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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Cheerleading and Tumbling, Coaching, Skill Development, Training

Tumbling and the Cheerleader


Cheerleading is one of the fastest growing sports in the country. It has evolved into a formal sport recognized world-wide and continuing to grow every year. We see cheerleading at almost every level: Pop Warner and other community little leagues, the public school systems from elementary schools through high schools, private schools, colleges, and the ever-growing competitive All-Star cheer gyms. It has become so popular on the world stage that some organizers are attempting to make it an Olympic sport.

This has become a very aggressive sport as well. There is a dance element that can be very complex, stunting: where the participants are creating pyramids and flying high doing acrobatics, and performing tumbling skills. All of these skills are requirements and the difficulty levels increase at higher levels of participation. As a result, as the participant grows in the sport, the risk factors become greater.


Unlike the sport of gymnastics where the industry is regulated by a comprehensive skill developmental program, the sport of cheerleading has specific skill requirements but no regulated developmental program for the coaches and students to follow to acquire those skills. Thus, the participants, in many cases, are lacking the fundamental basics that are essential in learning the higher level skills they are required to perform.

Tumbling is one of the most difficult parts that cheerleaders must learn to achieve in order to qualify for the team they are pursuing. For the younger age groups, these skills are pretty basic: cartwheels, back-walkovers, etc. However, at the higher All-Star levels and high school programs, these skill requirements are much higher. What is the main skill objective at these levels? The Back Handspring and Back Flip!!


What many students and parents do not completely understand is how difficult these skills are and the process and time it takes to achieve these skills. There is a certain amount of risks involved in learning to tumble and proper training can lower these risks. A great analogy is Mountain Climbing in understanding ones abilities and limitations – the shallower the climb, the easier it is to climb fast; as it gets steeper, the faster you try to climb the higher the chances of slipping and falling. The higher you are, the farther the fall and the greater the risks. I receive calls all throughout the year, and especially right before the cheer season try-outs, for students wanting private lessons to acquire their back handspring and they may only have a few weeks to learn it. Many of these students have not had formal tumbling training and do not have the basic skills required to pursue learning this skill.

training group

It is important that we educate the parents, students, and even coaches that tumbling skills are difficult to learn and the risk factors involved with training these skills. As I covered in a previous blog (Tumbling for Sport) coaches in the cheer industry should have the knowledge and experience to teach their students these skills. The instructor must be able to communicate to the student in a way they can understand every aspect of the skill they are learning. If they do not have this experience, they should bring someone in to help or refer their students to a gym that has the expertise in this area. In addition, it is important the facility or training environment has the correct tools to teach these skills safely i.e. skill shapes, mats, spotting apparatus, etc.

I have been to many cheer competitions as a coach, parent, and spectator and have witnessed many scary tumbling attempts that did not end up in a positive manner. I have seen many athletes attempting skills they have no business attempting. The results can be devastating – and may have been prevented. I have done many private lessons with students that have acquired a mental block and such a high fear factor due to a tumbling accident that they have lost almost all their tumbling skills. Many athletes who have experienced this tragedy never recover. With this said, however, this can happen to even the most advanced and experienced athlete but much more common to those athletes with little or no experience.


As the cheer industry continues to grow, more and more focus is being put on regulations and safety. Cheer programs are putting an emphasis on training their coaches and acquiring tumbling experts to assist with the growing needs of this issue. Although, all programs want to achieve positive results and win at their competitions, the primary focus should be on their participants achieving positive results in a safe and controlled environment.

What are the Do’s and Don’ts?

  • Do make sure the coaches who are teaching tumbling skills have the knowledge and experience to train their athletes in the skills they are attempting to learn.
  • Do make sure the athlete is at a level and has the basic skills needed to begin learning the more advanced skills.
  • Do make sure the athlete is training in an environment conducive in training these skills.

smart spotter

  • Do Not (for the coach) attempt to spot a skill if the coach is not an expert at spotting.
  • Do Not have another student attempt to spot the skills.
  • Do Not allow the athlete to attempt the skill without a spot if they are iffy on the result. (I have seen many times where a coach will tell their athlete to attempt a skill when they are not physically and/or emotionally ready to do it themselves. The result is usually negative)

The sport of cheerleading is a great sport and the athletes are great athletes. If you haven’t seen a competitive cheer competition, you really need to experience it. These athletes are doing phenomenal things!! I look forward to continuing my work with this industry and provide all the support and training possible for its growth and continued success.


Let’s help to keep this sport positive and keep these athletes smiling!!