Cheerleading and Tumbling, Coaching, Safety, Skill Development

Cheerleader and Tumbling


When I decided years ago to start my recreational tumbling program, I had no idea cheerleading had mushroomed beyond sideline cheerleading into a competition sport!  I came from a gymnastics background and didn’t realize the number of athletes involved in the sport of cheerleading was huge.  When the cheer programs and cheer parents in our community had heard that I started a tumbling program, my classes filled up quickly.  What I noticed immediately was that the majority of these athletes hadn’t been taught basic tumbling mechanics and technique.  It was then that I realized that I had something to offer that would benefit their skill development as athletes to not only be better, but safer tumblers.  In this discussion, I will share my thoughts on the importance of proper skill mechanics for the cheerleader.

I posted on this subject previously but wanted to elaborate on some progressions to consider when training the cheerleader in tumbling. The sport of cheerleading has had enormous growth throughout the world and continues to grow at a rapid pace. The number of athletes involved in cheerleading today is huge. Unfortunately too many of them are rushed to be part of a competition team and never receive proper instruction in tumbling technique.

In regard to tumbling, the sports of gymnastics and cheerleading share many parallel skill dynamics. In gymnastics, beginning students are immediately immersed in fundamental technique and proper mechanics as the initial step toward the development of basic tumbling skills.  This means the students are immediately learning about the different body positions and shapes that will be vital to the development of all tumbling skills. Why the focus on such detail?  Because these same beginning mechanics and technique will be the building blocks that will allow them to acquire more advanced tumbling skills down the road.

group lunge postition

To better understand why proper technique has such high priority in gymnastics vs. cheerleading, we simply need to look at the fundamental difference between their competition formats. Cheerleading is an all inclusive team sport where the team is evaluated based on performing in unison. So if an individual members skill technique is somewhat flawed it has little impact on the overall team score. In gymnastics, the athlete competes alone and is evaluated on the technical execution of each and every skill they perform throughout the routine. Talk about being under a microscope!

With that said, the required basic tumbling elements for both sports are essentially the same (The Technique Controversy). The real priority for us as coaches and instructors should be teaching proper technique not only to advance the athlete, but more importantly to minimize the risk of injury.

I have worked with many gymnasts and cheerleaders that have developed such bad habits in their tumbling skills that they have come to a dead-end and unable to move on to more advanced skills.  For most of the cheerleaders the result is due to the rush I mentioned earlier. In too many cases the athlete and/or the coach is in such a rush to get that one series of skills that proper technique is forfeited for the sake of time. In the end, this approach will prove to be detrimental to the athlete’s ability to build on their skill level.

The underlying concern in many cheer programs is that too many beginning tumbling instructors do not always have the inherited understanding of skill development progressions gained through years of exposure as a gymnast. They may be experts in stunting and cheer choreography, but may lack the basic technical understanding of tumbling skill progression. Teaching proper tumbling skill technique is very detailed and takes time.  Fully understanding tumbling skill mechanics and drill progressions takes years of experience, education, and in most cases actually doing.

Coaches conference
Coaches Training Conference

I highly suggest that cheer programs that do not have access to qualified tumbling instructors seek out gymnastic programs that offer tumbling for cheerleaders and set up a program for both athlete’s and instructors.

I have seen FB posts of video showing students performing a skill incorrectly with the coach asking for advice.  My initial reaction in many cases has been that they are not ready for that level of skill. Admittedly, in some cases, the safety of the student has been a concern. This is an example of the instructor not fully understanding the inherent risk associated in doing the skill improperly. In regard to the athlete, performing a skill poorly is an obvious sign that they do not have an understanding of the mechanics involved in the skill. This lack of understanding can and will result in a fear of the skill possibly to the point of a mental block, and that may very well keep them from ever owning the skill.

As I said earlier in this article, the real priority for us as coaches and instructors should be teaching proper technique not only to advance the athlete, but more importantly to minimize the risk of injury.

There are many cheerleading programs out there that do have a strong and structured tumbling program within their system.  All cheer programs should develop these systems for the positive development and safety of their athletes.  There are many resources that can be found to assist these gyms in developing a strong tumbling program.  I have worked with many cheer programs doing clinics for their students and coaches.  In addition, cheer conferences and clinics are a good way for the coaching staff to learn this knowledge.  Knowledge is power and power brings success!!

animated cheerleader with pompoms

I would love to hear your comments. Also, if there are any subjects you would like me to cover, let me know and I will do my best to post my thoughts.  Please Like and Share to all you believe will benefit from the information.

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