For many, the idea of summer camp conjures up images of canoes setting off on a placid lake, of tug-of-war and hiking and singing songs by a roaring fire pit. For me, camp was something different entirely. Cheer camp was an intensive multi-day experience to gain skills and experience designed to enhance our abilities on the sidelines on game day, our confidence and leadership at school and for our own team’s competition later in the year, all while turning 16 individuals into a true, cohesive team.  And while it was certainly not the “traditional” summer camp experience, the lessons learned have been invaluable to me over the course of my life.

It Enhances Leadership Skills

It seems almost redundant to say cheerleaders are leaders – it’s in our name. In short, we inspire the crowd and our communities to cheer for our teams. But in actuality, it’s so much more than that. Most cheerleaders are active not only on their squad, but also across student government, volunteer organizations, and within their community. In fact, when polled 90% of cheerleaders said that they saw themselves as a role model to their peers and 76% stated that they felt that people looked at them as a leader. As adults, the leadership role continues with countless female executives, politicians, even celebrities citing cheer as the foundation for their profession today.

It Reinforces Inclusivity

When polled, “caring” was the number 2 word cheerleaders used to describe themselves, and I think there is something to that. Cheerleading has always been a place that celebrates not only the athlete and the team, but also the individual and the strengths that they bring to the group. At camp, you look around and see every type of body, personality, even gender. The collaborative nature of the sport reinforces that everyone is needed to achieve the common goal.

It’s an Incredible Physical Activity

This one might be obvious, but it cannot go unsaid. At cheer camps you are active all day long every single day. As a result, inherently healthy choices are made from the moment you wake up to the moment you go to sleep. Whether it’s strength exercises necessary to be a base, or flexibility exercises for tumbling and flyers, you are constantly moving. As an added bonus – it’s fun, especially when you’re working with your best friends and teammates! Setting the tone for a healthy lifestyle is something that experts constantly stress as important from an early age, and this is one that most of us stick with. Cheerleaders I know now are often involved in team sports as adults, or go to collaborative fitness classes.

For me, UCA cheer camp was as important a high school experience as prom or graduation.  It was the first of many “girls’ trips” of my life and taught me about the importance of friendship and that nothing feels better than laughing until you cry.  Staying in a dorm and eating in the cafeteria on campus gave me my first taste of what college life would be like.  I was challenged physically as our stunt group tried desperately to hit our first liberty and personally as I tried out to be an All-American.  At the end of camp, I was all exhilarated, exhausted and just overwhelmingly happy.  Unfortunately, I don’t get the chance to be a camper every year anymore.  However, I still make it a priority to visit at least one camp each summer so I can experience that energy and spirit first-hand.  I never want to stay too far away from that feeling and the reason why I’ve dedicated my life to cheerleaders.