Is cheer and cheerleading a sport or not? Surprising answer

We have to distinguish between All-star (or club) cheerleading and school (or sideline) cheerleading to answer this question. Sideline cheerleading is dancing and performing during matches of other teams. There is no competitive element as squads are dancing and jumping to entertain the audience and players. Some people argue that for this reason, it is not a sport. All-star cheerleading on the other hand involves competing as your squads get points for each move that they make. The team that has the most points, wins. For this reason, club cheerleading can be considered a sport.

All-star cheerleading (or cheer)  is a sport as it has all the elements that are used in the most common definitions of the word. 

The Oxford Languages definition requires 3 elements: skill, competition, and physical exertion

The Cambridge dictionary has also 3 elements: rules, skill, and physical effort.

There is no doubt that cheerleading requires some skills as not everyone can do it. Just ask a random friend to do it and compare the results with the ones of a cheerleader. It also involves a physical effort as players move, jump, tumble, dance, and even perform stunts. During the past few decades, all of this became more advanced and cheerleaders have put more effort into their performance.  

It is clear that all-star cheerleading has certain rules as dancers have to start and stop at a specific time and they have to wear a specific outfit. The sport has originated in the 19th century so is quite old. With the advent of more competitions and the foundation of the International Cheer Union in 2014, the sport has had more rules. This has also added a competitive element to the sport as you can score points with certain dances and movements. All of this is quite recent and this is why a lot of people don’t consider cheerleading a sport yet. They don’t realize that there are cheerleading competitions and that you have to follow strict rules if you want to participate in them. Cheerleaders spend a lot of time perfecting their skills and it is a very intense activity. Therefore all-star cheerleading can be considered a sport.

Based on the previous definition you could argue that cheerleading is not always a sport because when it is done during an American football or volleyball match, there is no competition and no rule. So for this reason sideline cheerleading is by a strict definition not really a sport as it has no clear rules and competition. Broader definitions can focus on the physical element and classify it as a sport anyway.

Therefore the situation is not completely back or white. It is hard to give a yes or no answer to the question if cheerleading is a sport or not. Given the recent evolution, I would say that it can be considered as a sport. Some things still need to be cleaned up and refined but big progress is being made. Further defining what cheerleading is can also be a great idea and we will try to do this below. 

What is cheerleading or cheerdance?

Cheerleading is a group activity in which several people dance together. They can dance on the ground or stand on top of each other to make figures. Jumping and tumbling in the air are part of this sport and therefore dancers have to be careful and trust each other. It has a big overlap with gymnastics but instead of doing it alone, people perform the exercises together. You could say that it is a blend between gymnastics and dancing.

As discussed before, we have to distinguish between  All-star (or club) cheerleading and school (or sideline) cheerleading. The latter is not competitive as squads are not scoring points. A lot of players that participate in club cheerleading are also active in sideline cheerleading as the same principles apply. In sideline cheerleading, the moves might be less daring and focus more on entertainment. 

This sport was also featured in the Netflix series Cheer.

The International Cheer Union claims that 7.5 million people perform this sport worldwide. This is mainly done in the  USA as it originated there. Now people in several countries such as Australia, Canada, Mexico, China,  Germany, and the United Kingdom participate in this. This clearly indicates that there is interest in this sport. There are also some states in the USA where this sport is very popular.

For example, in North Carolina, it is the most popular sport amongst high school girls. They have teams and coaches that teach players new patterns. Cheerleading can be done in elementary, middle, and high school. The NCAA is actively supporting cheerleading teams in colleges in the USA. USA Cheer is a nonprofit that wants to promote this sport and make it more accessible. It is also being broadcasted in the USA. 

While not a lot of men participate in it, it was actually invented by a guy. His goal was to encourage a football team during a match. The popularity grew from there. At the moment it is mostly done during big sports events such as NFL or NBA matches to entertain the audience and motivate players. More recently cheerleading is becoming a standalone sport with rules and competitions.

Teams can score points for specific moves. There are several levels that it is performed at, from beginners to more advanced teams. This requires a lot of creativity and technique. Dancers often practice multiple times per week to get all the details right. There are professional cheerleaders and they are sometimes hired for other sports as well, such as boxing to entertain the audience.

What is special about cheerleading is that they often wear bright uniforms and use pompoms to make everything more spectacular. Teams often spend a lot of time on picking their uniforms. Generally, everyone on the team wears the same outfit. Given that cheerleading is often done outdoors, shoes and socks are being worn. 

Is cheerleading in the Olympics?

At the moment cheerleading is not part of the sports in the Olympics. A big push is being made so that the sport can become part of the Olympics. This often involves several steps as sports are often first an exhibition sport before they can become part of the Olympics.  The Olympics is an international competition that is organized every 4 years.

People or teams can win a gold, silver, or bronze medal if they perform well. The IOC is the organization that decides what sports become parts of the Olympics.  A lot of sports want to get that recognition and to keep it manageable, the IOC is quite reluctant to add new sports to this event.  

It can therefore take several years before cheerleading will become an Olympic discipline. There is a lot of paperwork that needs to be filled in and a lot of discussions need to happen. Given that cheerleading is popular in several countries, we could see it happen in the future. I think that it will take at least 5 years as national federations are still finding their strides.

The focus would be on club cheerleading. At the moment we already have professional cheerleaders and a lot of competitions. It wouldn’t take too much to use these rules during an Olympics event. Cheerleading is commonly done outdoors but it can be done indoors as well. It would be part of the summer Olympics if it gets allowed in the tournament. It is a very prestigious event so it would be a big step for this sport.

To conclude, we can state that club cheerleading is a sport as it has all the elements that are mentioned in the definition of this word. Sideline cheering is not considered a sport according to some definitions as it doesn’t have a competitive element.