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by Debbie Love

cheerleading is a sport

This sport of cheerleading is still very young, but I have been involved cheering since 1965 and doing gymnastics as well as track from middle school through college at Memphis State University, so I have watched it evolve from infancy to young adulthood. At first, the physical demands were your vocal cords, sharp motions and a great deal of enthusiasm. Soon we started doing stunts, jumps and basket tosses with tumbling growing more difficult by the year. With jumps being introduced, we added an element that recruits more muscles than any other skill making our bodies cry for proper training.

Cheerleading began in the late 1800s with yell squads for football games just doing chants and sideline activities. It was basically made up of young men. November 2, 1898 was the year of the first yell squad. Its evolvement included going through the war era where it became more female-dominant, tumbling and megaphones were beginning to be used. Subsequently in 1948 Lawrence Herkimer from Southern Methodist University started NCA and began running clinics. Cheerleading next began to be seen in high schools and today 80% of public schools in the USA have cheerleaders with the majority of the athletes being between the ages of 12-17. In 1972, professional cheerleading organisations started and Title IX, an amendment to the USA Constitution requiring schools to provide equitable athletic participation opportunities for its female and male students came into effect. In 1976, the liberty stunt was invented and in 1979 the first basket toss was created by UCA. By 1987 the first all-star teams were competing at NCA and in 2004 the USASF hosted the first Worlds competition. Today we have numerous all-star gyms with some numbering into the thousands of athletes, and becoming an extremely popular activity internationally.

Our conditioning needs have grown astronomically; however, the average coach’s knowledge about the body and expertise in conditioning their athletes appropriately has not grown relative to the demands of the body. This has created major problems with both new and overuse injuries. There is much education out there on injury prevention and conditioning and recovery for the body. However, because we have been overly concerned with just putting skills on the floor, and our eyes fixated on that almighty trophy we have collectively neglected being responsible coaches.

We have practices without warmup. We have no time for a well-structured practice because we have to get those skills. We have back-to-back-to-back practices without regard for proper recovery time for our athletes' bodies. For many years now, we have been building skills on deficient bodies, and this is neither smart nor responsible.

As coaches, we must accept responsibility for training both our minds and our bodies for the skills we are teaching. The idea of ‘no pain, no gain’ gained popularity a few years back and is the furthermost from the truth. Maybe a little soreness is normal but pain is not a requirement for a sport. It is a consequence of ignorance in the area of preparing our body for athleticism. In the late 90s we were given the facts that no longer should we do static stretches at the beginning of practice because it reduced our explosiveness. We now know we should begin our practices with a dynamic full range of motion warm-up. However, people still include static stretches such as splits for a minute or more in their pre-practice warm up. In the past few years, we have found the need for athlete assessment and pre-participation physicals as well as learning that we need to maintain the integrity of the core while our centre of gravity is moving through the air as in tumbling, stunting, pyramids and basket tosses: not just train core stabilisation when we are still. All of this adds up to an extreme demand for knowledge in how to keep our athletes fit in order to reduce the risk of injury. It is imperative that every coach who deals with cheerleaders learns how to produce a fit athlete who can remain almost injury free for their whole career, which may span from age 3-22 and beyond.

I have read and digested Body Before Skill and the complete INTENSITY™ programme and can say with complete authority that it is a programme that will produce fit athletes as well as smart coaches who see the whole athlete and not just their skills.

The mental aspect of cheerleading is more important than the physical in that it comprises 90% of what we do. Most of us never train this area. We need to learn how to have more of a growth mindset, which in short is understanding that obstacles are stepping stones to success. We need to learn to use positive inner voice instead of always criticising ourselves. We need to understand that perfection is not the goal - bettering our self each time we enter the gym is the ultimate goal. The journey is more important than the outcome; therefore, we need to set performance goals rather than outcome goals. We have to learn to praise the athlete for who they are in contrast to what they can do. The only way to train a champion athlete is to train them physically and mentally. This book you have in your hands includes a great chapter on the mental components of cheer.

Finally as an industry leader, I see this book, as well as the full INTENSITY™ Coach Certification enhancing any coach or programme who implements it into their curriculum. The results of training the whole body of the athlete will be forever. They will be strong adults physically and mentally who can deal with the punches life throws in their path. They will be healthier both inwardly and outwardly by learning proper nutritional and workout guidelines.

I wholeheartedly endorse the Body Before Skill movement, INTENSITY™ as well as the creators of it. If your passion is to become the best coach, you can be this is a must for your library. I encourage all coaches to take the INTENSITY™ coach qualification. Please join me in my crusade to motivate athletes internally in a positive environment to become better athletes and people of high character and integrity.


The body knows no difference between a recognised sport at the olympics or what we do. All it cares about is the two and a half minutes and the months of gruelling training it goes through. All the body wants is to find the right balance between being pushed to a peak without being pushed beyond its capable of. BODY BEFORE SKILL is a brand new reference book for all coaches who want to dig into a deeper understanding of their sport and how to make the most of their athlete's potential.


Jessica Zoo is the founder and creator of CheerConditioning.Academy She has poured over 8 years of study and applied research of sports science & fitness into creating the INTENSITY™ program for cheerleading athletes, having coached cheerleading in the UK & Europe for 12 years. Jessica's techniques are known for being highly motivational and deliver rapid results. Body Before Skill represents the mission and foundation of the INTENSITY™ method, to train cheerleaders to reach their potential through increased power, strength, flexibility and stamina. Contributors to the book and to the INTENSITY™ program include industry experts such as Jeff Benson, Coach Sahil M. and Debbie Love - to bring you an unparalleled program that empowers coaches and athletes to reach their peak. Jessica’s wish is to leave no stone unturned and discover the WHY behind cheer training and athleticism, encouraging coaches to develop their knowledge and to strive for a growth mindset.