We all know cheerleading safety happens all year long, but in March, we encourage coaches, cheerleaders, administrators and parents to take time to refocus their safety efforts to keep cheerleading safe.
We’ve joined with USA Cheer to develop a one-stop resource for cheerleading safety including safety tips, training resources, links to cheerleading regulations, and research.
(A press release has also been issued here)
The AACCA released its “2010-11 School Cheer Safety Rules” today which include some changes for all school teams along with the first ever set of rules specifically for elementary, middle and junior high school cheer teams.
Changes affecting all school teams:
- Released stunt transitions must be braced on at least one side. This effectively removes skills such as free-standing Tic Tocs. Load-in releases such as a Switch Lib are still allowed as they do not begin in a stunt.
- In stunts where the top person falls away from the bases in a flat body position (also known as a Pendulum) the top person must be caught by at least three catchers. Previous AACCA rules required a minimum of two catchers.
While these particular skills have not had specific safety issues, the changes were made to further the continued efforts by the AACCA and National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) to have a more consistent set of cheerleading rules. This change effectively means that there is only one remaining major difference between these two sets of rules. The AACCA restricts all released twists on basketball court surfaces without a mat, while the NFHS Spirit Rules currently allow up to one and one-quarter twists on the basketball court surface.
Changes affecting elementary, middle and junior high school teams:
- All basket tosses and double full twisting dismounts are prohibited on all surfaces.
This year is the first time there have been different rules for these school divisions. Over the past years, those in the cheerleading industry, including safety organizations such as AACCA as well as administrators and event producers, have seen more teams at these levels performing advanced skills for which they were not prepared. Poor execution results in more falls, and more falls increase the opportunity for injury.
In addition, high school coaches are seeing more incoming cheerleaders who have advanced too quickly and do not have the proper fundamental technique for performing some of the upper level skills. For these reasons, the AACCA rules committee decided to add a further restriction on stunts for elementary, middle and junior high school teams.
While there are certainly teams at this age level that can safely perform these skills, the rules are not written for the elite just as they aren’t written for the beginner. These changes will allow coaches, who are nearly always full-time teachers in the school, to focus on fundamentals without the pressure of having to teach the most advanced skills. Cheerleaders at these schools will perform more repetitions of elevators, extensions and even full twisting dismounts before arriving at the high school level where they can develop more advanced skills.
About the AACCA rules
These rules are written for school teams and do not directly address all-star or youth recreational programs. There is a difference in the focus of school cheerleading, a limit on the talent pool from which teams are selected, and a certain level of risk acceptance on the part of administrators of a public entity.
Since there have been no rules other than those written specifically for high school teams, many elementary, middle and junior high schools and state associations have directed their cheerleading teams to follow the high school rules. We strongly recommend that in addition to the rules (NFHS or AACCA) that they currently follow, they add the restrictions included in section F of the 2010-11 AACCA School Cheer Rules.
As we get email questions, we will update this section with clarifications on the new rules. If necessary, we will update the actual rules page. Please check back often. Send questions to email@example.com
- These rules apply to practice, game and competition.
- (Rule C-5) “Low to High” Switch Liberties where the back remains in contact with the top person are not “released”, therefore they are not prohibited. At the point of release from the bases, the backspot becomes the main base and the bases become the spotters, which reverses once the original bases are back in contact with the top person.
- (Rule C-5) A load-in position where the top person is off of the ground and supported by bases (Example: elevator load-in, sponge load) is considered to be a stunt by definition. Therefore an elevator load-in, ball up to stretch is illegal unless it is braced before the release from the bases/backspot. A basket load-in to extension would be legal if braced or if the backspot remains in contact throughout the transition.
- (Rule F-1) “Multibased tosses” means sponge tosses or elevator tosses that originate from below shoulder level and use a throwing motion to get the top person into the air. An elevator or extension cradle does not meet this criteria. Elevator cradles and extension cradles are not “tosses” and are allowed.
- (Rule F) The basket toss and double down prohibitions are for elementary school, middle school and junior high school teams. A 9th grade or JV team in a high school is not restricted by the middle school/jr. high rules.
AACCA is proud to join the NCSSE and the USASF Parent’s Action Committee in rewarding leadership and sportsmanship in all-star cheerleading!
