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College Cheerleading Requirements | Cheer Recruiting Guidelines

Cheer team in action

College cheerleading recruiting is unlike any sport. While there are cheer programs at the NCAA Division 1, Division 2, and Division 3 levels, as well as NAIA and junior colleges, it isn’t recognized as a sanctioned sport. Therefore, college coaches and student-athletes can initiate the recruiting process at any point during high school. That’s why student-athletes who are successful in their recruiting journey do the work needed to get on a coach’s radar: they thoroughly research colleges, create a recruiting video, attend camps and clinics and attend cheerleading tryouts. 

What cheer skills are needed to compete in college?

Cheerleading coaches typically use recruiting video and in-person tryouts to evaluate a cheerleading recruit’s full ability, from jumps to stunts to tumbling. While each program comes with its own desired qualifications, many coaches generally look for baseline requirements within each position, including flyers, tumblers, stunters and dancers. The level of cheer stunts needed completely depends on the program. Non-competitive teams will look for basic cheer skills, while top programs in the country want to evaluate advanced skills. Here are some examples:

TumblingCoaches look for recruits who can perform both running and standing tumbling skills.Elite teams may require a standing back tuck, or even standing full twisting layouts. Running tumbling skills at top programs may include specialty passes, such as an Arabian and whips.

JumpsCoaches evaluate jump height, flexibility, and landing with feet together in complex jump combinations.Some teams may ask to see a toe touch, tuck, pike, right or left hurdler, and herkie.

StuntsBeing able to stunt with multiple partners is a must and most college cheerleaders should be able to perform a two-part stunt combination. Coaches also look at tosses, common game day stunts their school performs and pyramids.Basic cheer stunts include extensions, liberties, walk-in stunts and toss stunts. Highly competitive teams might require full up stunts, rewinds and handspring up stunts.

DanceSome schools also look for dancers who can perform a tumbling pass in addition to common skills.Common skills needed at top colleges include quadruple pirouette, aerial (preferably both sides), advanced turns, and advanced jumps.

CheersCoaches evaluate a recruit’s cheer performance, from voice projection to proper motion technique.Every school will ask to see the recruit perform their cheer and fight song.

Understanding what skills are needed at each program takes a little research. Top programs who place high at national competitions look for student-athletes who can perfect elite cheer skills and perform them consistently. Keep in mind that coaches want to recruit cheerleaders who can make an impact right away, meaning your skill set needs to align or be above the current talent on the team. Less competitive teams may be more flexible on the exact skills needed and bring on recruits with potential, who can develop their cheerleading skills once in college. 

What do college cheer coaches look for in recruits?

This answer really depends on how competitive the cheerleading program is. Cheer coaches at colleges that place at the NCA or UCA championships are extremely selective in their recruiting. They look for cheerleaders who align with or out-perform the current talent on the team and add consistency to their program. From an athletic perspective, they want recruits to master the fundamentals while being able to develop their elite skill set enough to perform them well at competition.

Most importantly, though, a coach’s specific needs could change from year to year. Some squads bring on recruits who specialize in a position, while others are more versatile, such as being a flyer and tumbler. The best way to determine what a coach might be looking for is to visit the team’s college roster and study the athletes’ backgrounds and positions. This should give you some indication of what skills are needed and which positions will be graduating.

Additionally, like every sport, cheerleading coaches want to bring on positive team members who can boost up the squad, be in good academic standing and responsibly manage their time and college responsibilities. They closely evaluate a recruit’s character, academic background and leadership skills in addition to their athletic ability.

Once a recruit identifies colleges that are an overall good fit, both athletically and academically, they need to create a recruiting video and send it to cheer coaches. In fact, in order to try out for a college cheerleading team, many coaches require that athletes submit a video first. Typically, the college will lay out the video’s requirements online in their tryout application. These videos and college cheer tryouts are the most common ways college coaches evaluate recruits.

Can you cheer in college with no experience?

