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!