A group of Southend cheerleaders are campaigning to get young women to take up sport, not only to become fitter but to overcome feelings of embarrassment and gender stereotypes.
Their story was featured on ITV News London on Tuesday 9th April and will be available online shortly.
Lead Fixer Rachel Blatch (25) and her team of cheerleaders from the Essex Star Squad believe young women are missing out on the benefits of sport and exercise, usually due to the demands of education, but also because of becoming self-conscious or pursuing other interests.
Fixer Charlotte Jenner (18) is a tumble coach with the team and says she too dropped out of sport at the age of 16.
‘I was a gymnast from a very young age, used to train so many days a week at county, national levels,’ Charlotte explains.
‘Then I got to 16 and wanted a social life. It was so much pressure during your GCSEs as well.’
Rachel, who started the squad when she was 18, only initially taught five girls. Now she trains around 18 different squads of cheerleaders, with each squad containing 20 boys and girls aged 13 to 28.
The group are hoping to create a poster campaign to promote the role of women in sport, and how exercise in any discipline can improve fitness and wellbeing.
‘I think that boys keep doing sport because they have much encouragement, and they are sort of stereotyped as being interested in sport,’ Rachel says.
‘It is not so easy for girls, and ultimately putting them off sport means their fitness suffers too. What I’m trying to show is that girls should be, and are, welcome in any sport.’
Findings from Sport England show only 1 in 8 women participate in sport, compared with 1 in 5 men.
Rachel believes activities such as cheerleading are a good way to introduce women to sport.
‘It’s not all about the pom-poms and really attractive girls dancing for the boys. Anybody can do cheerleading – there is a place for anyone of any background, shape, or size in any squad.
‘Sports like this teach teamwork, discipline, and respect. You get fitter, happier, and you get to socialise with a whole range of people. We are just like one big family.’