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  • Writer's pictureJoey Gamper Cuthbert

It’s time for daring leadership

Updated: Dec 6, 2021

I believe we have reached a watershed moment in the history of cheerleading.

High-profile disclosures of emotional, physical and sexual abuse in the sport over the last two years has seen cheerleading programmes and national governing bodies across the globe increase their efforts to improve athlete welfare and safety, but it is clear that the type of paradigm shift necessary to make meaningful change will require more than just the tightening of regulations, a training course or a background check (all be these critical components).

For meaningful transformation in the culture of cheerleading, we must ensure that all those impacted (from national governing bodies, gym owners, coaches and choreographers to parents and critically the athletes) are not just open and accepting of new ways of working that prioritize athlete welfare, but that they are the co-creators of the vision and strategy. This process will involve a seismic shift in everyone’s values, mission and purpose for the sport. We all need to begin the process of unlearning and learning new ways of coaching, training, managing and leading that require the transformation of hearts as well as minds.

The biggest failure in transformational effort is the inability to align people with the mission. As management consultant Peter Drucker once famously said “culture eats strategy for breakfast”. There’s what we say we do (the diversity and inclusion statement on the website, the anti-bullying policy, and the multitude of Instagram posts talking about being a ‘family’ …and then there’s what actually happens in the gym.)

We need to motivate and inspire everyone to grasp that athlete welfare is about so much more than just ensuring our gyms are free from sexual predators. We need to be radical, distinct and counterculture in every aspect of the sport, and recognize that to prioritize and view ALL decision making through the lens of athlete welfare can set us apart as real leaders.

This generation of athletes are crying out for daring, brave leadership, visionary thinking and the opportunity to become true stakeholders in their sport.

It’s time to step up and lead differently.


Joey Gamper Cuthbert, Squad Safe

Joey is the owner of Squad Safe; a consultancy offering cheerleading specific safeguarding and athlete welfare training, culture change management, policy writing and consultancy. She is a trained dancer, former cheerleading athlete, head coach, programme owner and national team manager, who worked professionally for 18 years in dance education management, with responsibilities for safeguarding and child protection. Joey also currently Chairs the Board at SportCheer England, the National Governing Body for Cheerleading in England.

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