Should I Join a Cheerleading Team? Why It’s More Than Just a Sport

Thinking about joining your university cheerleading team? All your questions will be answered, right here…

A group of cheerleaders celebrating their win in the competition
Me with the hip-hop team after we came first place during my final year

University cheer in the UK is growing, and it’s pretty clear why. Not only is it a way to keep fit and make new friends at uni, it’s also an inclusive and exciting sport to become part of.

If you’re looking for something to really shake up and add to your uni experience, cheer really is the best extra-curricular activity for the job. It will challenge you to try something you’ve never done before, whilst giving you something to teach you dedication, commitment, trust, and loyalty.

Friends will be made, good times will be had, and it’ll most likely define your uni experience. So, if you want to learn more about what to expect from uni cheer, and hear your questions answered by some ex-cheerleaders, read on…

What is Cheerleading?

Cheerleading has a pretty all-American reputation of preppy girls cheering for the American Football team. Well, let me stop you right there and tell you to leave these ideas at the door. If you want to get fitter, challenge yourself, and take part in exciting and life-changing experiences that don’t involve chanting, keep reading!

Cheerleading is a competitive sport which requires a range of skills, including stunting, jumping, dancing, and tumbling, performed in a range of sequences. The routines are carefully curated to match up with a point-scoring system at competitions, where cheer teams compete against one another to win. No chants or pom-poms involved!

This is a sport in it’s own right, and is dangerous, thrilling, and extremely skilled in every way.

This is a stunt group of cheerleaders holding their flyer
Myself and my stunt group during my final year

The Different Types of Cheerleading

When you head to cheer competitions, there will be a huge array of performances happening before your very eyes. These aren’t limited to just large cheer routines, and include:

The Main Cheer Team

The main element of university cheer will be focused around the larger teams. These range from small to large, and from level 1 upwards. The teams usually contain around 25 people on average, making up between five and six stunt groups per team.

These routines will include a mish-mash of dancing, jumping, stunting, and tumbling in a carefully choreographed order. The whole team gets involved in every part, and it’s a routine of around 2.5 minutes.

Group Stunt

Another element of the competitions are the group stunt routines. These range across all the levels, and include one stunt group of four or five people performing a sequence of stunts in a row. These routines usually last between one and two minutes long.

Dance

At the competitions, there will also be a dance category, where hip-hop and jazz teams battle it out to be the winners. The Cardiff Snakecharmers hip-hop team has had real success in this, placing most years, and winning many years too!

Now, they’ve branched out with a Jazz team too, so this is great for anyone who loves to dance, but isn’t so sure about the cheer side of things. In fact, you don’t even have to be a cheerleader to be part of the dance teams.

What is a Cheerleading Stunt Group?

One of the skills a cheerleader will learn when they join a university team is to stunt. This is probably the most important element of an entire routine, and involves the team splitting off, and forming smaller groups on the mat. Every stunt group will include between four to five people who each take on a key role:

  • Flyer: this is the person who is lifted into the air by the rest of the team. They will usually be petite, and need to be smiley, flexible, confident, and strong in the core.
  • The Bases: the bases are the ones who hold the flyer’s feet. They push the flyer into the air, and manoeuvre their feet to create different shapes. The bases need to be strong and resilient, and be ready to catch the flyer if she falls, without question.
  • Back: the back stands behind the stunt, and drives the stunt up from the bottom whilst supporting the flyer from behind. They need to be the tallest in the stunt group so that they can observe what’s going on, and counteract any mistakes quickly.
  • Front: the front stands at the front of the stunt, and is there to support and observe the stunt, in a similar way to the back. One of their main goals is to provide shouts of support to steady each member of the stunt group, mentally and physically, whilst steadying the stunt as much as possible.
A stunt group of cheerleaders standing in a V shape
Me and my group stunt team in my penultimate uni year

What Are the Requirements to be on a University Cheerleading Team?

You’ll probably arrive at uni with many misconceptions about what it takes to join a cheerleading squad. Of course, there are some requirements to join uni cheer, but most of these revolve around being able to count to eight and having a positive mindset. So, I hope these myth-busters stop you in your tracks before you get into your own head about it…

Misconception 1: Boys Can’t Cheer

Firstly, you might be thinking, “I’m a boy, so I’m instantly out of the picture”. WRONG!

