The McBryde Guide to Cheerleading

We’re taking a different direction from The McBryde Guide to Martial Arts and getting into the world of cheerleading. Cheerleaders are rarely given the credit that they’re due – they’re often ridiculed as ‘shallow’ or just plain made fun of – which we think is pretty unfair. The stuff they do is pretty intense: balancing multiple human beings, tossing each other into the air, flips and complex choreography are just some of what these people do on a regular basis. Cheerleaders are, quite frankly, freaking amazing.

Where Did Cheerleading Come From?

 Much like today, cheerleading goes hand-in-hand with American football. It was in 1869 that the first intercollegiate football game was played between Rutgers University and Princeton, and about ten years later, Princeton had the first pep team, made up entirely of men. From Princeton, one of its graduates – Thomas Peebles – borrowed those cheers for University of Minnesota. Fight songs, as well as football songs, were getting really popular with U of M ad the time, and during 1898 the university was on a bit of a losing streak. Mr. Campbell, sensing lagging enthusiasm among the fans, picked up a megaphone and rallied the team with America’s very first organized cheer.

What cheer did U of M achieve victory to?

“Rah, Rah, Rah! Ski-U-Mah! Hoo-Rah! Hoo-Rah! Varsity! Varsity! Minn-e-so-tah!”

Cheerleading as we know it didn’t actually develop until 1923, when women were first allowed to cheer – again at U of M. All of the acrobatics and tumbles that we’re familiar with today were added during the 1920s, with University of Oregon developing flashcard use at the same time.

The start of World War II opened the floodgates for women entering cheerleading as the men in the proper age group were headed off to war.

It was a Southern Methodist University cheerleader by the name of Lawrence “Herkie” Herkimer that developed the spirit stick and pom pon (also spelled ‘pom pom’ or ‘pompom’) and his signature jump, each of which are still in use, and the National Cheerleaders Association. The NCA was established in 1961.

Through the 1960s, cheerleading had grown to be absorbed by nearly every high school and grade school across the United States. Youth leagues were starting to develop cheerleading squads, too.

All-star cheerleading, the version that we know today for its competitions and training, became popular in the 1980s. Where schools were running cheerleading squads for their own sports teams, where they’d learn their flips and moves on cheerleading mats in the school gym, all-star cheerleading had taken the entire thing to the next level. It had become a paid career. Companies started springing up that would sell supplies for professional cheerleaders – everything from the cheerleading mats that they’d train on to gymnastics equipment and other needs – and training.

In the present day, cheerleaders don’t just represent their schools and teams, they can represent their communities, too. They are a team of marketers showing off the best their hometown has to offer, whether they’re at the school level or professional. Students learn gymnastics skills, how to work as a team, leadership, and discipline that comes about through lots of practice. Friendships can be made, as can friendly rivalries.

Cheerleading is a great way for young people to develop their athletic prowess early on in their lives. All that jumping, dancing, flipping, and stretching is very, very good for them. It can be a very good move to set up a home training area in the basement of your home or a spare room. Have cheerleading mats on the floor, wall padding (because you really never know), mirrors, and any other equipment you feel your child may need. Converse with other parents to see what they might have going.

What Equipment Do Cheerleaders Need?

Cheerleading is fairly light on equipment. For the most part, they’ll need their uniform and pom-poms for their routine, though that’s just the basics.

In the gym, they’ll need cheerleading mats to help prevent some training-related injuries. Medicine balls and other strength-training gear, like weight sets, are beneficial for cheerleaders because they absolutely need to develop their muscles in order to support each other’s weight and perform their various skills. Noodle-arms McGee doesn’t tend to be very useful in cheer, just so you know.

An incredibly useful thing for cheerleaders that are learning stunts is a stunt stand, which imitates being held in the air, but at a safe level for the novice (or for practice). It’s great for practicing flying stunts at home or in the gym and can be adjusted to fit any foot size.

Braces for the back, knees, ankles, and wrists are supportive pieces that can protect the mentioned areas or offer support in cases of a weak or injured back, knee, ankle, or wrist. They’re generally a good idea for protecting from injury.

