Cheerleading’s Biggest Problem is Only Getting Worse

All-star cheerleading has a few big problems facing it today and one of them seems to be getting worse. There are a million things that make competitive cheerleading great, but it doesn’t come without its fair share of challenges. Injuries and drama will forever top of the list, but this season, the number one issue has been transparency. An overwhelming amount of people have mentioned scoring and transparency, and it’s about time we talked about it.



The 2016-17 Season’s Hottest Topic

Throughout the season, a steady stream of individuals have brought up the topic of transparency and accuracy in cheerleading scores. After I posted the article Hitting is More Important Than Winning, there were two responses: 1) Wow, so true! And 2) Yeah, hitting is great and all, but I’d like to win and I have no idea why I’m not because scoring is so secretive.

Hitting has never and should never guarantee a win. Not every routine is created equal so it’s no surprise that not all hits are equal. But, when you don’t win, people want to know why. Coaches, athletes, parents and spectators should know how a score was calculated.

In almost every other major sport, the winner is determined openly. Granted it may not always be fair, it certainly isn’t a secret. Even in more “subjective” sports, like gymnastics and diving, athletes receive scores instantly and publicly. I would argue that it’s near impossible for judges to calculate cheerleading scores as quickly as in gymnastics and diving. However, a publicly displayed scoring system seems like the simple and easy solution.

People Want More Transparency and We’re Getting the Opposite

This season, I’ve continuously seen scores become more secretive. During several points during the season, event producers, like NCA, asked individuals to take scoresheets off social media which is ridiculous because hello # screenshots. In this instance, seasoned gym owner Elaine Pascale asked why because there’s nothing wrong with transparency.

Speaking of NCA, remember the days when they announced scores after a team’s performance? That ended sometime in the past five years. I’m not 100% sure when, but it begs the question, why? Not only do public score announcements increase transparency (for day 1 scores at least), but it was also an exciting moment for everyone in the crowd. The “ooohhhhs” and “ahhhhhhs” after a score was announced were awesome, it was a part of NCA’s longstanding culture. And I’m not here to drag NCA. I think it’s the best ran and executed competition of the season. This is a trans-competition problem that a lot of people want to be fixed and it just keeps getting worse.

Just Wait, Worlds 2017 is Losing Another Layer of Transparency Too

Yup, the Cheerleading Worlds 2017 scoring will be less transparent than in year’s previous. On page 4 of the information packet for Worlds 2017, there is a paragraph that says the following:

Score Change Worlds 2017

New: team scores will no longer be announced following performances during Preliminary and Semi-Final competitions. Results will be announced following the conclusion of each division’s competition round.

While it doesn’t explicitly say that scores will not be announced, it certainly sounds like it. As was the case for NCA, announcing scores at Worlds at Prelims and Semis has been a long-standing tradition. Now that tradition is gone and scoring has become less transparent.

Why Secrecy is Bad

Conspiracy theories. Cheerleading is full of them. Everyone seems to think that a lot goes on behind the scenes. XYZ Allstars is popular, so scores are being changed and then obtain a bid or win a World Champion title. Or, ABC Athletics made someone angry 14 years ago, so they will never win another title, etc. etc.

The term smoke and mirrors” is tossed around a lot in cheerleading and it’s hard to ignore. The notion that certain gyms or teams win or get preferential treatment is only fueled by a lack of transparency. Once you think something is true, you’ll use every clue to prove that point. If the biggest gym in the state continuously wins championships, is it because they brought the event producer the most money? Or is it because they had the best routine? Scores help decipher that.

When scores aren’t released and have to be hunted down by various twitter accounts, it sends a clear message that they aren’t meant to be public. And again, the question is why?

Personally, I’m not a conspiracy theorist and I’ve been a part of this community for a long time. Sometimes things seem a little off, but I’d like to think it’s because of less than perfect judging rather than manipulated scoresheets.

Why There’s a Lack of Transparency

Honestly, I do not know the real answer, but I can make a few guesses.

1) A lack of knowledge. Scoring competitive cheerleading is complicated. There are trained professionals who are paid to analyze and review routines. When your average spectator watches a routine, it’s hard for them to calculate a score. There’s a serious lack of education when it comes to scoring and if scores were released, it could cause more questions than answers.

This is probably the most plausible explanation. Say every score is released, there would still be angry parents and spectators because they wouldn’t know how to interpret them. Then, those people start badgering the event producer, gym owners, and coaches.

2) A lack of effort. There may be a lack of transparency simply because event producers don’t want to take the time to upload scores. I do not think this is actually the case, but it could be a part of the problem. However, in truth, updating a website with scores really doesn’t take all that much time (we know a little something about that). In some cases, a competition will post all their scores online but only allow coaches to view them.

3) It’s impossible to be consistent. Every cheerleading routine has a lot of moving parts. Scoring by competition still varies (from what we’ve heard at least) and in a subjective scoring system, there’s a lot of power given to judges. What one judge thinks is creative, another may not. This is a whole topic in and of itself, but it could play a role into why scores are kept hush-hush.

How We Can Increase Transparency

1) Post scores publicly. A handful of competitions, like CHEERSPORT and Aloha, published scores on their website this season, but obviously, there are A LOT that did not.

2) Educate people on how scoring works. Yes, coaches and professionals know how these things work, but most people do not. If the main problem is a lack of education, we should create more tools to help everyone understand.

3) Public announcements and a live scoreboard. First, bring back live scoring to NCA and Worlds. Then, find new ways to deliver scores to people – whether that’s with a live scoreboard or websites updated in real-time (or even updates at the end of each day).

4) Educate people on why there is no transparency. If event producers believe that releasing scores is a bad idea, they need to explain why. If scoring and transparency remain the way it is, we can only sit here and hypothesize.

With All Due Respect

With all that said, I respect and appreciate all that event producers do. Running events with hundreds of 2-minute 30-second routines is extremely difficult. There are a million moving parts and creating a perfect system is difficult if not impossible.

The purpose of this post is to open a dialogue.

I sincerely hope that one-day cheerleading becomes more transparent, but as of now, it seems to be moving in the opposite direction. Whether it’s about scoring, videos, or something else, there are a lot of questions left unanswered.

Find Our Cheerleading Worlds 2017 Coverage Here

This post was sponsored by the CheerLife app.

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