For most all-star cheerleaders, tumbling is a skill that is picked up either before cheer altogether, or is learned along with cheer at a very young age.
I was introduced to power cheer at an age where most elite cheerleaders are already competing at world’s – and here I was, seventeen and learning double-base cradles. Tumbling wasn’t much of a question – on my high school team our most advance tumbling pass was a running cart-wheel. Our routines didn’t even have a tumbling section.
Then I somehow made it on my college team, where I realized I’d have to learn to tumble pretty quickly if I wanted to continue cheering. I remember watching a level 1 team at my first competition and admiring their back walkovers, which seemed like a difficult feat to me. Handsprings felt like something I could only dream of, and people who could handspring were my idols.
So after a gruelling three-month summer of once a week tumbling, I managed to achieve a bridge-walkover. Though I had once marvelled at this skill, I wasn’t satisfied in the least. I was by far one of the oldest girls in the class, and I watched with envy as 14 year-olds tucked, flipped, and twisted effortlessly. My semi-walkover seemed pathetic in comparison. I had level 1 tumbling (barely) on a level 5 team.
I knew that if I could just spend more time and practice a lot, I could achieve a handspring. And OH, how I wanted that handspring!
I was never quite satisfied with skills I achieved, even in stunting. I wanted to get my scorp in the air so bad, and while I was happy the day I got it, by next practice I was already looking ahead to what skills I still hadn’t achieved. The same ethic applied to my tumbling. A back walkover meant nothing since the day I got it.
The following year I transitioned to all-star cheer. They didn’t have a tumbling requirement, but I knew that if I wanted to go far I’d have to tumble. I had an advantage, being a flyer, but I still didn’t feel like a well-rounded cheerleader. After all, what kind of cheerleader couldn’t tumble?
At the time, I couldn’t take any more tumble classes, because the gym was too far away from my school, and I couldn’t afford the costs either.
Finally, in my last year of university, and at 21 years old, I put my mind into achieving some basic tumbling, and I started taking private lessons at a gymnastics gym close to my school. After 3 lessons, I was doing unassisted back handsprings on the trampoline, and learning back tucks off the mini tramp. I’ve been taking lessons for a month and a half, and am starting to work on round-off back handsprings on the tumble track. I thoroughly enjoy the classes, and feel no pressure because I’m only competing with myself, and every small feat feels big to me. I hope to take my handsprings to the floor soon, and believe I can do it.
But I can’t help but wonder if my body will give out at some point, and limit my progress. After all, most tumblers start out much younger than me. The non-tumblers on my team all claim that they’re too old to learn to tumble, but is that just a restriction of the mind, or is it really possible to learn to tumble at twenty? Is there an age that’s too old for this sport? Or can willpower trump age? Does this age apply to stunting too? I’m not sure, but I’m not about to let the answer stop me from trying.
So a few updates: Regionals went quite well last night, and I think we all felt pretty confident out on that floor! I was a little bummed that the nerves got the best of me, so I didn’t fully pull up my scorp during the partner stunts and instead went right to scale, but it didn’t look like a mistake when I watched the video so it wasn’t too bad. The other CCA teams that I watched (Black and Silver) did really good too. Black had really cute stunts, and Silver’s tumbling was awesome!
In this blog post, I’d like to share a few personal reflections on my love of this sport. This past weekend has really made me remember why I love cheerleading so so much, and it makes me so happy, that I feel the need to advertise it to the world!
It’s during competitions that I always vow that I’ll never stop cheering. Just having practices for a while can get kind of repetitive and tedious sometimes, but as soon as you come out and shine on that floor, you know that those grueling hours were well worth it! It’s during those 2:30 minutes that you fly to the moon and back, figure out the meaning of life, and restore peace to the world. You solve world hunger, you love with all your heart, and you live like you were dying. Because during those 2:30 minutes out on those 9 blue mats, you just know that anything is within your reach, and all you have to do is grab it.
For me, it starts about one week away from competition. That building excitement. It’s in the back of your head, poking its little glittery face around the corner. It’s all you ever want to talk about, and your non-cheer friends don’t get it and wish you’d stop bugging them about paying $15 to come watch you for two-and-a-half minutes. You whip out the self-tanner and you make sure you have adequate quantities of bronzer and sparkles for the big day. You make sure to stretch every day, and do some conditioning to get your body into tip-top cheer shape. As the last practice before competition nears its end, you’re feeling confident. We got this in the bag.
