Being a Cheerleader – Is Cheerleading a Sport?

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Every cheerleader gets fired up when someone sparks the “Is cheerleading a sport?” debate. Whether it’s a football player in one of your classes, a teacher who talks down about cheerleading, or a friend who doesn’t understand why you’re not involved in something else “more athletic,” you want people to know that cheerleaders are athletes.

Usually people make negative comments about cheerleading because they know it gets under your skin, but some people truly believe cheerleading lacks athleticism.

What should you say to earn some respect? Remember the best argument is an educated one, so give them the facts!

The truth is, there really isn’t a solid definition of “official” sport.

When necessary, the Office for Civil Rights makes this determination on a case by case basis. The Women’s Sports Foundation has narrowed the field to these elements:

  • It must be a physical activity which involves propelling a mass through space or overcoming the resistance of mass. Stunting… check!
  • “Contesting” or competing against/with an opponent is required. Competition… check!
  • It must be governed by rules that explicitly define the time, space, and purpose of the contest and the conditions under which a winner is declared. Time limit, mat size, score sheets… check, check, check!
  • Acknowledgement that the primary purpose of the competition is a comparison of the relative skills of the participants. You know those competitions on ESPN? Those are national championships… check!

So far, cheerleading is four for four! But, there are still two more qualifications need in order to consider cheerleading a sport. The Women’s Sports Foundation makes it clear that “any physical activity in which relative performance can be judged or qualified can be developed into a competitive sport as long as:

  1. The physical activity includes the above defined elements and…
  2. The primary purpose is competition verses other teams or individuals within a competition structure comparable to other ‘athletic’ activities.”

This is where your argument ends. Not because of any physical definition – as you can see cheerleading meets ALL of the athletic specifications. But, because cheerleading’s primary purpose is to support high school and college athletic teams. Competition comes second! In other words, cheerleading is more than a sport. 

In 2011, USA Cheer, the national governing body for sport  cheering in the United States, launched the sport of STUNT to create new opportunities for female athletes at the collegiate and high school levels while allowing traditional cheerleading to remain a vital and important part of a school’s spirit program. STUNT combines all of the athletic skills from cheerleading and puts them into 4 quarters of head-to-head competition, in a format that was developed to meet the requirements of a sport under Title IX. In the past few years, STUNT has become one of the fastest-growing sports in the nation.

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