"Cheerleading isn't a sport. No team that gets to prance around in a skirt all day could ever be considered a sport!"
"You cheerleaders do realize that you're not actually helping the football team win, right? Nobody needs you."
As someone who has consistently cheered for eight years, these are the comments that I hear from others when I openly talk about my sport and my life as an athlete. The lack of respect and recognition cheerleaders get on a daily basis is truly uncanny, and nothing breaks my heart more than meeting people who don't understand the amount of hard work, determination, commitment, money, blood, sweat, and tears that all comes along with being on a competitive cheer team.
For those of you who don't know very much about cheer and the nature of the sport, here are 10 reasons why it is considered to be one of the hardest sports in the U.S.
I believe that many will find these facts both shocking and interesting as they may want to reconsider the next time they think about ridiculing a cheerleader and planting the false ideas in their minds that what they do is in any way "not a sport."
1. You need extensive gymnastics and tumbling experience.
The majority of cheer teams today require a certain level of tumbling ability.
Most high school cheer teams require at least a back handspring to even be considered for a spot on the team. It is a very common thing for gymnasts to go into cheerleading since they can integrate lots of their gymnastics experience into cheer including their tumbling, jumps, and overall energy and precision.
Back handsprings, back tucks, and fulls can take years to master, sometimes even longer, depending on when the athlete began.
2. Cheerleading has more reported injuries than any other sport.
You heard that right!
Not only is cheerleading considered to be one of the hardest sports, but a recent study in the "Journal of Pediatrics" found that cheerleading is the most dangerous sport for females due to the high risk of severe injuries including concussions, broken bones, permanent disabilities and paralyzation, and injuries causing a shorter lifespan.
Believe me when I tell you that cheerleading is most definitely not for the faint-hearted. Speaking from experience, nearly every practice consists of at least one person getting hurt in some shape or form. From a bloody nose, a sprained ankle, countless bruises, and black eyes, you can pretty much count on witnessing one of these injuries happening to you or one of your team-mates at some point or another.
These injuries generally happen while stunting. Bases more often than even the flyers are constantly experiencing injuries that simply don't happen nearly as often as any other sport.
Flyers, on the other hand, must deal with the risk of getting dropped on the ground (in which case most teams will make the entire team run countless miles if a flyer EVER touches the ground), getting caught and landing in extremely uncomfortable positions, or even head-butting their bases and or back spot.
Those who can recover from a fatal injury and return to cheer with grace and integrity are the ones who sincerely deserve utmost admiration and respect among their peers. Many quit after getting hurt and realizing how dangerous of a sport cheer really is.
3. The time commitment is no joke.
Cheerleaders are supposedly considered to be what our day and age deem "popular," however, the fact of the matter is that if you are on a highly prestigious and competitive cheer team for all-star or even some Hhgh school teams, you can practically say goodbye to any chance of a social life.
Most teams have practices at least five days a week and then have games and/or competitions on weekends. Practices generally last about two to as long as four hours, not to mention the countless hours spent at cheer camp in the summer.
4. It's a serious investment.
The cost of being on a competitive cheer team averages out to be an outstanding balance of about $1,000 - $3,000.
This includes but is not limited to the cost of the season, the cost of competition, the cost of cheer uniforms, warm-up outfits, bows, jackets, poms, and cheer shoes.
Not to mention the cost of the trips to different competitions and conferences in prestigious locations that include Disney World, Los Angeles, California, etc.
5. Competitions are simply indescribable.
You heard it here, folks! Believe it or not, most cheerleaders don't just cheer for basketball and football games as their only source of performance.
We live and breathe for our competitions and spend countless hours practicing for them to ensure a flawless routine. These events are judged extensively and even the smallest mistake made by one team-mate can bring the score of the entire team down.
These events are also very competitive in the sense that hundreds and sometimes thousands of teams nationwide come together with only one goal on their mind: take first place.
