Cheerleading is the fastest growing spectator sport in Britain. A form of school athletics which has not always been popular in Britain, cheerleading is being recognised as a competitive sport which is exciting to watch
Cheerleading is a vibrant, high energy, athletic discipline that is exploding in popularity. Probably the fastest growing sport across Britain – and certainly the fastest growing spectator sport – major indoor arenas are frequently sold out. Part of its evident appeal is performing in front of large appreciative audiences and being a competitive sport in its own right that is also exciting to watch.
Embodying cheers, chants, dance, jumps, tumbling, partner stunts and pyramids into skills-packed two-and-a-half minute routines requires many hours of dedicated training and conditioning. However, as an effective fitness activity it can be enjoyed by all who are reasonably fit and have the enthusiasm to learn.
As with any progressive skills-based discipline there are many levels in which you can get involved – from attending ‘cheer for fun’ sessions at a local club to building a school-based team that can greatly enhance positive image publicity for the school.
The ethos of the sport is about encouraging pride in yourself and the community you represent and respecting that in others, as well as learning good sportsmanship and teaching teamwork and responsibility along the way.
Cheerleading, as we know it today, was initiated in 1898 by Johnny Campbell, an undergraduate at the University of Minnesota, who stood before the crowd at a football game and directed them in a famous and still used yell.
“Rah, Rah, Rah! Sku-u-mar, Hoo-Rah! Hoo-Rah! Varsity! Varsity! Varsity, Minn-e-So-Tah!”
The first cheerleader fraternity, Gamma Sigma, was organised in the 1900s
To be a cheerleader is not just a place on an athletic team, it is a position of responsibility, wearing school colours with pride.
Start a squad at your school and you will not only be involving students in a fun and exciting fitness activity, you will be generating spirit and pride in the school – opportunities to promote the high standards of athletic and academic excellence of the school in the community abound. Parades, carnivals, charity and community events all have local media potential. To have press photo features about your school’s work in the community sends very positive messages.
Cheerleading does not have to be expensive. ‘Uniform’ means everyone wearing the same and being neatly presented, school sweatshirts with PE shorts or netball skirts are fine. Poms can be made from 2cm strips of crepe paper, 50 cm long, bound at the centre then ‘fluffed up’ into a ball. If you keep only to dance you will not need safety mats. Helpful booklets and DVDs are available from the British Cheerleading Association (BCA).
There is also the TOP Activity module for cheerleading, available through the Youth Sport Trust. We were pleased to help them with the DVD and activity cards. We are already working with several schools partnerships and running schools competitions.
Cheer for fun
Many clubs run sessions for beginners or for those who want to enjoy the spirit of cheerleading as a weekly fitness exercise. As a high energy aerobic workout participants may have so much fun as not to realise how much they are working – exercise need not be boring. Where some activities demand quiet for concentration, cheerleading uses voice training to help focus sharpness and synchronisation.
The style of dance used in cheerleading is totally unique. Originally developed for giant stadia where audiences may be up to 200m away, 360 degrees around and looking down, movements have to be ultra sharp and formation synchronised. Poms were introduced to visually highlight arm motions at a distance. Dance schools are increasingly finding the benefits of running a couple of cheer dance sessions a week, with up to 30 students at each.
Taking it up a step
If you would like to get into the more athletic aspects such as stunting and pyramids, this requires qualified coaching and safety mats. Having said that, there are a wide variety of visually exciting techniques that can be built where no one gets their feet more than two feet (60cm) off the floor, firmly held in place. Each stunt group consists of two bases, one top person and a safety spotter behind, whose job it is to make sure the top person is fully covered at all times. Sessions include a staged conditioning programme, plyometric exercises, warm-up and cool down sections.
Conditioning includes exercises to gradually strengthen muscle performance, improve flexibility and control, plus the ability to store and release energy. Plyometric drills for jumps training, for instance, include sequences of walking lunges, progressing to switch lunges single leg bounds and speed tucks. Jumps need to explode to reach the height where the variety of jump techniques can be performed effectively.
BCA has the best safety record in Europe for cheerleading and this is because of our excellent training and education programme plus the inherent safety in controlled technique. Cheerleading is a very safe sport but do not just ‘try’ things from pictures in books. You need to learn from qualified and experienced coaches. As you build your programme BCA can help you progressively develop your skills with safety.
Beginners learn arm motions and basics. From there they can move up to basic stunts, then to higher levels as they master each stage. Within a club you can move up from a development group to a display or competitive team and get to perform in front of large audiences.