A good pair of shoes will save a lot of trouble in the long run, too.

Types of Cheerleading

Most people are familiar with the high school cheerleaders that cheer the school’s football team on to victory, but they’re far from the only type that exists.

The technical term for this brand of cheerleading is scholastic cheerleading. You can find them from elementary school all the way into college, and not just for football: cheerleaders are common at basketball games and on their own as a competitive team. Members of the squad are selected based on a variety of factors that may or may not include their grades, popularity, personality, conduct, leadership ability, and/or their performance during tryouts.

All star cheerleaders belong to a gym that’s devoted to gymnastics and cheerleading, and their entire purpose is competition. Because of their focus on competition, their cheer set-up is different from what cheerleaders that perform at sporting events would use. These teams are constantly practicing, performing, and improving their art.

Pro cheerleaders have a grueling selection process before they’re able to consider themselves part of a squad, and even getting through the application process can be a pain. The pay is low, but the opportunity for travel is high. These cheerleaders are primarily entertainers.

The final category of cheerleader is the recreation cheerleader, who can be part of a church, YWCA, or a recreation department and be further associated with a recreational league. Official tryouts don’t exist, all these cheerleaders are required to do is sign up, and the cost associated with recreational cheerleading is very low. The skill level here is best described as ‘novice’.

How to Become a Cheerleader

The first step of becoming a cheerleader is to learn what you can about the art. Attend squad performances, check out videos, read up on the stunts, learn about gymnastics, and, from there, look into classes. The classes you’ll want to pursue include gymnastics, dance, general fitness, and, of course, cheerleading.

Camps are a possibility if any exist where you are.

You can find the classes you’d want at recreation centers and gyms, or clubs.

Next, if you’re not in shape, you need to get there.

Cheerleaders need to be strong. You have to be able to lift upwards of 60 lbs, which means you’re going to need to build some muscle and strength. You’ll also need endurance training. It’ll be important for you to get into aerobics to improve your endurance, or you won’t be able to keep up with your squadmates.

Part of being in shape is eating food that’s good for you. Don’t skip meals, don’t stop eating, and don’t skimp on the water. Food is energy, and the idea is to give yourself good energy, not deprive your body of what it needs. A balanced diet rich in vitamins and minerals, with the right amounts of fat, carbs, and protein, and as much water as you can stand? That’ll be your best friend.

At tryouts, be enthusiastic, be positive, and be helpful. You’ll want to make eye contact with judges and, if you’re confused about anything, ask for help from the cheerleaders around you. Most of all, follow instructions that you’re given.

Cheer and You

Cheerleading has a bit of a weird reputation. A lot of folks see those high school comedies (and dramas), something like ‘Mean Girls’, and decide that cheer is exactly what they see on TV.

It’s not.

It’s a sport, like any other sport, that requires training. It teaches you balance, responsibility, and how to work as a team. It’s relatively affordable: you don’t need to buy much cheer equipment up front, since your school will supply pretty much everything. You might just need to pay for your uniform, and the training facility is already available to you. If you’re looking for some great deals on mats then check out our online shop here.

Cheerleaders are important to their schools because they help pump up their teams and the audience during sporting events. They are the heart of the entire school’s spirit. It’s the cheerleading team that accompanies their sporting teams all over the place to cheer them on and encourage them to do their best – and it’s the cheerleading team that often represents the school on their own to show off what they’re capable of. Some schools even pair their cheerleaders with members of various teams to provide support and encouragement. This is great because those players sometimes develop strong friendships with their cheerleaders, and having somebody that you can count on to support you is always helpful – and can make all the difference in how a game goes.

Cheer isn’t just a high school thing. There are professional cheerleading teams for professional sport teams, colleges have them, and cheer can be its own stand-alone competitive sport.

Why? Cheer is, more or less, team gymnastics. It takes a hell of a lot of training, hard work, and patience to be able to complete the maneuvers that cheerleaders include as part of their regular routines, let alone to do them from memory and on a regular basis. Cheerleaders spend as much time in the weight room as the football team, and they’re practicing with their cheer equipment even more often. The amount of training that cheerleaders do is pretty ridiculous.