The idea for the award was sparked by a First Friday article titled “Sportsmanship and Etiquette in the All-Star Cheerleading World” (Feb, pg 8) that touched on the importance of keeping these principles at the forefront for coaches, parents and athletes.
Details about the award can be found on the announcement in the USASF News section and in the communications that will be forthcoming to gyms. It is our hope that gyms will confer with their parents as well as their teams and coaches before deciding which programs deserve this award, as it is often the parents that see behavior away from the warm-up area and competition floor that coaches and gym owners miss in the focus of their other duties.
We are excited to be a part of such a great sport, and we wish everyone the best performance both on AND off of the mat!
There are two major issues when it comes to safety; preventing injuries from happening in the first place and properly addressing injuries when they happen through the preparation of an Emergency Action Plan. I have said in the past that these concepts of prevention and preparation play an equal role – that they are two halves of the equation. I was wrong.
The truth is that they are both equal, but that they are not 50/50; they are 100/100. Each concept is the most important thing to occur at different times. Prevention and preparation are two mutually exclusive events.
The most important thing you can do with regard to injuries is to minimize the chance of them happening in the first place. This is done through requiring general good health and nutrition, the use of proper training, following rules, teaching proper landing and spotting techniques, and using recognized skill progressions. Strict adherence to these issues will help keep many injuries from ever happening.
However, that “most important thing” changes at the exact moment that an injury occurs. At that moment, the most important thing you can do is to have already had a practiced emergency action plan in place. An Emergency Action Plan (EAP) is a written document that describes what action will be taken in an emergency situation. That situation may be anything from responding to an injury, a heart failure, a sudden natural disaster like an earthquake or tornado, an internal emergency like a bleach spill in a small area, or even terrorism.
Since the first AACCA Cheerleading Safety Manual was published in 1990 the AACCA has been promoting the use of an EAP and have given live demonstrations of the plan at coaches’ conferences around the world. A free sample EAP has been available online (http://www.aacca.org/eap) since at least June of 2006 and was updated in 2009 to include photos, a powerpoint-style presentation and a video on YouTube. The addition of Tegan Reeves as Associate Director brought another opportunity to further update the EAP to include internal hazards and weather related emergencies as well as a great way to organize and present the EAP with a downloadable flip chart of responsibilities and scripts!
I asked Tegan to comment on her involvement in the review and revision process.
JL: One of your first duties as AED was to review the current Emergency Action Plan.
TR: Yes, I was very excited to begin my position with program review, research and development. Of course the Emergency Action Plan (EAP) was an important first step. Because the action taken (the results from the rehearsal of a plan) can save a life, we felt this would be an important issue to tackle with a thorough review and comparison to existing best practices.
JL: What is your background and experience working with emergency plans?
TR: When I was 15 years old, I experienced the immensity of a properly rehearsed emergency plan. I was a lifeguard at a local pool. The Marion Municipal Pool was larger than most Olympic size pool hosting: 3 separate pools, diving boards and training areas. There were 11 guards on duty at the time, on 9 different stands (coverage areas). When an 8 year old named Brian lost consciousness underwater it was in my coverage area. Although I was the one to pull him out of the water and begin rescue breathing, I know that it was the swift response of the entire safety team that saved his life.
Because we learned, rehearsed and reviewed our EAP every person knew their role and performed it correctly. Because I, at the tender age of 15, was taught to appreciate the responsibility involved I was able to move through the proper steps without question. Because our staff managed risk properly by preparing and practicing an emergency plan, Brian was able to swim with me in the deep end the next week.
Captivated by the influence preparation could have I became actively involved in the local Red Cross and studied Health and Human Performance at Iowa State University. It was my passion for cheerleading and the athletes I worked with that united the two. It brought me to AACCA where I hope to share knowledge that CAN and WILL save a life, just like the pool managers did over a decade ago.
JL: When you reviewed the existing plan, what did you find?
TR: Of course the previous EAP was a very valuable resource, available at no cost, for years. But the work we did to reinvent the plan was to make it a bright, accessible and readable aid to rehearsal. I believe that the rehearsal is the key, not only to a swift and timely action but to helping the athletes understand their responsibility in injury prevention as well as emergency care. Furthermore we wanted to make everyone in the safety team (Coaches, Administrators, Athletes and Parents) aware of risk management as a whole. Something that did really stand out though, was the lack of addressing shelter and evacuation plans for internal hazards such as fire or chemical spills and external hazards like inclement weather. That was added to the new EAP/ESP/EEP diagram with links to existing plans that address these issues.
