Much more than dancing and shaking pom-poms, there are three different forms of cheerleading.
Much more than dancing and shaking pom-poms, there are three different forms of cheerleading.

Photo: Ida-Maria Lehto


Cheerleading hits new heights

From stunts, tumbling, jumps and dance, the physical and mental demands of cheerleading are often overlooked. As Scandinavian countries look set to take the world by storm at the 2018 championships, we dispel a few myths about the sport.

When you think about cheerleading, the first thing that probably comes to mind is glamorous young women, donning colorful, revealing costumes and shaking pom-poms in a dance routine midway through a basketball game.

But there are a whole host of myths that ought to be cleared up about the sport that is thought to have originated in an American football game between Princeton University and Rutgers University, in New Jersey, way back in 1869.

There are three different forms of cheerleading and the easiest way to distinguish them is by asking the cheerleader – is your squad a competitive team?

Still following? Great, because this is where it gets tricky. There are three broad areas of cheerleading – competitive, sideline and professional.

Competitive teams focus on stunting, which is lifting and tossing athletes in the air. They also focus on gymnastics and building team pyramids that they combine in a routine and compete at major competitions. 

 Sideline cheerleading involves those teams that focus on leading a crowd by rallying support at school games, usually on the side of the court or field. This is, essentially, where the entire sport originated.

 Finally, professional cheerleaders often come from dance backgrounds and you’ll see them performing routines at NFL or NBA games in the US, for example. Although it’s completely different from competitive cheerleading, it’s likely that this is the form you’re most familiar with.

Cheerleading took a huge step forward in 2016, when, much to the delight of 3.5 million athletes around the world, the International Olympic Committee voted to recognize it as a sport, granting $25,000 in annual funding to the International Cheer Union (ICU). Athletes and enthusiasts hoping to see cheerleading added to the ever-expanding Olympics list will have to sit tight though until the next cycle begins in 2024.

The 2018 Junior World Cheerleading Championships and World Cheerleading Championships in April are just around the corner and team preparations are well underway.

The competition will see around 70 international federations from over 100 member countries descend on the destination in the hope of bringing home a medal. Three of the top five nations in the All Girl Premiere rankings in 2016 were Scandinavian – Norway, Sweden and Denmark.

The Swedish federation will be sending around 75 cheerleaders, including one junior team this time around and their international representative Katarina Eriksson has high hopes after their triumphs in 2016.

“The size of the Swedish national team is smaller, but we think we have a good chance,” she says.

“Athletes qualify through a series of try-outs and in addition to being technically and physically strong, they should show examples of good sportsmanship and demonstrate the ability to be role models for other athletes.”

Eriksson believes it’s an exciting period for the sport in Scandinavia, with levels of participation rising significantly.

“The sport is growing fast,” Eriksson explained. “In the mid-90s we had less than 1,000 athletes in Sweden, but a lot has happened since then. In the 2016/17 season, we had more than 6,000 athletes licensed to compete in Sweden, across more than 50 member clubs throughout the country.”

“In the Nordic region as a whole, we have gained exposure as we grow as a sport. In our neighboring countries, the sport is often shown on television, and many of our competitions are streamed live.”

Alison Tinsley, head coach for Team Denmark in 2015, believes the Scandinavian teams are now giving leaders in the US a run for their money.

“One of the biggest challenges I faced when I started coaching in Scandinavia was pushing the athletes to have more of a competitive drive,” she says.

“In the US, teams are bold with their performances and athletes actually challenge their own teammates for who competes front and center.”

“This kind of mentality has been hard to bring out in Scandinavian teams. Most athletes in Scandinavia have a more modest approach – and that’s hard when you’re competing against Americans.”

Tinsley launched World Cheer Exchange to provide cheerleaders and coaches access to an exchange program that allows European athletes the chance to train with American teams and vice versa.

The Michigan-based expert notes that the team mentality within the Scandinavian culture could well be key to the region’s chances of success in Orlando.

“One thing that’s interesting about Scandinavian culture is their drive to work together as a team. When I was coaching Team Denmark, I spoke with a motivational speaker on how Danish schools focus on training students to work together as a team and that everyone has something to contribute,” Tinsley explains.

“We were able to use that skill to our advantage with the national team because although athletes were from different cities and teams, they had been learning about how to collaborate from an early age. Their strength is working together.”

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Last edited: March 28, 2018


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