Friday, September 6, 2013

Game Day in the Biggest Little City

One of the best parts of fall is seeing the boys wear their football jerseys to school. Every Friday they can been seen sporting their school colors with pride! Even for the team that is not the state champion this tradition is a favorite.  You must EARN the right to walk into the school wearing that jersey. Not every one has what it takes. Not everyone has the heart to put on the helmet and defend our school. As a coach (and football fan) I look to those boys with pride. They captivate an audience each week by working hard and taking hits. They condition and they train through blood sweat and sometimes tears.  The gridiron gang becomes family. They leave their heart on the field each week. And why? 

The better question is why not. Yes, there are risks involved, but the pride of a win is more enticing. Fame and glory if only for a short while. It's important now. Maybe not in ten years, but right now, this is it. This is our life. These are the boys of fall and tonight we salute you. 
Tonight is your night! 
Friday night lights are upon us...

Let the games begin!

Friday, August 23, 2013


Traditions are one thing that will always unify fans or alumni to a team or school.  You will always remember your first game and the traditions that went along with it.  For some schools and teams it’s repeating the same mantra before every game.  At Notre Dame, the players touch a sign on the way out the tunnel onto the football field that says “Play like a champion today.” This small gesture is something that everyone that has played football for the university of Notre Dame has done.  They share in that tradition and know that when they see those kids take the field to this day they have touched the sign before taking the field.

If you are a professional football fan, you know about the Lambeau Leap.  Twenty years ago, Leroy Butler scored a touchdown off Raider Reggie White’s fumble and leapt into the waiting arms of the Packer faithful; and a tradition was born.  Now days, many non Green Bay players are doing the Lambeau Leap after scoring for their team.  It is the reason why end-zone tickets sell out so quickly! Who wouldn’t want a sweaty 250 lb man in pads to leap into your seat?

One of the coach’s least favorite traditions is the Gatorade Bath.  Every coach I know from youth, high school, college and pro (even though I don’t know any Pro Coaches) has experienced a cold shower of water or Gatorade after a significant win.  Even I have received one! It wasn’t after a win, but at the end of an eventful and hot summer camp.  The coach with possibly the most “baths” is probably Giants Coach Bill Parcells.  Coach Parcells was doused 17 times that season including a bath after the Giants defeated the Broncos at Super Bowl XXI. 

Another tradition that is Baseball specific is the Seventh Inning Stretch.  If you have been to a baseball game from the Single-A farm team level to a professional game you have witnessed and possibly participated in a tradition that started in the late 1880s.  The original purpose was to get up off the hard bleachers to stretch your legs.  In modern baseball, we use the time to stretch our legs and sing “Take me out to the ball game.”  It’s a fun tradition that unifies fans and sparks nostalgia in all of us.

One of my favorite traditions that had gone by the wayside and is slowing coming back it the Hockey Playoff Beards.  The beards started in the 80s and involve an entire hockey team not shaving once they make it to playoffs.  They do not shave again until they are eliminated from the playoffs or they win the Stanley Cup.  The beards become huge and bushy and seemingly appropriate for men on skates beating each other up.

For cheerleaders the traditions are a little different, but they still evoke that sense of team, pride and spirit.  Cheerleaders have been a pop culture icon for many decades.  While the games and skills change there are some parts of cheerleading that will always stay with us.

Team Announcement – Whether you are on a team that has tryouts or not, the day that you get to announce to your friends and family that you are a cheerleader is a big day.

Summer Camp – Specifically earning a spirit stick at camp.  In 1954 at a summer camp, there was a team that was not technically skilled and could not keep up with the other teams.  However, they had a wonderful attitude and team spirit.  They were the first ones to arrive each morning and the last to leave.  They cheered on the other teams and really embodied what it meant to be a cheerleader.  Lawrence Herkimer wanted a way to recognize the team for their efforts so he broke a branch off the nearest tree and awarded it to the team, declaring it the Spirit Stick.  To this day earning a spirit stick at camp is an honor that means more than any trophy or ribbon.  It means that above all, you embody the core values of cheerleading.

About a year ago, I polled the Alumni from my teams to see what their favorite traditions were when they were on the team.  One of the most loved traditions is our Spirit Chain. Each December, after we have had tryouts for the winter cheer team, we take a few weeks and participate in team bonding activities and games.  The last one is the forming of the spirit chain.  Each team member is given one of those links that you attach baby toys to strollers with.  We all sit in a circle and one at a time we say one goal for the season and what the team means to each of us.  We pass our link to the next person, who adds their link to the chain and so on.  After it comes full circle back to me, I also state my goal for the season and what the team means to me.  My link completes the circle.  After we finish the circle, we talk about how each link is important and what happens if someone breaks the chain.  It is often emotional.  The kids make sure that the spirit chain is at every game and practice.  At competition, I can be seen wearing the chain around my neck to remind them of the hard work and dedication it took to keep the circle together.  As you look through the trophy cases at school, along with the trophies and spirit sticks you will see chains of baby toys.

