Photo by Lacie Bartlett.
Like most sports, cheerleading has changed over the years. You rarely see girls in large pleaded skirts randomly shaking their pompoms on the sidelines anymore.
Today, cheerleaders are highly skilled, competitive men and women, who take the world of cheerleading to a whole new level.
Competitive cheerleading has emerged among the stereotypical sideline “cutesy” girls that shake pompoms and do a toe-touch every now and then. But according to the NCAA, competitive cheerleading is not presently considered an emerging sport.
When it comes to defining an “official” sport, the rules and guidelines are very vague. There is no solid definition of what is considered an “official” sport.
But the athleticism, strength, flexibility, and coordination it takes to be a competitive cheerleader is incomparable to other sports. All aspects of athleticism are combined in a 2:30 routine. From stunting and tumbling, to jumps and dance, the components of competitive cheerleading demands strict training and dedication to perfect.
The Women’s Sports Foundation worked to narrow the components that work together to make an activity considered a sport.
The first guideline they considered is that “it must be physical activity, which involves propelling a mass through space or overcoming the resistance of mass.” This is clearly presented in stunting. The resistance of mass is represented through tossing and holding girls at multiple levels while they do tricks, such as flexibility or spinning and flipping.
More guidelines include “competing against/with an opponent,” and it must be “governed by rules that explicitly define the time, space, and purpose of the contest and conditions under which the winner is declared.”
Competitive cheerleading has strict time limits, dimensions of mat space, score sheets, and a winner is declared at the end of every competition.
Most college cheerleaders spend 15-20 hours a week in the weight room or at practice. They are required to work out multiple times a week to maintain and enhance strength. Practice involves learning new skills and perfecting the crazy tricks you see on the competition mat, and sometimes the sidelines.
Most sports have multiple innings or quarters to redeem themselves if they get behind. In cheerleading, you only have 2:30 to perfectly perform a routine you have done 100 times and worked on for the past four or five months. One fall, bobble, or drop can leave the entire squad devastated in the end, because there is no redemption. You get one try, and then you are done.
“When you compare the dynamics of other sports to cheerleading,” two-time national champion and current Ole Miss cheerleader, Carlee Hopping, said, “We are doing the same things. We have coaches, judges, a crowd to impress, a demanding schedule, and a job to be done. The only difference is, we only have one time to satisfy all of our viewers and win.”
Competitive cheerleading is demanding. According to the United States Sports Academy, cheerleading is number one in female sports injuries and number two in catastrophic injuries when compared to all sports. The only sport that ranks higher is football. More than 65% of catastrophic injuries occur in cheerleading.
Broken bones, torn ligaments and tendons, and high intensity sprains are no stranger to competitive cheerleaders. Stretching and warming up is a daily routine. However, injuries cannot always be prevented, especially when you are doing things your bodies are not necessarily made to do.
“Physically and mentally, cheerleading is very intense,” Ole Miss cheerleader Danielle Butler said. “Have you ever tried to talk yourself into doing a backflip and spinning 360 degrees in the process? Probably not, but it is mentally nerve racking.
“Whether it is considered a sport or not, I know the things I am doing on the mat are things that other athletes would not even attempt. It is hard and demands a special kind of athleticism.”
I think all cheerleaders would agree with Butler. The neverending debate of if cheerleading is a sport or not is comparable to the “chicken and egg” debate. The speed at which cheerleading has evolved is remarkable. Athletes as young as 7 years old have skills no one would have ever thought to try 20 or 30 years ago.
This ongoing debate diminishes the view of cheerleaders everywhere.
Ask any college cheerleader, and they will tell you that standing on the sidelines waving their pompoms and cheering their team to a victory is not a sport. However, the competitive cheerleading should be respected as a sport.