All-Star Cheer vs. Other Types of Cheer


While the word cheerleading may bring an image of a girl shaking poms on the sidelines of a football game, the sport of cheerleading has evolved into many styles. Although the first cheerleaders were male and led the crowd in chants at football games, this female-dominated sport has grown a lot since it’s early days. Now there are numerous styles of cheer and ways to participate: recreation cheer, Pop Warner cheer, school cheer, independent cheer, and all-star cheer.


School cheerleaders cheer for the school sports teams and often receive P.E. credit for their participation, which many times include before or after school practices, in addition to attending the sporting events. School cheerleaders usually use poms and yell cheers on the sidelines; many of these teams compete and follow the rules of the NFHS (National Federation of State High School Association). Tryouts usually take place in the Spring and team members often attend cheer camp during the summer at a local college. Some schools require tumbling skills, while others do not. A “National” competition is usually the highlight and end of the season.


Pop Warner cheerleaders have a shorter season; they typically start practice mid-summer and spend their Autumn cheering on the Pop Warner football team they are associated with. They usually compete at one or two Pop Warner-sanctioned competitions before the end of their season (which usually ends when Spring begins). Like school cheerleaders, they cheer at football games and use poms. Teams are divided by age.


All-Star cheerleaders are year-round athletes; there is no off-season. Unlike other types of cheer, team members travel from various surrounding cities to be members of their chosen gym. All-Star cheerleaders do not use poms or cheer/chant at games; the focus is only on competition. Athletes register in Spring and are evaluated on criteria determined by their gym. Teams are divided by age and stunting/tumbling ability (also known as level), according to the rules of the USASF (United States All-Star Federation). All-Star cheerleaders train multiple times per week, spending their summer conditioning, learning/perfecting skills, and choreographing their routines. Competition season begins in the Fall and teams travel to compete on weekends, with some competitions lasting the entire weekend. Routines showcase the team’s stunts, pyramids, jumps, standing tumbling, running tumbling, and dance skills. While a “National” competition is not a big deal in All-Star cheerleading, there are a few events that are strived for with every team: Worlds (only open to Level 5 and 6 teams) and the Summit. These events are by invitation-only and teams must receive a bid at a qualifying competition.

Tumbling Skills for Level 2

Level 2 athletes should be able to proficiently perform all Level 1 skills, in addition to dive roll, front handspring (step out), back handspring (step out), T jump back handspring, round off back handspring (multiples), and combine these into a tumbling pass (such as front handspring, round off back handspring step out, round off back handspring series).

Taking a Year Off?

Paraphrased from/Credit All Star Legacy

“Taking the year off to concentrate on tumbling”

Coach, we are thinking about taking the year off to concentrate on tumbling.  This way she will be ready to go next season with ALL the skills you want!

This isn’t exactly how it works.  One of the major factors involved in learning tumbling is time.  Often, athletes (and parents) only perceive learning tumbling when they are being spotted on a skill beyond their capability at the time.  This never actually works out the way a parent anticipated.  More often than not, the athlete learns bad habits and technique, which are difficult to fix later on down the line.

The majority of skills are “learned” or “realized” in a few days or less… That is, when the student is ready to learn them.  When the body/mind is properly conditioned and certain skills are mastered with great form, progressing to new skills is an easier transition.  The actual process of learning is generally longer, as it takes many progressions of both physical gain and other concepts, such as air awareness and muscle memory.  Don’t confuse skills being “learned” when the skill is actually just “realized”.  The moment they are able to do them properly for the first time, after much time spent mastering fundamental skills and strengthening core concepts, that makes learning new skills easy.

It is extremely difficult for an athlete who tumbles 1-2 hours a week to keep pace or par with an athlete who participates 4-6 hours a week, regardless of what they are working on.  If tumbling is being taught with strong technique, the athlete who tumbles 4-6 hours a week simply mastering what they already are able to do, strengthens and creates a better “canvas” of fundamentals for learning.  These athletes will learn new skills in a shorter amount of time.  Another athlete who attends tumbling classes with the mindset “I need to learn my XYZ” will generally spend countless hours being spotted on repetitive skills with little progress.  Their time should be spent strengthening the skills they just learned over the past few months.

