College Cheerleading Q&A Presented by Captain U

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Thinking about cheering in college? Check out some frequently asked college cheer questions answered by our panel of experts presented by Captain U!

Meet the Panel

  • Tucker Hunter: 3x NCA Nationals Champion, 5x US National Team Member, Former cheerleader at Oklahoma State University
  • Leroy McCullough: Former Head Coach of 4x NCA College National Champions – Oklahoma State University, Former Assistant Coach at the University of Louisville, Former cheerleader at the University of South Carolina & the University of Louisville,  US National Team coaching staff. Director of NCA Speed Camps & College Programs
  • Kelsey Werling: 3x UCA College Nationals Champion, Former Indiana University Cheerleader, UCA College Camp Instructor, UCA Core Staff Instructor
  • David McDowell: Former Head Coach and Spirit Coordinator at the University of Alabama, Former cheerleader at the University of Kentucky, former coach for the US National Teams, Former gym owner, current Director or College Programs for UCA

What tumbling skills do you have to have to get into college cheer?

  • Tumbling requirements vary based on the school. Be sure to check out your dream school’s specific requirements- you can usually find it on their website! – Kelsey
  • Pro Tip: Create a profile on Captain U. You can upload videos of your tumbling so coaches can see your skills, and you see the tumbling requirements for different teams!

What is it like cheering in college?

  • Cheering in college is like being the connection between the players and the fans! You are right there in the emotion with both, so you get to share the feelings with each of them! Get the fans hyped for the team and get the team hyped for the fans. It’s awesome! – Leroy
  • It is an amazing experience!  Getting to represent your entire university on game days, in the community, and on the competition, mat gives you so much pride. – Tucker
  • Cheering in college was the best experience I could have ever asked for. It molded me into the person I am today and got to experience SO many things I never otherwise would have! – Kelsey

What skills do I need and do you have any tips for getting tumbling?

  • It truly depends on the school.  I would recommend having a standing back tuck and at least a tuck in running tumbling.  Work on progressions and confidence in your skills before trying to progress too quickly. – Tucker
  • I think this depends on the school you are trying out for. Look at the school’s website and find out if they offer any stunt clinics during the spring, summer, and fall. This will give you a better idea of what that school is looking for. – David

Did cheering in college take up too much time or take away from your studies?

  • Cheering in college is all about time management. It is a large time commitment, but organization and self-discipline are important to stay on top of your studies. – Kelsey
  • It definitely adds a lot to your schedule because there are numerous events, games, and practices you are responsible for attending but it is absolutely worth it.  Use your resources to help manage your time. Use an academic adviser if one is available and they will help keep you right on track! – Tucker

What type of workouts do a lot of teams do?

  • The workouts for cheer teams vary, but the common focus points are explosive power, flexibility (for everyone, not just the tops), and muscular endurance. – Leroy
  • This also depends on the school. However, I think learning some sort of circuit training with high intensity will help you better prepare for any workouts that the school may offer. – David

How do you get noticed for scouting?

  • Captain U makes it easy to get discovered! Show off your skills by uploading videos to your FREE profile and connect with college coaches to get recruited.

What’s the biggest difference between high school cheer and college cheer?

  • One difference is the skill set that you are allowed to utilize. There are things that you can perform in the collegiate setting that are not permitted in high school. Depending on the level of your squad, the skills you perform may be the same as what you did in high school, but there are more skills available to progress towards. – Leroy

What tips do you have for managing a student athlete lifestyle?

  • My main tip: Don’t get behind! You are very busy, so it’s important to stay on top of your game at all times. Make a to do list- one for life and one for school. Check off things as you get them done to feel a sense of accomplishment. – Kelsey

Is it possible for someone without tumbling to make a team?

  • It’s definitely possible to make a team without tumbling. Be sure to check the school’s specific requirements but never stop working to improve and learn new skills! – Kelsey

Do all college cheer teams compete?

  • No. A lot of schools only do game day. There are some schools that even have one team that competes and another team devoted only to game day and other community events. – Tucker

Is it okay to only have game day experience and no all star experience?

  • Absolutely. Everyone has something to contribute and the great thing about cheer is there is always more out there for you to learn. Don’t let prior experience be a detracting factor. Whatever your goal is, put the work in and you never know where it will take you. – Tucker
  • YES!! Game Day ability is important, and it is not unheard of for athletes with a great skillset from competing to lose out on spots on teams to athletes who have a stronger Game Day background. The sideline is where you will spend most of your time as a collegiate cheerleader, so make sure you are great in that environment. – Leroy

How can you improve jumps to get them to a more collegiate level?

  • Jumps aren’t all about flexibility. Though it helps, it’s important to also strengthen your hip flexors and legs. Leg lifts are what helped me the most with jumps! – Kelsey
  • There are tons of drills out there to improve jumps. Seated leg lifts on each side are a great way to build those muscles. V ups, and V ups into a toe touch position are great. Focus on your arm placement in the jump and keeping your chest tall and not leaned forward. This will help your jump presentation regardless of the height. – Tucker
  • I would also add video yourself and have someone critic you as well as yourself. This can be applied for any skill you are trying to improve. – David
  • Flexibility and hip flexor strength are both essential for better jump execution. Do not forget the keyword “JUMP”. Work on building your explosive power to gain the ability to get off the ground high enough to execute the jump you desire with great technique. – Leroy

Do all girls have to be a top girl?