Cheerleading is a sport for anyone, as there are all-girl and mixed teams across the cheerleading cohort. Cardiff Snakecharmers has always had a Level 2 All-Girl team and a Level 3 Mixed team, and then later changed the Level 2 team to a mixed team too when we took on more boys.

Any cheer team would welcome boys along. They’re usually pretty fearless when it comes to tumbles, and are also super strong and tall, so make great backs!

Misconception 2: I Can’t Stunt, Tumble, or Dance, so I Can’t Join

One of the main things I hear from people across the university campus is, “I wish I’d joined cheer, but I can’t do any of that cool stuff you do!” When I hear this, I die a little inside, thinking that their university experience may have been made that little bit brighter if they’d just believed in themselves a little more.

The truth is, you don’t need to be trained in any of those things to get on the team! Cheerleading is performed at a range of levels, and there is so much going on in any given routine that you don’t need to be perfect at everything. Our team made many reservations for different people based on their abilities, including:

  • Those who couldn’t tumble would stunt at the back of the mat during the tumbles section. However, you may have the opportunity to learn tumbles whilst you’re training, so you may even learn a new skill!
  • Those who couldn’t dance or jump very well would be placed at the back of the mat for those parts of the routine.
  • Those who have never stunted before will be taught how to do this. Most people who join uni cheer will have never stunted before (I certainly hadn’t before uni, and learnt to be great at it), so you won’t be alone.

When you arrive at tryouts, you may feel as though you’re the only one without a clue. Trust me, you will be amongst hundreds of girls who have never cheered in their lives either. As long as you come with a can-do attitude, and perform your little but off, you’ll stand a real chance of getting on the team.

A group of cheerleaders posing for a picture after their competition
Me with the Level 3 Mixed cheer team, Venom, after we performed at comp

Cheer Training During Uni

One of your biggest questions will be about the training sessions. After all, you’re heading to uni to get your degree, above anything else, so how will cheer effect this?

I won’t lie to you; cheerleading can become all-consuming. You will make your friends there, and you’ll head to socials most weeks with these people. You may even end up living with cheerleaders some years too (I know we did!).

Then, between lectures, you’ll be training non-stop. Our training schedule usually looked like this:

  • Monday: dance in the evening.
  • Tuesday: group stunt in the evening.
  • Wednesday: Level 2 and Level 3 training one after the other in the afternoon.
  • Thursday: Level 2 and Level 3 training one after the other in the evening.

This means, if you end up committing to more than one team, you’ll have a hectic week. Most years, I did dance and team, but one year I did group stunt too, and that was a strain; training four days a week.

Then, on the build up to competitions, you’ll probably have a training session on the Friday, and competitions all weekend, so it will be madness! But, almost everyone I know on cheer came out with First Class degrees, so it’s possible to do it all.

University Cheerleading Competitions

Cheerleading competitions occur seasonally. In the UK, they usually occur in around February/March time, so you’ve had those first months of uni to choreograph and polish your routines.

There are loads of different competitions scheduled during these few months, so it’s really down to your leaders as to which ones you attend. At Cardiff, we headed to around two or three, and you’ll all go up by coach and stay overnight. You’ll be buzzing from dawn ’til dusk, and it’ll be one of the most exhilarating and draining experiences of your life, but it’ll be so worth it.

The Importance of Cheer Socials

One of the biggest elements of joining cheer at uni will be the socials. You will probably have a social at least once every two weeks, and they’ll usually be themed. Some of my favourite themes we did over the years were:

  • Under the sea
  • Space
  • Noah’s Ark
  • Cops and Robbers

What they didn’t really make clear to me in my first year was that these socials aren’t just for fun (although they are that), but they’re also a commitment. Uni sports teams are funded partly by the uni, but also rely heavily on sponsorship from local businesses and pubs. So, if you don’t head to socials at the pub that sponsor you, this can reflect badly on your team, and you may not receive your money.

So, be prepared for this element of it all; you will probably feel peer-pressured at points to go to these socials. However, I would encourage you to as much as you can, as this will be where people bond and become closer and closer as a team. It really is part of the fun of it all.