Perception and state of mind is a huge factor into learning tumbling!  It’s a lot easier to learn any skill when someone is a “blank canvas”.

Perception example>> Athlete A and Athlete B walk into the gym the same day.  They are the same age and ability level.  Athlete A comes in wanting to “learn how to tumble”.  Athlete B comes in wanting to “get a back handspring before August 8th for high school tryouts.”   The vast majority of the time, Athlete A excels at a much faster rate because they put effort into every concept being learned.  Athlete B generally says: “Why am I doing these dumb handstands; I need a back handspring”.

Here are a few things that are said and the basic interpretation that tumbling coaches hear.

I’ve been working on a tuck for 2 years  This means you probably weren’t ready to work on it in the first place.  How are your basic skills?

I know my handsprings aren’t really strong, but I want to be challenged more  This means: “I’m not patient enough to want strong tumbling, and I’d rather take shortcuts and compromise my tumbling future by putting myself in a situation that makes me break form more often”.

My child needs to be spotted more  This means: “I think my daughter gets more out of tumbling by being spotted because I see her flipping and assume that it is the best way to do it.  I feel like she is making progress, even though she is probably no closer to learning/mastering the skill than the day before.”  Spotting regularly and often is not the best way.  Although there is room for spotting in modern tumbling coaching, it is few and far between.  Spotting skills repetitively only teaches students how to do skills spotted with a coach.  If a coach spots an athlete for long durations of time, without incorporating drills/skills/concepts that help the athlete make progress on strengthening the fundamentals for a skill, something is probably wrong.

How is my child going to learn a tuck if all she does all day is back handsprings and other easy elements during practice?  This means: “I don’t realize that the constant correcting and fixing of form for my fundamental skills (including back handsprings) are the key piece in learning new skills (i.e. tucks)”.  Most parents can’t distinguish the quality of one’s tumbling (i.e. the length of a back handspring, head placement, body positioning, sitting angles, arm placement, rebound/punch and proper finishes).

Tumbling is like Learning to Read

Paraphrased from/Credit: Matt Faherty, Core Athletix

“Learning to tumble is a lot like learning to read. When you learn to read, you first need to learn each letter of the alphabet and the sound(s) it makes. Then, you start to put basic words together using those letters and sounds. Finally, you start to learn about more complex words and tricky letter combinations or sounds.

Tumbling is much the same way. First you must learn body positions: tuck, hallow, arch, pike, lunge, etc. Then, you start putting simple body positions together in a sequence (i.e. handstands, forward rolls, and cartwheels). Last, we learn about using those same basic movements in more complex ways, learning tricky combinations of those same body positions (i.e. back handspring, front tuck, etc.).

Far too often, coaches skip teaching basic body shapes and skills properly, or don’t spend enough time mastering them. How many cheerleaders are working on back tucks without mastering a backward roll?  It is difficult to learn a back handspring when they can’t hold a handstand properly.

If you have ever wondered why so many athletes get mental blocks, try handing an encyclopedia to a second grader and ask them to read it. There might be some words in it that look familiar to them, but 98% of it will do nothing but cause confusion and anxiety. By letting students work these hard skills before TRULY mastering basics, we only set them up for failure.

By teaching children from the start that each skill is not a unique snowflake, but just a series of previously learned, familiar, body shapes, we make the skills much less overwhelming to learn and unlock the ability for them to be able to safely practice tumbling.”

Well said Matt!

Tumbling Skills for Level One

Tumbling skills for level one include: forward roll, backward roll, cartwheel, round off, back walkover, front walkover, and any combination of these skills, such as front walkover, cartwheel, back walkover, back walkover switch legs, forward roll, round off, backward roll.