Since the day I decided to become a cheerleader, I’ve been told that cheerleading isn’t a sport. “It has no ball.” “There’s no physical contact.” “Anyone can yell on the sidelines.” We, as cheerleaders have heard it all…seriously. So, I began to think… Maybe, just maybe, cheerleading isn’t a sport. In fact, I think it’s much more than that. It’s taught me a number of lessons that I wouldn’t have learned if I’d been in a “real” sport.
Cheerleading has taught me how to trust. It’s not like other sports where as if you do your job, then you’re good. You have to trust your teammates. Like ‘em or not, you have to trust them while they throw you into the air. You have to become one with them—put all things aside, and trust them. Believe that your bases will get you in the air; your backspot will hold your ankle so you can pull a crazy stunt, and all of them bring you down safely so you can hit the crowd. You have to trust that the person going two counts before your tumbling pass goes on the right count. And the person that goes two counts after you, as well. Otherwise, there’d be a big pile of cheerleaders in the middle of the mat.
I’ve learned through cheerleading that good things aren’t just handed to you. If you want to be the most flexible girl in your gym, you have to sit in the splits all day long. Want a crazy tumbling pass? You better believe your going to eat mat, have carpet burns, and maybe even break a few bones. You want your stunt group to be front and center? You’re going to be working extra hours after practice making sure that your flyer feels stable, and not practicing until you get it right, but until you can’t get it wrong. If it’s not worth working for, everyone else can probably do the same thing that you can do. In cheerleading, you have to work for what you want. It’s not like basketball, where you can just keep shooting the same shot until you have it down. Or in soccer where you dribble the ball all the way down the field and shoot into the goal. In cheerleading, you live for the two minutes and thirty seconds that you have on the mat in front of the judges. How much effort, how hard, and how often you work and put into practice shows up in those two and a half minutes, and in those two and a half minutes only.
Conquering my fears is another skill I developed in cheerleading. There is no room for the elite in cheerleading. Go ahead, ask any cheerleader about the time they threw their first standing backhandspring by themselves. I guarantee that they were filled with nothing but fear. But there came a time when the amount of desire overcame all those feelings of fear. How far you go in cheerleading stands upon one question; how bad do you want it? If you want it bad enough, you’ll forget about all the risks, and just do it.
Cheerleading taught me to inhale criticism, use it as a benefit to learn from it, and exhale excellence. When the coach is screaming at you to do something, it’s because he wants it. He wants what you want, but he knows how to get you there. When the captain makes you do pushups for going on the wrong count, it’s so that you won’t do it again. Cheerleading taught me to honor my authorities and show respect to them. Chances are, they’ve been through the same thing you’re going through, and their just trying to help keep you safe, make you look better, or aid the team.
I’ve learned how to set achievable goals, while still reaching for the stars. I hope to one day be doing double back tucks, but I must first master my cartwheel. It’s taught me to do everything I do to the best of my ability to not only benefit myself, but my entire team.
It’s shown me how to have pride, but not too much. It’s fun to be the best, but it’s more fun helping others get what they want, too. Teaching someone how to do a backhandspring (or anything for that matter) is filled with emotion. They start by being scared, being mad at you for critiquing them, and being sad, stressed, and depressed because they can’t do the skill yet. Then one day, they just do it. The joy is written all over their face! How great that is to see.
Most importantly, it’s taught me how to love. Things won’t always be going great. Practicing when it’s 100+ degrees outside, better believe there’s going to be some bad attitudes. Morning practices; no one will want to be there. Practicing when you can see your breath is no fun. New things come out, and you have to be better. You have to strive for this love-hate relationship of cheerleading. You can’t stand your teammates whenever they skip practice. You hate when you’ve pulled a muscle and have to sit out. You hate when one person makes a simple mistake, and the coach conditions you for the rest of the practice. You don’t like waking up in the mornings not being able to get out of bed because you’re so sore. But you love hitting new stunts. You love the feeling after you just got a new tumbling skill. You love the way your jumps are looking. You love competing. You love all the inside jokes you make with the teammates that you love even more. You learn that no matter what happens, you’re still always going to love cheerleading.
So, to all of you who have gotten under my skin, I apologize because you’re right; cheerleading isn’t a sport. The purpose of this was not to say that other sports aren’t “real” sports. No, it was to prove that cheerleading is not a sport. It’s much more than that. It’s a passion. It’s a lesson. It’s a lifestyle. In conclusion, if I get to do what I love, and learn all of these lessons along the way in exchange for not being an athlete and not being in a real sport, I’ll take it.
– Mandi-Kay Bryant