Cheerleading Rules & Regulations
Over the years, cheerleading has taken two primary forms: game-time cheering and competitive cheering. School and league-affiliated teams have the option to do both types, while all star teams only engage in competitive cheerleading.
Depending on what type of team you are on and what type of cheerleading you participate in, the rules and regulations will vary.
School & League-Affiliated
There are several different governing bodies for school and league-affiliated teams depending on the ages of the squad members. The American Association of Cheerleading Coaches and Administrators is a non-profit educational association for cheerleading coaches of all levels. They only recommend safety guidelines and different governing bodies can adapt the recommendations as official rules.
The purpose of game-time cheering is to boost team moral and enhance school spirit. This kind of cheerleading usually takes place on the sidelines of a sports game or during pep rallies and other school events. Many school and youth leagues only engage in this type of cheerleading and bypass the competitive aspect of the sport.
The general rules for game-time cheering are as follows:
- Cheerleaders cannot interfere with the game in any way
- Cheerleaders should not encroach on the game surface
- Certain high-level stunts such as basket tosses and full downs are prohibited on hard surfaces
- Teams should not perform on wet, uneven or cement surfaces
- All coaches must have an emergency action plan
School and league-affiliated teams that compete almost always engage in game-time cheering as well. The first priority is school- related functions, so these teams are typically not as active in the competitive cheerleading world as all star teams.
Instead of one set of general competition rules, each competition has individual regulations that teams will be informed of prior to attending. Teams are divided up according to age/grade level, gender and squad size. The objective is to receive the highest score from a group of judges during the 2-minute, 30-second routine.
The routine must include a prolonged cheering section, which is usually performed in between two sections that are choreographed to music. The routine must also incorporate the following technical elements: stunts, jumps, tumbling and motions. Failure to meet the requirements, improperly executed skills and rule violations can result in an overall point deduction.
All star cheerleading has different rules and regulations from league and school-affiliated cheerleading because the main objective is to compete against other squads. All competition rules are created by the two coordinating governing bodies for all star cheering worldwide, the United States All Star Federation (USASF) and the International All Star Federation (IASF).
The teams are broken down into six levels, one being the lowest and six being the highest. A team’s competitive level is determined by the age and ability of the team members. Teams are further broken down into divisions based on the gender and number of athletes on the team.
The goal of competitive cheerleading is to get the highest scorepossible from a group of judges. Teams compete against other teams in their own division, and the team with the highest score wins first place.
The scoring and rules are broken down into seven main categories:
Each level has set guidelines for the above categories, which are used by judges to determine their scores. Performing prohibited skills or failing to execute a skill properly can result in point deductions.
There are also general safety guidelines and routine requirements that each team, regardless of level, must adhere to. Routines must not exceed 2.5 minutes, and they must be performed on padded flooring. In addition, each athlete must wear appropriate attire—jewelry is prohibited. Props such as flags, banners and pom pons are allowed, but any height increasing apparatus is banned on the performance surface.
Elements of Cheerleading
Although the specific categories that cheer teams are judged on differ from competition to competition, there are four main elements that are expected to be incorporated into every routine.
Motions & Dance
During the routine, a team must include a choreographed dance section and, if the team is school or league-affiliated, a cheering section. Both the dance and cheer performances are judged on technique, variety and body control.
With the exception of youth teams, competitive cheerleading squads are expected to incorporate tumbling into their routines. The more advanced the tumbling, the higher the point value. Judges want to see both standing and running tumbling from as many squad members possible. Tumbling is scored not only on difficulty, but on technique and timing as well.
There are several different cheerleading jumps that can be incorporated into a routine. Judges want to see a variety of jumps or jump sequences. Jumps are scored on difficulty, execution and technique. This is a skill that the whole team should be able to perform.
Stunting accounts for a majority of the skill work performed in competition routines. Included in this category are partner stunts, group stunts, pyramids, dismounts and tosses. Some competitions break the different types of stunting into separate categories. Judges look for stunts that are creative, advanced and perfectly executed. Incorporating several stunting elements into a routine helps raise the degree of difficulty and originality.
The above rules are a general summary of competitive and game-time cheering rules, which can vary in detail according to the governing body for a particular event. For more detailed rules, check out these resources:
American Association of Cheerleading Coaches & Administrators
United States All Star Federation
National Federation of State High School Associations