By David “Dirk” Smith, M.Sc., SDL (He/Him)

A lot of my primary work is in sport, specifically in sport psychology, sport science, and sports diversity. But, some of this work has also crossed over with my hobby as an amateur videographer, specifically with my time spent with the volunteer cheerleaders at the Pride Cheerleading Association (PCA). PCA is a non-profit organization that uses cheerleading as a platform to raise money to support local charities and whose athletes consist of adult LGBTQ+ and allied members who are based all over the USA.

If you’ve followed me for any amount of time, you’ve no doubt seen my work with PCA as I regularly share articles, videos, social media posts, and photos about PCA to promote their work in various capacities. I donate my own time, work, and expertise to support PCA’s mission as I seek to help them as much as I can to support their work in lifting the spirits of others. I’ve also gained a lot of practical experience in my work with them, particularly as a sport psychology professional, and recently have developed quite an interesting insight into the psychology of their competitive format.

PCA traditionally hosts an annual cheerleading competition every year at the Sin City Classic, the world’s largest annual LGBTQ+ multi-sport festival. They also host a cheerleading competition as part of the quadrennial Gay Games which is the largest LGBTQ+ multi-sport event in the world. While the cheerleaders do compete, the main mission of PCA is about fundraising to support charity. Fundraising plays a crucial role within PCA that the parameters of the PCA cheer competition includes a major component in which competitive teams must go out and raise money as part of their overall score and placement. The amount raised has a major influence on the scoring outcome of each group, with the amount raised directly impacting the overall score and being of equal importance within the group’s performance outcome as the stunting and choreography itself.

 

So, how does one compete in fundraising? At the Sin City Classic, the competitive teams will go onto the Las Vegas Strip in various locations with their “spirit buckets” to solicit donations from the people walking by. When the time is up, they return to the competition area to have the money counted and score tabulated. As part of my videography work, I, along with an assistant, accompanied several PCA teams out on the strip as they were soliciting for donations. This gave me the opportunity to observe first hand how the nature of fundraising can, in fact, be competitive. Watching the different cheer groups working the crowd, we noted that the different teams had different styles and ways of interacting with each other as well as the crowd. We also noted seemingly insignificant things like uniform choice and location with how it all influenced the direct interactions between the pedestrians and cheerleaders, and ultimately the willingness to donate. All of this correlated with the final fundraising results when the top teams were ranked based on most money raised, and we were unsurprised at who the winners were.

Of the nine teams fundraising, the lowest ranked team had raised less than $20 where the top ranked team which took over $1000 from a single session of “bucketing” as the donation soliciting is known as. So, what set these teams apart that led to such a vast fundraising differential? It all came down to how the teams engaged with the crowd and performed while out on the strip.

Here are some action behaviors we noticed among the lower ranked teams.

  • Less cohesive group, less relaxed and not as interactive with each other in regard to familiarity and banter.
  • Wore team jackets and long leggings over their cheer uniforms (it was a chilly morn).
  • Cheerleaders were a bit more shy, generally stuck closer together and were less willing to step out into the crowds of people.
  • Limited their sayings to generic phrases “we’re raising money, come donate” and
  • Would perform stunts infrequently, few cheers observed.
  • A lot of talking between team members that felt like an inward discussion.
  • Guests would often times speed up to walk past.

Versus action behaviors we observed from the higher ranked teams.

  • More cohesive group, overall relaxed.
  • Full uniforms, even in cold.
  • Using unique phrases, cracking jokes with people walking by, using phrases like “tricks for tips” referring to stunts, calling individual people out in the crowd to make a joke.
  • Generally, more overall interaction with people as they would pass by, leading people to slow down, crack a smile and a laugh. Making it more likely for to get them curious.
  • High energy, everybody in the group was interacting with each other, but in a way that felt more like an outward performance, generally having fun.
  • Every time a donation occurred; everybody would cheer loudly.
  • Performed many stunts, including one after every donation. They would encourage people to get out their phones to film the stunt. Even offer thigh stands to some of the people who would donate.

We were able to correlate groups that expressed more interactive and fun action behaviors with higher amounts of donations received as while observing these groups we saw people dropping money in the buckets and cheerleaders sharing more about the charity they were supporting. In the end, the results also spoke for themselves as those same groups were able to post higher donations and ultimately, had an overall stronger standing in the competition.

Photo Credit: Tenzin & Pride Cheerleading Association