Let’s start out by saying I never, not one single day in my life, have been a cheerleader. If someone had told me when I was a teenager I would be working in the cheer industry, I would have laughed. Me?!? A cheerleader? I do not think so! Like many other people, I had let cheerleading stereotypes cloud my judgment on what the sport is really all about. I played competitive soccer my entire life. Between my sister and I, every weekend was dedicated to traveling countless hours away to compete in games and tournaments. I had won competitions, lost competitions, and sometimes, we did not even make it past the first round. Competitions are insane no matter what sport you play, but cheerleading competitions are in an entirely different league of its own.

I have been to a lot of competitions, but nothing as intense as a cheerleading competition. As an outsider, nothing can prepare you for the sheer magnitude of these events! There are so many teams traveling from all over the country to compete. From the moment you walk through the door, cheerleaders are everywhere in complete uniform, full hair, and makeup. These cheerleaders look fierce, and are ready to compete. Don’t let that glitter fool you–it is shiny war paint! You can really see the difference between veteran teams verses the new teams: wide-eyed new teams seem lost in their excitement, but veteran cheerleaders walk in with confidence, knowing the ropes, and hoping that may give them the competitive edge they have been training for. As an outsider myself, it is very intimidating walking into such a big event not knowing where to go, or what to expect.

As the competition started, I quickly realized everything I thought I knew about cheerleading was wrong. This is not your mother’s pom-pom team. These are dancers mixed with world-class gymnasts. The excitement is contagious: I never thought cheering on cheerleaders would be so much fun and enjoyable. The most shocking part of competitions is that these teams are 100% at the whim of a judge. That was a hard concept for me to understand, as someone who played sports; you score a goal, you get points. There is not a lot of interference from referee, or a judge. If a judge blinks at the wrong time and misses a stunt, points can be the difference between placing and not placing. Most sports–even baseball–are starting to use instant replay technology more and more. In this sense, the system of judging, in my mind, is a bit flawed and possibly outdated. I witnessed murmurs and rumblings amongst the crowd about judges and scoring, but not enough to ruin the excitement of the event.

There is one thing that translates to all sporting competitions: there is pressure, and it is stressful. For me, the butterflies were lingering in my stomach until the game started. I could not imagine having a call time that could be delayed for over two hours! That means you are sitting backstage practicing, stretching and stressing out with anticipation for two plus hours before you can perform! Then, having to wait until the very end of the day to know if and where you placed… These teams have to be absolutely perfect for two and a half minutes–TWO AND A HALF MINUTES! That is it! Two and a half minutes will make or break your chances of placing. I could not even imagine that kind of pressure. There is no overtime, no tiebreaker; those two and a half minutes of perfect performance are left in hands of judges. That is utterly mind-blowing to me. I constantly found myself saying, “there has to be a better way of judging and scoring these teams...”

One thing that really amazed me was the amount of sportsmanship. Cheerleading is a community, and cheerleaders really embrace each other. There are some teams that had some bad apples and attitudes, but that is to be expected within any group. For the vast majority at the event, and for everyone that I encountered, there was a sense of shared excitement and enthusiasm. From someone who could not imagine being within the cheerleading industry, who has now has worked within the community for almost 10 years, I can tell you that cheerleading is so welcoming. Competition season can be very competitive, but I have never felt so much camaraderie, teamwork, and sportsmanship than I did at that cheerleading competition. As someone coming to their first competition as an outsider, I left feeling that the cheerleading community had welcomed me in with open arms in a glitter-tastic embrace!

Did you just experience your first competition? What were your thoughts on the industry? Let us know in the comments!