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Cheer is a Sport
The Debate is Over
Cheerleading is a sport that has taken its fair share of criticism over the years, often seen as nothing more than a group of people waving pom poms and yelling "Go team!" from the sidelines. As a husband to a former High School Cheer Captain and current Cheer Coach and father to an All-Star and Middle School Cheerleader, I’m in a position to speak on behalf of these athletes without the bias of defending “my sport”.
I was not a Cheerleader; I was an athlete, and I know what it looks like to dedicate yourself to competition. I’ve watched my ladies compete for the past few years, and now I’m penning a piece to share what I’ve witnessed and why the debate about whether Cheer is a sport needs to end.
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The truth is cheerleading is a real sport that requires athleticism, dedication, and teamwork.
The SPORT Has Evolved
Despite these facts, there are some living in the 1950s who still hold onto the misguided belief that cheerleading is not a sport as it’s girls in skirts smiling and shaking pom-poms. I’d like to explore the reasons why cheerleading should be recognized as a legitimate sport and why those who deny its athletic merit are simply mistaken based on faulty assumptions as to what Cheerleading even is.
One of the primary reasons people argue against cheerleading being a sport is the perception that cheerleaders only exist to support the athletes playing the sport on the field or court.
This perception, however, is false.
Cheerleading requires its own set of athletic skills, which are judged in a much stricter environment than most “traditional sports”, and can better be compared to Olympic-Level athletics than anything else. Cheerleading requires top performance and ability that include strength, coordination, balance, and agility. In order to execute their routines successfully, cheerleaders must train just like any other athlete.
These athletes (yes, they are athletes) often practice for hours every day, working on skills such as tumbling, stunting, and jumping. They must maintain their physical fitness all season to ensure that they are able to perform the high-energy routines required of them; all while navigating the minefield of injuries. They must also work on their endurance and stamina, as cheerleading competitions can last several days with high-intensity training, preparation, and nerves/excitement.
You Don’t Really Compete…Do You?
Another argument often made against cheerleading being a legitimate sport is that it is not competitive in the same way that other sports are. This argument also falls flat, as cheerleading competitions have taken things to the next level, and I can say as a former football player, Cheerleading is more cut-throat at the competitive level as there’s zero room for mistakes.
In football, you get 4 quarters, three timeouts per half, the ability to swap injured players, and a multitude of ways to get the ball back to score or defend your score.
In baseball, you get 9 innings of offense and defense with replays and the ability to switch players into new positions.
In Basketball and Hockey, you cycle players into/out of the game at your leisure.
At these cheer competitions, teams compete against one another on stage, under lights, to their music for 120-150 seconds, and in that time, they must be flawless; there are no timeouts, no do-overs, no substitutions, no “huddles to come up with a new gameplan”, there is only the pursuit and execution of perfection, without room for error.
This is why I compare Cheer to boxing, gymnastics, and track over the more conventional sports most parents think of when they think of athletics. Cheerleaders are a different breed of athlete, as they are judged on their appearance (showmanship) as much as their routine (performance).
In addition to being competitive, cheerleading is also a team sport.
Cheerleaders must work together to execute their routines, often relying on one another to perform stunts and pyramids. They must work together as a cohesive unit, individuals thinking, acting, and moving as one to create a smooth routine that showcases their skills while maintaining a visual appeal.
Still Don’t Think It’s “Official”
One of the reasons why cheerleading is not always recognized as a sport is because a single regulatory body does not govern it. Instead, different organizations have their own rules and standards for competitions. While this lack of regulation may lead some to question the validity of cheerleading as a sport, it is important to recognize that this is a common feature of many other sports as well.
For example, basketball is governed by different organizations at different levels, including the NBA, NCAA, and high school athletics associations. Each of these organizations has its own rules and regulations, yet no one would argue that basketball is not a legitimate sport.
Also, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) recognized cheerleading as a sport in July 2021 — a first, critically important step to becoming an Olympic sport. If the IOC is onboard, then your 84-year-old Grandfather or Uncle Rico living in their glory days long past, need to get themselves onboard as Cheer is here.
Closing Points from a Cheer Dad & Husband
Those who argue against cheerleading being a sport are misguided. I see the herculean effort my son puts into his craft of baseball, and I see the same in my daughter with Cheer; neither are above or below one another. In fact, both are better individuals, better connected, and healthier children because of their involvement in these sports, and to try to take anything away from my daughter’s chosen athletic endeavour, is doing a disservice to the overall mission of Cheerleading; it’s about more than the smiles, glitter, and hype - Cheer creates better kids, athletes, and people.
Cheerleading requires athleticism, teamwork, and a dedication to training that is equivalent to any other sport. It has parents living vicariously, cheering loudly, and spending a ton of money in support like any other sport, and Cheerleaders are athletes in every sense of the word.
It’s past time it is recognized as such and accepted into the mainstream culture of Youth Sports. By continuing to spread the message that cheerleading is indeed a real sport, we can help break down the myths and misconceptions that have surrounded this activity for far too long.
- Zachary Small
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