A lot of elements go into successfully hitting the mat to compete. Cheerleaders must rock facial expressions and wild makeup, be comfortable performing in front of an audience, and participate in dancing, tumbling, and jumping. 

Now, anyone can become a competition cheerleader. It’s a lot of work and practice, but with the right attitude and willingness to learn, it’s not an unreachable dream. In fact, there are only four rules that are absolutely crucial to becoming a competition or All Star cheerleader.

1. Hone your skills, but remember you have options.


Competitive cheerleading is made up of five parts: cheering, dancing, jumping, tumbling, and stunting. Having some skill in each category is ideal, but every cheerleader has different strengths. Talk to your captain or coach if there’s a skill you like best or that you do well; nobody will deny a girl who can’t get enough front walkovers or devotes herself to throwing the highest basket she can. Similarly, if there’s an element you struggle with or dislike, you can talk to coaches or captains about either more practice to improve that skill or a compromise with your role in the routine (for example, volunteering to tumble more in place of stunting, or asking to be put closer to the back during the jump sequence). Taking initiative is just as much a part of competitive cheer as tackling these skills.


2. Teamwork leads to success.

It’s called a “squad” for a reason! Your team may have standout tumblers or flyers, but make no mistake that this is a team sport. Everyone’s voices must come together for your cheer to move the spectators to their feet. Dances are choreographed to have motion and excitement, lots of different elements for the crowd to enjoy. Tumbling in the front, jumps in the middle, and stunts in the back literally make for levels of greatness that a single person can’t achieve. Stunting, one of the fundamental elements of competitive cheer, cannot be accomplished without multiple cheerleaders.


3. Simple and clean beats complex and messy.


Start with the basics and work your way up. If you come into competitive cheerleading trying to do more complex techniques, you’ll end up frustrating yourself. Before you can launch into twisting out of a scorpion, master a simple pop out of a half stunt. Once you have basic skills down as a foundation, you can build up to more complicated moves. Faster, more convoluted routines require lots of practice to ensure that everything hits, and a simpler routine may beat it with cleanness and precision. There is no shame in competing at your own pace and level and building your reputation as well as your skills.


4. Practice and commitment are key.

Competitive cheerleading is a full-time commitment, just like any other sport. Be sure when you join a squad that you have the time and focus for practicing three to five times a week, including cheering at games and taking part in school spirit events and activities. Go over routines at home to bolster your confidence in performing. Take advantage of open gym nights for tumbling, or, if the weather allows, practice outside. Safety first: Never practice stunts or high-level tumbling (i.e., standing tucks, layouts) without a coach’s supervision. Cheering is lots of fun, but it’s also lots of work. If you attend practice regularly and put your full effort in, it will show on the mat.


The most important priorities of competitive cheer are health and happiness. Be sure to stretch before and after every practice and start slow and small, building your way up into tougher elements. Drink plenty of water and take breaks; don’t be afraid to speak up if you need to stop, or if you feel any pain or discomfort. There is no guaranteeing how your squad or others will perform or what judges will prioritize at competitions, so focus on doing the best job you can with your team and have as much fun as possible together.