Cheerleading Beyond The Big Smiles And Pom Poms

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Cheerleading. As an activity, it’s been around longer than many other sports practiced across the world, both in and out of high school. As an actual sport, it unfortunately has only gained legitimacy relatively recently — though this isn’t to say that this wait was deserved. Cheerleaders have always been just as tough and physically talented as any other athletes — it’s just the rest of the world that has taken some time to realize this fact. There are many factors that have led people to acknowledge that cheerleading is a legitimate sport. They include the physical tests required of the athletes, the intensity of the competitions, and much more. With that being said, many people remain uninformed about what cheerleading involves, and really what the end goal of a cheerleading squad is. Many still think that it’s about plastic pom poms; and while those are required at times, the sport goes far beyond looking good and shouting into plastic megaphones. The more people know about the real sport behind cheerleading, the more you will be able to take it seriously — if you want, you can even join in yourself. As you’ll discover below, cheerleading isn’t just for girls; and it’s not just about the cheerleaders themselves, but the people that support them and the players they motivate.

The History Behind Cheerleading

Cheerleading didn’t actually start off of as a sport for women. In fact, it was started by men at an Ivy League school. On October 26, 1897, Princeton University named three male students as their first cheerleaders. They weren’t just meant to cheer for the home team, but guest football teams as well. Who knows if those cheerleaders used plastic pom poms? Either way, the sport gradually became associated with women — and heavily, for that matter. This may be because, in part, female cheerleaders are more apt to perform some of the stunts required of cheerleaders in this day and age. Today, cheerleading is done in middle and high school; there are also college cheerleading squads, and even professional teams, just as there are with virtually any other sport. With that being said, it was still a long time before cheerleading really gained recognition as an actual sport versus a fun pastime. The first cheerleading All Star team wasn’t formed until the 1980s.

Variations On Cheerleading

Even on a high school level, there is a variation on the different types of cheerleading. Most high schools have sideline cheerleaders and competition cheerleaders. Sideline cheerleaders are the ones you’ll see waving plastic pom poms on the sidelines of football or basketball games. They’re required to perform basic stunts, and perform all year round. The competition teams are usually a bit more elite — though, yes, they also use plastic pom poms. Although competition cheerleaders only perform during the competition season, they’re usually required perform more difficult stunts and tumbling. Competition cheerleading can get very intense, even on a high school level; people compete on a regional or national level, and cheerleaders are offered college scholarships if they’re truly elite. Like any sport, competitive cheerleading involves a lot of time, effort, and money. Cheerleaders invest in customised pom poms — sometimes these are even metallic pom poms.

The Other Side Of Cheerleading

Let’s look beyond those custom pom poms. What does cheerleading ask of its participants on a physical and emotional level? Truthfully, it requires quite a bit, and cheerleaders have to not only physically perform, but put on a happy face even when they’re tired and sore. 62% of cheerleaders are involved in a secondary sport of some kind, often one that supplements their cheerleading skills; for example, 12% of cheerleaders are also dancers. Cheerleading can also be tough on the body, with the number one cause of cheerleading injuries being the pyramid — this results in broken arms, elbow injuries, broken noses, knee injuries, sprained wrists and ankles, back and head injuries, and even broken collarbones. For many, being successful at this sport is a badge of honor.

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