College and University Cheerleading in Canada

In light of the recent PCA Nationals 2012 competition (this past weekend), I’ve been inspired to write this post on the situation of Canadian University/College cheerleading. Let me get straight to the point – why are Canadian College/Uni teams so weak?? Our post-secondary cheerleaders really pale in comparison to even little known American university teams. Yes, we have a few well-known teams. Everyone knows Western and Queen’s. Everyone admires them. But why on earth, from a whole big country do we only have two really famous/amazing large coed university teams?? 

Moreover, watching some of the other teams really put me to sleep. Their routines were slow, and I found myself cringing every time they put a stunt up. Technique did not seem to be present, and teams were happy to simply participate. It was evident some teams had true newbies. Don’t get me wrong – I’m not a competition-obsessed newbie hater. In fact, I’m just the opposite. I don’t think you should put out a team on the floor that is not ready to compete. PCA Nationals is the biggest university cheerleading event each year. There is serious competition. If you don’t feel confident that your team will max out the score card cleanly and put out an entertaining, safe routine, don’t let them embarrass themselves! I speak as an athlete having gone through this experience, and from a coaching point of view I would not want to put my athletes through that. 

I’m not sure what the problem is, but I have a few guesses. Just like many high school teams, Canadian university teams just don’t have coaches who are experienced enough in technique. And just like in many Canadian all-star teams, technique is not largely a focus when you’re a month away from comp and still can’t hit your routine. New cheerleaders get thrown into routines, without having learned or mastered the very basics of body awareness and control. It is not pleasant to watch this. When a collegiate level 6 team has double base front tucks but no double full dismounts, you know a level progression has been skipped. Going for higher difficulty skills that may be ‘easier’ to attain is not safe but is unfortunately a common practice that I had the misfortune of experiencing as well. Another part that contributes to this is that in order to remain competitive with the other teams, as a university or college, it is mandatory to compete at a level 5 or 6. As a result, students who’ve never tumbled or cheered before must basically do a ‘crash course’ in cheer – and you either sink or swim. Other university sports don’t take newbies or athletes who are not experienced and skilled. They advise them to try for intra-murals. So, why do so many Canadian college and university cheer teams accept everyone? 

Clearly, low numbers of participants due to the sport not being as widespread as in America is one of the causes. But I don’t think that should be the reason to accept everyone. A better solution would be to create an ‘intra-mural’/recreational team that can take their time learning technique from the beginning in all aspects of cheerleading, while keeping your experienced athletes competitive from the start. 

One last thing – jumps. In Canada, you can tell the difference between an All-star and a College team just by looking at their jumps. Because good, flexible jumps are a skill that takes constant practice and months of development to perfect (dare I say years for hyper-extended jumps, especially in older athletes), college and university teams always seem to be sagging in this, chests low, legs low, jumps low. Just something I’ve noticed. 

Now some interesting updates in Canadian university cheer – after not having a team for quite some years, Guelph University truly makes a comeback at PCA Nationals with not one but TWO open teams, with the All-Girl level 6 team sweeping first place. Impressive. Western makes a great choice by taking all the motivated extra athletes that want to be on their team, and creates a second, All-Girl, “Western X” team. Great idea, and the girls were looking great on the floor too. Western beating out Queen’s for (I think?) the second year in a row! And of course, Humber Hawks, (my former team!) sweeping in first with a clean routine, great work!

Cheer on!