A cheerleading team – bet you didn’t know Oxford has one of them! Well, we do, and after years spent training as a gymnast, joining the cheer squad has shown me the wonders of competing as a group, and the benefit it can have on your work-life balance! 

So, to clear a few things up first, no part of competitive cheerleading involves pom-poms or standing on the sidelines of a football match. Unlike the American movies, we train and compete routines consisting of stunting, flipping and stretching, and we do so against other university teams on a national scale. Whilst we have made the odd appearance at an American football game or two, mentioning pom- poms never goes down well. This being said, team spirit really does shine through, and I believe that being part of a team (be it cheerleading, rowing or your college volleyball side) brings a lot of vital skills and wonderful experiences your way. 

A key part of a team sport is quite obviously the friends you make. The act of simply going to training sessions and competitions means you spend a lot of time with these people, and it’s true in my case that the ladies on the cheer team are some of my closest friends. A team sport gives you the opportunity to meet people outside your college or subject, people that have the common interests, drive, and passion, people where you can chat about things other than essays and tutes; friendships built on and off the mat (our version of a pitch) are probably my favourite part of the sport. 

This friendship extends to another key component of team sports at Oxford – crewdates. If you are yet to experience the joys of downing echo falls out of your shoe at Jamal’s, then get yourself onto a team, simply to get yourself to your first crewdate. The concept in itself of two different sports teams doing a social together is actually a lovely idea. Lasting friendships may not be made with the other team (although there have been instances where the sparks of romance do fly) but bonds are definitely cemented with your own teammates. Crewdates are known to bring out a side of people you may not see at training and are a great way to get to know each other a bit better! 

Having the support of your teammates around you brings the added benefit of people to cheer you up when you’re down or cheer you on when you’re trying something new (pun intended). The tumbling part of cheerleading, the bit involving doing lots of flips and somersaults in a row, in my experience is super fun but also rather scary. Trying a skill you haven’t done before for the first time, or in my case even going for some skills you have done before, can be pretty terrifying. Standing at the edge of the floor about to make your body do multiple flips with the potential of landing on many parts of your body that are not your feet can often make you back out or ‘not throw’ a skill. But with teammates standing there reassuring you it will be fine it’s much easier to go for it. Not to mention having people to celebrate with when you land a new skill on your feet for the first time!

Making new friends and getting to know new people is not unique to team sports, but building trust really is. This is obvious in cheer; the person being thrown in the air (the flyer) must trust her bases to catch her, the bases must trust the flyer to not panic and hit them. While many concussions and black eyes can occur out of a lack of trust, when things work out and everyone does their job, trusting those around them to do theirs, the result is magical. Without this, skills just don’t “hit”, as we say in cheer. A key part of the scoring system within cheerleading is the points you get for ‘genuine enjoyment’. This does seem a little silly, being judged on how happy you look while doing a sport but it is actually quite common. Many aesthetic sports like gymnastics, diving, and synchronsied swimming for example are also judged on how effortless you make the skill look, cheer just requires a smile on your face to show this. My point here is that if you don’t believe the stunts will work then they won’t and it’s very hard to make yourself look happy doing something you know will go wrong, you need trust in your, and your stunt group’s, abilities to know it’ll all be fine. Allowing others in the team to do their job, whilst you focus on yours, is a skill that’s transferable to the rest of life, be it academic, the workplace or friendship groups.

Now, committing to train six or seven hours a week may not seem like the most sensible thing to do alongside an Oxford degree. Even committing to an hour or so with your college football team can be stressful when you need to maximise time in the library. That being said, I think joining a sport, especially a team sport, has done wonders for my work. Most notably, in minimising my tendency to procrastinate. In an individual sport like gymnastics, if you miss a training session, you’re letting down no one but yourself. In contrast, when you’re part of a team, they keep you accountable. This is especially true with cheerleading, if one person isn’t there, then no one can train. There’s no point having all the bases there if there is no one to put up in the air. This accountability, knowing that you have to be at the session, does wonders for efficiency in the library. You can’t procrastinate – the work just has to be finished before a set time. It’s also great to give your brain a break. Being away from your laptop, moving your body, and having a laugh does a lot for your mental health.

So far it’s all been flowers and rainbows, but in truth, I can’t really see a downside to joining a sports team. So do it, there’s a whole host of team sports played by the university from hockey to Quidditch, maybe one of the ones out there will be the sport for you.