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.