Stunt Safety

I have already written articles that touch on this subject.  I will probably have to repeat a few points but I will try not to be too redundant.  If you are interested in safe stunting I would highly recommend checking out the articles on Progressions and Communication, because they are both critical to safe stunt practices.

There is a vast amount of material that can be written about how to be safe while stunting.  I could never cover everything from a technical standpoint in just one article.  For that reason, I want to focus this article on personal habits that will help one to be safe while stunting.  But before I get into the meat of that material, I just want to reiterate the importance of following proper progressions.  The BEST way to be safe when stunting is to NEVER attempt any stunt if you have not previously mastered the fundamental techniques that lead up to that more advanced skill.  If you take your time in your progressions, you should always be safe in your stunts.

Moving on, one key habit of safe stunting is to be responsible for your physical readiness.  You wouldn’t drive a car if you had just pulled an all-nighter “studying” (or doing other stuff).  Obviously, this is because you would be physically and mentally impaired from a lack of rest.  The same is true of stunting.  You should not be flying in the air if you haven’t slept or eaten all day.  You should not be tossing teammates over your head if you are distracted from a death in the family or other tragedy.  You can not safely perform as a back spot if your ankle is being held together with tape and you can barely walk.  There are an infinite number of things that might affect your ability to focus on being safe in your stunts.  In general, you should only stunt if you are well physically, free of debilitating injury or illness, properly rested, and in a healthy mental state.  It is up to you (and/or your coach) to determine if you have some condition or circumstance that would prohibit you from stunting.  But if you are not sure, then you probably shouldn’t be stunting.

Be attentive.  This sort of goes along with the communication article.  You need to be paying attention so that you know exactly what stunt, transitions and/or dismounts you are supposed to be performing.  More injuries happen when someone thinks they are cradling when they are supposed to be stepping down than I care to think about.  But paying attention is also important throughout the stunt.  Bases should not be talking to each other about their day while basing, even if they think they are only performing a very basic stunt.  I have seen concussions out of shoulder sits and torn ACL’s come from thigh stands.  As soon as someone starts taking a stunt for granted, that is when it becomes the most dangerous.  Instead, everyone involved should be constantly watching for signs of a problem.  This will give you the best chance to make whatever adjustments you need to save a stunt (which is always safer than trying to catch a falling flyer).  It will also give you a chance to catch your flyer in the event of a fall.

Practice safe emergency dismounts so you know how to perform them when a stunt falls.  For the record, any time a stunt falls it is an emergency because you must act immediately and effectively or risk a serious injury to everyone involved in the stunt.  It is kind of like having fire drills.  You have to practice what to do when things go wrong or you will not have the muscle memory to jump into action and handle a problem.  Like a fire drill, everyone in a stunt should have an assigned duty if a stunt should fall.  Each base should know what direction of falling is their primary responsibility to cover.  Flyers should be taught to fall safely with their arms up and not kick or flail their arms or legs.  I also encourage stunt groups to practice “sweep” cradles from all of their stunts.  If a stunt is getting ready to fall, sometimes the safest way to dismount is for the back spot to call a sweep and for the flyer to be cradled in that way.

An important element of practicing safe emergency dismounts is correcting unsafe practices when they occur.  In most instances, someone can get away with relatively minor unsafe practices and not have an injury occur.  The bases can drop the flyer to her feet from the shoulder height and she will probably be okay.  Minor issues like this are usually the result of the group simply being in a hurry to move on to the next attempt.  Sometimes it is the result of laziness.  Either way, as a coach or teammate, when you see these lapses in safe technique it is important that you correct them every single time.  Safety is a habit, and so is the lack of safety.

The final point I will make about safety is to never be in a hurry.  When people rush, they make mistakes they would not ordinarily make.  If you start to feel like you are rushing, announce that it is time for a water break.  If you are coaching practice and you do not want to break (for instance you want to keep the team warm and their heart rate up), switch from stunting to jumps for a few minutes and then return to stunting.  Rushing during stunts is not the only time that it can be harmful.  You should not rush to get a new trick.  This is another progressions issue.  I mention it (again) because I frequently hear teams announce in August that they HAVE to get their Full-up Libs by Nationals (as an example).  My response to this is to ask, “Or what?”  The truth is, you do not HAVE to do so.  The world will keep turning if you don’t.  Your team will still compete.  The season will not end.  You should certainly work hard, but if you are rushing, you are quite possibly biting off more than you can chew.  This almost always lends itself to unsafe practices.  And remember that NOTHING slows down your progressions like a serious injury.

