Cheerleading is a sport that focuses on enthusiasm, spirit, dance, and gymnastics ability. Originating in the United States as a way to show school spirit at collegiate football games, the sport has developed into a much more competitive version that allows cheerleaders to participate in high-level competitions.
Cheerleading allows for athletic participation at different levels. With the existence of major tournaments and world championships, the sport has an international governing body (the International Cheer Union) and national governing bodies around the world.
There are four main types of cheerleaders, each engaging in the sport in different ways. A recreation cheerleader typically only cheers for recreational events in a beginner-skills fashion. Scholastic cheerleaders cheer for their school's other sports teams, mainly football and basketball. Allstar cheerleaders cheer for the gym they train in, with a special focus on the gymnastics element. Pro cheerleaders participate in the sport as a job and have a greater emphasis on dance skills and personality type.
In cheerleading competitions, the squad will perform a routine that is set to music and lasts a specified amount of time, typically under three minutes. A panel of judges will score their routine based on the skills demonstrated and the difficulty of the stunts performed. Many awards are given at each competition, including best routine, best teamwork, outstanding individual, and outstanding leadership, among others.
Because of the intensity and difficulty of routines, including aerial tosses and gymnastics stunts, squads perform atop carpeted-foam mats that help prevent serious injuries. Cheerleaders wear matching uniforms, women wearing skirts and men wearing pants, which can contribute to their score.
In more academic or recreational settings, cheerleaders are not focused on the competitive aspect of the sport, but the spirit and enthusiasm necessary for cheering on their team. This type of cheerleading typically includes the use of pom-poms, megaphones, and repetitive cheers as a form of additional entertainment and team spirit.