With stunt building it is important to teach correct technique from the start, not just for safety but through constant repetition to encourage muscle memory so that skills can be hit exactly to correct form every time. Training drills for safety spotters ensures they are able to instinctively step in to cover any unplanned dismount situation.
As a competitive sport practiced in at least 45 nations worldwide, cheerleading reaches its ultimate level, should you choose. BCA runs many regional competitions at major venues around the UK in which competing divisions are arranged to allow equal opportunity to all. Routines are generally two-and-a-half minutes in which to showcase your range of techniques and choreographed creativity and to fire up the audience. Cheerleading at its best is interactive performance rather than a display to applaud afterwards.
There are separate dance and cheer divisions and each of these is split according to age range, skills level and/or team size. Up to 85 per cent of teams receive a trophy, the largest being over 1m tall. This is a larger than life sport, so the awards match the level of spirit. Another nice side to the ethos of cheerleading is that when any team is performing they are enthusiastically supported by all in the hall.
From regionals you can take it to nationals and the BCA internationals where teams can earn bids to compete in top American competitions. More than a dozen BCA teams have competed in America over the last 18 months, with significant successes. Five competed in North Carolina and Florida this March.
Competitive cheerleading is scored in categories such as perfection of technique, jumps, creativity, stunts and pyramids, tumbling and crowd appeal. The combined scores from three to four judges are added together, less any infractions. Awards ceremonies can get emotional – and noisy – as even a seventh place generates waves of excitement both on and off the floor.
Recent competitions include:
|Midlands Classic||Telford International||151||45||1,898|
|Western Classic||Newport Centre||149||46||1,722|
|University Championship||Telford International||110||45||1,596|
|Southern Classic||Brighton Centre||166||38||1,985|
|Northern Classic||Blackpool Winter Gardens||132||29||1,365|
|BCA Scotland||Glasgow, Braehead Arena||104||29||1,192|
|BCA Internationals||Telford International||244||60||3,267|
A North East Classic regional was also introduced in Autumn 08
Safety procedures in place and general practice for BCA competitions include:
- full safety floors in both the main hall and practice hall
- full BCA safety systems and equipment, fully risk assessed
- a paramedic team
- photo IDs for fairness to all, safety and child protection
- unique hologram security passes for competitors and coaches
- events start and run on time, using up to 30 experienced and qualified event staff
- video and photographic staff vetted and CRB cleared
- professional sound engineers and equipment
- current fully qualified judges
- entry costs from as little as £12 per cheerleader.
What is the appeal?
This is a question I am often asked. Cheerleading is growing fast, despite a drop in participation in many traditional sports. Young ladies tend to be more conscious of their appearance nowadays and getting cold, wet and muddy in outdoor activities such as cross-country or field hockey requires a lot of dedication. On the other hand, dressing up like a pop star and performing for huge appreciative indoor audiences does have image appeal, as well as keeping your hair looking good at all times. As a fitness activity it is a regular high energy workout. With a sensible eating regime excess input can be more easily burnt off in a way that is also fun to be involved with.
How do you start?
If you have recently started a squad or are thinking of starting one, the BCA website is an excellent place to start. By joining the BCA community you will have access to the latest information and assistance, courses, workshops and qualifications.
We run coaches’ courses and qualifications around the UK. NCSSE is an international standard with the combined expertise of leading experts in America and other countries. The UK edition is substantially upgraded for duty of care, safety and child protection issues. The four successive level modules include extensive support materials and ‘hands on’ instruction. These have been held in Bristol, Manchester, Stevenage, Burnham, Renfrew, Leeds, Leicester, Leominster, Brighton, Liverpool, Chepstow, Chelmsford, Livingston and Belfast. Each module is just £27. Pass all four within three years and with at least one year’s coaching experience to gain your Master Level certificate.
BCA also offers training workshops for cheerleaders at a location to suit you for 25 or more students. Starting a club you have the support of local experienced groups to help you get underway. As a community, coaches try to help new groups.
About the BCA
The British Cheerleading Association is a registered non-profit organisation founded in 1984 – the governing body for cheerleading in Britain. There are currently 405 registered BCA member clubs throughout the UK. Growth in cheerleading is currently 23 per cent and has been over 20 per cent for several years. BCA organises training and education for cheerleaders and coaches, runs regional national and international competitions, plus many other events and opportunities.
More about the BCA and cheerleading in Britain
For further information
British Cheerleading Association 102 White Horse Road, Windsor, SL4 4PH Phone/fax: 01753 867 723