What is Cheerleading?

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One more time, most cheer coaches' say as they prepare for nationals in the spring. Most athletic fans in the stands may think of cheerleading as girls waving their poms in the air and shouting weird words, many people are not aware of what happens behind the scenes when cheerleaders are working hard at practice. Cheerleading can be defined as a competition, yelling, or just entertainment. It has opened up into a great of athletics, but many people may never view this as a sport. When cheerleading was first invented, all cheerleaders were men; this has changed overtime since most men are not able to handle the high demands required of a cheerleader. Schools and coaches till this day follow Title IX, which was invented back in the 1900's, this created an equal upbringing for girls who are involved in athletics. Most student athletes not only maintain physical shape, but they also maintain a high grade point average. Cheerleading has grown to become more competitive over the years, strictly working towards a National Title. With this growing, doctors may start to be worried with the health risks that can occur with this dangerous sport. With cheerleading becoming more prominent to younger boys and girls, some parents might change their minds of what a cheerleader actually is.

Competitive Cheerleading

To commence, competitive cheerleading has been growing around the United States rapidly. There are three types of cheerleading in this era: competition, hybrid and sideline; competitive cheerleading has nothing to deal with hybrid and sideline. Back in the day, there was no such thing as competitive cheerleading, or even leading school spirit. As competitive cheerleading continues to grow, it has been ruled out by the requirement that there are standardized rules and a scoring system. Although, some collegiate competitions may not be scored according to showmanship. The NCSTA (National Competitive Stunt and Tumbling Association) created competitions for specific events such as: stunt, basket toss, pyramid round, tumbling, and team routine. In this specific competition, megaphones, signs, and uniforms are judged in this competition because the cheerleaders were only judged on their abilities in stunting and tumbling. In the competitive cheerleading world, gymnastic activity has become a big involvement because much of the tumbling in the routines has formed from gymnastics and has made the routines more advanced. All cheerleaders who are in competitive cheer can enroll in a four-day camp that is put on by the Universal Cheer Association (UCA), and Varsity Spirit where they learn more than forty cheerleading routines and have the chance to try out for the All-American team. The All-American cheer squad is an elite team who has the opportunity to be able to travel to an event in Florida or London to be able to perform in a parade or a football game. Competitive cheerleading is different from basic cheerleading such as hybrid and sideline. This type of cheerleading has standardized rules and goes by a scoring system that is updated every year by Varsity Spirit from the feedback of coaches and parents. Competitive cheerleaders are strictly competition and don't deal with sidelines, they only compete against other squads in events that are held by a small number of profited cheer associations. Cheerleaders who are in competitive cheer have ditched the sidelines for center stage and are fierce and physically tough. Every new competition season, coaches are looking for the most fit, fierce and focused athletes to be able to work hard towards a goal of winning national's in the spring. When choreographing for various competitions, each routine has to be no longer than two and a half minutes that is set to delirious dance music. As young adolescents are being tossed in the air and girls tumbling back and forth across the mat, they are being judged on the combination of skills, energy, and choreography. With this elite choreography, each cheerleader must be in slick, customized uniforms from Varsity Spirit; each year cheerleading coaches receive a 137-page booklet that is filled with various styles of uniforms. When cheerleaders are warming up on the practice mat waiting to hit center stage, the tension rises between the different squads as they prepare to give it their all in front of the audience and judges. Erykah Ward who was at one time training for the 2000 Olympics in gymnastics got injured and lived in a boot for a while, soon her friend suggested that she try out for cheerleading and discovered that competitive cheerleading is no joke. Competition teams may grow about 50 percent each year and some gyms / clubs have reached 2,500 cheerleaders. Instructors at Cheer 360 have trained more than 200 cheerleaders to be apart of the competition team. They apply the fundamentals used to train these athletes in the most competitive mainstream programs in cheerleading. Over the past five years, the USA Cheer has been looking to create a new way for competitive cheer athletes to discipline themselves to grow the activity and expand the participation opportunities for young adolescents. In competitive cheerleading, the USA Cheer has been working on to create a new sport called stunt and is working towards having it recognized as an NCAA Emerging Sport. Since working on making this an official sport, none of the programs have been successful when getting approval from the Department of Education. With this becoming a sport, the department wants to make sure that they are satisfying the requirements of Title IX. With competitive cheerleading rising, the injuries will continue to grow, unless safety precautions are taken.

