see everyday. We did almost everything together and participated in other activities outside of cheer like choir and theater because we were all so close. I miss my team all the time, I wouldn’t trade my experience with them for the world. Extracurricular activies are so important in middle and highschool and we need to find ones that are fulfilling, safe and give us community ☺️ whatever that may be

      Like

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