Is Cheerleading a Sport?
In the most recent eras, cheerleading has become more than just cheering on a team every game. There are now competitions, including those at the national level. The question is then whether or not cheerleading is considered a sport. Answers will vary depending on who you ask, and the responses will likely cause a fiery debate.
There are valid points to consider on both sides of the argument. Cheerleaders are commonly seen on the sidelines during basketball and football games, supporting their teams. Many fans see them as just that. Fans don’t see what occurs behind the scenes, which is very throughout and exhausting training and practice to perform flawlessly come game time.
While not officially defined as a sport by high school associations or the NCAA, I will say cheerleading is clearly a sport for several reasons. Let’s take a deeper look.
Definition of a Sport
Dictionary.com defines a sport as “an athletic activity that requires physical prowess or skill and often a competitive nature.”
To be bluntly honest, cheerleading fits this definition more than some other activities referred to as sports. If you watch closely, cheerleading involves spinning, flipping, jumping, throwing, and catching, which all require exertion, stamina, strength, and skill.
Using the first criterion of the definition, cheerleading is clearly an “athletic activity requiring prowess and skill.” Go beyond most cheerleaders’ physical appearance and attractiveness and notice them based on what they are doing physically. Throwing a person that weighs 100 pounds or more in the air and catching them requires strength, stamina, and balance.
A Competitive Nature
This part of the definition is clear-cut. The idea behind cheerleading is to encourage their team to compete or to compete themselves. After all, cheerleaders compete in numerous local competitions, and if they are good enough, to state competitions, regional competitions, all the way up to the national level.
The hours of practice, sweat, and tears spent daily in gyms across the country are to make it to the nationals and come out on top. Collegiate Nationals take place in the middle of January each year, with the High School Nationals held a couple of weeks later.
Cheerleaders can be as competitive or more so than the teams they are cheering for. Although people can be competitive in a variety of activities that aren’t sports, the example clearly supports the fact that cheerleading is a sport.
Comparisons to Other Sports
When considering that a competition routine takes about 2 to 3 minutes, many people don’t consider cheerleading a sport. However, this argument doesn’t have any real merit. The amount of mental toughness, physical durability, and strength is just as much as in most sports.
An early mistake in a team sport, such as baseball, basketball, and football, isn’t necessarily a game-changer since there is ample time to adjust, make changes and improve to the point of winning the game.
That is not the case in cheerleading, which is much like figure skating. You hit the floor, go through your routine, and you’re finished. It’s one shot and done. The hours, days, weeks, and months of hard work come down to a routine that they need to perform as perfectly as possible.
Even a near-perfect or perfect routine doesn’t necessarily mean that victory is yours. In a team sport, a home run, a three-point basket, or a late touchdown pass can put your team over the top for a win.
However, in cheerleading, once your routine is over, your fate is in the hands of the judges. Each judge has his or her own standards and preferences.
The first and most obvious comparison is to gymnastics. The sport has become so popular that it is a mainstay and fan favorite at the Summer Olympics. Men and women compete in a wide variety of events, such as parallel bars, vaults, uneven bars, balance beams, rings, trampolines, and floor routines.
Throughout the competition, gymnasts execute a variety of difficult flips, tricks, and other acrobatic feats. Like cheerleading, they also are at the mercy of the judges. They do their best in the couple minutes of their routine to impress the judges more than other competitors.
The fact is that a large number of cheerleaders get into gymnastics first to perfect their tumbling skills, which come in handy in cheerleading routines.
The sport of dancing is in the Olympics in a variety of forms and is very similar to cheerleading. The main difference between the two is that dancers don’t perform flips, whereas cheerleaders perform several flips over the course of a routine.
Dancers, like cheerleaders, perform their routines in front of judges, trying to impress them with their overall moves, synchronicity, and jumps. Similar to cheerleading, dancing has local, regional, state, and national competitions and performs routines with music.
There are fewer similarities between cheerleading and figure skating than between cheerleading and dancing. However, there are definite similarities. The type of focus, physical strength, and endurance are similar.
Like cheerleading, figure skaters practice endless hours working on perfecting a routine that lasts mere minutes on the ice. Once complete, their fate is in the hands of the judges. Balance, coordination, grace, and physical stamina are all required in figure skating, as in cheerleading.
One of the most common stereotypes is that since cheerleaders don’t compete against anyone in particular, it’s not a sport. These same people see the sole job to hype up the crowd at basketball or football games, look great and encourage their school team to fight for victory.
Spectators enjoy watching cheerleaders dance, jump around to music, chant cheers, and shake pom-poms. Some may not realize the work involved and that anyone can go out there and perform, requiring minimal effort.
That is farthest from the truth. What they aren’t seeing is what goes on behind the scenes, all the practice that is done outside of school. Cheerleaders often practice as many or more hours as those competing in team sports.
Cheerleading competitions rarely are promoted and, if not nearly to the extent, as team sports such as baseball, basketball, football, or soccer. Word of mouth from cheerleaders and their families and friends is generally the only way to attain spectators at such events.
More Evidence Supporting Cheerleading as a Sport
The IOC (International Olympic Committee) is providing about $25,000 per year in funds to the International Cheer Union. It also provides the ability to apply for more endowments in the future.
This is exciting news for cheerleading, as it’s getting steam to be included in the 2024 and 2028 Summer Olympics. This backing by a huge organization such as the IOC further confirms cheerleading is a sport.
It can also be quite dangerous, contrary to popular opinion. Injuries are quite commonplace, and in fact, about 30,000 cheerleaders have injuries so severe that require hospitalization. Due to concussions and other unfortunate accidents that result in permanent disability, cheerleading is the most dangerous sport for females.
Sadly, since many organizations still don’t consider cheerleading a sport, safety regulations are lacking compared to other sports.
Despite still popular opinion, there are many facts pointing to cheerleading being a sport. Many cheerleaders participate in other sports to keep in the physical condition needed to succeed in cheerleading. The ability to lift, toss, be lifted, and tossed and caught all require a form of physical athleticism.
There are inherent risks involved, including severe injury and even death, should a toss and catch not be performed correctly. Similarities are clearly made to sports such as dancing, gymnastics, and figure skating, as well as support from the International Olympic Committee to justify cheerleading as a sport.
Next time you watch a game, enjoy the cheerleading routine and keep in mind the athleticism required to perform a routine to perfection.