Okay, let’s face it – cheer is addictive. But why? What makes it so difficult to quit, or to even think about quitting, and how do so many people get sucked into this sport, only to emerge some 15 years later, (mind you, only because their broken-down and over-stretched bodies could no longer take it) with the final realizations that retirement time has probably come. Why do we continue suffering through countless hours of treachery, sweat, and fear of heights, when we could just be sitting at home relaxing, or doing a lower-intensity sport like aqua fitness? Surely, those must be better for our bodies?
I’m sure you’ve all got your clever answers ready – “I love the athleticism!” or “It keeps me in great shape”, or even “It gives me confidence and challenges me to attain new skills!”, you might say. “Perfecting a new stunt or a tumbling pass feels amazing!”, or “I love the teamwork and my teammates.” are also viable options. I hear you, and I feel you on those points too.
However, I think there’s a bit of an underlying thematic behind the sport that makes it particularly appealing and sticky. You may argue with me on this – but you can’t deny that it nevertheless does exist. What I am talking about is the thrill of ‘being a cheerleader’. There is still a lot of labels and perceptions about cheerleaders, many of which are unfortunately negative, but the main one having to do with sex appeal. There are few cheerleaders who don’t enjoy having an excuse to wear cure sparkly uniforms, massive amounts of glitter, and giant shiny bows on their heads. Just think about the number of people who dress up as cheerleaders for Halloween – clearly the uniform is a coveted item. In fact, from personal experience I can say that one of the main reasons that so many of the grade 9 girls tried out for my high school team was because they wanted that thrill of being able to say they’re cheerleaders. Since few (dare I say none) of them had ever actually stunted or tumbled before, the athleticism was definitely not the main reason for them trying out. I won’t lie, it was the same reason that I myself tried out. Surviving the rest of it was the true test of whether you were cut out or not. But for some, this ‘thrill’ and idea is what kept them going and motivated them to learn the difficult stunting combinations and push through 2 hour practices four times a week. After a few years of cheering, a bit of this novelty does wear off, but I don’t think it ever completely dies. It’s always fun to meet new people and boast about your stunting accomplishments and cheerleading highlights. After a while, all your non-cheer friends, relatives, and pretty much the world knows you as ‘a cheerleader’…and it becomes difficult to imagine what you would be if you quit. It literally becomes your identity. And frankly, I see nothing wrong with that. ❤
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. 🙂