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Cheerleading and sports medicine safety at Children's Wisconsin

What Netflix’s “Cheer” gets right — and wrong — about young athletes


From “Ellen” to The New York Times, everyone is talking about the new cheerleading docuseries on Netflix, “Cheer.” As a licensed athletic trainer with experience working with the sport of acrobatics and tumbling, there is so much I enjoy about this new show. But there are some cringeworthy parts, too. Here are a few top takeaways from my vantage point in pediatric sports medicine.

Mat talk is key

Encouragement goes a long way in sports and the "mat talk" in "Cheer" is no exception. The positive energy from Jerry, the loveable and effusive athlete who loudly broadcasts support for his team from the sidelines, keeps everyone going.

Everyone needs a Jerry

What if we all could be the teammate that people look to for inspiration? Jerry's optimism lifted his teammates up and kept them laughing when the going got tough.

Finding support and positive energy on your team is a must, but for some young athletes, the support of a sport psychologist can be helpful, too. Our sports psychologists help young athletes:

  • Learn to maintain focus, set goals and regulate energy levels

  • Adjust to injury and the recovery process

  • Return to sport with confidence and awareness

Don’t do dark room therapy for concussions

Concussions need to be taken seriously, but in “Cheer,” they seem to be brushed under the rug and that could lead to short- and long-term problems for athletes. Unlike suggestions made on the show, Children's Wisconsin providers do not recommend dark room or "cocoon" therapy following a concussion. While it is appropriate at first to avoid visual stimulation –– including video games, computers, texting, television and reading –– going to the extreme of a dark room is not proven to enhance recovery from a concussion.

Appropriate care for concussion includes:

  • A comprehensive evaluation by a licensed athletic trainer and a physician

  • An individualized plan to help kids “return to learn” to the classroom and “return to play” on the athletic field –– when their bodies and brains are ready

  • Close communication between sport medicine staff, the athlete, their family, and the school and sports personnel to ensure recovery is appropriate and successful

It’s also a great idea to have a baseline concussion test. This is given when an athlete is healthy and the results can be compared to a test given after a suspected concussion. This helps sports medicine specialists improve concussion care and make return-to-play decisions.

Nourish your body

We know all athletes want to look and perform their best. But taking care of yourself properly is always more important than the number on the scale or the size of your uniform. A registered dietitian who specializes in sports nutrition can help young athletes with:

  • Hydration and fluid recovery

  • Eating for optimal health, energy and performance

  • Injury recovery and prevention

  • Unique conditions for female athletes

All hail dancers

Can anyone match La’Darius’ dance moves? Whew! Demands on a young dancer’s body can be different than other sports, which is why we developed the Dance Medicine Program to specifically meet the needs of dancers. We treat dancers from all genres, including ballet, tap, jazz, competitive dance and, yes, cheerleading.

Know your limits, and support coaches who respect them

While it’s admirable to push yourself to be a better athlete, it is never a good idea to push through pain or limping. Pushing through pain can result in injury and longer time out of your sport or activity. Coach Monica made a point by pushing injured kids to practice, at the expense of their well-being. Injured athletes should always stay on the sidelines until they’re cleared to play by their medical team. Learning plays and supporting teammates from the sidelines is a valid and important way to participate when injured.

I’ll keep on cheering for the amazing athletes of “Cheer,” while encouraging kids, parents and coaches to always put the health and safety of young athletes first.