Cheerleading As a Sport

The American Association of Cheerleading Coaches and Administrators
Addressing the Issue of Cheerleading as a Sport

The American Association of Cheerleading Coaches and Administrators is a national non-profit educational organization dedicated to the promotion of cheerleading safety and the education of cheerleading coaches through certification programs. The association is often asked about the status of cheerleading in the school environment and whether it should be considered to be a sport or an activity. The purpose of this paper is to determine the definition of the term sport, the role of the cheerleading squad in the school setting, and the status of the cheerleading squad within these parameters.

The Role of the School Cheerleading Squad

Since Johnny Campbell lead the first cheers at a Minnesota University American football game on November 2, 1898, cheerleading has been primarily a support group that leads group yells at sports events.

The increased athleticism of cheerleading over the past twenty years has also seen the development of competitive events for cheerleaders. These competitions are voluntary, and in fact, the majority of cheerleading squads do not choose to enter competition. The competitions are also secondary to the main function of the school cheerleading team, which remains one of building school unity and supporting the other athletic teams in competition.

The Athleticism of Cheerleading

Cheerleading has evolved over the past twenty years from being an activity where members were selected based on their popularity to one that now claims some of the more talented athletes at school.

Today, cheerleading involves skills which require the strength of football, the grace of dance, and the agility of gymnastics. Complex maneuvers are performed which challenge the limits of the body. Safety organizations such as the AACCA were formed to develop safety rules to guide programs in the safe performance of cheerleading gymnastics, which include jumps, partner stunts, pyramids and tumbling.

The athleticism required of modern cheerleading means that institutions must match the development of their cheerleading coaches. In the past, cheerleading teams were able to get along with the support of a faculty "advisor" that did not need to have intricate knowledge of cheerleading skills. Today's cheerleading squad needs a knowledgeable director, more often being called "coach" than "advisor" or "sponsor". These coaches need the training that is given at summer cheerleading training camps and at state and national conventions that provide expert instruction in all areas of cheerleading.

Definition of Sport

A recent position paper by the Women's Sports Foundation included the following elements as the most commonly agreed upon when defining a sport activity:

    * A physical activity which involves propelling a mass through space or overcoming the resistance of a mass.
    * "Contesting" or competing against/with an opponent.
    * Governed by the rules which explicitly define the time, space and purpose of the contest and the conditions under which a winner is declared.
    * Acknowledged primary purpose of the competition is a comparison of the relative skills of the participants.

The paper further explains that "any physical activity in which relative performance can be judged or quantified 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 versus other teams or individuals within a competition structure comparable to other athletics' activities."

Cheerleading as a Sport

Cheerleading in its current format, does not meet the second criteria listed above. The primary purpose is not competition, but that of raising school unity through leading the crowd at athletic functions.

Recently, some cheerleading coaches and cheerleaders, upset with the lack of funding and respect for their programs, felt that getting cheerleading recognized as a sport would resolve these issues. They believed that if cheerleading was made an official school sport, schools would hire qualified coaches, provide uniforms pay cheerleading coaches salaries like other sport coaches and the community would see cheerleaders as the athletes they are. Administrators and activities associations viewed the change in a slightly different light. With cheerleading as a sport, there could be state championships and the possibility of helping to meet Title IX requirements for gender equity.

The result of recognizing cheerleading as a sport was much different than what was anticipated by all parties. Without increasing funding, most states added the restrictions that go along with being a sport: transfer rules, limited practice time, fundraising restrictions and limits on competition travel and participation in national competitions. In extreme cases, cheerleading squads were required to compete at least the same number of events as they cheered for to meet the requirements for sport status. This meant either drastically increasing the number of competitive events, or lowering the number of support events.

For state associations, the hopes of Title IX consideration were ended when the Office for Civil Rights once again stated that cheerleading would not be considered when looking at gender equity issues. Another trend that is alarming is that where states have limited voluntary participation in out-of-state events, participants are leaving the school cheerleading programs to take part in "all star" cheerleading programs, usually run from local gymnastics centers. This situation is leaving school teams with less than the best available and school coaches are fighting to retain their best student athletes.

Cheerleading as an Activity

The long-held view of cheerleading as merely another school activity is also a concern. If the athleticism of cheerleading is not recognized, the supervision will continue to fall to teachers that are not qualified to adequately supervise. Additionally, existing advisors will not receive the training necessary to provide adequate supervision of an increasingly athletic activity.

The Best Category for Cheerleading

It is the position of TheAmerican Association of Cheerleading Coaches and Administrators that cheerleading is in a new, developing category called "athletic activity". This group can also include dance and drill teams and marching bands, all of which share the special balance between school spirit functions and athletic competitions.

Some states are now officially recognizing cheerleaders as "student athletes", which provides opportunities for academic honors and even coverage under the athletic catastrophic insurance policy carried by the school or state athletics or activities association. They are allowing reasonable participation in competitive events. State activities and athletic associations are working together with state cheerleading coaches associations to provide training in safety and the day-to-day program development needed to continue the safe participation in cheerleading.

In this category of "athletic activity", where the participants are recognized as "student athletes", cheerleading can continue to provide great benefits to both the participants and the entire school community.

For more information, the AACCA may be contacted at 1-800-533-6583, or on the internet at

All content is the property of The American Association of Cheerleading Coaches and Administrators unless otherwise noted. Reproduction without consent is expressly prohibited with the exception of personal use for cheerleading and dance teams.

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Irazmi Perez
AACCA Instructor and USASF Regional Assistant More from Members