Cheer Debate: Is Cheerleading a Sport?

Every cheerleader gets fired up when someone tries to argue with them that cheerleading is not a sport. Whether it’s a football player in one of your classes, a teacher who talks down about cheerleading, or a friend who doesn’t understand why you’re not involved in something else “more athletic,” you want people to know that being a cheerleader does make you an athlete!

Usually people make negative comments about cheerleading because they know it gets under your skin, but some people truly believe cheerleading has zero athleticism behind it. So, what can you say to prove them wrong and in turn get a little respect? Remember the best argument is an educated one, so give them the facts!

The truth is, there really isn’t a solid definition of “official” sport. When necessary, the office of Civil Rights makes this determination on a case by case basis. The Women’s Sports Foundation has narrowed the field down of what is considered a sport to these elements that are commonly agreed upon to define a sport:

• It must be a physical activity which involves propelling a mass through space or overcoming the resistance of mass. (Stunting… check)!
• “Contesting” or competing against/with an opponent is required (Competition… check)!
• It must be governed by rules that explicitly define the time, space, and purpose of the contest and the conditions under which a winner is declared. (Time limit, mat size, score sheets… check, check, check)!
• Acknowledgement that the primary purpose of the competition is a comparison of the relative skills of the participants. (You know those competitions on ESPN? Those are national championships… check)!

So far, cheerleading is four for four! But there are still two more qualifications to meet for cheerleading to be considered a sport. The Women’s Sports Foundation makes it clear that “any physical activity in which relative performance can be judged or qualified can be developed into a competitive sport as long as:

1) The physical activity includes the above defined elements (got them!) and…
2) The primary purpose is competition verses other teams or individuals within a competition structure comparable to other ‘athletic’ activities.”

This is where your argument ends. Not because of any physical definition –as you can see cheerleading meets ALL of the athletic specifications, but because cheerleading’s primary purpose to support high school athletic teams, and competition comes second!

The best thing to do when you are in a “Is Cheerleading a Sport” debate is give them all the facts, Even people still don’t believe that cheerleading is not active enough to be considered a sport, at least you know better… and that’s all that matters!

Remember, winning an argument will not necessarily win you other’s respect. “If people don’t respect your program now, just throw the “sport” title around and see how much worse they think of you,” says Jim Lord, Executive Director of AACCA and former University of Kentucky cheerleader. “Respect is earned, and there are plenty of teams that get it by doing what they are supposed to do and by being good role models.”

For more information on the Cheerleading as a Sport argument, check out the AACCA (American Association of Cheerleading Coaches and Advisors) website,

Update:  The International Olympic Committee’s executive board voted on December 2016 to recognize cheerleading as a sport. The IOC’s recognition means that cheerleading’s governing body, the International Cheer Union, will receive at least $25,000 every year and have the opportunity to apply for additional grants. This period of recognition lasts for three years, and at any point during this time, IOC execs can vote to fully recognize the sport. At that point, the ICU can petition to be included in the Games. If the petition is approved, cheerleading officially becomes an Olympic sport!