Cheerleading: How hard can it be?

City, University of London’s cheerleading team has seen its fair share of accolades over the years. Team captain Madeline Smith talks to Ayushman Basu about what occurs behind the scenes, dealing with team morale and how cheerleading is still a sport stigmatised by society.

Pom poms, spectacular jumps and tumbles are what spring to mind when one thinks of cheerleading. While many consider it a side spectacle to the ‘real’ sports happening on the field, the spectacular routines are in fact the culmination of hours of training and a dedication towards slamming that Arabesque to perfection.

City, University of London’s cheerleading team Central City Allstars have shown a sense of commitment and diligence which has won them numerous honours.

City Allstars captain Madeline Smith had previous experience in gymnastics and dance which gave her the impression that cheerleading might be easy. She was in for a reality check.

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“I have done a bit of gymnastics and dance before, so I thought: ‘how hard can it be?’” she says, before pausing for dramatic effect. “Actually, it is quite hard.”

Smith says her team are put through rigorous training.

“A standard cheerleading routine is built up with different sections. There are jumps and tumbles which is basically like gymnastics. There’s dance. And then there is stunting, where three people lift someone up and the other person is in the air.”

“Along with that, there is singing. And being sassy,” she adds.

Captain Madeline Smith says being sassy is essential
Captain Madeline Smith says being sassy is essential

Good team morale and confidence are integral to winning competitions. But, as with any sport, there are always hurdles.

“Someone often gets injured during warm-ups. It’s been happening for a couple of years. Warm-ups are vital for the psyche, for our performance on stage,” Smith says.

“If someone gets injured then everyone sort of freaks out a bit.”

At a recent tournament in Telford, the City Allstars suffered a setback when a one of the girls was injured, throwing the rest of the team off.

“We didn’t win. It was tough because the injury was at the back of everyone’s mind throughout the routine.”

Cheerleading has struggled to escape the traditional hyper-gendered image it acquired in its development in the US. Many see it as a female supporters providing morale-boosting support for the sportsmen.

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“I definitely consider cheerleading a sport. It’s not in the Olympics, but its inclusion is now under consideration,” says Smith.

“Gymnastics is a sport. Cheerleading has gymnastics, weightlifting and stunts. So how can that not be a sport too?”

Smith herself has experienced the social stigma which is associated with cheerleading. “The moment I tell anyone I do cheerleading, I specify it as competitive cheerleading,” she says.

“I know the first thing which might come into some people’s minds. ‘Oh you just stand at the side of the pitch with pom poms supporting other people!’

She ends on a confident note: “NO! We compete for ourselves and in our own competitions.”