Are Cheerleaders Athletes?
We can argue whether cheer is a sport until we are blue in the face. There are valid arguments on either side, for and against. Unfortunately there will not be a formal decision made on the point until all cheer programs are run the same and have the same goals and purposes.
Some schools have traditional sideline cheerleaders that simply focus on school spirit. They go to games and do cheers and chants to keep the crowd engaged. Some traditional squads also dance and perform at halftimes of games and assemblies.
There are schools on the other end of the spectrum that participate in conditioning programs that rival other athletic sports. These cheerleaders jump, tumble and stunt along with the traditional cheering and dancing. Many of these cheerleaders are full-fledged athletes. They often participate in competitions and perform against other equally athletic teams.
Across the U.S. there are many variations of these two types of teams. Even in my state and town we have schools on either side of this model. It all depends on the school administration, coaches and the athletes available. There are lots of contributing factors to why a school may or may not have a more athletic program.
In the smaller schools it may be because the most athletic students are already participating in sports and cannot commit the time or energy to doing both. It may be that the administration would prefer a team that goes to games and assemblies to support and lead instead of having the more dangerous physical side.
Some schools do treat their cheer teams like other sports. They offer the same privileges to their cheerleaders as other sports, and expect them to follow the same rules and guidelines with travel, grades, drugs and alcohol, etc.
There are pros and cons to coaching both types of squad.
The PROS of coaching a less-physical traditional squad:
- There is less commitment required. They could practice one or two times per week and only show up to games a few minutes before to participate and still be successful.
- There could be more interest/participation. They could have more people participate because the skill-set required is not as advanced.
- Lower costs. The cost of running a lower-commitment team would be less, making the appeal for more participants greater.
- Less participation. You might find that fewer students want to participate in this type of program because it could be seen as boring.
- Fewer Opportunities. The participants may have fewer opportunities for scholarship and furthering their cheer careers because they may not have learned the more advanced skills that colleges are looking for.
- No recognition. The cheerleaders from this type of squad typically do not earn a varsity letter for their participation. The amount of skill and participation would not condone an athletic letter.
The PROS of coaching a more physical competitive team:
- Respect within the school and more athletes could be drawn to participate. If you have a team that is visible, and works at an athletic level it will draw more athletes to the program and will bring more attention to its physicality. This can show the student body that they are athletes and the cheerleaders could earn more respect.
- Collegiate opportunities. Colleges are looking for highly skilled athletes to join their programs. They want participants that already have a specific skill set. Cheerleaders from more physical teams have a better chance of knowing these skills.
- Athletic letters. Because these cheerleaders participate and the same level as other sports they can earn the athletic letter and in some schools have opportunities for athlete of the month/year recognition.
- Higher commitment. The amount of commitment required to be good is much higher (5-6 nights a week). Many students don’t try it because they do not want to commit that much.
- Loss of participation. You are limited to certain types of athletes with a physical squad. Many kids who would be good cheerleaders or leaders of their school don’t get the opportunity to participate due to the high skill level required.
- Cost. The cost of running a competitive program can be much higher. The travel fees and competition fees can be in the thousands per event. Plus the costs of added coaches and trainers along with choreography and music. This can add up quickly!
Because of the very different types of squads across the country it is too hard to qualify cheer as a sport. Some cheerleaders are definitely participating at the sport level. But many are not training and participating at a level that is consistent with the goals and expectations as a sport.
Let’s take a look as volleyball as an example. It doesn’t matter if you are at a school with 60 or 6,000 students. The goals, rules and expectations of the volleyball team are the same. The coaches are teaching the same basic fundamentals and the volleyball matches are the same. This is true for soccer, football, softball, track, wrestling, basketball, baseball, golf, etc.
Because cheer can be so varied, it cannot be defined as a sport. I know there will be a handful of cheerleaders and coaches that do not like that statement, but the facts are that not all cheerleaders are participating at an athletic level. At my current school, my cheerleaders have worked incredibly hard to earn the right to be considered a sport (within our school). Each year we have to sit down and define what a sport does, what privileges they get and evaluate our program. They have to commit to working hard and keeping the traditions in place.
Regardless of the type of program you coach or cheer for, take pride in it. If you with a sideline squad that is less physical, find ways to make it great. Become a family and a support system. Whatever the size or the physicality of your squad, give them goals and expectations. Let them have successes and something to be proud of.