3 women posing for a photo at night club dressed as mermaids
Me with my housemates dressed as mermaids in the student union nightclub

4 Ex-Cheerleaders Answer Some FAQs

The passion that cheerleaders have for their sport is clear in the way they talk about it. Myself and some of my ex-Cheerleading buddies have, therefore, answered some questions for you to try and encourage you to give it a go. By hearing us give our thoughts and feelings about how cheer changed our lives (and I’m not exaggerating), maybe you’ll try it out…

What made you join cheer to begin with?

Eden: I’d danced my whole life and wanted to carry on performing and being active, but I got added to a freshers group chat of people interested and that really sold it because we all encouraged each other to try out.

Naomi: I had done gymnastics for years before uni, and wanted to carry it on. I saw promotional videos for the cheer team and just thought it looked like so much fun!

Grace: I cheered before uni, so wanted to join the club to carry it on. I also had a dance and performing arts background and thought it would be a good way to meet new people and stay fit!

Joanna: I’ve always had a performance background, and didn’t really fancy doing just dance. I wanted something which would tick all the boxes, including general performance, and cheer seemed to do just that!

What did you think of the tryout process?

Eden: I remember feeling really welcome, as members of the committee came and spoke to me and were so encouraging at all of the trial sessions. That said, I was still super nervous in the actual try-outs. Although, once I’d done it I realised it’s not that bad and you don’t have to be good at all the difference sections of cheer.

Naomi: So much less daunting than I’d imagined! We had sessions where they taught us the tryout routine as a big group, and I started to make friends here which made me feel more at ease. The committee and vets were so helpful and reassuring and I didn’t feel judged at all.

Grace: I’d say tryouts are fine – nice and chilled. Just make sure you get chance to show what you can do and don’t be afraid to ask for help.

Joanna: I’d been saying I wanted to join cheer for months before I headed to Cardiff, but when the day came to tryout no one I knew would come with me, and I almost didn’t go. Thanks to my mum, who talked me into it, I headed there on my own and boy am I glad I did. It was super chilled, and everyone was in the same boat, so that really helped. It was a week of nerves, for sure, as we had to learn a couple of routines and then come back in smaller groups to perform them, but it was so worth it.

2 cheerleaders getting ready for their Varsity performance
Me and my bestie getting ready to perform at the Welsh Varsity, at the Principality Stadium!

What is the biggest misconception of cheer that you learnt wasn’t true whilst participating?

Eden: It’s not all pom poms and chanting for other sports teams. The amount of family conversations when they say, “show us your pom poms”, or “so who do you cheer for” is awful. We don’t have pom poms and we cheer competitively as a team against other universities.

Naomi: That things would be bitchy/gossipy because we were mostly made up of girls. This is completely untrue; I have never met a more supportive group of people. We all loved and respected each other.

Grace: That it’s super bitchy. For the most part, it isn’t at all. Everyone is there to enjoy and make friends! Most people are really nice, and comp is so much fun especially staying over at the hotels with all your pals.

Joanna: Once people get past the misconceptions of it being chanty and preppy, and they realise that it’s actually a sport, one of the biggest misconceptions people have is that if you’re not a flyer, what are you doing? Because the flyer is obviously doing all the cool stuff in the air, people forget that there are sportsmen and women putting them there! Every part of the stunt group is integral to getting the stunt up and in the air. Don’t be fooled that it looks effortless; we have put blood, sweat and tears (literally) into perfecting these stunts, and diminishing the bases/backs/fronts in this way can be really awful for us.

Did you struggle with maintaining uni work whilst dedicating a lot of time to cheerleading?

Eden: It does take up time, but it’s so worth it. Being on a low contact hours degree course I was more than able to keep up. Attendance is super important, so if uni work was getting busy I’d skip the social aspect of cheer but always still attend practice as I never wanted to let anyone else on team down.

Naomi: I didn’t, but I think because we always had training and socials on a Wednesday, I wrote Wednesdays off as not being a productive day since first year (after lectures of course!), and planned my week around that.

Grace: Kind of, but I’m just a hectic kind of person, so used to be finishing off essays at cheer in between full outs! But, it’s a great way to break up uni work, especially if you’re stressed. I’d say I studied one of the heavier courses at uni, work load wise, and I still managed to balance cheer and uni work fine. So, I wouldn’t let that stop anyone thinking of joining! You can definitely make it work, you just need to be prepared that Wednesdays are for cheer and the lash (AKA the student union nightclub).