JL: You came up with a novel way to organize and present the EAP. How did you come up with the idea of having a flip chart?
TR: In researching ways to present the EAP that would help make rehearsals run smoothly, while brining attention to the plan, we found that scripts, role playing (and assigning) and color association were key factors. We also wanted to create something that could be hung up on a wall, and would display the needed action and assigned roles in case of emergency. To merge these concepts we simply cut portions of paper. This created visible layers for easy ‘at a glance’ information, as well as separate scripts and bulleted action points that can be easily detached and used by the person assigned each role. The color coded sheets and graphics stimulate sensory recollection, which aid in role playing and memory. Of course my favorite part is that it looks cool and is a bright reminder of the positive difference a little preparation can make.
Access all of the information on the Emergency Action Plan, including the new downloadable flip chart, at http://www.aacca.org/eap. Then follow the steps to prepare for an emergency and review and practice it monthly.
AACCA has designated the first practice of the month to be the day your team rehearses your emergency action plan. At your First Practice, make Safety First!
As college and high school basketball tournaments are gearing up around the country, I just wanted to put out a reminder about basketball safety rules and the importance of everyone following and helping to enforce these rules.
The safety rules are written to help minimize the chance of having a catastrophic injury happen to one of our cheerleaders. If you see a team performing skills that are prohibited, you have an obligation to the cheerleaders on the court and to the rest of the cheerleading community to address the situation before a life-changing injury occurs. There are several ways to help enforce the rules.
- Speak to the other coach. There may be an issue of not knowing a skill is illegal. While this should not be the case, there are sometimes instances where a new coach has been put in place or someone is filling in so that the cheerleaders can be at multiple venues. There may also be an issue of interpretation of a rule that needs to be discussed. (We have developed a college basketball rules “cheat sheet” that can be handed out to coaches)
- Bring the issue to the attention of your own athletic director or principal to determine the best course of action. She may know the administrator at the other school that can take care of the situation.
- Bring the issue to the attention of the tournament director or host school. They should not want prohibited skills being performed inside their building.
- File an official complaint with either the state association of it is a high school team, or with the AACCA if it is a college team. Coaches may lose their certification if they are not following the rules.
With all of the hoopla and additional personnel at tournament time, keep your team focused on crowd-leading skills and sign use – not on showing off cheerleading skills that would be better performed in competition. Communicate with the tournament directors and other coaches as to what happens during timeouts and what locations are available for the cheerleaders. And finally, regardless of the rules set forth by the NFHS or AACCA, the tournament officials and game officials always have the last word. If they determine that you are only allowed half of the space you are used to, or that you are not allowed to stand up in front of the crowd, then those are the rules for that game or tournament.
March madness is so named because it’s a crazy time for everyone involved. Let’s keep the cheerleading part on the safe side!
Of course, cheerleading safety should be practiced any time cheerleading is being performed, but March – Cheerleading Safety Month – provides the perfect opportunity to shine the spotlight on cheerleading safety.
March often marks the winding down of basketball season and with it most school cheerleading will also come to an end. Soon, tryouts for the next season will take place, giving coaches the opportunity to implement their safety programs for a new team.
There are four groups directly responsible for the safety of the cheerleader – the administration, the coaches, the cheerleaders themselves, and the cheerleaders’ parents. Each can use this month to focus on cheerleading safety and enhance safety in their programs.
Administrators , are you involved in your cheer program?
Make sure you have selected a qualified coach to supervise the team and give them sufficient support. At a minimum, the coach should complete the American Association of Cheerleading Coaches and Administrators safety course. Coaches should also take advantage of any other training available, such as training provided by the National Federation of State High School Associations or the US All Star Federation. They should be encouraged to attend camps, clinics and coaching conferences in order to further their knowledge of skill techniques. As an administrator, you should make sure your program has adequate practice facilities and matting and that the coach is following the safety rules.
Coaches , are you fully aware of your responsibilities with regard to safety?