Stunt safety is something you have to be constantly aware of.  You must always practice correct and safe techniques so that they become habits.  But remember that the real key to safe stunting is to use good judgement!

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14 Comments on “Stunt Safety”

  1. hscheercoach Says:

    Thanks for your posts….this is the first time I am logging on and I am going to go back and read some of your older posts! Thanks!

  2. Flyer2102 Says:

    Also if your team is a level 2, you shouldn’t attempt to be level 3 by nationals when it isn’t realistic..

    So many Australian coaches are more focused on having a higher level squad even if it performs poorly, than having a successful lower level squad.

    I would rather rock at level 2 than compete in a higher level that not everyone in my team can achieve the minimum skill set.

  3. Courtney Says:

    so how are you suposed to fall i just fall into a cradle position and my back spot catches under my arms and kinda grabs me

  4. Lisa Says:

    I am a coach of an all-girl team in Germany. Could you please describe what you mean by a “sweep cradle”? We recently had a flyer fall from an extended liberty and wind up with concussion. 😦 This happened with 2 extra spotters….the third caught her but she somehow flipped backwards over the third’s shoulder. We have since revisited spotting and emergency cradles, but somehow the problem remains that the bases still have the flyer’s foot while the flyer is falling and it is completely up the the third to catch the flyer’s head and neck…this seems way to risky! The bases say they can’t let go fast enough because of the downward pressure being put on their arms by the flyer. I have since tried to teach the girls to bring the flyer straight back down with the foot still under her hip, but this doesn’t always work out well and I worry that the flyer will twist her ankle while trying to step back down from the stunt. It is hard to know when to keep trying to hit the stunt and when to call for an emergency cradle/step down…mostly it just happens without much time to call for anything. What is safer…emergency cradles or bringing her straight back down??

    Any feedback would be greatly appreciated!!

    Love you blog!!


    • Thanks for your comment and the compliment. I’m so glad to have readers using and enjoying the blog.

      As to your questions, here are my suggestions:

      Sweep cradles are a vital tool you want to have in your tool box. Sometimes, they are the ONLY safe way to dismount. To perform a sweep cradle, all the happens is the bases push the flyers foot directly out in from of her so a to cause her to fall in a seated position directly into their arms. Thus technique must be practiced enough for the flyer to know what it feels like. Otherwise she may panic when her foot is suddenly tossed out from under her and she could flail her arms and create a more dangerous situations. The bases only need to give a gentle push. From that the flyer should learn to immediate go to a cradle position. Again, this has to be practiced to the point that it becomes second nature in an emergency.

      Here are a few other suggestions. For your flyer to fall in an out of control fashion and/or the bases to state they can’t release the foot and catch her are more concerning than anything else. There are few absolutes in stunting, but here us one: bases never, ever, under any circumstances whatsoever, have an excuse to hold a flyers foot while she falls. I don’t care what else is going on, the vases just need to let go, leave their arms in the air and catch what they can. If they aren’t doing this, they are probably closing their eyes, or at least not looking up at the flyer. By not letting go, they allow the flyer to push them out of the stunt where they can’t get hit but that leaves the backspot as the only one left to catch. When the bases do that, that’s called bailing out on the stunt and it is unacceptable and a good way to really hurt someone.

      However, the flyer needs to be responsible for her own safety as well. If she is falling too fast or out of control, I suspect she is holding her breath. If so, her leg will bend and she will fall fast and hard. That can cause bases to tense up when they should instead sweep and catch. However, if the flyer just keeps breathing, she can keep her leg locked and not fall in the first place.

      I highly suggest when you begin practicing extended liberties that you have a predetermined early cradle. Plan on the lib hitting the top on a 3 count and cradling on a 5 count (sweep or pop). As that becomes sturdy, start holding it longer. But if everyone knows going up they only have to hold it for 2 counts, people won’t panic and you shouldn’t have dangerous falls.

