Whether you watched Netflix’s Cheer, Cheer Squad, or Cheer Perfection, you must’ve wondered why these athletes don’t perform actual sports instead. While many agree with this perception that cheerleading isn’t a sport, one can’t decide without proper facts.
Let’s begin with the definition of sports and then consider different views to see if it fits.
A sport is a human activity involving skill and physical exertion, where individuals or teams compete against one another for entertainment. It, therefore, also features competition and social participation, with a set of rules and patterns that exist formally through organizations.
Arguments Suggesting Cheerleading is a Sport
First, let’s consider some arguments suggesting cheerleading is a sport.
Cheerleading is an Athletic Activity
Cheerleading is among the most athletic activities in the world. For one, cheerleaders have impressive builds with agile, fast, and flexible bodies, helping them pull off the otherwise seemingly impossible moves.
Even the tumbles and flips are challenging and require years of training and strenuous workout routines. Cheerleading often requires tossing a 100-pound person into the air and catching them, which gives an idea of the difficulty level.
Competitive Cheerleading Exists
This aspect can be divided into two parts; the nature of the sport and competitive tournaments.
With regards to the first, cheerleading itself is highly competitive. Sometimes, the cheerleaders’ aim might spur competitiveness and motivation in other athletes. For this, they perform energetically and are required to remain utterly focused, precise, and active throughout the matches.
However, they might also express competitiveness themselves. This brings us to the second part.
Cheerleaders are among the most focused athletes, even more so than gymnasts. During competition stages, they are required to get into their routine instantly, without any slips.
Such national cheerleading tournaments are held by the USA Cheer, the national governing body for Sport Cheer in the United States. Similarly, the International Cheer Union organizes and funds most international cheerleading competitions.
Cheerleading Demands Physical Strength
An essential component of all sports is the physical strength required. For example, basketball and American football players are expected to be overly muscular and strong.
Cheerleading, however, demands a mix of physical strength and agility. Cheerleaders are not only expected to be able to flip other athletes but are light on their feet as well. This helps them perform smoothly and coordinate better, two crucial elements of cheerleading.
Requires Skill Building
Unlike what some believe, cheerleading doesn’t come naturally to anyone. Instead, cheerleaders have to practice extensively and memorize routines to hone their skills.
To nurture these skills, cheerleaders also follow strict diets and workout routines. These diets and routines help enhance their skills, which then helps produce spectacular performances. Cheer squads, similarly, practice together to improve coordination and communication for more fluent and safer performances.
There is a Mental Element as well
As mentioned earlier, cheerleading is physically and mentally demanding. For one, cheerleaders often have to perform their moves from a certain height. Falling from such heights can cause significant damage in the form of inflammation and fractures.
Therefore, cheerleaders have to ensure mental presence throughout their routines, with utter focus on the moves. Additionally, if there is a cheer squad, they’ll need coordination and control to ensure the teammates’ safety as well.
While this sometimes translates into gestures and verbal communication, it’s mostly the trust in the squad members’ memories. Memory and mental effort are crucial, as even slight slips from routine can lead to terrible performances and lost games.
Comparable to Dancing and Gymnastics
Many consider cheerleading to be a compromise between dancing and gymnastics, both of which are recognized globally as sports. Therefore, some argue that cheerleading should be as well.
Dancers, for instance, perform set routines in front of judges, often with some music. These routines include energetic and tense glides, jumps, and much more. Cheerleaders perform a similar task, just with some riskier moves like flips.
On the flip side, gymnastics do include more flips and fewer glides. Therefore, some question that if cheerleaders potentially do more than gymnasts and dancers combined, why aren’t they recognized as sportspeople?
Tournaments are held Globally
Unlike what many know, cheerleading boasts numerous global tournaments among cheerleaders and squads. These, as mentioned before, are organized by the International Cheer Union and USA Cheer.
Some examples include the ICU Junior World & World Cheerleading Championships, ICC Cheerleading Competitions, World School Cheerleading Championship, and the UCA All-Star Championship. All these feature the best cheerleaders worldwide performing in front of judges to decide on the winners. These winners receive awards, like championship rings, medals, and often monetary benefits.
There is an Inherent Risk of Injury
All sports have some risk of injury, be it the common ankle injuries among dancers or concussions for footballers. In cheerleading, stunts often don’t go as planned, leading to collapsing formations, with concussions abound.
In some cases, such mishaps may even lead to ankle injuries or swollen limbs. While these injuries can be minimized via practice and training, the risk always lingers. So this, combined with the other factors, points toward cheerleading being a sport.
However, that is not what everyone believes. So, now let’s consider the arguments of those opposing the view of cheerleading as a sport.
Arguments Suggesting Cheerleading is not a Sport
Some argue cheerleading is too disorganized and underdeveloped to be called a sport. This is because it is somewhat newer and majorly dominated by women. This leads to a lesser focus on cheerleading than other major sports like American football.
Additionally, cheerleading doesn’t fit the title IX Guidelines strictly in that it doesn’t have a defined set of rules. This has led to several failed court appealings to make it a sport. This, in turn, has resulted in the NCAA refusing to recognize it as a sport.
Besides, cheerleading tournaments attract smaller crowds than major sports like football, basketball, baseball, and even dancing. Also, because it isn’t as globally widespread, it’s still not considered a sport by many other countries.
Our Verdict: Cheerleading is a Sport
Although the NCAA doesn’t yet recognize cheerleading as a sport, all of its components suggest that it is one. Whether athletic, mental, and physical requirements or the risk factor, all elements fulfill the definition of sports.
Still don’t think it’s a sport? Watch Netflix’s Cheer, and you will!
Here are some frequently asked questions about cheerleading.
At the University of Minnesota on November 2, 1898, student Johnny Campbell took the field and led the Gopher student body in a cheer,” Rah, Rah, Rah? Ski-u-mah, HooRah! Varsity! Varsity! Varsity, Minn-e-So-Tah! Individuals to get the crowd revved up, frequently called “Yell Leaders,” began orchestrating cheers at other schools. And, just like that, the sport of cheerleading was born.
In a nutshell: very dangerous. A 2013 report found cheerleading as the cause of about 70% of direct catastrophic injuries to female athletes (from 1982 to 2009). So, one sport accounted for 7 out of 10 direct catastrophic injuries to female athletes.
An NFHS participation survey of high school athletes found cheerleading to be the ninth most popular sport among girls’ programs. Some 162,699 female students at 6,877 schools participated in competitive spirit squads.
By Emily Sharon
Emily writes about sports, entertainment, and family.
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