Unfortunately, cheer has the highest number of injuries for female athletes of any high school or college sport, and that includes everything from sprains to concussions. Cheerleaders don’t have protective equipment like other sports, and they have to throw each other in the air! Even so, some get really lucky and never deal with an injury during their entire cheer career.

So, not only is cheer an intense sport – despite what the NCAA will tell you – that can hurt like hell despite your best intentions, it’s an incredible team-building exercise that manages to bring a lot of positivity wherever its cheerleaders go and it’s more intense than football. It’s the best sport to pick if you’ve ever dreamed of growing up to be Xena or Wonder Woman.

Dangers of Cheerleading

Cheerleaders are more likely than other athletes to suffer major injuries. Consider this: one of the common stunts involves cheerleaders being in a pyramid formation. Stacked. Where a wrong move can send squad members tumbling to the ground below, which is likely unpadded during a game or competition. In fact, a Southern Illinois University cheerleader named Kristi Yamaoka tumbled from the top of a human pyramid in 2006. The incident left her with a fractured vertebra, a concussion, and a bruised lung.

Although only 3% of all American female high school athletes are cheerleaders of some form, the sport makes up 65% of catastrophic injuries for high school girls in sports. At the college level, 67% of women athletes’ injuries are due to cheerleading accidents.

It gets worse.

From 1982 to 2007, 67 out of 103 fatal, serious, or disabling injuries that occurred in girls’ sports in high schools happened to cheerleaders.

Of the reported injuries, the most common was concussions. Sprains, broken bones, back injuries, elbow injuries, and knee injuries, as well as head injuries other than concussions, are also very common.

We’re not trying to freak you out and make you change your mind about cheerleading – we’re more concerned with getting the word out and making sure that you’re informed. This is the sort of stuff you have to be prepared for. Not all of these accidents could be prevented, though a lot of them probably could. Stuff happens. Loss of balance is a thing that occurs. It’s good to be aware of what could happen so that you can keep yourself and your squadmates safe – instead of ignoring the reality that this isn’t a safe and cushy sport.

Preventing Cheerleading Injuries

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28 thoughts on “The McBryde Guide to Cheerleading

  1. I have a little bit of experience and background in cheerleading, but I haven’t done it in a long time. It’s a really interesting sport and so hard to do. I have the utmost respect for cheerleaders! You have to have strength, balance, flexibility and endurance. Not easy to do, but they manage to pull it off!

  2. Unfortunately, I have a fair amount of experience with cheerleading in the form of witnessing at least four different major accidents while watching my kids games, two of which were very serious and required ambulances and lengthy hospital stays and rehab. None of my three daughters took cheerleading but all of my kids took part in sports that had cheerleaders for them. I have tons of respect for the degree to which these athletes train and compete but I do question some of the perils these young girls face and the degree to which some parents and coaches push them into more and more difficult and unsafe aerial routines. As a parent of four kids, I’m all for keeping them safe and on the ground.

    1. Wow Craig, that’s some unfortunate incidents, Cheers put themselves at risk just as much, if not more, than any other sport. We are glad you liked the McBryde guide to cheerleading, thanks for the reply!

  3. Thank you for this post! Whenever someone hears the word cheerleader or hear that my daughter is in cheer, they laugh it off like it is a joke. Cheerleading is hard work and the girls have to be very athletic for some of the competitions. My daughter is going to get a kick out of your article!

      1. You + Aron = so lucky to have each other. What amazing support. Fact: you are just wonderful to be there for her and other friends in those conditions, while dealing with that damn ankle and probably every bone in your body wishing you could be out kicking in the rain too. I di1;#&82d7nt realize Jessica was out there at CIM, awesome!

  4. I did laugh when you mentioned “Mean Girls”, yes, that’s the way we think Cheerleading was – it is like a high school thing, when you love to have fun and be popular. But when you mentioned how they are trained as a professional and need to do a difficult stunt like pyramid formation, come to think about it, it is really not easy. They are the ones that suffer from major injuries. I start to have a new respect for cheerleaders and sincerely hope that the high schools will get them the cheerleading mat like you recommended.

