The skill set of Acrobatics and Tumbling dates back over 2000 years ago. Gymnastics was practiced by early Greeks and has been the basis for many sports as well as military training. All disciplines of gymnastics involve the performance of exercises requiring physical strength, flexibility, agility, coordination, balance, and grace.
The first time a large group came together to compete in gymnastics was in the 1896 Olympics, there were five different mens events held. Female gymnasts did not compete in the Olympics until 1928 with the first U.S. woman competing in the 1936 Olympic Games. The sport of Acrobatics and Tumbling is the evolution of different disciplines of gymnastics, and some skill sets of cheer.
The different disciplines of gymnastics include: Mens and Womens artistic gymnastics, Acrobatics, Trampoline and Tumbling, Rhythmic and Group. All disciplines of gymnastics train the needed skill set for the sport of Acrobatics and Tumbling. The artistic, acrobatic and trampoline & tumbling disciplines are a direct feeder into this sport. Artistic gymnastics is the most widely recognized discipline.
Athletes compete on four different apparatus within a meet; the beam, floor, uneven bars, and vault. Womens Artistic gymnastics became a NCAA championship sport in 1982. USA Gymnastics is the governing body for Gymnastics, including Artistic Gymnastics. Acrobatic Gymnastics is competed in groups highlighting tumbling ability, balance, strength, flexibility and synchronization. The groups perform a routine set to music which includes lifts, flight, landings, tumbling, and balance moves and are judged based on technique and execution. Acrobatic Gymnastics began in the Soviet Union in the 1930s and found its way to the United States in the early 1970s.
Trampoline was included as an event in gymnastics from 1947-69. It was recognized as a sport on its own in 1967. Trampoline first made an appearance in the Olympics in the 2000 games in Sydney, Australia.
The tumbling skill set has been competed since 1886. The skill of tumbling plays a big part in the floor routine of artistic gymnastics. Cheerleading by its definition is literally the leading of cheers. A cheer team attempts to lead the crowd to cheer in support of a sports team. The activity of cheerleading started as an all male pep club at Princeton University in the 1880s. Women were allowed to be part of cheer teams in the early 1920s.
Early cheer teams used acrobatic lifts and tumbling skills to help lead and entertain the crowd. In 1961 one of the first for-profit cheerleading companies was established and began teaching camps on how to lead the crowd effectively as well as some acrobatic and tumbling skills. In the 1970s, for-profit companies began to hold crowd leading competitions. The teams were judged based on their appearance, their ability to lead the crowd, a dance, aerial acrobatics and tumbling skills.
Because of the introduction of Acrobatic and Tumbling skills, cheerleading continued to become more athletic. The skill set of Acrobatics and Tumbling became more and more popular with the rise of competitive cheerleading. Today there are many different things that are called cheerleading: 1) yell leading teams on the sidelines whose purpose is to support other teams, (e.g., high school and college cheer teams); 2) Cheer teams who are for entertainment purposes only, (e.g., Laker Girls or Dallas Cowboy Cheerleaders); 3) Competitive Cheer teams whose purpose is to compete only.
The majority of competitive cheer athletes are former competitive gymnasts or have the trained in the skill set of Acrobatics and Tumbling from an early age. Because of the varied nature of activities surrounding this, many stereotypes have been created. In the early 1990s all-star cheer gyms began to emerge around the United States. These are small for-profit entities that teach tumbling classes, aerial acrobatics classes and sponsor competitive teams.
Cheer coaches began to attempt to teach tumbling and aerial acrobatics, often without proper training, to meet the need for more challenging and appealing routines. Without the strict progression of gymnastics safety and governance we saw a rise in the injury rate. Despite that, due to the addition of aerial acrobatics and tumbling skills, competitive cheer became one of the fastest growing activities in the nation.
These two skill sets are the reason for the popularity of competitive cheer. Young female athletes are increasingly attracted to the opportunity to compete using the acrobatic and tumbling skills, whether they train at a gymnastics facility or a competitive cheer gym.
In 1982, Womens Artistic Gymnastics became a NCAA Championship sport, offering women who were training in gymnastics an opportunity at the collegiate level. However, the number of opportunities offered compared to the number of women training in the skill set was -and is- minimal. It would be difficult to expand those opportunities.
Female athletes who are considered for the womens gymnastics collegiate opportunities need to excel in uneven bars, vault and beam as well as floor routine (tumbling). Female athletes whose skills are more focused on Acrobatics and Tumbling or whose bodies are no longer suited for artistic gymnastics are left without an avenue to compete in a varsity intercollegiate athletic sport.
The disciplines of Acrobatics, Group Gymnastics, and Trampoline & Tumbling (all recognized by USA Gymnastics) have no avenue for intercollegiate varsity opportunities. Female athletes who excel at tumbling may be considered for a college cheer team. This does not provide them with an athletic experience. In addition, college cheer teams often are focused on achieving a look or a size that doesnt fit student-athletes who wish to develop the strength necessary for a more demanding athletic sport.