Cheerleaders. They’re a classic stereotype of all American teen films – throwing shade at the geekier characters, fawning over Well Built Sporty Male Character #1 and, for some reason, always walking around in their uniform throughout the day.
Unfortunately, in the real world, people still think this is actually what cheerleaders are like. Yes, sideline or game day cheerleaders still exist in the US, but for the most part cheerleading refers to competitive cheerleading, which is a whole different ballpark.
Most of what you think about cheerleading is a lie. So sit down, and get ready to learn some of the “inside scoop.”
1. ‘Oh, you’re a cheerleader. So who do you cheer for?’
No-one. We cheer for ourselves. Then hopefully win a trophy. Competitive cheerleading means you go to a competition, you put out a routine, and it gets scored against other teams in your division.
Teams are divided by gender (all-girl or coed), level (difficulty ranges from level one to six), and for all-star teams, age (tiny/mini/junior/youth/senior). All-star cheer and university cheer are two separate categories.
There are separate competitions for university teams now because although we work hard, we’re still amateurs compared to all star teams.
2. We don’t just wave pom poms around
Just don’t even go there. There is a pom dance category at cheer competitions, but that’s classed with dance, not cheer. We still use cheers if there is someone for a football game, but to be honest a lot of people get these mixed up and think they are the same thing. They’re really two separate sports!
3. We don’t say ‘2-4-6-8’
We actually count 1,3,5,7 when stunting. But who’s counting…
4. We don’t hang around, or even train, in our uniforms
For some reason, in the aforementioned typical American teen movie, the bitchy cheerleader girls are always chilling by their lockers in full uniform so that everyone can tell they are ~popular~. In the real world, that shit is saved for competition day because each kit costs over £100. You’re not spilling any Starbucks on that, my friend.
5. Yes, it’s for boys too
Most all-star coed teams have more guys on them than girls. In fact, one programme in the UK has put out a completely all male level five team. There are no stereotypical cheerleaders in cheer. People of all sexualities, sizes, and ethnicities cheer, so if you’re gonna make assumptions then bye Felicia.
6. It’s bloody hard work (sometimes literally)
I’m gonna be honest, at the university level, cheer isn’t that hardcore. Most teams don’t compete above level three, and yet we’re still knackered leaving training. Probably because most of us started age 18 when we signed up at Freshers’ Fair, while all-star kids (the ones who are on local teams, not university ones) have been cheering since inside the womb.
But yes, it’s hard work. If you’re a tumbler, you’ve probably injured your ankle or torn your ACL at some point. If you’re a base, you’re literally lifting another human above your head. You’ve probably been kicked and elbowed in the head about sixty times every training session, and you’ll have had a nosebleed once this week. If you’re a flyer, you’re probably bruised from falling from stunts, and your core should be hella tight from all the tensing it takes to stay balanced in the air.
The training is long, tiring, and it’s usually multiple times a week. Watching cheerleaders compete, it looks cute with the uniforms and the fake tan and our hair all done up – but for months beforehand that routine is practiced and put together in a sweaty sports hall or gym. People have cried, been injured, and had to practice the same stunt over and over again, continually getting kicked in the face or dropped on their arses.
Cheerleading is basically a combination of gymnastics, weightlifting, acrobatics, and dance. The world championships are on ESPN. And if you think that it’s so easy it shouldn’t be recognized as a sport, I’d bloody well love to see you try it.