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!



Tryout Troubles

Well, it’s that time of year again. Tryouts. And aside from the physical nerves, trying to remember a new dance, and sticking your tumbling passes in front of the harshest judges you will face (your future coaches), tryouts can also come with the added stress of choices, decisions, and questions that need your answers. Depending on your age and ability, your might have to make some very important decisions regarding your cheer life, and it’s important to take your time when deciding.

If you’ve only ever cheered on All-star team,  should you try out for your school team for a new experience? If you make it, should you quit all-star? Or can you handle both? Be very honest with yourself and how much you can take on your plate, making sure to prioritize what you need to focus most on in the upcoming year. This goes for both high school and college teams. In general, school teams usually require more time commitment and practice more often than all-star teams. Keep in mind that school teams will also expect you to be present to cheer at football, basketball, and other games taking place at the school. All-star teams on the other hand can be a lot more of a financial strain than school, since you have to pay tuition every month.

Maybe you started cheering on a school team, and now are wondering if you should transition to all-star. And, here comes the million dollar question – if yes, WHICH all-star team should you try out for? It’s a good idea to try out for as many teams as you can, because it’s good to experience how different gyms run their programs. Plus, you never know where you will make it. Don’t underestimate yourself and miss a tryout because you don’t think you’re good enough for a certain team. That’s not your decision to make. So if there’s a team that you’ve had your eye on, don’t wait around until “next year when I’m better”, because you will always have something you can improve on. However, do keep in mind that by trying out you are giving a certain piece of commitment to the gym. If you make it to every gym you try out for, which gym would you choose? You need to know this before you try out, and have the other gyms as your back-ups if you don’t make the one you want.

If you’re on an all-star team, under 18 and not in the College or Open divisions, you might be given a choice of a few different teams you can be on in your gym  – you might be eligible for either a Junior or a Senior team, sometimes competing at different levels. You’ll have to decide if you want to compete at a higher level, or if you’re happy with your current one. Keep in mind that if you’re a top and you’re the smallest/youngest one on a senior team, it’s probably better to stay on Junior, because you’ll learn to be a better flyer when you can hold your own weight being held by girls your own size and not simply being muscled around by bases that are twice your size. You might decide to be a crossover athlete – being on more than one team at your gym. Make sure you can handle the pressures of training so much, and learning more than one routine at the same time while keeping up with your school work and other commitments.

Then there’s the whole issue of coed vs. all-girl, and that’s a different game altogether. Perhaps you’ve never been on coed but would like to try it, or the other way around. It can be hard making the switch the older you are, especially on all-star teams. One way to get more coed experience is to join a good coed university/college team. (Unfortunately this also comes with the little problem of having to actually be enrolled in the school.)

Maybe you’ve been on an all-star team for years, and you’ve had the same coach throughout. While you’ve had a blast, maybe you feel like you’ve stopped improving, or maybe you’ve just gotten bored of the same coaching style. Don’t be afraid to explore other cheer options just because you’re ‘loyal’ to your gym and may be afraid of unspoken repercussions by your gym, your teammates and your coaches. You shouldn’t be bullied into staying on a team, and even if it’s not an in-your-face verbal abuse, unspoken judgment  that affects your relationship with your teammates, coaches, and gym can still be considered bullying. Switching to another gym shouldn’t be like breaking up with a boyfriend/girlfriend, and you shouldn’t have to lose friends in the process. Every good coach should understand that it’s good for athletes to experience a few different gyms and coaches throughout their cheer careers, to figure out what fits them best and what pushes them to be the best athlete they can be. A lot of the time there isn’t one coach that is the best coach for every single one of their athletes, because athletes are human, and have very different needs in terms of coaching. Gyms should be happy for their athletes wherever they are, as long as they’re improving and becoming the best cheerleaders they can be.

Perhaps you have a tough year ahead – maybe your last year of university, or you’re going away to study elsewhere for a semester, or you’ve got a new very demanding job. You might have to consider – GASP – dropping cheerleading altogether for a year or two. While it may seem impossible to do, you must think what will be best for you in the long run. Yes, you may lose some skills, but you don’t have to! All gyms have an ‘Open gym’ night every week where you can keep up with your tumbling and stunting, without the pressures of a routine or competition.

Then there’s the possibility of transitioning from being an athlete to coaching. It’s a whole new way of looking at cheerleading, that can be very rewarding, but also very stressful and time-consuming. You can start by volunteering with a team or being an assistant coach. You’ll have to also get your USASF certifications, as well as maybe a few other qualifications, depending on the gym’s requirements, but some gyms offer to pay the fees for you if you’ll coach for them. Another good way to try out coaching is to go back to your high school team (if you were on it) and talk to their coach about helping out.

I hope I’ve given you enough to think about, and I hope you all make it on your dream team this year! I know that having so many choices can be very stressful and difficult, but once you sort it out  you will feel very relieved, trust! It’s easiest if you start off by process of elimination, being realistic about what you can and can’t handle, and narrow it down from there. Some of your cheer dreams may have to wait, and that’s perfectly okay, because cheerleaders always find their way in the world. 🙂

Cheer on!