The Spirit Industry: Off the Sidelines and into the Spotlight | Sports Destination Management

The Spirit Industry: Off the Sidelines and into the Spotlight

Jul 01, 2023 | By: Lauri Harris

It’s no secret that cheer has cemented its place as one of the most popular youth sports in the U.S. The sport remains firmly in the top ten of the participation survey performed by the National Federation of State High School Associations, and all-star cheer programs (meaning those not associated with schools) are flourishing as well.

Why all this growth, though? Let’s look at some important factors.

More Opportunities to Use Cheer Skills: In addition to a proliferation of programs at the youth level (in school and outside of it), STUNT is continuing its growth. STUNT is a competitive, cheer-based athletic program that uses skills found in cheer but does not include the crowd-leading aspect. (Information on the sport, can be found on USA Cheer’s website at

STUNT is a team sport that focuses on the technical and athletic components of cheer, including partner stunts, pyramids, basket tosses, group jumps and tumbling. These elements are put together in short routines that both teams must perform head-to-head on the floor at the same time. The team that executes the skills best wins the round and the point and has the opportunity to determine which routine level will be called next. With four quarters of play (partner stunts, pyramids/tosses, jumps/tumbling, and team routine), STUNT is an exciting sport to play, coach and watch.

USA Cheer created STUNT as an opportunity for colleges, universities and high schools to meet the strict Title IX requirements of a sport. With more than 500,000 high school cheerleaders, STUNT expands participation opportunities for young women by providing an avenue for female athletes to use their cheerleading background in a new format.

The growth of STUNT means more opportunities for the increasing number of cheer athletes at the all-star and high school levels who are moving into college programs. Additionally, NCAA Divisions I and II have added STUNT as an Emerging Sport for Women, which has increased the availability of scholarships. While STUNT is not an emerging sport at the DIII level yet, we are aware of the important role it plays there, and of the opportunities it offers to athletes.

USA Cheer has also launched club STUNT programs, which are youth programs that, like all-star cheer, are not associated with a school. We see this as an important growth sector in years to come.

Photo © Roberto Galan |
Photo © Roberto Galan |

More Avenues to Connect with Colleges: USA Cheer has been offering combines in both cheer and STUNT, allowing high school students to showcase their skills to coaches at the collegiate level. This year, we are offering a total of 10 combines in various locations across the country, starting this fall. Additionally, some of these combines will serve as U.S. National Co-Ed and All Girl Premier Team Selection locations; athletes who are interested in opportunities at the national level will be able to try out for those as well.

The Sport’s Heightened Profile: Some of the most popular content on social media channels like TikTok and Instagram Reels is that of cheer and STUNT. These short video clips have raised awareness like nothing else and have helped the public understand the incredible athleticism demanded of our athletes. The reason social media has helped so much is that those platforms are very popular with a young audience. Cheer and STUNT are young sports and are very entertaining to watch. It really is a natural fit.

Career Opportunities: We are sometimes asked what cheer athletes do after graduation. While cheer and STUNT teach lessons that can be applied in any career field across the board (after all, it promotes leadership, working as a team, dedication and more), we have found that former collegiate cheerleaders stay connected to the sport through coaching. And as STUNT expands, we’re starting to see those athletes return to colleges to lead programs there. It’s a great example of the way people give back to the sport that has given them so much.

The Sport Continues to Keep Safety at the Forefront: USA Cheer is committed to the safety of its athletes with athlete protection training and education. We encourage anyone working in any capacity with cheerleaders to obtain a USA Cheer membership that includes concussion training acknowledgement, safety skill training, athlete protection training and a background check. In addition to athlete protection training, we update the Cheer Rules for all ages and programs: youth, middle school, junior high, high school and college. We also carry rule updates for high school that we co-recommend with NFHS on our site as well.

USA Cheer offers a USA Cheer Safety Course as well as a rules course. We recommend all coaches complete the safety course every four years because we want to empower them to make good decisions that keep athletes safe but allow them to retain their ability to challenge themselves. All information can be found at and we encourage everyone to avail themselves of those resources.

Photo © Thomas Carter |
Photo © Thomas Carter |

Cheer Has IOC Recognition: In 2016, cheer gained provisional recognition from the International Olympic Committee (IOC). It took another five years, but the sport has now received full Olympic inclusion. It also has very strong viewership numbers when competitions are broadcast on the Olympic Channel. In addition, we were recognized in January by the USOPC as an RSO (Recognized Sport Organization).

While this does not mean that cheer automatically will be included in the Olympics, it does open the doorway for our sport to be considered. Obviously, we’d like to see cheer in the Olympics sooner rather than later, but this progress is nothing short of phenomenal. (Worth noting: In 2018, USA Cheer was able to send a team to perform, although not to compete, at the Winter Olympics in PyeongChang.) We are hoping to be involved in some capacity in LA2028.

The Sport Has Rebounded Since 2020: Not only is cheer back but it’s stronger than ever. The sport has returned to pre-pandemic numbers and growth is continuing at not just the participation level but at the travel and competitive level. While USA Cheer does not produce events, it has been watching them, and we are pleased with the growth we’re seeing there. We have every reason to expect further growth.

Cheer is Inclusive: The NFHS has noted that they are seeing an uptick in unified programs, in which athletes with and without challenges are becoming involved in sports. Cheer is very much a part of this movement. We are a very positive sport, attracting females and males in every skill level and every body shape. Even in the adaptive and Special Olympics space, there are cheer programs. We encourage those who are interested in the programs USA Cheer recognizes to visit for information.

With all these factors in our favor, it’s no wonder cheer continues to grow. We look forward to the continued evolution of the sport, and to making new gains in the years to come.  SDM

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