Renee Grant-Williams
Renee Grant-Williams

Cheerleading can be a Risky Business

Nashville, TN, September 07, 2006 --( As cheerleading squads across the country gear up for a rousing fall football season, coaches should begin now to convince their squads that safeguarding their voices from damage is as important as guarding against shin splints or ankle sprains.

“No other sport requires as much from the throat and body at the same time,” says Renee Grant-Williams, a leading voice coach and communication-skills expert.  “As exciting as it is to root for the home team, leading yells can seriously damage the vocal chords.  At a minimum, there’s a risk of becoming hoarse or losing the voice temporarily.  At worst, voice-altering nodes may develop that could require surgery.”

“One thing that doesn’t get results is to tell these yell leaders to tone down the volume on their cheers.  It’s simply not going to happen,” says Grant-Williams.  “So, if a coach wants to help out, they have to recognize that ‘cheer softly’ is probably not an option.”

What coaches can do is to urge cheerleaders to take other precautions to guarantee that their voices last as long as the season does.  For instance, cheerleaders can learn to use their bodies – not their throats – to protect their fragile voice mechanisms.

“Cheering routines draw heavily upon gymnastics and dance techniques,” says Grant-Williams.  “Why not use similar lower body strength and physical control to support their voices?  If cheerleaders would breathe low and support their yells by standing with a solid grip that presses into the ground, it would help take the pressure off their throats.”

Cheerleaders are routinely exposed to conditions, such as rapid body temperature changes due to intense spurts of activity and unpredictable weather conditions.  These circumstances practically invite the common cold.  Those in charge of a cheering squad should take steps to help them prevent upper respiratory ailments.

“Just as in football, the best defense is a good offense,” says Grant-Williams.  “Don’t wait until you wake up one morning without a voice to take care of it.”

Grant-Williams offers tips for keeping cheerleading voices in top form:

Drink plenty of fluids.  If it’s cold, warm liquids will soothe the throat.
Eat a good balance of protein and carbohydrates.
Stay away from alcohol and caffeine; these dehydrate the body.
Layer clothing so more garments can be added or removed as weather dictates.
Have a scarf handy during cold weather to keep your throat warm.
Get enough rest and sleep to keep the body’s immune system functioning.
Chew gum, a piece of hard candy, or throat lozenge to keep the juices flowing.
Gargle with warm salt water to reduce the swelling in a sore, swollen throat.

“A sick cheerleader is not an asset to the squad,” says Grant-Williams.  “Everyone will be better off if they stay home in bed until they feel better.  They stand a better chance of recovering sooner, and won’t put the rest of the cheering squad at risk.”

Grant-Williams offers advice in her book, “Voice Power: Using Your Voice to Captivate, Persuade, and Command Attention” (AMACOM Books, New York).  She coaches business executives, sales professionals and celebrities including Faith Hill, the Dixie Chicks, Linda Ronstadt, Tim McGraw, and Christina Aguilera.  She presents speaking programs to organizations throughout the and has been quoted by Business Week, AP, UPI, Cosmopolitan, TV Guide, Southern Living, the Chicago Tribune, the Boston Globe and the San Francisco Chronicle.  She has appeared on broadcast outlets including ABC, CBS, NBC, PBS, Fox, Bravo, , MTV, BBC, and NPR.  Grant-Williams is a former instructor at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music as well as the former director of the Division of Vocal Music at the University of California, Berkeley.

Elaine Collins