5 things you need to know about the sport of Cheerleading
Updated: May 29, 2021
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5 things you need to know about the sport of Cheerleading
Forget everything you think you know about Cheerleading, and get ready to discover a visually exhilarating sport, at which England are regularly topping the podium at the World Championships!
1. Cheerleading has IOC membership and will almost certainly become an Olympic sport
Competitive Cheerleading is a highly athletic, high energy sport, that incorporates jumps, tumbling, dance, stunts and impressive acrobatic tosses. It is an international SportAccord recognised sport, with world championships held annually. The sport gained provisional IOC Olympic Membership Status 3 years ago, which means it’s now eligible for inclusion in the Olympics - something the IOC is keen to see happen. The Olympic Channel is already trailing short documentaries about the sport in preparation for its inclusion, and in 2019 streamed the ICU World Cheerleading Championship finals live on its platform.
Watch the Olympic Channel’s short documentary about Cheerleading in the UK here: https://youtu.be/cwQge-7U07c
2. Cheerleading is big in the UK and Team England have taken Gold medals at the World Championships for the past 3 years
Competitive Cheerleading has been happening in the UK for around 25 years, and there are currently an estimated 60,000 athletes regularly competing at regional and national level, as well as many more participating in schools and recreational clubs. England, Wales and Scotland all take teams to compete at the ICU World Cheerleading Championships, and for the past three years England has medalled in the Junior, Co-Ed, All Girl and Adaptive Abilities (Para sport) categories, as well a Gold medal for their Adaptive Abilities Pom team in the Performance Cheer divisions (inclusive of Pom, Jazz and Hop Hop styles). Their success at the recent championships has garnered media interest, with coverage on the BBC, ESPN and the Olympic Channel. You can watch back some of their impressive performances here:
Team England Co-Ed https://youtu.be/woQDFF5RxeM
Team England All Girl https://youtu.be/cFqvIZH2kI0
Team England Juniors https://youtu.be/Ej4xVxuAplc
Team England ParaCheer https://youtu.be/TzpK1jwCRtM
3. England is a pioneer in the inclusion of disabled athletes in the sport of Cheerleading
In 2016 the ICU World Cheerleading Championships announced it would be launching a new division for physically disabled athletes, to accompany its already successful Special Athletes division (run in partnership with the Special Olympics). Team England ParaCheer – the world’s first Adaptive Abilities team – performed a showcase at the 2016 championships; helping to launch the division and inspire other countries. The following year, when the division officially opened, Team England returned to win their first Adaptive Abilities Gold medal. UK based charity ParaCheer International, who promote the inclusion of disabled athletes in Cheerleading and helped pioneer the division, assisted with the development of the rules and scoring, and their founder Rick Rodgers (an English athlete and wheelchair user) now acts as an advisor to the ICU on disability. You can find out more about the Adaptive Abilities division and rules of competition here: https://youtu.be/Cm-cAEDcQ7w
4. Cheerleading has the power to engage young females not interested traditional sports
The Youth Sport Trust’s 2018 Girl’s Active report found that only 56% of girls enjoyed taking part in physical activity compared to 71% of boys, and numbers significantly drop around puberty. It also showed that peer influence and confidence were key contributing factors in girl’s decisions to participate. Cheerleading is a unique team sport in helping rapidly build relationships and confidence. You only need to observe a group stunt to realise how quickly skills like trust, communication and a sense of achievement are accomplished (see an example of a basic group stunt here: https://youtu.be/HFd7v8pQ1zY)
The sport improves physical stamina, builds muscle and develops technical skills in a similar way to a multi-sport activity like cross-fit, but the added attraction of Cheerleading for teenage girls is the sport’s place in popular culture. The sport is synonymous with fun, fashion, movies like the Bring It On franchise and new Netflix docu-series CHEER. It’s this association with popular culture and the fact it is a predominantly female sport that is its real strength when it comes to attracting teenage girls otherwise disinterested in physical activity or traditionally male sports.
An increasing number of primary and secondary schools are now introducing Cheerleading into their PE curriculum and growth in recreational clubs outside of school is booming. SportCheer England (SCE) - the new National Governing Body for Cheerleading in England are about to undertake the largest survey of Cheerleading clubs ever done in the country. They already know that the number of beginner level teams at competitions has exponentially increased over the last 3 years and predict the number of girls now participating in the sport to be much higher than currently thought.
5. Cheerleading isn’t currently recognised as a sport in England, and receives no funding
Cheerleading is not currently recognised as a sport in England. This is because sport and NGB recognition from Sport England requires an application process, which the NGB are still preparing for. The current lack of recognition has a financial impact at the grassroots level, as clubs are unable to access various funding streams ringfenced for sports. University teams often find Student Unions only classify Cheerleading as an “activity” and therefore won’t provide appropriate training spaces or insurance, and Team England - who take a total of 10 teams and staff to compete at the World Cheerleading Championships in the USA every year - are entirely self-funded. It is very much hoped that SportCheer England will be able to make their application to Sport England this year, but the NGB is also currently self-funded and run by volunteers, making every stage of the process a challenge.
The continuing rise of the sport’s profile in mainstream media, and its imminent inclusion in the Olympics, offers lots of new opportunity for sponsorship and brands to potentially collaborate with the sport. Team England are already beginning to work with sponsors for things like uniforms, but the potential to use Cheerleading for bigger branding tie-ins is completely untapped in the UK, and definitely an exciting growth area for the NGB, as they develop national campaigns over the next few years.
Images are published with permission from Team England
Article by Joanna Gamper Cuthbert
Joanna is the Chair of SportCheer England, the National Governing Body for Cheerleading in England. A former athlete, coach, programme owner and national team manager for Team England ParaCheer, Joanna is focused on the promotion and development of the sport in England, and has spoken at conferences, on radio and television about Cheerleading.
“I believe in the transformational power of the sport of Cheerleading, to develop skills like team-work and trust, raise aspirations, develop grit, determination, and empower young people to become leaders in all walks of life.”
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