Cheerleading is one of America’s fastest growing sports. And it’s no wonder – Cheerleading combines the athleticism of gymnastics, performance of dance and competitiveness of team sports. Cheerleading has a fun history too, and as a sport in its infancy it’s constantly changing, keeping things fresh and exciting. My original purpose was to write an article to help people choose a cheer team or gym, but in doing the research, I realized that there is so much to consider that it will take two parts.
First: What kind of cheerleader do you want to be? The question of your ultimate goal will guide all your other considerations. Most things written on the internet start from the assumption that the child wants to be a national-trophy-winning All Star Cheerleader. Maybe s/he does. But maybe he or she just wants to get good at tumbling and do a few performances, maybe a local competition. Maybe the kid has great school spirit and wants to share it by pumping up the crowd at games. Maybe she just wants to wear glittery skirts and big bows. For those folks, the demanding rigors of competition cheerleading may not be appropriate. So: What kind of cheerleader are you?
There are four basic types of cheerleaders: scholastic, recreational, all-star and professional.
Scholastic Scholastic cheerleaders are what people usually think of when they think of cheerleading. These traditional squads are affiliated with a school (usually Jr. High, High School or College) and they focus on team/school spirit and cheer for school sporting events and pep rallies. Some teams compete, but most do not. Members must attend the school they represent, and usually must adhere to a code of conduct including good grades and behavior, as they are representatives of the school in uniform. Generally scholastic cheerleaders (also called “sideline cheerleaders”) try out in the spring for the following year and may cheer all year or only for one season, traditionally football (fall) or basketball (winter). Varsity and Junior Varsity (JV) squads are determined by either grade or skill, and the coach is usually a faculty member. Try-outs are judged by a panel or the student body, and skill, spirit, personality, grades and conduct may factor in. Try-outs for college cheerleading teams are highly competitive, and collegiate cheerleaders perform at a higher level of athleticism. Collegiate cheerleaders are also ambassadors of their schools, cheering at sporting events but also representing their school at community and charity events and competitions. Scholastic cheer is great for kids who have lots of spirit and want to share it in performance.
Fun Fact: While cheerleaders across the board are nearly all female, collegiate cheerleaders are 50% men. It’s a great college tradition – in fact, originally all cheerleaders were men. Women didn’t start cheering until the ’20s, and didn’t do so in great numbers until WWII.
Recreational Recreational cheer teams are usually associated with a sports club, such as Pop Warner or American Youth Football & Cheer League, or other public or community groups such as the YMCA, a church or city. Usually on a recreational team, all members participate and there are no try-outs. There is minimal cost to join such a team, though some sports club teams can be more expensive. These teams cheer for sporting events in their league or at competitions. The recreational programs often have volunteer or parent coaches. Recreational cheer is great for kids who want to try cheerleading or for families who do not want to commit the time and money required for All Star Cheer.
Professional Wanna go pro? You can be a professional cheerleader. Pro cheer teams offer low pay but have many social and career benefits such as travel, meeting people and exposure for a future career in entertainment. Professional cheerleaders are more like dancers or songleaders. They cheer and perform at sporting events, but also do lots of philanthropy and charity work, model and/or act and rarely compete (although that is changing). Often professional cheerleaders are representatives of the community where their team is located. The competition is very high and pay is low and many pro cheerleaders also have other jobs. But they will tell you it is a very rewarding experience. Professional cheerleading is great for young people seeking exposure for entertainment careers and those looking for fun and adventure during or after college.
All Star Cheer All Star Cheerleading is one of the fastest growing sports in America. These athletes have a competition focus and practice dance, stunting and tumbling for contests on local, regional and national levels. All Stars concentrate on practice and performance and do not cheer for a sport, city or charity. They have a high level of skill and athleticism, with certified coaches and demanding practice schedules. These teams have competitive try-outs and All Star teams usually have their own gyms where team members take classes and attend practices. All Star Cheer is an expensive sport and requires a large time commitment on the part of the athlete and family. In addition to fees, many teams also have mandatory fundraisers. All Stars cheer nearly year-round and compete regularly. This is a great sport for kids who are results-driven and want to develop their skills over time in a competitive environment. For more on All Star Cheer, read our post, “Cheerleading All Stars – How to Choose an All Star Cheer Gym.”
For a great FAQ about cheerleading, including how to do various cheer moves and advice for try outs, about.com has a great list here.