Injuries / Health Risks

With competitive cheerleading being a big deal, many injuries can also come into play. Cheerleading has created many health risks within the last 50 years. Performance Enhancing Drugs can be a topic to be discussed every year when new and improved cheerleaders hit the gym for their new season. In cheerleaders' drive to succeed, these drugs might be in effect without any coaches or teammates knowing. In today's cheer world many squads are made up of sassy and focused athletes who should not be doing drugs. According to Torgovnick flyers have been known to use cocaine, meth, and questionable diet pills in an effort to make themselves as light as possible. In the cheerleading world, cheerleaders need to stay in shape in order to be able to keep up the energy throughout a whole performance. Illegal drugs and steroids can cause harm to their bodies and may also cause the bases to lose muscle. Not only is there drug related health risks, but there are also physical damage to cheerleader's bodies. Cheerleading can be one of the most demanding sports not only because of the athleticism it requires but because with the stunts and tumbling and the possibility of landing wrong can cause damage to bones and muscle. Once upon a time, cheerleaders were thought as a pretty girls who did nothing more than shake pom poms, shout cheers, and swing their limbs (Argument from Athleticism). Back in the 1960's, cheerleaders were only at athletic events to get the crowd pumped up and many coaches in that day-in-age were either previous cheerleaders or they didn't need to have a coaching background or certification. When cheerleaders were in front of the crowd at this time all they would do is shake their pom poms and the highest stunt they would do is a short jump off the ground. As the years went on cheerleading became more popular but wasn't included in colleges until two collegiate cheerleaders suffered from catastrophic injuries. Ever since then in college there have been 31 catastrophic injuries and 73 catastrophic injuries in high school. From one of the articles written in American Journal of Sports Medicine, Barry Boden wrote that the most common stunts performed at the time of 29 cheerleading catastrophic injuries, nine were pyramid, and eight have involved basket tosses. At the high school level of cheerleading, twenty to twenty-five states have considered cheerleading a sport. The National Center for Catastrophic Sport Injury Research has come up with a few safety recommendations such as: medical examinations, proper condition, proper training, several emergency plans, pyramids that are more than two people high should not be performed, etc. Jody Melton who is the president of the cheer athletics says, Coaches and rule makers are boosting safety precautions as the sport matures. Coaches across the nation have started to take cheerleading much more seriously as there have been new stunts introduced every year at a variety of cheer camps. As 2009 rolled around, cheerleading started to involve more stunts and lots of gymnastic activity which led to beefy guys contorting girls on one foot twenty feet in the air. The American Academy of Pediatrics released a policy statement that suggest that cheerleading in the fifty states should be designated as a sport so that squads can have qualified coaches, only twenty nine states have recognized cheerleading as a sport. Since cheerleading has grown over the year's stunts have become more difficult which has led to more injuries. From 1990 to 2003, there was a 20 percent rise in the number of cheerleaders 6 or older going from 3.0 to 3.6 million (AAP, 1). It is most definitely certain that injuries can be reduced in cheerleading if the organizations who are in charge of cheerleading take an active role in safety. The NCSF (National Cheer Safety Foundation) has tried its best to promote cheer safety and the precautions to take to coaches around the nation. The NCSF has teamed with the US Sports Academy for an SCSF Cheer Education Program for coaches, athletes, administrators, and cheer enthusiasts. The program was designed by a panel of experts to prepare individuals for the challenges of managing the risks of modern cheer (Mueller, 565). It has now become a competitive contact sport, which has people wondering why it is still called cheerleading.