6. Strength, cardio, and conditioning are paramount.
Again you must believe me when I say that cheer is not for the faint-hearted. I have been on about seven different competitive teams and not one of them failed to exclude the long and extraneous hours of conditioning.
This includes push-ups, sit-ups, stretches, running countless miles, etc. This prepares us for the incredible amount of endurance and cardio required for a competition where we are expected to hit our jumps, dance motions, cheer, tumbling, and stunts full out and all in the three-to-seven-minute time limit.
All of this is done with immaculate facials, energy, and voice projection. Imagine you are expected to run an eight-minute mile and as soon as you cross the finish line, you are then expected to yell a long cheer as loud as you can for an audience of hundreds to hear.
This is a similar feeling to those of us who are expected to run across the entire mat while avoiding hitting anyone in just a few seconds, throw perfectly timed tumbling passes, jumps, stunts, and all in such a short amount of time. There are no breaks while you are competing. One missed tumbling pass or failed stunt can result in the difference between first and last place during a competition.
It is essential to ensure that all team-mates are in tip-top shape physically before they even begin to create a routine for competition, this is also to prevent injuries.
7. Advanced stunts require insane amounts of skill to perform without serious injury.
Need I even say more? Cheerleaders perform stunts that require an extensive amount of time, patience, and overall teamwork. Although these stunts may LOOK easy, people have no idea the amount of strength and endurance these stunts actually take to make them appear this way.
Men are strongly encouraged to join cheer for this exact reason.
Often girls are not strong enough for certain stunts such as partner stunting. A flyer must learn to be perfectly balanced and tighten every muscle of their body for these types of stunts especially. A man must spend hours a day in the gym working on his upper body strength in order to be capable of tossing their flyer into their hands as high as they do.
One loose muscle or bend of the knee could leave that flyer flat on the ground.
Something that I found interesting in my experience in cheer was that a male cheerleader from CU Boulder stated:
"I initially joined cheer as a joke. I had wrestled all my life and I can honestly say that cheerleading is by far the hardest sport that I have ever done. It is incredible how much upper body strength some of the stunts really do need. I now have cheered for over 7 years and I will never go back to anything else."
8. Dance experience overlaps all the time and is necessary at the elite level.
Although cheer dance isn't as rigorous and flexibility centered as your typical style of dance (hip-hop, ballet, lyrical, etc.) it does still require a natural dancing ability. Not everyone has the natural capability of maintaining both tight and solid motions while also integrating jumps and facials.
Cheerleaders often have full-length practices in which they critique every motion to ensure that everyone does every motion exactly the same. The team must be 100% uniform and synchronized to each count, and people are unaware nowadays just how long even this takes to perfect.
9. Out-of-this-world flexibility is common in a competitive cheerleader.
It's not enough to just have your splits anymore. Flyers must maintain a heel stretch, a scorpion, and immaculate balance on both right and left legs in order to perform one-legged stunts. This amount of flexibility simply doesn't happen overnight.
10. Dealing with the lack of respect is tough on anyone.
I think that all cheerleaders can relate to this one. Although not all cheer teams are run exactly the same, one thing is still for certain. We all go through the countless hours of extraneous workouts and effort that goes into perfecting our routines and at the end of the day, we have nothing to show for it.
People in today's society don't even give us enough respect to even see us a sport, yet alone consider us as one of the hardest sports in the U.S. We have to deal with the stereotypes, the gossip, and the social standards that society puts on us and for some of us this is in addition to the drama and pressure that high school already inflicts upon us.
This is a lot of stress to put on young individuals who are still trying to find their identity and it just gets buried and spit on by those who don't even know the HALF of what we really do.
NFL cheerleaders and the cheerleaders you see on television don't help this image either. They are highly sexualized and give society a completely false image of what we actually stand for. This, my friends, ends today!
Cheerleaders and others who do understand the vigor of the sport: please share this article with your friends and help us let it be known how much time and effort really goes into everything that we do!