      1. I suspect it is as much because joslsarintu, talkback hosts and the like are clueless about monetary policy and the Euro crisis, as they have been clueless about economics and philosophy all along.Simple issues are ones they can't be held to account for when they don't know any better.

  5. Thanks for this wonderful post! I just want to add to it that cheerleading has more than just a tremendous physical aspect to it.It requires having a supportive and possitive attitude, team spirit and enhusiasm. I think is more than a sport, it’s an attitude!

  6. Never knew men were the first cheerleaders! That’s crazy cool!

    Cheerleading has always been a secret love of mine. To me, modern cheerleading looks like a mix of contemporary dance and gymnastics, which is the best of both words! All those flips and splits are done to perfection, and the pep and attitude is out of the world! Even the little kids on the team are sharp! I think we need to get more boys back on the teams. That could promote even more solidarity among children.

    Thanks for listing all four types, didn’t know there was more than one.

    1. Contemporary art and gymnastics – Could have said it better! Cheers work really hard and are under-rated as athletes, McBryde Mats understands this and that’s why we made a range of mats just for cheerleading!

  7. I hated cheerleaders. I thought they were dumb. I thought they always looked down at people from their positions as if the rest of us didn’t matter. I always resented the thought that they believed they were the ‘in crowd’ and the rest of us were not. Now, I didn’t care much about that because I’ve spent my life being out of that ‘in crowd’. It never did appeal to me.

    But, I was wrong. Though some of that did and I’m sure still does happen, my opinion changed years ago – though long after school.

    Regardless of what the NCAA thinks, Cheerleading is a sport and should be supported as a sport. It takes an athlete to become one. They have to train and put in the dedication just like any basketball or football player out there. They have to maintain grades in order to stay on the squad. They have to have the focus and determination as gymnasts to hit their marks. And they have to have the creativity to come up with new cheers and routines or they become stagnant.

    The sports world needs to acknowledge that cheerleading is a sport not just some ‘fun time’. Only then will proper regulations be put in place to protect our kids and adults who choose it as a past time or a career.

    Over the years since my high school days, I’ve come to highly respect cheerleaders. I enjoy the competitions when I catch them on the TV. I will admit that to this day I was correct in one factor of the sport – I’d look a bit weird in a cheerleading outfit. Just not my style.

    1. We have all come a long way since our high school years. Glad to see you have changed your mind on Cheers, we believe they are some of the hardest working athletes out there!

  8. Interesting history of cheerleading! Was not familiar with most of it, never knew there was so much comprehensive details in it. This also seems like a excellent form of exercise.

  9. Thanks for this interesting post!At whatever point somebody hears the word team promoter or hear that my girl is in cheer, they ignore it like it is a joke. Cheerleading is diligent work and the young ladies must be exceptionally athletic for a portion of the rivalries. My girl is going to get a kick out of your article!

  10. This is totally cool and interesting. I still remember when our coach will always say:make sure you are able to reach your cheerleading goals by following instructions and by being the type of team mate everyone wants. thanks Mac for the info, just reminded me of good old memories

  11. Although all what I see in cheerleading is that it is absolutely a waste of time but going through this article I finally conclude cheerleading is a mix of dedication, strength, and talent. It’s art and sport wrapped into one, and any competitive performance is a result of practice, creativity, and more practice—plus a lot of fun! Commit yourself to taking your cheer ambitions to the next level, and you’ll uncover how rewarding this high-intensity activity can be. Am now thinking of becoming a cheerleader coach, what did you think about it?

  12. I think this is a great article that pays a well overdo ode to cheerleaders! A sport so unfairly overlooked; and can actually be pretty dangerous considering some of the stunts. At my high school we had a very strong ‘all star cheerleaders’ team. Their skills and fame surpassed any of the other sports at the school and as they made it into (and won) several national competitions they became the poster of pride for our school. The athleticism and skill for this sport is truly amazing.

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