Why Tumbling is so important in Cheerleading

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If you follow some of the high caliber cheerleading teams on YouTube or social media, you might have realised that they’re especially far ahead of us in one area: tumbling. Today, we’ll talk about how this came about and why tumbling is much more important than most of us think.

Why we’re behind

When I started cheerleading in 2005, tumbling wasn’t really a part of our routines – yes, we did some cartwheels and there were certainly teams who invested more time into it than us, but it really wasn’t that well established. We only caught on when we attended our first camps with international coaches and we realised that flipping is actually pretty fun. Still, you don’t see a lot of high level tumbling in Switzerland to this day, and many of our better tumblers have a background in gymnastics.

In addition to us being a bit late to the party, I have to mention that tumbling on the ICU scoresheet (which we use in Switzerland) doesn’t give you as many points as it would on a US Allstar scoresheet. Where we only get 10% of our points for tumbling and jumps combined, the American Allstar teams get 10% each for jumps, standing tumbling and running tumbling – a total of 30% of their complete score is just tumbling.

The main reason why ICU decided to put less emphasis on tumbling is that they want to level the playing field for people in all countries, and high-level tumbling facilities as well as coaches are extremely hard to find in some places. To make it more fair, they raised the importance of stunts, baskets and pyramids in relation to tumbling. This however doesn’t make tumbling any less important for us – let me tell you why.

Tales from Top Gun

During my visit at Top Gun in Miami last year, I realised one common theme in all team practices: A significant amount of time was dedicated to tumbling repetitions. Usually, about one to one and a half hours of the two-hour practice was just tumbling and jumps. Mind you, this was only skill repetition – nobody was spotting or teaching (they do that in classes outside of team practices), just one athlete after another throwing their passes over and over again. This goes for teams like OO5 or TGLC, where they would throw their specialty passes through to double fulls, and for level 1 teams like Squirts working on their forward rolls and cartwheels.

By the time they started stunting, drenched in sweat in the 35°+ heat of the gym, they already looked exhausted – then continued to throw some of the most iconic stunts we all know and love. This confirmed my suspicions: tumbling is so much more than just landing cool passes.

Tumbling is fitness

Just like stunting, tumbling requires you to master the basics before you move on to the next skill; and if you want solid back handsprings and tucks, you need to spend hours working your cartwheels and handstands. The regular and highly demanding conditioning, strength training and repetition of the actual skills pushes your fitness in every training. If your joints are strong enough to take the repeated pounding, your legs are strong enough to jump into back tucks and your core can keep you straight in a handstand, you are very well prepared for high-level stunting.

Tumbling is body awareness

On the tumbling floor, it’s just you and the mat. Nobody’s there to correct your mistakes for you or to assist you with the weight you’re throwing around. You have to find the perfect mix between balance and power, explosiveness and control. Your body will get accustomed to precise positioning, your eye-body-coordination improves and you start really feeling the difference when you apply the corrections your coaches give you. You have all the time in the world to understand exactly how your body moves, which muscle you need to activate to achieve a movement and how to focus on your whole body all at once. The same coordination and spatial awareness is crucial in stunting as well.

Tumbling is mental training

If you’ve been tumbling for a while, you might have crossed ways with the infamous “mental block”. If you want to be great at tumbling, you’ll learn how to keep pushing through uncomfortable situations. You’ll learn to accept and work with your fears, and you’ll figure out how to overcome them. Tumbling can be frustrating, but if you can persevere during all the drills, the failures and setbacks when you’re tumbling all by yourself, you can bring this mental toughness with you when you join your team for stunting. You’ll know what it means to have laser-focus on what’s important and that no matter how strenuous it gets, you can do it because you’ve been through worse.

Tumbling is your responsibility

I hope you understood at this point just how important tumbling is for our sport, be that directly on the scoresheet or in our stunts, pyramids and baskets. Tumbling is something that only you can do for yourself and for your team – nobody else can do the work for you. Also, a few minutes of tumbling in a team practice is not enough to reap the benefits of it – it has been and will always be something that needs to be worked on outside of normal training sessions. Most basic skills like handstands, cartwheels and round-offs can easily be practiced outside, and when it comes to the more advanced skills, ask your coaches if there’s any way for you to work with them outside of your normal practice. Maybe you can join a training with another team in your club or even ask if it’s possible to add additional tumbling lessons to your gym’s schedule.

What’s most important: YOU are in the driver’s seat of your tumbling success. Nobody is too old to start, it’s never too late to get going. Invest in your tumbling now, and you will be a better cheerleader overall.

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