By Patricia C. Duffy

Growing up as a cheerleader had its perks and drawbacks. In the second part of the Growing up as a cheerleader:Lessons I learned series, retired competitive cheerleader Patricia Duffy shares the life lessons she learned during her cheerleading career.

Photo By Action Moments

Every lesson I learned through my time as a cheerleader has translated to other aspects of life and now, as I prepare to graduate from college, my professional career. So what exactly did I learn? The short (and easy) answer is a lot. The long answer is still developing since I continuously pull scenarios and lessons learned from my cheerleading memories on a regular basis. Sometimes it’s subconscious, but when you’re an active participant in a sport for 12 years, it becomes a permanent part of you.

My parents have and still ask me to this day, “what did you really learn from cheerleading”?

Through my cheerleading career, I learned:

To be thankful to those who give you their financial and/or moral support.

Many athletes, whether they’re participating in cheerleading or another sport, begin early in childhood. I started out in cheerleading, gymnastics and dance at a young age, but eventually, my parents made me choose. My final decision is obvious as I write this now.

There were a few reasons I was given an ultimatum that I now understand as an adult, but two stick out in regard to this bullet:

  1. Choosing a sport and sticking with it fosters commitment along with other traits that contribute to raising a productive member of society.
  2. Shelling out money for three different expensive activities isn’t feasible nor reasonable.

I chose, not understanding those reasons at the time.

My parents still spent an outrageous amount of money on the sport, and I never truly appreciated their level of financial commitment in that regard until after I had hung up my cheer shoes. They sacrificed their well-earned money so that I could do what I loved. I could never thank them or return the sacrifice in my lifetime, but I’ll certainly try now that I fully understand the hardships they went through, especially when money was certainly not free-flowing.

Beyond financial support, there are those that give their moral support as well. Moral support is no less important than financial support, and parents and family members aren’t the only ones who give their moral support to athletes.

Behind every cheerleader, every athlete there is an “army”. The makeup of that army varies in the world we live in today, but each support system is equally important and equally worthy of our thanks.

Remember to thank those who support you, today and everyday. Don’t just say it, exhibit your thanks through your actions. Not everyone is afforded these opportunities.

The show must go on.

There are two general categories that sports fall into: contact and performance.

Cheerleading is a performance sport. It’s a dedicated physical activity that asks its athletes to be intentional, focusing on perfecting the details and showcasing their best self when it comes time for competition.

As a cheerleader, if your stunt falls, you bust your tumbling pass or you miss a simple piece of choreography, you don’t stop.

Whether at practice or competition, cheerleaders are instilled with the overarching mindset that the show must go on. You and your team are still on stage, still performing. If you were to just walk off the mat and leave, your team would have no chance at success, but when you stay, push through and let mistakes roll off your back, that’s when you have the chance to be a champion. At that point, it’s not a matter of “if” you’ll win. It’s a matter of “when?”

“It’s not about being the best. It’s about being better than you were yesterday.”

This performance sport correlates, in general, to life. Life is a performance. We, as humans, are focused on constantly improving, growing, learning from mistakes and consistently being our best selves.

Years down the line, when you’re a retired cheerleader working in your chosen career, you will reflect on those days in practice and in competition. Those days when things didn’t go your way. We all have those days.

You’ll ask yourself, “what would the cheerleader in me do?” The answer is automatic: push through, persevere and find a way.

Growing up as a cheerleader: Life lessons I learned is an eight part series by retired competitive cheerleader Patricia Duffy. Stay tuned for more at

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