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Cheerleading | Healthy Sport Index | Aspen Institute Sports and Society Program

10th

out of 10

Cheerleading

Girls

Competitive cheerleading is a sport in which teams perform routines that include stunts, jumps and tumbling while being judged by a panel of experts. Recommended complementary/alternate sports for cheerleaders include swimming, track and field, and cross country.

Rankings in orange circles compare this sport with nine other sports offered for this gender before customization – meaning each of the three health categories is given an equal one-third weighting. The ranking is comprised of data collected or developed from various sources (75% of score) and expert opinion (25% of score). The healthiest sports in each of the three categories – physical activity, safety and psychosocial benefits – and in each data measurement are ranked No. 1. Note: Some sports did not have significant differences between each other in the data. Learn more about our methodology.

10th

out of 10

Physical Activity

Expert Opinion Rank: 9th Out of 10

Key Characteristics: Cheerleading’s physical activity at practices is the lowest among the 10 girls sports studied by North Carolina State University. Cheerleading has only 16 percent vigorous activity; the 10 girls sports average 39.6 percent. Thirty-five percent of cheerleading practice time focuses on skills compared to 23 percent spent on knowledge of the sport and 18 percent on fitness.

1 North Carolina State University research observing high school athletes in North Carolina, 2017-18.

7th

out of 10

Safety

9.1

Injury Rate2

(3rd out of 10)

12%

Injury Time/Loss3

(9th out of 10)

1.33

Catastrophic Rate4

(10th out of 10)

4.3%

Injuries Requiring Surgery5

(6th out of 10)

4.1

Concussion Rate6

(7th out of 10)

Expert Opinion Rank: 9th Out of 10

Key Characteristics: Cheerleading has the third-lowest injury rate among girls sports, according to the National High School Sports-Related Injury Surveillance Study; other metrics lower its overall Safety score. Almost half of the injuries are to the head/face. Cheerleading’s catastrophic injury rate, while low relatively speaking, is the highest among the 20 sports evaluated by Healthy Sport Index.

2 Injury rate per 10,000 exposures, National High School Sports-Related Injury Surveillance Study, 2016-17.
3 Percentage of all injuries resulting in greater than three weeks of time loss from the sport, National High School Sports-Related Injury Surveillance Study, 2016-17.
4 Non-fatal catastrophic injury/illness rate per 100,000 exposures, National Center for Catastrophic Sport Injury Research, 1982-2016.
5 Percentage of all injuries requiring surgery, National High School Sports-Related Injury Surveillance Study, 2016-17.
6 Concussion rate per 10,000 exposures, National High School Sports-Related Injury Surveillance Study, 2016-17.

10th

out of 10

Psychosocial

Aspen Psychosocial Survey7

3.607

Personal Social Skills

(5th out of 10)

2.794

Cognitive Skills

(5th out of 10)

3.616

Goal-Setting

(8th out of 10)

3.706

Initiative

(T-7thth out of 10)

3.464

Health

(10th out of 10)

1.74

Negative Experiences

(10th out of 10)

Substance Abuse

Cigarette Use8
14%

(9th out of 10)

Binge Drinking9
20.5%

(9th out of 10)

Marijuana Use10
17.6%

(8th out of 10)

Academic Achievement

Cut Class11
28.7%

(9th out of 10)

A/A- Student12
42.1%

(10th out of 10)

Graduate From College13
75.2%

(5th out of 10)

Psychological health14

4.17

Self-Esteem

(3rd out of 10)

2.22

Fatalism

(10th out of 10)

3.87

Self-Efficacy

(5th out of 10)

2.85

Loneliness

(10th out of 10)

2.04

Self-Derogation

(5th out of 10)

4.24

Social Support

(6th out of 10)

Expert Opinion Rank: 10th Out of 10

Key Characteristics: Cheerleading rates eighth among the 10 girls sports in the Aspen Institute/University of Texas psychosocial survey, though the gap isn’t large compared to No. 1 softball. Developing social and cognitive skills are strengths for cheerleading. The sport has poor rates for substance abuse, academic achievement, fatalism and loneliness compared to other girls sports, according to Women’s Sports Foundation data.

7 Aspen Institute/University of Texas psychosocial benefits survey of high school athletes nationally, 2018. Scoring ranges from 1-4, with 4 being the best except for the Negative Experiences category.

8 Percentage of high school seniors in the sport smoking cigarettes in the past 30 days. Data from Monitoring the Future Study (2010-15) and analyzed by Women’s Sports Foundation in Teen Sport in America: Why Participation Matters.

9 Percentage of high school seniors in the sport binge drinking alcohol in the past two weeks. Data from Monitoring the Future Study (2010-15) and analyzed by Women’s Sports Foundation in Teen Sport in America: Why Participation Matters.

