Is Cheerleading Really a Sport?

Cheerleaders: Athletes Without a Sport?

Cheerleader doing Toe Touch Jump

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As cheerleading gains in popularity, the controversy rages on about whether it's a sport or not. There are rarely any questions about the athleticism of cheerleaders, so are cheerleaders athletes without a real sport?

Definition of a Sport

In a dictionary, you may find the word "sport" defined as a "physical activity that is governed by a set of rules or customs and often engaged in competitively." It is the last part of the definition "engaged in competitively" that makes considering cheerleading a sport difficult. According to the Women's Sports Foundation the following criteria has to be met to be considered a sport:

  • A physical activity which involves propelling a mass through space or overcoming the resistance of a mass
  • A contest or competition against or with an opponent
  • Is governed by rules which explicitly define the time, space and purpose of the contest and the conditions under which a winner is declared
  • The acknowledged primary purpose of the competition is a comparison of the relative skills of the participants

What is Cheerleading?

With the criteria above in mind, is the primary purpose of cheerleading to compete? Well, presently no. The majority of cheerleading squads do not participate in any competitions. Their sole purpose is to entertain, motivate and unite spectators of other athletic teams that are competing. Cheerleading is most often defined as the "Act of leading organized cheering, as at sports events."

The Future of Cheerleading

Although there are many cheerleading squads that do meet the criteria of their primary function being competitive cheerleading. Until the majority of the squads move competing to the forefront and cheering at games to be a secondary function, there is little hope cheerleading will be officially considered a sport.

The skills involved in Cheerleading leave no doubt that cheerleaders are exceptional athletes. To perform their activities, they must be as strong as any football player, as poised as any dancer and as flexible as the best gymnasts. They are athletes by every definition of the word.

So, does it really matter how cheerleading is defined? Is it not more important to be considered an athlete, even if you don't have an official sport?