Cheerleading is an activity that has only recently been generally acknowledged as a bona fide sport. The evolution of cheerleading from a supporting player at university and North American professional sports contests, to an organized and structured competitive event is one of the more interesting athletic progressions in the post World War II period.

The origins of cheerleading are defined by its name. In the early 1880s, the male supporters of the Princeton University football team began to organize yells, coordinated chants, and cheers led by a smaller group of students: the famous cheer "sis boom rah" originated at this time. This strictly vocal form of encouragement spread to other American institutions, and by the 1920s, cheerleaders were an established fixture at football games. The first female cheerleaders began to appear in the late 1920s, and by the 1950s, cheerleading began to incorporate tumbling and acrobatic routines.

In the 1970s, cheerleading had two distinct aspects. The Dallas Cowboy cheerleaders of the National Football League (NFL) franchise became international celebrities for their sexuality and physical appeal; the Dallas cheerleaders did not perform any of the traditional movements of the university-styled cheerleaders. The second branch of cheerleading was an extension of the old fashioned precision tumbling and coordinated movements of the university-style cheerleaders. From

Competitive cheer teams exist at thousands of high schools, colleges, universities, and competitive clubs throughout North America.
this second type, cheerleading became a recognized competitive sport by the late 1990s.

Cheerleading is one American invention in sport that has not yet found widespread appeal in other parts of the world. There are over 25 countries that have a national cheerleading organization, particularly in Europe, where the activity is to a significant extent connected to the teams of NFL Europe. European cheerleading, unlike the American, is not connected to a high school or university, but is promoted through amateur community clubs.

Contemporary cheerleading, labeled in some circles as the spirit sports and cheer team, has a number of subdivisions. Cheerleading consists of the activities at American sporting events, and also freestanding competitions. The two major forms of the cheerleading are cheerleading and dance team. There are overlaps between these two activities; it is also now common to see a cheerleading squad with two distinct components, dance and cheer team.

Competitive cheer teams exist at thousands of high schools, colleges, universities, and competitive clubs throughout North America. Cheer team routines include male and female participants, a broad combination of the principles of gymnastics, with single person tumbling, acrobatics, multi-person human pyramids, throws, and other precision movements, combined with dance routines choreographed to music. At a sporting event, the athleticism and precision of the cheerleaders are intended to add spirit and enthusiasm to the game. In competitive cheer team, judges score the efforts of the team on a system similar to other subjective sports, such as gymnastics, synchronized swimming, or diving.

Cheerleading, for all of the music and the generally perky, upbeat attitude of the participants, is a physically demanding activity. Cheerleading engages all of the fundamental components of fitness, strength, endurance, flexibility, and speed, all at a reasonably high level. A cheerleader must build significant stamina to support both practices and competitive events, some of which may exceed two hours in duration. Running, cardio machines, and any aerobic sport are a good cardiovascular fitness foundation to a cheerleading season.

Strength, both as a component of power and in terms of muscular endurance, is also of significance to the cheerleader. In movements where members of the team will either be supported by their teammates in a structure or thrown, individual cheerleaders are designated either as a base, a support person, or a flyer, those people on the top of the structure or those tossed in the routine. As with any gymnastics-related activity, the development of core strength, as centered in the abdominal, gluteal, and lumbar muscles, is essential. The cheerleaders responsible for throwing teammates either into the air, where they are caught before landing, or those occupying the base of the human pyramids, will seek to develop optimal strength in their arms, shoulder muscles, and quadriceps to execute these maneuvers.

Stretching and flexibility are also crucial to cheerleading success. The bodies of these athletes are subjected to significant flexion/extension movements in a number of joints, as well as being subjected to forces from running, tumbling, and landing repeatedly. Training programs such as yoga and Pilates are highly recommended for competitive cheerleaders.

SEE ALSO Calisthenics; Cheerleading injuries; Gymnastics; Stretching and flexibility.