      If that doesn’t work, let me know and we can try some other suggestions. Worse case scenario, you can always fly me out to Germany and I’ll see what I can do on site. 🙂

      • Lisa Says:

        Thank you SO much for your feedback! We have practice on Wednesday and will dedicate time to sweep cradles and discussing emergencies. If you are ever in Germany, we would love to have you stop by! 🙂

      • Lisa Says:

        I took your advice and had the girls hold the lib for only 2 seconds and this is working out really well! I can tell they are gaining confidence each time. I was wondering if you had any advice or would consider writing a post on twist cradles. I couldn’t find one on your blog. We twist to the left (looking over left shoulder) and have 2 flyers that constantly fly to the left, practically landing on the right base’s head (right base when looking at the stunt from the crowd perspective)…or they constantly land diagonally with their heads in the corner (more or less between their third and their right base).

        Your blog is a real help for me…being in rural Germany is kinda like being on an island…finding other coaches to consult with is pretty difficult! Thanks!!


      • Hey Lisa,
        I’m so glad to hear the previous suggestions have helped.

        I’m surprised that I haven’t written an article on full downs. I’ll have to fix that. In the mean time, here are a few things that might help you out.

        WHen flyers drift in the direction that they are twisting, it is usually because they are “jumping” off of their bases. I put that in quotes because it isn’t an obvious jump. You won’t always see them bend their knees like they are jumping as hard as they can. They may simply be pushing off slightly with the toe of their right foot to help initiate their rotation. Also, they probably wouldn’t even know they were doing it. That little toe push is an instinctive thing the body does, and it actually does help with rotation. The problem is that it pushes the flyer out of alignment for the cradle and also pushes the right base backward so they are off balance and/or out of position to catch.

        One solution to fix that problem is by having the flyer flex their thighs all the way through the stunt and the cradle. They should be staying tight, but you can have them exaggerate that by really, really flexing the muscle. Have them practice that way in straight craldes first, because it does feel funny. Once they’re used to it, try it full downs. Also, I don’t recommend flying with super flexed thighs forever. That is just a temporary measure to break the habit of jumping.

        The other technique flaw that frequently causes problems with full downs is when flyers look down at their shoulder (or even down at the bases) instead of looking over their shoulder. If a flyer looks down, they will flex their oblique muscles on their left side. This will cause them to break the straight body line that they are supposed to have. Their shoulders will drop rapdily when they should still be riding up from the bases’ pop. Additionally, this will actually stall their rotation about halfway around.

        I don’t know any tricks to fixing this problem, other than making the flyers aware that they are doing it. Usually, they don’t know. Video tape them and see where their eyes are. If they are looking down and/or closing their eyes, they are probably making this mistake. The correct technique is to turn the head but without dropping the eyes and chin.

        The absolute best teaching technique I have ever seen for teaching full downs is to teach them from a double base thigh stand. Most people have never heard of cradling from thigh stands at all. So before you do anything else, work on cradles from a double base thigh stand. They work the same as cradles from an elevator. The bases dip with their legs and pop straight up. The back spot can assist the flyers waist or thighs and push straight up. THe flyer might be tempted to jump, so remind her not to do that. Everyone catches the cradle high and safe. That’s it. After a few tries, everyone will feel very comfortable and safe. Once you get to that point, start practicing full downs. You’ll be amazed how easy they are. First, everyone is less afraid because you are closer to the ground. That should help the flyer focus on the technique of not jumping and not looking down. Also, for a proper full down, the flyer should be about halfway finished twisting at the top of the bases’ pop. The pop from a thigh stand tends to be higher than the pop from a extension because the bases are lifting the bases feet from their hip level all the way up to the shoulders before they even release the flyer’s feet. That is plenty of time for the flyer to get most of the way finished with their rotation before they are even released.

        Incidentally, I also suggest practicing double downs from thigh stands. Of course, don’t do that until you have mastered the single full down. 🙂

      • Lisa Says:

        I will try out the thigh stands with cradle. What do you recommend the flyer does with her arms? Our bases have gotten smacked in the face so often that the flyers are nervous they’ll hurt someone when the open up to cradle…on the other hand, they don’t feel comfortable keeping their arms tight on their bodies and not opening up to catch themselves.

        Thanks, once again for your advice!

  5. Gracie Says:

    Hi I’m in the 8th grade and I’m a cheer captain at my middle school. Starting tomorrow we are doing a mini cheer camp for ages 3 and up. My group is stunts. I have to give a safety lecture for each age . Any tips?


    • It’s hard to lecture to 3 year olds. Best of luck with that! For beginners I always stress communication. Most injuries happen when someone isn’t 100% sure what they are supposed to do. You cannot review everyone’s jobs too much. Also, make your students explain their jobs to you. If they can articulate the technique to you they will remember what to do when the time comes.


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