Competitive cheerleading is a lot of fun and a lot of hard work. All Star teams are great at tumbling, stunting, dancing and cheering.
When Did Cheerleading Get Competitive?
Cheerleading started out with a bunch of men yelling organized cheers on the sidelines at a football game. In fact, in the Princeton student newspaper, they were referred to as the "chosen yellers" for the game.
Over the years, cheerleading has gone from a bunch of men yelling encouragement from the sidelines to a serious sport genre. Competitive cheerleading has arrived, and cheerleaders are now respected athletes. While cheerleading routines borrow moves from various styles of dancing and use elements of gymnastics and tumbling, the stunting in cheerleading has truly made cheerleading a unique sport.
What Does It Take to Be a Competitive Cheerleader?
Just as not everyone will be good at football or basketball, not everyone will be good at cheerleading. By the time a girl is old enough to get onto an all star squad (usually around age eight or nine), girls should have already been taking gymnastics for several years and have mastered several tumbling skills. While girls can learn these skills later, it's often more difficult. In addition to tumbling, there are a few other things a competitive cheerleader needs:
- Excellent upper body strength: Cheerleaders must have good upper body strength both for remaining stiff and for performing stunts.
- Confidence: Cheerleaders must feel like they can perform a stunt, that they are able to do it and that they will not fail.
- Excellent physical conditioning: Cheerleaders have to be in good cardiovascular shape. It takes a lot of effort to dance, stunt, cheer and tumble to the beat of cheerleading music.
- Determination and commitment: Competitive cheerleading requires daily practice as well as off season practice and conditioning.
- Good sportsmanship: Competitive cheerleaders must work as a team. The old cliché "There is no I in team" is very appropriate.
Trying Out for a Competitive Cheerleading Squad
If you think you have what it takes to become a competitive cheerleader, it's time to prepare for try outs. Squads differ on what they'd like to see at try outs depending on their goals as a competitive team and the organization for which they cheer.
The All Week Clinic
One approach to cheerleading try outs is to have an all week clinic in which potential cheerleaders learn a routine and coaches as well as senior members of the squad watch the new members to see how they do. The week culminates with a performance of the routine as well as a showing of individual skills.
The best way to master this type of try out is to give it 200% all week. Do the best you can and show that you're willing to learn and work hard. Have a great attitude, even if you don't feel like it, and never complain. Coaches are looking for someone who is teachable and a team player. They are willing to work on skills during the year.
Individual Try Outs
Whether you have a week long clinic or not, you will have to present yourself individually. This is the opportunity to show off what you can do, and you should try to highlight your best skills. However, you should be prepared to do some dancing, one or two cheers and some tumbling, as well as show off your flexibility and cheerleading jumps. The best candidates spend all year preparing for try outs.
Five Ways to Make Your Squad Competitive
So you want to make your squad competitive and win that state championship? Here are five rules to live by for making your squad competitive.
Tip One: It's in the Coaching
Your squad needs a coach who has had cheerleading experience and is certified in cheerleading safety. You cannot compete at the level necessary to win state championships if you don't have a coach that knows how to keep everyone safe.
Tip Two: Attend Camp
Cheerleading camp can be a great way to shore up other squads in your area, but it can also be a place to hone skills. Many camps offer week long experiences designed specifically for taking your squad to the next level.
Tip Three: Assign Roles and Fill Them
Many school squads just run through try outs looking for the best candidates. However, just like a sports team, a cheerleading squad has different positions. When your squad holds try outs, look for those girls who would make the best bases, the best flyers and the best tumblers. Looking for specific skill sets will help fill out your squad and enable you to do stunts and routines that put you in the spotlight!
Tip Four: Compete!
The more competitions you go to, the more competitive your squad will become. Going to competitions allows you to see what other squads are doing, size up your competition and learn how not to make mistakes. Even if you don't do well, make those opportunities count!
Tip Five: Practice Well
There is such a thing as practicing too much and too hard. Practice makes perfect and it's important to keep at it until it's right, especially in stunting where missing a beat or being off can cause injury. However, over-practicing defeats morale and makes your squad more careless and consequently more prone to injury. Practice regularly and consistently, but don't over do it.
Where to See Competitive Cheerleading
The USASF Cheerleading World Competitions are held in the spring each year at Disney World. They are televised by ESPN and boast the very best of cheerleading squads. You can contact the United States All Star Federation for cheer and dance for more information about eligibility, competitions, age divisions and rules.