You should make sure your cheerleaders are using proper skill progressions. Don’t pressure your cheerleaders to try skills they are not ready to attempt. You or someone at practice, such as a coach’s assistant, should be CPR certified and trained in basic first aid. Make sure that you are following recognized safety rules and practices (AACCA, NFHS or USASF) outlined for your program. Develop and practice an emergency plan in the event a serious injury occurs.
Cheerleaders , you too have a responsibility for your own safety.
If you feel scared about a particular stunt or tumbling skill, voice your concerns to your coach or parent. Take stunting very seriously, and stay focused on the skill and your part in it until it is safely completed. Practice good health and fitness habits so you can perform to the best of your ability. Remember, others are relying on you to be at your best during every performance.
Parents , use your voice!
Know the safety rules, and If you find that standard practices aren’t being employed, bring it to the attention of the coach. If that doesn’t resolve the matter, do not hesitate to take your concerns to the administration. Ultimately, if you feel that your child’s safety is being compromised, take the difficult step of removing them from the program. Cheerleading can be a safe and healthy activity when it is properly supervised.
Check back here throughout the month for more tips and strategies to improve cheer safety. Let’s use this month of awareness to make sure we are all doing our part!
Jim Lord, AACCA Executive Director
I’ve had the opportunity over the last 25 years to see a lot of cheerleading. One trend that stands out perhaps more than any other is the continued demonstration of poor technique in stunts, pyramids and gymnastics in order to try to hit skills that are more difficult.
As I watch safety videos and attend competitions, I am seeing more and more teams performing skills they have no business performing in the hopes that if they hit they’ll score higher.
Let’s put aside the obvious safety concerns for a moment because, well, they should be obvious.
To borrow a recent line made famous on American Idol, you look like a fool with your stunts on the ground.
Shaky stunts and frightened faces have no place in what cheerleading should be projecting. After all, cheerleading teams were originally created to promote athletic excellence and confidence! It stands to reason that in order to promote such characteristics, the cheerleading team should embody them.
So what is causing this trend? After all, cheerleading rules over the years have severely limited the height of skills that can be performed, where they can be performed and even how advanced those skills are. Theoretically, there should be a limit to what can even be attempted, right?
Of course, we know that while there are limits on pyramid height, gymnastics skills, dismounts and even equipment, there are also cheerleaders, coaches and choreographers out there every day creating new and innovative ways to get into, between and out of stunts and pyramids.
Even with the creativity and transition innovation, I contend that the problem is not with people “pushing the envelope”; it is with the coaches, judges and competition providers that do not penalize poor execution.
I believe it starts with competition and it starts with the coach. The drive to be better than the other team should be changed to a drive to be the best “your team” that your team can be. Instead of hoping that the third stunt group hits their heel stretch double full this one time, change the choreography so that this group is in the center, goes 2 or 4 counts earlier and singles cleanly while the other two groups double. Don’t allow your cheerleaders to perform tumbling that just “gets over” with their elbows bent and their legs apart or they will never strive to perfect their skills. Work on perfect synchronization and perfect body positioning instead of driving the team to do a skill one level harder.
The result will be a more solid routine that shows better execution. While you may miss out on two or three difficulty points, you can more than make that up in other areas. There will be fewer bobbles that affect your overall presentation. There will be better synch which will increase your scores in other categories. There will be less of a chance of having a deduction for a fall or bobble. In essence, you are trading a good chance at a 4th place for the high risk/reward of either placing first or second if the stars align or dropping down to 12th if you fall.
The other result will be that going forward, you’ll get better faster. Why? Fewer falls and better execution means more repetitions and fewer injuries – and that means faster progression to the skills you want to be performing.
Competition organizers have done a much better job recently of separating out difficulty and execution on score sheets. Some have even weighed execution higher than difficulty. Still, more can be done to make it clear that sloppy routines are not welcome.
Of course, the awarding of difficulty and execution points ultimately comes down to the judges and here is where the rubber meets the road. Judges must commit to the score sheet that they have been given and remove their own “feelings” about a routine. Yes, that all-girl team just hit five truly single-based Stretch Doubles, but in doing so, three of the doubles ended up landing on their stomachs or their sides in a “one and three quarter”. So, do you give them very high difficulty points and take off just a little on execution since they completed 7/8 of the skill? Or do you not count those dismounts at all since they weren’t completed? I think the answer lies somewhere in the middle, but I do suggest that their score should be lower than if they had completed well-executed single fulls.
