Defining Sport: Cheerleading As A Type Of Sport

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How do you define something like a sport? That has been a debate surrounding cheerleading for the longest time. The discussion on whether it is a sport or art is fiery and characterized by two very passionate sides, each defending their claim. Cheerleading, which was born out of football, has not defined its place despite decades of existence. Cheerleading has gained a lot of popularity as it establishes itself in other sports. In light of this popularity, the sport vs. art controversy is now more than ever pronounced. When it comes to questioning the athleticism of cheerleading, there’s no doubt that cheerleaders are athletes. However, does what they do qualify as a sport?

What is a sport?

The dictionary definition of a sport is “a physical activity that is governed by a set of rules and engaged in competitively.” Based on this definition, cheerleading qualifies for the most part, until the ‘engaged in competitively’ part.

Since cheerleaders don’t have cheer competitions, it is hard to qualify it as a sport. The Women’s Sports Foundation outlines criteria for any activity to be considered a sport. First, it must be physical activity; there must be contests, must be governed by rules and acknowledge the purpose of the competition. Cheerleading is not a competitive activity. Most cheer squads do not take part in any competitions; their primary purpose is to unite fans of a sport in cheering for their team during matches. Some people have even defined cheerleading as the ‘act of leading organized cheering.’

It is worth considering that cheerleading is more than a century old. However, in the beginning, cheerleaders were men. In the US, a Princeton graduate organized the first group of six male cheerleaders. In 1923, women began to join cheerleading. In the 1930s, pom-poms were invented and quickly became part of cheerleading. They were, however, initially known as pompons.

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Cheerleading stats

Whether cheerleading is a sport or an art, it is clear that it is quite influential. It is also a growing activity that is spreading to more parts of the world. According to surveys on cheerleading, there are at least 4 million cheerleaders in the world. They are spread across 31 countries in the world. Cheerleading is, however, more widespread in the US with 90% of the world’s cheerleader population being in the United States. After cheerleading became a female activity, 97% of cheerleaders have always been female. However, at least 50% of collegiate cheerleaders are male. The number of male cheerleaders is, however, growing again with more men joining cheerleading in the last decade.

In the US, 80% of schools have cheer squads. However, in the other 30 countries where cheerleading is practiced, only 5% of schools have cheer squads. Some other countries are slowly introducing cheerleading in schools and sports. When it comes to age, most female cheerleaders are below 35 years old. 12% of cheerleaders are between 5 and 13 years old, while only 3% are between 27 and 35 years old. Cheerleading involves rigorous training and steps, and 12% of cheerleaders are dancers.

Cheerleading stereotypes

People often make negative comments about cheerleading, especially concerning their performance in school. There is a widespread belief that cheerleaders are people who don’t do well in schools. However, studies have debunked this belief by stating that 83% of all cheerleaders have a B average or even better.

Contrary to popular belief, cheerleaders are not lazy. In fact, 62% of all cheerleaders take part in a second sport. At least 98% of female cheerleaders are former or current gymnasts. However, this is only true for 20% of male cheerleaders. While cheerleading competitions are not common, there are parts of the world that organize cheer competitions. In 1983, the first-ever broadcast of cheerleading competitions was done by ESPN.

Cheerleading injuries

According to reports, the most common cheerleading injuries are broken arms and busted lips. These injuries are especially common when performing dangerous flips and pyramids. Studies show that at least 5300 cheerleaders are rushed to the emergency room during the football season. While this is a small number compared to the 2.5 million football players who visit the emergency room in a season, some of the cheerleading injuries can be fatal. In most cases, 98% of injured cheerleaders are treated and released. Studies also show that cheerleading injuries are on the rise. There has been a 600% increase in cheer injuries from 1998. This is mainly due to the introduction of more complex routines.

According to the National Center for Catastrophic Sports injuries, 50% of the catastrophic head, spine, and neck injuries are from female cheerleaders. Safety standards and measures are, however, being implemented to ensure that this number is much lower in the next year. The debate on the fate of cheerleading, however, still persists. Is it possible that cheerleading may be classified as a sport, or is it art?

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