Girls dance and cheer for exercise

6th February 2004 at 00:00
Cheerleaders from Britain's only professional American football team are helping Glasgow teenagers to keep active and healthy, Roddy Mackenzie reports

A sign that physical education is moving away from traditional teaching methods can be seen in Glasgow. All 39 secondary and special needs schools in the city have been or over the weeks ahead will be offering blocks of cheerleading classes.

The move comes after consultation between Glasgow City Council and the Scottish Claymores, Britain's only professional American football team, and will be funded for three years by the New Opportunities Fund.

Studies have shown that teenage girls have shied off PE classes for a number of reasons in recent years and one of the main factors has been the way the subject has been taught. The girls questioned were keen to see aerobics and step classes introduced to bring PE more up to date.

The new classes, led by the Claymores cheerleading squad, allow girls aged 12-16 to learn dance skills for two hours every week in eight-week blocks.

There is also the chance to visit a dance studio and receive a professional's advice on fitness and nutrition.

An inter-schools cheerleading competition has been organised for May and the winning school will be given the chance to cheerlead for real at one of the Claymores' home matches at Hampden Park this season.

"We hope our classes will increase fitness, encourage a healthy lifestyle, create confidence and encourage long-term participation and interest in the sport of cheerleading," explains Debbie Jackson, the Claymores'

cheerleading manager.

"Cheerleading has not been part of PE classes as we traditionally recognise them but they're a great workout and fantastic at developing team-building skills.

"Cheerleading really catches the imagination and engages the interest of the girls involved. They could even become the Claymores cheerleaders of the future."

John Paul Academy has just completed an eight-week block and PE teacher Susan Barclay was delighted with the response it provoked from her pupils.

"It was really excellent. There were a lot of dance classes in the school anyway but having the cheerleaders coming out adds that bit of glamour," she says.

"We had 12 girls from St Blane's Primary and around 10-12 of our own girls up to third year and it was a big success.

"I'm sure there would have been a bigger response if we didn't have so many girls in the school who were involved in dance already and had classes to attend.

"It offers a demanding aerobic and cardio-vascular workout."

The scheme fits well with the Scottish Executive's Active Schools strategy which is aimed at getting children to take part in regular physical activity, even if it is not a traditional sport.

The annual Clinical Outcomes Indicators Report, published in December, shows that one in three 12-year-olds in Scotland is overweight and one in 10 severely obese. That is why as much as pound;24 million has been set aside to address a long-term strategy to change the couch potato culture in Scotland. More than 600 staff will be recruited to ensure the active, healthy lifestyle message gets across and parents and teachers will be instrumental in overseeing the change.

In addition to changing attitudes to exercise, diet and nutrition are also being looked at, with primary schools and pre-school education centres offering healthier food to children.

It is a message the cheerleading classes in Glasgow are also putting across.

PE teacher and Claymores cheerleader Kelly Roy has been teaching the skills in the Falkirk area over the past three or four years and believes it is a serious alternative to sports such as hockey, volleyball and basketball.

At Graeme High, she holds extra-curricular classes for S1-S2s, which 28 girls regularly attend, and for S4-S6s, with 15 taking part.

In addition to her work and duties with the Claymores, she organises Falkirk Football Club's cheerleading squad - the Bairns' Babes - which is 36 strong.

Miss Roy is in no doubt that cheerleading can play a part in keeping teenage girls physically active and stopping them from making excuses not to exercise.

"When girls hit 14, there is a lot of peer pressure on what's cool and what's not cool and the dances I teach are ones they would see on Top of the Pops or on music videos like Justin Timberlake's," she says.

"I have done gymnastics and volleyball in the past and, believe me, cheerleading is as demanding. With the Claymores, we train three times a week, for 90 minutes on Wednesdays and Thursdays and for two hours on Sundays.

"An American football match lasts for three hours and we fill in the gaps when the action stops in Claymores' games, which is quite often. On game day, we are physically drained when we finish."

Miss Roy believes there is a place for traditional methods of teaching PE but that it must also move with the times and offer alternatives, particularly to girls.

"I think PE has moved on. Even though at Graeme High we teach traditional gymnastics, there are six or seven different stations for pupils to work at. It's not like it was in the past where there was a queue of pupils waiting for their turn on a particular piece of apparatus. That put a lot of girls off as they were self-conscious and knew everyone was watching them, but that does not happen now."

"Still, there are girls who shy from more traditional PE, so if this can keep them interested in keeping fit, then it can only be good. The high profile of the Claymores also helps to get them interested."

For younger children interested in cheerleading, the Claymores have designed a junior programme for six- to 16-year-olds. The Mini Mores train on Sundays. For details, e-mail

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