And now back to safety. I believe with all my heart that the majority of cheerleading injuries occur when cheerleaders are attempting skills they aren’t prepared to attempt. This is different than most other sports. In football, injuries occur by the very nature of the activity – two human beings going at full force with the goal of running over the other. In soccer or basketball, injury results from “unintended” contact with another player or team member that ends up putting someone in a precarious fall. It can also result from the incredible forces placed on joints when making direction changes at high speeds. Improper technique can certainly play a factor, but most sports injuries are from playing the game itself; they aren’t the result of trying a play that was too difficult.
The good news is this: with proper training and emphasis on progression, we should be able to reduce the injury rate in cheerleading.
For the most part, every skill attempted should build incrementally on a previous skill that has been mastered. We often like to use the term “perfection before progression” but of course nothing is actually “perfect”. Consider the Olympian that has trained nearly all of her life and specifically on this one routine for the last several years and still ends up with less than a “10″. When we use terms like “mastery” or “perfection” what we mean is that this skill can be done over and over with very little chance of a fall or error. We mean that the skill can be repeated with confidence and with excellent execution. We don’t mean that it’s been performed once or twice or that they manage to hit it “most of the time”.
This doesn’t mean there won’t be falls and missteps as the new skills are learned, but with the fundamental skill having been mastered, the performer is given a better opportunity to correct flaws before they result in uncontrolled falls. With the repetition of lead-up skills, bases can developed the fine-motor skills of balancing and reacting to their top person, with less chance of overcorrecting.
Every fall that is avoided is one less opportunity for a catastrophic, live-changing result or even the inconvenience of a minor injury. When the tide shifts towards skills being performed dangerously, rules committees have no choice but to outright ban certain skills for schools or move them to a higher skill level for all-stars.
The drive to be the best, or better than you are, or just better than the team on the other side of town is strong. It is one of the things that have made cheerleading the exciting and entertaining activity, sport or show that it is today. It is what attracts unbelievable athletes to want to participate and want to continue cheering. But it must be tempered with an understanding of the difference between “what we are working on” and “what we are going to demonstrate in public”.
Practice skills in the proper progression and demand that they are properly executed before allowing progression to the next skill. Then practice that new skill until it has been mastered before putting it in a routine, or a halftime performance or a time-out cheer that ends up bobbling or falling. That would be foolish.
The AACCA and NCSSE have merged, forming a partnership dedicated to safety awareness and coaches’ education for every level of cheerleading
MEMPHIS, Tenn., Jan. 12 /PRNewswire/ — The leading organizations for cheerleading safety education and training have merged. The American Association of Cheerleading Coaches and Administrators (AACCA) and the National Council for Spirit Safety Education (NCSSE) are pleased to announce the merger effective Jan. 12.
There are more than 70,000 cheerleading coaches across the United States working with youth, junior high, high school, all star and college cheerleaders. The shared mission of these two nonprofits is to provide educational resources and training opportunities to these coaches, as well as school administrators, coaches and the cheerleaders themselves.
AACCA, founded in 1988, has had successful safety partnerships with the National Collegiate Athletic Association and the National Federation of State High School Associations and is widely recognized as a safety education and rule making body. AACCA has developed safety rules for all levels of cheerleading, developed the AACCA Safety Certification Course and has recently made the course available online.
“We’ve made great strides in addressing safety issues, and this merger puts us in a better position to continue addressing those concerns,” says Jim Lord, Executive Director of AACCA. “It’s very exciting to think of the effect we can have on safety by combining our expertise and resources. Together, we will be able to continue development of safety initiatives and educational programs that will directly benefit cheerleaders and their parents, coaches and administrators at every level, from youth to college, school to all star.”
The NCSSE has successfully developed a comprehensive coaches’ educational series incorporating teaching principles, strategies and techniques. Internationally, the NCSSE has established a strong foothold in the United Kingdom and has developed partnerships with established organizations in nine other countries.
Debbie Bracewell, Executive Director of NCSSE, is enthusiastic about the potential impact of the merger, both domestically and abroad. “This move strengthens and enhances our mission of providing comprehensive safety training and certification programs for the continued development of cheer and dance team coaches. We can better serve the cheerleading community here in the United States as well as globally, where cheerleading is growing steadily.”