In short, it really depends on the school and the intensity of the program. Some highly-competitive colleges have tumbling requirements that take years of experience to achieve, while non-competitive teams or spirit squads may only require basic fundamentals that you can learn on your own. Usually, gymnasts with no cheerleading experience have the easiest transition as they already have a good foundation of tumbling skills. Student-athletes with no experience, though, should research programs with teams that are split into JV and Varsity, because they’ll have a better opportunity to train and grow at the college level. They may also have a chance of making the squad at schools that don’t compete and only cheer on game day.

If a recruit is interested in becoming a college cheerleader, it’s recommended that they visit an All-Star or gymnastics gym in their area to learn cheerleading fundamentals, such as correct body positioning and tumbling skills, strengthen their core, and improve their flexibility. Sometimes these gyms need alternates on their squads, so it’s also an opportunity to work up to performing. Keep in mind that if you work hard, you have a shot. The majority of cheer coaches discover recruits by evaluating their recruiting video, scouting them at clinics, and seeing how they perform in tryouts. Cheerleaders with no experience can still capture the coach’s attention this way.  

How to become a college cheer flyer

A flyer, also known as a top girl, is a crucial part of cheerleading programs as stunts and pyramids bring in the most points during competition. While there’s a variety of skills flyers perform, coaches look for consistency, proper technique, and overall confidence in each. All flyers need to have body control, balance, flexibility, and strength.

In elite programs, flyers must be able to pull three different body positions, a full down from extended one-legged stunts, and a double down from prep level. In most programs, coaches evaluate flexibility by looking at the recruit’s heel stretch, bow and arrow, and scorpion. One of the most important skills for a flyer is being able to maintain proper lines, meaning the flyer has a strong core and uses her hips to pull up through her belly button so that her center of gravity is fully supported.

If a recruit wants to become a college cheer flyer, they can start by learning at a nearby club, such as an All-Star gym or Pop Warner team. Here, cheerleading is broken down into different levels, starting with the basics. For example, recruits can perfect basic stunting, such as a cupie, a prep level one leg, and tick-tocks. And as they become more advanced, they can incorporate more skills like a double-down from two legs and a double twisting toss. Elite programs turn to the highest level of skills, such as a single based cupie, tuck tosses, and a full twist toss.

College coaches often find recruits through these club gyms, especially All-Star teams, and also by receiving a recruiting video from the athlete before tryouts. If a recruit is interested in being a college flyer, they need to visit the college’s website to review the skill requirements needed and better understand the tryout process. Some tryouts require a video first, while others are open to all student-athletes. Either way, it’s important for recruits to proactively email cheerleading coaches at the schools they’re interested in. Showing personal interest in the program and highlighting cheer skills is the best way to establish a relationship with coaches.

Tumbling recruiting guidelines

All coaches evaluate cheer tumbling skills when prioritizing their list of recruits, both running and standing. But because cheer programs vary, there isn’t one set of tumbling requirements across the board. Even in the same division level, like junior college or NCAA Division 1, you can have one program looking for elite skills and another accepting basic tumbling.

In fact, if you visit the college’s athletic website, you might even be able to find the list of specific requirements needed. For example, the University of Tennessee is a top competitive cheerleading program, and their tumbling requirements  include a standing back tuck, standing backhand spring back tuck and a tumbling pass including three skills or more. Plus, a running pass with a full rotation is highly recommended.

Of course, not all programs require this level of skill. While elite programs look for specialty passes and twisted tumbling skills, many programs stick to fundamentals, like back handsprings, front tucks and round off back tucks. The best way to understand the recruiting guidelines for the schools you’re interested in is to visit the team’s website and see if requirements are listed and then watch their competition video. Evaluate their routine, noting the different tumbling skills and experience of each cheerleader on the roster. Then, decide if your skill set aligns and if you’d meet that coach’s tumbling recruiting guidelines.

Learn more about how to gauge your talent level.