  • Not all of the girls on a college team are a top person. It depends on the team and their needs. Try to think of it in terms of any other sport…. everyone can’t be the quarterback. The team needs athletes for multiple positions to make the team successful. – Leroy

Can you still get a scholarship for cheer if your school just has sideline cheer?

  • You can find out about a school’s scholarship opportunities on Captain U!

If you are an extremely good base or backspot, does it make up for lack of tumbling?

  • It definitely can. Coaches love athletes who are well rounded but everyone plays a piece to the puzzle so if you are very strong in one area and can contribute there, a coach will take that into consideration! – Tucker
  • All roles on the team are important! It’s great to have people on the team with different strengths. Fine-tuning your specialty will help you stand out. – Kelsey

Is college cheer a different atmosphere from competition cheer?

  • There’s definitely a different atmosphere than competition or all star cheer. As a college cheerleader, your main role is to support your school’s athletic programs. While it’s incredible to get to compete at the college level, that’s a small fraction of the whole experience. It’s so much more than just competition! – Kelsey

What are some traits you think aspiring college cheerleaders should have?

  • Dedicated, willingness to learn, passionate. – Tucker
  • You have to LOVE your school! You are the ambassador to your school. You connect the school to the community. Be sure you choose a school you love so that you can connect with the fans! – Kelsey
  • Coachability is number 1for me!! Be open to being taught. On and off the sidelines/mat. It is obvious that you have a lot of knowledge through your experiences if you are pursuing college cheer, but there is a lot to be learned. So absorb knowledge from coaches and teammates freely and often! – Leroy

Does being a part of high school cheer help when trying out for college cheer?

  • Being part of a high school cheer team is a great way to prep for college cheerleading! You can take game day skills you learned in high school and translate that to college. It’s a great experience that fine-tunes your skills & teaches you life lessons. – Kelsey

What is the biggest difference between cheering NCA & UCA?

  • As far as the sideline and responsibilities go at school, there isn’t much difference. The competition style between the two vary as well as the calendar year. UCA schools compete in January so have very heavy practice schedules November through January. NCA doesn’t compete until April so they have a heavier practice schedule in February March and April.

How can I stand out in a college video tryout?

  • If you’re doing a virtual tryout, don’t only try out for the camera. Imagine you’re in the stadium with fans when performing the fight song or sideline. Your presence is important and your tryout should emulate what you’ll look like on the sidelines. – Kelsey
  • Look the part. Whether it be for a live tryout or a virtual tryout. Approach the tryout as your “job interview”. Looking the part goes beyond what you are wearing and what your hair and makeup look like. It also means the execution of the skills you perform, and your demeanor when hitting the crowd, or the way that you make eye contact in the actual interview elements. – Leroy

What if you want to cheer in college but you did all star cheer, not high school cheer?

  • I didn’t do school cheer until college. I had to step out of my comfort zone learning all of the sideline traditions and techniques but my coaches and teammates did a great job preparing us before the first game or appearance. – Tucker
  • You can definitely still be a successful college cheerleader. Though game day cheering might feel different than taking the mat, you still have the skills necessary to be a good college cheerleader- be open to learning how to lead the crowd and don’t be afraid to step outside your comfort zone. – Kelsey

Can someone do both college cheer and all star cheer at the same time?

  • Definitely. I competed with Twist and Shout All Stars while I was at OSU. It is definitely something you need to understand the details before committing.  It is a huge time commitment. Great communication with your college and all star coaches to set expectations is essential. – Tucker
  •  Someone can definitely do college and all star at the same time, but there is a big responsibility for COMMUNICATION that falls on you, the athlete. Your responsibilities to both commitments need to be met, and you should avoid putting your coaches and teammates in a position that makes them feel that one is more important than the other. Don’t try to play one coach against the other. This will only ruin relationships between the two programs and ruin future opportunities for other athletes. If you can juggle the roles of both, then have fun enjoying the great things that they both have to offer. – Leroy

How can you identify which programs are achievable or the right skill level?

  • Do your research on the program you plan to try out for. Be honest with yourself. Take a look at the athletes on the team currently and determine whether your attributes as a cheerleader measure up to the expectations of the current team. If you are going into tryouts with the required skills or more, then you improve your chances of making the team. If you go in with missing elements, it is still possible to be chosen for that team, but it increases the likelihood of someone else filling that role instead. – Leroy

Is college competitive cheer similar to high school competitive cheer?

  • Competing in college is different than competing in high school. In high school, you may have several competitions a year (conference, county, state, nationals and local competitions sprinkled in). In college, you compete one time. – Kelsey

As a freshman, what are the steps I should take now to prepare for college cheer?

  • Have fun work hard don’t get burned out. Make sure to research your school based on your degree not cheering. Be open to different possibilities and most important. “Fail because you tried not because you didn’t.” – David

What is the time commitment like?

  • Time commitment varies by school, but I would say teams typically practice 3 times a week with 1-2 open gyms. In addition to practice, you also have appearances in the community and on campus as well as game days. It’s a big-time commitment- that’s why it’s so important to stay on top of school work. – Kelsey

Can we still get recruited if we do all star cheer not high school cheer?

  • Yes! And  ALL cheerleaders from all types of backgrounds can create a free Captain U profile to get recruited to cheer in college!

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