Cheerleading As A Sport
February 17, 2010
Cheerleading requires an especially high level of physical exertion with an equally high risk of injury. In order to even make a team, cheerleaders must participate in an extensive tryout process often taking more than a week. Athletes must also meet a series of physical requirements concerning skills and fitness. Members of the North Allegheny varsity cheerleading squad first had to run a mile in under 8 minutes and demonstrate their ability to meet the requirements for stunting, cheering, dancing, and tumbling. Cheerleaders also keep busy practice schedules in order to maintain their physical condition. The nationally ranked Villanova University cheerleading squad holds various practices at least five days a week to work on strength and skills. In addition to the high physical precedent, cheerleaders risk their lives for their sport at every practice and competition and even continue to work through their injuries. According to an MSNBC.com report from June of 2009, cheerleading accounts for 65.2% of high school and 70.5% of college fatal or serious injuries among all female athletes. Like any other sport, cheerleading demands great physical effort.
Cheerleaders do not give up their time to practice for nothing; most teams participate in multiple competitions throughout their yearlong season. Both high school and all-star cheerleading teams are given the chance to compete. Every year high school squads can participate in one of numerous national championships while all-star squads compete against teams from all around the globe at The Cheerleading Worlds. For “Worlds”, teams come from everywhere including China, Chile, Britain, Canada, Australia, and France. Attending the Worlds or Nationals is a privilege, and teams must qualify at smaller local and regional competitions first. Along with field hockey, figure skating, and soccer, high school cheerleaders in Pennsylvania also receive the chance to compete in the Keystone State Games at Pennsylvania State University. Teammates work together and practice hard to perform their best at every competition they attend.
Although the set up of their contests may seem different, many of the same principles as other sports guide cheerleading as well. Just like any other competitive sport, cheerleading has a strict set of rules that can result in penalties if broken. Last year at the National High School Cheerleading Championship North Allegheny went only a few seconds over the time limit, which resulted in a deduction of points moving them from a meritorious fifth place to a substandard eighteenth. Judges also disqualified many other teams completely for performing illegal stunts. As well as following a set of rules, cheerleaders compete in divisions according to size and develop rivals, as do most other high school sports. Colleges recruit and give athletic scholarships to cheerleaders. Each year, Penn State University awards textbook and apparel scholarships to their cheerleaders, and returning cheerleaders acquire the opportunity to receive the $1500 Dr. Allen Scholl scholarship. Cheerleading consists of a competitive mix of gymnastics and dance as well as many other strength and cardiovascular components. The ideology behind cheerleading is the same as numerous other sports.
Even though cheerleading follows the definition of a sport in every way, skeptics argue cheerleading does not qualify as a sport. Critics argue against cheerleading as a sport because of its scoring system, which they view as subjective and unfair. A panel of judges evaluates the competing teams, assigns points according to difficulty and performance, and ranks teams by point total. Certified, trained, and experienced coaches and directors serve as judges. All judges receive identical score sheets with specific guidelines, and all scores are averaged out to ensure fairness and accuracy. Assessment of the rank of teams is a legitimate method used not only in cheerleading but in many other sports as well. Olympic sports such as diving, figure skating, and gymnastics use similar scoring systems. Athletes of these sports are much respected, and criticizing cheerleading for using a perfectly logical scoring system is unjust.
Cheerleading has risen in international popularity recently and its respect as a sport should increase as well. Cheerleading is exceptionally physically demanding as well as an internationally competitive sport that follows the same principles as many other sports. Although some argue the scoring system for cheerleading is erroneous and imprecise countless other sports follow the same scoring pattern. Before you determine whether cheerleading is a sport or not find a local cheerleading competition or look out for the next ESPN broadcast of the high school and college National Championships. The hard work and dedication of hundreds of men and women will show the moment they step onto the floor.
As a cheerleader or dancer, the word “leadership” takes on a whole new meaning. On the sidelines, in the classroom and in the community, leadership is a vital component of your role. As an athlete in the public eye, you must represent your school to the best of your ability.
In the words of Dr. Jamie Williams, former San Francisco 49er,
“Leadership is like gravity. You know it’s there, you know it exists, but how do you define it?”
How you define yourself, especially in the role as a leader, is not something to take lightly.
At first, it may seem like the responsibility to lead the team falls only on the captains. But, in reality, everyone has the chance to be a role model. In fact, the best leaders aren’t always the most talented or successful cheerleaders/dancers. Rather, the best leaders facilitate the success of others. Work hard, stay positive, and encourage other teammates to do the same. By promoting an environment where every team member can achieve his or her goals, you, too, will rise as a leader.
The same principles apply outside of practice. Even when you’re not in uniform, consider how your actions reflect on your team. Throughout the day, ask yourself: “How will this decision/behavior reflect on the team? Will it promote success or stress?” As an ambassador for your school, every decision counts.
Sometimes it helps to think about the cheerleaders you may have idolized as a child. Many of us thought of cheerleaders as superstars – people we could aspire to be. Keep in mind the young girls that may feel the same way about you, and respect your role with dignity and class.