The night before, you nervously fall asleep and dream of twisted routines, backstabbing handsprings, mocking judges and embarrassing uniform mishaps. You keep waking up and checking the time every hour, until finally…
You get up with a little knot in your stomach, you eat some bananas (bananas calm your nerves :)), and you begin your big day routine. You shower while mentally going over your cheer motions, and counting through the whole routine. Taking your time, you put on your uniform and do your hair and makeup carefully, while in the background your routine’s soundtrack is on replay. You lay out all your competition necessities on your bed, mentally checking each item off. Cheer shoes – check. Extra eye glitter – check. Lipstick – check. Uniform skirt – check. Bananas – check. Water bottle – check. Snacks and drinks – check. You look yourself over in the mirror, straighten out the giant bow on your head, smile, and pop your team jacket’s collar. Today is your day.
Arriving at comp, you can’t stop smiling, and you keep looking around at the other teams curiously. During warm-up, you give it your all, but somehow it seems far from perfect. Stunts that were always solid at practice are all of a sudden falling down. Handsprings that were once a given are now hiding behind a sheet of nerves, causing injuries before the run. But you are strong. You are part of a team. And that team is with you in everything you do, and they won’t let those ugly nerves get to you, because they want that gold just as much as you do. And behind the curtain, ‘I’ becomes ‘WE’. And as our team is called out to the floor, WE BRING IT. WE smile so hard our faces ache. And those smiles aren’t fake – they are smiles because at this moment, WE are so happy. WE pull those sheets of nerves aside, and WE expose amazing handsprings, high jumps, and strong pyramids. “What injuries?” – WE say, and WE pull our motions so tight that WE might snap in two at any moment. WE DO NOT BAIL, even when things go wrong. Shoes will fall off, bows will fly out, uniforms will come undone, and WE’ll still be going strong. WE pull those arabesques, heelstretches, scorps, and bows [okay maybe we’ve still got a bit of work to bows] like no tomorrow. Because during those 2:30 minutes, there IS no tomorrow. THIS IS OUR LIFE. WE LIVE TO CHEER.
We all know the physical exertion we must endure during practice and on our own time, stretching and contorting our bodies in ways we didn’t know were possible, and doing countless hours of conditioning to get our bodies into tip-top cheer shape. Don’t underestimate the importance of all this, however note that I have come to the conclusion that the hardest conditioning we have to put up with, is that of our mind.
Speaking from the standpoint of a flyer, my brain is something that often messes me up. Before every single stunt I do (be it a double base or a scorp), a little tiny voice at the back of my head says the following in a really fast chipmunk-like voice (no doubt hoping I won’t notice it, and indeed I try not to):
“Mina what are you doing, are you about to let yourself be lifted up? What if you screw up? What if they don’t catch you? What if you fall? Oh you’ll surely fall, this might be the last time you walk, and you’ll end up paralyzed in a wheel chair! You better not screw this up or everyone else in the group will be really disappointed and they won’t like working with you and they’ll want a new flyer, and your coach will be disappointed and won’t put you in any stunts, you need to prove to her you can do this so you better not fall out of that stunt! But wait, you’re not seriously doing this after all I ju -…..”
And it goes on and on. And then I, tune it out, bare a smile, and jump into my bases’ hands. It’s basically a tedious mind battle every practice. I tell myself I love stunting, but that little tiny part in my brain is always dreading it.
Stunting with the right mindset is extremely important. And I’ve found that the only thing that truly makes the little voice in my head quieter and quieter and eventually can completely silence it, is practice. Practicing stunts over and over and over until they’re flawless makes it shut up because it gives me confidence. And boy does that feel great! Actually, it’s that feeling I get when I get a stunt just right, that keeps me going and makes me continue cheering.
But it’s not just the little annoying voice that I have to deal with. You see, to get a stunt just right, it takes an odd combination of concentration. You can’t concentrate too much, because you have to let your body do what it knows how to unconsciously do. But if you concentrate too little, you’ll fail as well. Go figure! It’s so difficult to capture that in-between state of mind and stay there… it’s almost like a type of meditation because you have to focus but not focus at the same time.
Then there are mental blocks that seem to appear out of nowhere. One day you’ll have your full, and the next, boom! All of a sudden you can’t do it anymore and there is absolutely no logical reason as to why! You’re in shape, you’ve been doing it all summer, but darn it it’s like your brain just spat it out one day and decided to forget how to do it!
I’ve heard that many tumblers and sometimes bases too go through mental blocks like these. I recently read a case about a base who started being really afraid of catching, because someone had fallen on her head, so every time she had to catch, she would crouch low (clearly worsening the situation).
Mental blocks can be very frustrating, but what you have to do is imagine yourself executing the skill over and over, and then force yourself to try it out over and over. (Use spots to help if you’re afraid, but don’t learn to rely on them too much). It may take a few practices, weeks, or even months, but it’s just something you have to not give up on. Thus I have faith that my full will return one of these days out of the blue, just like it disappeared.
Anyways, click on the title of this post so you can leave a comment in the comment box that will appear below, and let me know how you cope with mental blocks!