With cheerleaders running, jumping, and stunting, they should be considered athletes. Cheerleading can take a lot of stamina with having to lift and throw flyers in the air; these movements can be involved in the three different types of cheerleading: hybrid, sideline, and competitive. Hybrid cheerleading engages in sidelines, but not as much since these cheerleaders participate in one or more competitions per year. Hybrid cheer squads are involved in no more than five competitions per year because they are ruled out by the requirements, which most squads don't attend five competitions anyway. On the other hand, sideline cheerleading is the most popular type of cheerleading among high schoolers. This type of cheerleading involves girls and boys supporting other athletic teams by trying to raise the spirits in the crowd by cheering loud and proud, performing stunts, tumbling, etc. Most cheer squads use pom poms that are shiny that will most likely catch the eye of adults and students in the stands, only a few cheer squads like to use megaphones. Sideline cheer has been ruled out by the requirement of competing against other teams. Cheerleaders used to be seen as pretty girls who shook their pom poms, but now, most cheerleaders are part gymnast, part acrobat. The stunts, flipping in the air, and pyramid stands require great athleticism such as: fitness and physical strength. Since cheerleading continues to grow around the world, these cheerleaders are finally starting to be recognized as legitimate athletes, not just pretty, peppy girls. The NCATA (National College Acrobatics and Tumbling Association) is made up of six members that sponsor different stunts and tumbling skills at the collegiate level. This association does everything in their power to distance themselves from traditional cheer, since they are specifically acrobatics and tumbling. Cheerleaders who compete for the NCATA are treated as true athletes at the universities that they attend and they also receive the same benefits as any other sports team. Also, athletes who compete for the NCATA compete six - eight times per year and they can also qualify for postseason. Many cheerleaders spend countless hours in the gym receiving private lessons, squad practices, and even gymnastic classes. When on a cheerleading squad, each member has his or her own job, which can be compared to a volleyball team or football team. Quite a few cheer mom's or dad's have the popular bumper sticker on their car, Cheerleading: if it were any easier, it would be called football. Back in 1994 the coed cheerleading squads in high school made up of 213 males and by 2000 there were 1, 212. Males in California who were on the cheerleading squad also played for the Bullets football team and one year spent their time at practice instead of watching the Super Bowl. John Luce who gave up football for cheerleading has heard comments about the gay cheerleading deal, if you think cheerleading is for sissies, see if you can handle it (Campo-Flores,). The University of Maryland made the decision to elevate competitive cheerleading into a varsity sport, which has been causing mixed reviews. The competition team coach Lura Fleece said, It's about strength, gymnastics, and teamwork just because cheerleading is all-female and we're not mimicking some recognized men's sport, that means were not a sport? Some women's teams have said that the university became the country's first campus to make its all-female teams a varsity sport. Attending camps throughout the off-season helps the new team member's work on their abilities to be able to keep up with the old members. Not only do the girls at the camps work hard, but they are also building bonds with a variety of different cheerleaders. The girls not only bond over different cheers, but they work together to build individual and team goals that are set for the season. The girls on the squad work hard together, but the parents work harder, having to haul their kids to practice, competitions, and most of all the cost of cheerleading. Competitions in the fall and spring are a way of life for the young adolescents. Cheerleading has had to follow many rules that have been assigned by Title IX.

Title IX

Congress created the Title IX of the Education Amendment in 1972 and they wanted to focus on preventing discrimination against women and girls in education. This also focuses' on girls and women who are also involved in sports and it plays a big role in cheerleading since it is female dominant, but can also include males. Under the law, public schools must provide equal opportunities, equipment, funding, and facilities to sports teams of both genders (Peters, 2). Title IX has been recommends that the students who are involved want to create and equal opportunity in various sports. Schools that have been meeting the Title IX rules have to be judged individually, and these ruling sets may set an important example for various universities around the United States. With Title IX being in full swing, this can bring difficult economic times, but this goes to show that whatever happens in the schools, they are not allowed to cut the costs on the backs of women. At Quinnipiac University, they were accused guilty of many Title IX violations and that the cheer squad did nothing to eliminate the violations, mainly because it was dissimilar compared to other collegiate sports teams. The USA Cheer Association has invested their time into cheer and they have attained the emerging status in order to satisfy the Title IX requirements. When we say form of college cheerleading', we mean cheerleading' in a strict sense: an activity that involves leading cheers. We do not consider activities like Acrobatics and Tumbling, and STUNT, the two newest competitive activities to evolve from cheerleading, to be forms of cheerleading (Johnson, Sailors, 2). When Title IX was first in full swing, the beginning of the risky stunts and acrobatics which caused numerous injuries, was a concern for Title IX, which caused them not to rush any decision making when considering cheerleading a sport. Cheerleading, according to Title IX is in existence, and deserves to be recognized as a sport for their purposes.

Cheerleading as a sport may stop people asking if it's considered a sport or not. With all of the injuries, health risks, and practice time it requires, cheerleading is no different then the other sports that are already in effect. Although cheerleaders used to be though of pretty girls who shake their pom poms, cheerleading now has evolved into one of the most dangerous sports with tumbling and stunting. With cheerleaders not only being focused on the cheer mats, but also in the classroom shows how much they have to be organized when it comes to being involved. With the demandingness in cheerleading, these athletes may be prone to more health risks and injuries. With that being said, competitive cheerleading, alongside sideline and hybrid can be just as dangerous. No matter how many muscles it takes for bases to toss girls into the air, at the end of the day, cheerleading is more populated as a feminine sport. Women who are in different sports besides cheerleading have more of a variety in their appearance such as, body size and shape. Since cheerleading will continue to grow over the years, safety precautions will have to become more advance, stunting will become more difficult, and competition will become more strict.

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What is Cheerleading?. (2019, Nov 08). Retrieved April 18, 2024 , from

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