The American Association of Cheerleading Coaches and Administrators represents more than 20,000 cheerleading coaches and is recognized as the leading advocate of cheerleading safety in the U.S. AACCA is the most recognized source for cheerleading safety education. The AACCA manual, composed by a team of doctors, lawyers, cheerleading industry professionals and Gerald S. George, PhD, has been endorsed by the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, the University Risk Management and Insurance Association, the Women’s Sports Foundation and the National Athletic Trainers’ Association, as well as the NCAA and NFHS. For more information about AACCA, contact Sheila Noone at 901-251-5959.
The National Council for Spirit Safety and Education is an association of companies serving the cheerleading community who share a primary mission: to provide comprehensive safety training and certification programs for the educational development of spirit coaches and advisors through an international council of unified industry leaders. For more information about NCSSE, contact Debbie Bracewell at 866-456-2773.
SOURCE The American Association of Cheerleading Coaches and Administrators
Now that basketball season is in full swing it is time for a reminder about the specific restrictions for basketball court surfaces. These additional restrictions are intended to reduce the risk of a catastrophic injury to a cheerleader. Coaches must be familiar with and follow the current cheerleading safety rules at www.aacca.org.
The combination of the specific surface and the fact that cheering for basketball often involves performing on the actual field of play requires that additional skill restrictions are followed.
The exact wording of the basketball court rules for college teams are as follows:
Specific Basketball/Indoor Court Rules
- On a basketball court surface, the following skills are prohibited except during halftime or postgame performances where the area is free of obstructions and non-cheer personnel, and all skills are performed on a matted surface. Pregame and timeouts are not exceptions to this rule and are subject to the listed restrictions.
- Basket tosses, elevator/sponge tosses and other similar multi-based tosses.
- Partner stunts in which the base uses only one arm to support the top person. Exception: Cupies/awesomes are allowed with an additional spotter.
- Flips or released twists into or from partner stunts. Exception: Front and back flips to a stunt or cradle are allowed if the top person is braced on both sides by hand/arm to hand/arm contact.
- Two and one half person high pyramids.
- Inversions in partner stunts and pyramids. Exception: Inversions that begin on the ground and go to an upright position where the top person is in constant contact with a base or spotter are allowed.
- Twisting tumbling skills.
(Note: High School Basketball Court Rules can be found here)
If you question whether one of your intended skills is included in these restrictions, do not hesitate to contact the AACCA office for a ruling.
What if I see a violation?
As part of the College Cheerleading Safety Initiative (CCSI), there is a process for the AACCA to address rules violations. This process is in place to help with rule compliance, but could eventually result in the removal of safety certification of the coach. In effect, this could remove the catastrophic insurance coverage for the team. The process is laid out in detail on the CCSI site (http://www.aacca.org/ccsi).
Again, the intent is compliance, not punishment. We want teams to be following the rules. However, in order to help enforce the restrictions that are in place, we have to rely on coaches self-policing each other. If you witness a team violating the AACCA rules, please let us know via our “Violation Report Form” found on our CCSI page at (http://www.aacca.org/ccsi/decertification.asp). No information regarding who turned a team in is released, and reports can be turned in anonymously*.
But I don’t want to get someone in trouble
The most important issue is the safety of those participating in cheerleading. The rules are written to minimize the chance of having a life-changing injury to a cheerleader. That alone should be the reason for contacting AACCA in a matter like this. The “decertification” policy includes incremental steps that begin with making sure there is an actual violation vs. a misinterpretation of the rule. In the event of an actual violation, the supervising coach would get their first of three possible strikes before losing their certification. Correspondence regarding a strike is kept between the AACCA, the coach and the institution.
Can anyone submit a violation report?
Absolutely. For example, if a cheerleader knows that the skill they are doing is prohibited, they can send a report in anonymously*. As coaches and cheerleaders, it is imperative for the safety of the cheerleaders in our care that everyone is following the rules.
* While every report is investigated, keep in mind that the more evidence (photos, video, or witnesses) available, the better the opportunity to get the issue resolved. If we need additional information, it will be impossible to follow up on an anonymous report. An anonymous report stating that “State College was doing something illegal at a game” doesn’t allow us the opportunity to be effective in keeping State College in compliance.