Is cheerleading a sport?

FXU Fusion’s cheer captain Lara answers the contentious question, of whether cheerleading should be seen as a sport.

By Lara Rodwell

The question ‘what is a sport?’ is a controversial subject. Whether or not cheerleading is a sport is very much a part of that debate. I took up cheerleading in my first year at university, and it’s a subject I’ve found myself discussing many times over the last two years, with those not familiar with the activity. The stereotypical view seems to be that cheerleaders are girls in frilly outfits waving pom-poms at the beginning of baseball games, while the actual ‘sport’ goes on when the game starts.  There are many things wrong with this stereotype, and here are two of them. Firstly, not all cheerleaders are girls. Admittedly, it is a female-dominant sport, but boys, especially the three in our society, play a fundamental role in squads, and the activity is becoming more popular among the male population. Secondly, most people aren’t aware that there are competitive cheerleading teams which exist purely to compete, and where pom-poms are very far out of sight.

According to, the requirement for an activity to be classed as a ‘sport’ is an ‘athletic ability requiring skill or physical prowess’. So, let’s see how cheerleading does against that benchmark.

Cheerleading involves five categories: stunting, which involves lifting and throwing people; tumbling, such as somersaults and handsprings in a sequence; dancing, which is usually fast-paced, and synchronised; jumping, which requires flexibility and co-ordination; and cheer spirit, using vocals and expressions, such as cheer smiles. A routine is judged on several factors in competition: skills shown through stunting, tumbling and dancing; level of difficulty; and the completeness of the routine.

Looking at each category in a bit more depth highlights just how much ‘athletic ability and skill’ cheerleading requires. However, it not only requires a demanding level of strength and physical fitness, but trust too. For example, in stunting, the ‘flyer’, who is being lifted or thrown in the air, must feel comfortable with those in the base and back positions, for the stunt to be successful. This adds another dimension to the worthiness of cheerleading being classed as a sport, as there’s a degree of risk involved if everyone in the team isn’t 100% confident and trained up for the stunt in hand; pardon the pun. The stunts themselves must be practised repeatedly to perform them as a sequence or quickly, which requires a lot of stamina and persistence. Teamwork is very important, as all parts of the stunt group need to be on top form for the stunt to flourish.

Tumbling also involves a high standard of physical fitness as it takes a lot of dedicated training, practice and conditioning to build up strong enough upper body and core muscles to carry out impressive tumbles required for competition. This coincides with gymnastic skills, which demonstrates how complementary the skills gained in cheerleading are to other sports as well.

Dancing and jumping are also crucial aspects to cheerleading, and ones that I personally feel are the hardest part of learning a routine, as the timings are technical, and the choreography is often very fast and coordinated. Again, the skill required by cheerleaders to be able to learn precise movements, and perform them in sync with the rest of the squad is significant and often underestimated. It not only tests a cheerleader’s physical strength, but mental strength to focus, memorise and cope with the pressure to not ‘let down’ the other members of the team.

Lastly, cheerleaders are also judged on their cheer spirit. This is probably a key reason why cheerleading is not readily considered a sport, because routines are purposefully made to look effortless and fun. However, the ability to smile, even if something goes wrong, is a skill in itself. To do that, as well as stunt, dance, jump and tumble is a challenge which can only be mastered with practise, determination and teamwork. So, don’t judge a sport by how easy the activity can be made to look.

Elle, 21-year-old history student, explains how “taking up cheerleading changed my life. I’ve become more confident socially; stronger physically; and have a sense of belonging/community which has boosted my self-esteem a lot.” This proves how influential cheerleading is, not only as a sports club, but in society. If anything, cheerleading should be respected as more than just a ‘sport’; it has additional qualities, as well as physical skill and ability, encouraging individuals to step outside their comfort zone and challenge themselves physically, mentally and socially.

Description of FXU Cheerleading Society

We are an all-inclusive society that cheerleads to improve skill, athletic ability as well as work as a stimulus to meet new people and make friends. Everyone is welcome, no matter what level of experience, gender or age. We practice every Wednesday (5-8pm) and Friday (8-10pm) in the Sports Centre on Penryn Campus. During the sessions we warm-up, stretch, do some conditioning, stunt, tumble, then cool-down. We are also learning a routine to perform at events around campus, such as Super Bowl, so you’ll have the opportunity to perform, which is a fantastic experience to tell your family and friends about! Like our Facebook page (FXU Cheerleading Squad) and Instagram (fxufusion) for more information.