Joanna: I won’t deny that it was sometimes tricky, especially in my penultimate year when I trained on all four days, and my final year where I was doing it alongside uni work and three writing jobs. But, if you stay organised, and plan in time for training and socials, it’s completely possible. We all did it, and came out of uni with an amazing degree alongside it.

What was your favourite part of doing cheerleading at uni?

Eden: Friends, friends and more friends. You form tight relationships when you’re literally throwing and catching each other.

Naomi: My favourite part was Varsity 2019. Performing in the Principality stadium with my best friends knowing it was the last time we would cheer together was just amazing feeling, and the whole crowd cheering us on in this huge stadium was a feeling I’ll never forget!

Grace: The friends, 100%. You will make the best friends on cheer, and performing together is so much fun! My highlight was definitely varsity 2019, performing in the principality stadium, and also living with all of my cheer girls. Best day/year ever, woo!

Joanna: So many things! The challenge it gave me, and the sense of accomplishment on succeeding, was second-to-none. That feeling when you nail a stunt, or come off the mat after the competition and just feel completely energised and excited was immense. Not to mention the friendships made were also very important, but if I had to pick one day it’d be Varsity 2019; that was one of the highlights of my life, full-stop.

What was the biggest challenge you had to overcome throughout your time on cheer?

Eden: Being part of cheer committee was hard. Taking a position of leadership over my peers was challenging because I didn’t want to enforce rules or be negative when they didn’t meet the expectations I had for the team.

Naomi: When I first started uni, I was extremely anxious, especially socially, and it took me a while to come out of my shell. I remember getting upset at training and at socials a lot in first year, but the support I had from my team mates was incredible. Without them, I don’t know that I would have become the person I am now.

Grace: Probably having a long term injury that stopped me being able to train. That was really hard and upsetting to deal with, as it was so frustrating having to sit at practice and just watch everyone else training. It was a very long and drawn-out process, and I thought at one point I wasn’t going to be able to cheer anymore. I had to learn to be patient and eventually was back to training, but the recovery took around a year all together so it was a long process of getting back into it slowly. I’m so glad I didn’t quit!

Joanna: My fitness isn’t the best, and my asthma did play up, especially when we did full-outs; that was really tough, because I got very anxious before full-outs due to the fear of losing my breath. Generally, stunting with an injury was really hard. I was injured numerous times, and ended up with repetitive strain in my wrist, so had to use a support for the last two years. It was gruelling, at times, but I wouldn’t have changed it for the world.

What was the biggest lesson you took away from cheerleading?

Eden: Super cheesy, but try anything new. I pushed myself to do a new sport and then pushed myself to be on committee, and pushed myself to choreograph a hip-hop routine which is a style I’d not trained in. Every little bit I tried I loved, so my lesson is “just give it a go”.

Naomi: Believe in yourself. I used to be one to always think I wasn’t good enough, but cheer helped to change that attitude!

Grace: You can do it. As long as you work hard and take improvements you will get certain skills and you will get better. When I first started as a base I would never have imagined I’d become a flyer on venom! Confidence and attitude is pretty much 90% of improving at cheer.

Joanna: You are capable of anything you put your mind to. Yes it might hurt, mentally and physically, but you are stronger than you know. Be prepared to put in the effort, of course, because nothing will come to you on a plate, but you will be rewarded if you do.

What was the greatest thing cheer gave to you?

Eden: Repeating myself, but 100% friends.

Naomi: My friends, 100%! At cheer I finally felt like I’d found people who were just like me, and we seemed to just click.

Grace: The best friends for life and countless memories that still make me cry with laughter. The most fun and supportive group of people that I know I can always count on!

Joanna: Definitely repeating everything they’ve said above, but life-long friendships. I really didn’t click with my flatmates in first year, and ended up going through a pretty low point during that year. The one thing that actually kept me going in that first year was cheer and the friends I’d made. I probably wouldn’t have returned to uni the next year if it weren’t for cheer, and I’m forever grateful for it.

Should I Tryout for Cheer at University?

The short answer… yes! Now that all your misconceptions are busted, and you’ve heard how life-changing cheerleading can be, I’m sure you’ll want to give it a go.

Have you ever been part of a cheer team and want to provide your own thoughts on the subject? Or, perhaps you’re thinking about joining a cheer team at uni and this has helped you decide? Whatever it may be, leave a comment down below, and let me know your thoughts. I hope you have found this useful, inspiring, and thought-provoking.

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