10 Percentage of high school seniors in the sport using marijuana in the past 30 days. Data from Monitoring the Future Study (2010-15) and analyzed by Women’s Sports Foundation in Teen Sport in America: Why Participation Matters.

11 Percentage of high school seniors in the sport who cut class for a full day in the past month. Data from Monitoring the Future Study (2010-15) and analyzed by Women’s Sports Foundation in Teen Sport in America: Why Participation Matters.

12 Percentage of high school seniors in the sport who have an average grade of an A or A-. Data from Monitoring the Future Study (2010-15) and analyzed by Women’s Sports Foundation in Teen Sport in America: Why Participation Matters.

13 Percentage of high school seniors in the sport who expect to graduate from a four-year college. Data from Monitoring the Future Study (2010-15) and analyzed by Women’s Sports Foundation in Teen Sport in America: Why Participation Matters.

14 Average scores of high school seniors in the sport in psychological health report card. Data for these six categories came from Monitoring the Future Study (2010-15) and analyzed by Women’s Sports Foundation in Teen Sport in America: Why Participation Matters. Scoring ranges from 1-5, with 5 being the best for self-esteem, self-efficacy and social support.

Compare Tool

Select Other Girls Sports to Compare and Scroll Down

Cheerleading (Girls)
Basketball (Girls)
Cross Country (Girls)
Lacrosse (Girls)
Soccer (Girls)
Softball (Girls)
Swimming (Girls)
Tennis (Girls)
Track and Field (Girls)
Volleyball (Girls)

Complementary Sports

Healthy Sport Index recognizes the benefits of youth engaging in more than one sport during the year, through organized or casual play. Some youth also may want or need to find alternate sports, due to interest or roster-size limitations. There are two types of benefits to sport sampling: athletic/skill development in their primary sport, and overall health. First, let’s take a look at sports that can help develop athletic/skill development.

Athletic/Skill Development

For youth whose primary sport is cheerleading, U.S. All Star Federation recommends the following complementary sports.

Other Recommended Sports/Activities for Skills

Aerobics, Dance, Gymnastics, Pilates, Power Tumbling, Stunt, Yoga

Rationale: Swimming would help cheerleaders develop endurance and multiple muscle groups used and developed similarly to cheerleading. Diving has transferrable skills in relation to the flexibility, twisting, hip-over-head rotation often used in competitive cheer for tumbling and stunts.

Not chasing an athletic scholarship or elite performance? Let’s now explore complementary sports that are less tailored to develop skills in this particular sport but can help build a well-rounded athlete for life.

Overall Health

For youth focused on this sport, the following are activities worth considering to build overall health and fitness. They are recommended by the Healthy Sport Index Advisory Group in consultation with the American College of Sports Medicine. Considerations include whether the primary sport is a team or individual sport, the amount of time the primary sport spends at practice on fitness, and options for sports that carry low-injury risks.

Other Recommended Sports/Activities for Health

Cycling, Gymnastics, Jump Rope, Mountain Biking, Pilates, Rowing, Triathlon, Weight Training, Yoga

Rationale: Cheerleading is a team sport that would benefit from an individual sport. It could be helped by sports that promote fitness. Cheerleading carries high injury risks, so cross country, swimming and tennis are complementary options to limit the injury chance.

Best Practices

Tips on how to make cheerleading active and safer

  1. Proper coaching with safety regulations are imperative. More catastrophic injuries occur in cheerleading than any sport. Don’t attempt skills before they are ready to be tried. Failure to follow proper skill progressions is a chief cause of avoidable injury.
  2. Build up endurance. That’s a key component to be able to perform a 2½-minute routine with stunts, jumps, cheers, dancing and tumbling. Run or jog together as a team for 20 to 30 minutes at the start of practice.
  3. To give the body a rest, cross-training is highly essential. Off-day routines could include biking, aerobic dance classes, cardio kickboxing or step classes. Lifting with weights should be done with proper form and with a spotter two to three times a week.
  4. Coaches, parents and cheerleaders need to recognize the warning signs of a concussion. Concussions are a particular concern since cheer involves height, inversion and rotation of the body, as well as physical interaction and contact with teammates.
  5. Have a safety checklist. Administrators should have this for all sports, but it’s especially important to create a safe cheerleading environment. Among the checklist items: adequate matting, proper skill development and safety training for the coach, appropriate spotters, and an emergency plan in place and tested.

Learn More About Best Practices
Injury Prevention for Cheerleaders (Hospital for Special Surgery)

Cheer Safe (USA Cheer)

Cheer Rules and Safety (U.S. All Star Federation)

Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services)