Cheerleading gets a bad rap. Cheerleaders are often portrayed as cliquey gossipers rather than serious athletes. But anyone who has ever tried cheerleading knows that couch potatoes need not apply. Cheerleading is a challenging sport that requires athleticism, strength, flexibility, coordination, and dedication. In addition to its physical advantages, cheerleading is also a social, team-based activity that can help improve kids' self-confidence and leadership skills. Consider the following benefits to help you decide if cheerleading is right for your child.

Cardiovascular Endurance
Though you might think that cheerleaders are just there for moral support while the "real" athletes perform on the field, nothing could be further from the truth. The tumbling, dancing, stunts, and jumps that comprise a typical cheering routine require stamina and endurance. While the routines themselves are generally only a few minutes long, repeatedly practicing the moves adds up to an effective cardio workout. Cheerleading usually requires several hours of practice each week--especially for competitive squads. College-level cheerleading programs often include strength training as an additional component of practice.

Strength Building
Good cheerleaders make it look easy, but doing it right requires physical strength that builds muscles in the lower body, shoulders, and core. Certain positions on the squad--such as "bases" and "backspots"--must be able to lift and support the bottom of a stunt or "pyramid" sequence. This entails incredible strength, focus, and balance to support the weight of other teammates and ensure their safety. "Flyers" need strength to lift their bodies into the air with the support of the bases and to keep their balance while performing the stunt.

Flexibility
Stretching exercises during cheerleading practice help increase flexibility. Part of cheering involves high kicks, jumps, stunts, and sometimes splits, all of which require flexible muscles.

Balance and Coordination
Timing and rhythm are crucial for effective cheerleading. Practicing the sport helps kids improve their body control, concentration, and balance as they coordinate their moves to a beat.

Team Building
Like all team sports, cheerleading offers more than physical benefits. Sports can help teach kids essential life skills, including teamwork, discipline, and communication. Squad members must rely on each other for the effectiveness of routines, as well as ensuring each other's safety during difficult moves. If competition against other squads is involved, it becomes even more important to work together as a unified front.

Leadership
Cheerleading provides opportunities for motivated kids to learn leadership skills. Even those who don't aspire to becoming head cheerleader can benefit by taking the opportunity to demonstrate leadership by:

  • Offering constructive advice to help teammates improve skills
  • Setting a positive mood with their attitude
  • Exemplifying hard work and discipline in practice
  • Being receptive to trying new moves that the coach suggests

Confidence
Sports like cheerleading can help kids develop their self-confidence as well as their athleticism. Having a team to support and rely on can make kids feel more connected at school. Learning to master difficult moves, help teammates, and perform well at games and competitions can benefit the athletes who cheer, as well as the athletes they support on the field or court.