When you think of cheerleading (I know most of you don’t but just pretend you do) I’m sure that a large majority of the population will imagine scandily-clad women, pom poms and silly chants. It doesn’t seem like a real sport does it? This stereotype has largely come about through the medium of TV and film, whether it be Blockbuster hits or major sporting events such the IPL and the SuperBowl, who reinforce this image by showing scores of young women doing just this.
Having just started university, my ‘Frep’ (freshers rep) managed to persuade a couple of male friends and myself to go along to the first college cheerleading session of the academic year. We all turned up not quite knowing what to expect as we guessed that what had been portrayed to us over the years was inaccurate and quite sexist. Little did we know, however, just how much fun it was going to be.
Some of you at this moment may be thinking ‘well these guys are clearly a homosexual (or possibly something stronger),’ whilst others may be thinking that we are just perverts who enjoy it because there are lots of girls there. I have to tell you that for all of us that is an absolute load of rubbish – it is, genuinely, a load of fun and so far we have done none of the cliched ‘give us a W…’ After a short warm-up in which I realised that, in spite of my hypermobility, my flexibility is nothing in comparison to some of the girls, we were quickly introduced to one of the most ‘basic’ stunts. The five leaders then proceeded to get into a very strange-looking formation and all of a sudden one of the girls was being held up in the air, arms aloft and with a huge grin on her face. As soon as I was shown that, my scepticism quickly turned into excitement at the thought of four people forming a platform for me to finally feel tall on!
That feeling was short-lived however as it soon transpired that I was far too heavy for a ‘flyer.’ But my disappointment didn’t last long as I was told that I would make a good ‘back’ – having asked whether any thinking was required, I was informed (to my delight) that all I would have to do was keep count and lift the flyer. As the groups were sorted it also transpired that I am actually too short to be a real back but, fortunately, there were a group of girls smaller than me. We then proceeded to try a ‘smush’ (which is where you get the flyer into a kneeling position off the floor) before going for the full ‘prep,’ where the flyer is fully extended. Although the leaders made it look easy, I can tell you now that even the simplest of stunts is tricky to get the hang of! Being a back isn’t too bad as I can lift the flyer from the waist but being a side must be a nightmare as they have to catch and lift the flyer by his/her feet! Needless to say there were some sore wrists and hands after!
When we’d managed to sort-of complete a ‘prep’ we then moved onto another move (the name of which I’ve forgotten) where the flyer put their hands on the shoulder of the back before the rest of the team lift them up so they are completely horizontal in mid-air. This was then proceeded by the ‘straddle,’ which involves lifting the smallest member of the team up into the air in… Well, a straddle position! Although it may sound straightforward, it is a real challenge and has given me a huge new-found respect for ‘real’ cheerleaders around the world. I can’t wait to try some of the other stunts and tumbling over the next few weeks and, at some point, put a full routine together.
It still may not be clear to you as readers though that cheerleading is even a sport. I believe that it definitely is – it requires a huge physical effort and is a competitive activity which is organised National Governing Body, The International Cheer Union (ICU) in regards to international competitons, whilst the British Cheerleading Association (BCA) runs national events. These include regional championships, the National Universities competition and the National Championships themselves. There are also many disciplines for each championship, including senior and junior events, different categories of music which they perform to (jazz, hip hop etc.), stunt groups for mixed and all-female groups and others. Rather than just being a leisure activity for women, cheerleading is a highly organised and fiercely competitive activity, not just in this country, but globally. At last year’s World Cheerleading Championships there were 12 different categories, yet it was a surprise to see that the US had 7 entrants, with Mexico entering the most (11). However, of the events they participated in, the USA won 5 of them, with only Canada winning more than 1 event. It was nice to see Scotland won the Team Cheer Freestyle Doubles, while only Northern Ireland didn’t participate from the countries in and around Britain.
What are the benefits of cheer then? Well, for starters, there is a huge emphasis on flexibility so even if you aren’t particularly bendy before you start it is almost guaranteed that you will be after. For backs and sides there will also be a huge increase in strength of both your upper body and legs as you are having to lift people up whilst taking their full weight. The flyer will also improve their core strength and balance as they have to be very stable whilst in the air and everyone’s coordination and timing skills will improve. Whilst it may not improve things like cardiovascular and respiratory endurance and efficiency, the other benefits more than make up for this.
To sum up, cheerleading is brilliant – give it a go!