Another emotional tradition that we have is our recognition of seniors.  At the end of season banquet, all the seniors are called to the front of the room and a letter is read to them.  The letter talks about being part of our team and that we will miss the seniors when they are gone.  We tell the seniors that we will continue to work hard and make them proud to say they were a member of our team.  After I have read the letter, each senior girl receives a gold megaphone necklace.  The seniors look forward to getting that necklace because it means they have been a major part of something big.  They have left their mark on the program and we have given them something to be proud of.  Years later I still have kids that wear that necklace and talk about the power of that moment at the banquet. 

From athletics to academics, everything has traditions.  Think about the things you do each day.  What traditions do you participate in at school, work, or in your sport?  Traditions make us feel like a part of something and take pride in our efforts.  I’m proud to carry on the traditions at my school and help the athletes and students take part in them and feel like a part of them family.



Monday, August 5, 2013

A Story To Tell

As a coach, every time I stop and take the time to listen to others and truly hear their story I learn something. As I get older and questionably wiser, many of the kids don't even have to say a word. I see their story on their faces and I hear it in their voice. 

I have always gravitated toward the high school age, because I relate more to them. However, today as I was working with the four amazing girls from the DSA cheer team, I saw each one of them as individuals and they wore their fears and their story on their face and in every thing they did. I made a huge effort to slow down and encourage them and make each one feel important. Yes, they were frustrating and new, but they did try and they did keep working all day. I was worried at the end of the day they would feel frustrated and a little out numbered with the amount of high school girls at camp. 

Later this evening I received a short email from their coach about how much the girls enjoyed the camp and what an amazing experience this was.  I made me stop and re-think my contact with those girls today. It made me think of the very few teachers that encouraged me at that age and how different I would be if mote teachers would have made the effort.  It's nice to know that even though I get busy and I worry about things that don't ultimately matter, I am still making a difference. That I can still change the course of a day by just stopping to listen and watch. 

It's humbling to know that as we tell our cheerleaders that there are little girls in the stands looking up to them, our cheerleaders are also looking up to us. Years from now when they are coaching their own teams the examples and expectations we set help define who they are as people and coaches. I hope that over the years I have made a difference to them all. 

I am afraid I missed a few. I hope that those who have looked up to me haven't been let down. Thank you for allowing me to grow as a person and a coach be being in your lives. 


Thursday, May 23, 2013

Tryout Meetings

I just recently held my tryout meeting for the upcoming school year, and it occurred to me the day of that I should probably write out an agenda so that I stay on track while delivering information.  I do tend to spiral out of control when I get on a tangent!

As I sat at my computer my mind went blank.  I have been coaching Cheerleading for 18 years and I don't think my mind has ever gone blank when preparing for a meeting!  If one of my coaching friends were to call me and say that they had a meeting that night and wanted to know what to include I would have been able to spew out an agenda right quick!  But here I was sitting in front of a blank screen. 

I finally decided to look at it from a parents point of view.  When I remarried a few years ago, I became step mom to two teens. One of which is a three sport athlete. I put myself at one of the football, wrestling or track meetings and thought about what I needed to know for my own student. 

I started with introductions. Not just a " hi, my name is..." But I made sure to tell a little bit about myself and my coaching style.  I also made sure to introduce my assistants and talk about their coaching experience. 

Next, I spoke to the parents about the cheer program. What it's goals were and how we accomplish them. I spoke a out the responsibility and expectations from the school and community and the time commitment. 

This lead well into the calendar and how much time this program takes. I also went over costs and fundraisers and any other expectations. 

I then went in to the actual tryout process. What we taught, what we were looking for and what to expect. I explained what to wear, times, locations, material,the importance of attitude and when they would find out if they made the team. 

I did a quick review of the team rules and the required forms for tryouts and then was available for questions. 

I was happy with the meeting and that the parents seemed to walk away with the information they needed. I made it clear that i have an open door policy and that communication is KEY to a successful season! 

I hope that you were successful with your meeting!  If you have already had it, maybe send out an email or discuss things with them at the next meeting. Too much communication is better than none!!


Wednesday, May 15, 2013

I Survived!

The A to Z Challenge is over!  
It was a super fun month of writing and learning and getting to know some wonderful people.  The challenge for me is making sure that I set aside time to write.  The topics are not usually hard and often I have to edit out the content so that the posts are not too long.  For those that know me, know I can be a smidge-bit long winded [insert eye rolling here].

For me, the hardest part is writing for the rest of the year.  I would LOVE to be able to write every day or at the very least every week, but for some reason I struggle with content and topics. 

So, here I am putting my goal in writing!  

My goal is to submit at least one post per week.  

That breaks down to 45 posts from now until the next blogging challenge!

Ready? Set?... YOU BET!


Friday, May 3, 2013

Countdown to Zero

The end of the beginning.

As the 2013 A to Z challenge reaches the end, we find ourselves at the beginning of the cheer season.  Most coaches are busy preparing and hosting tryouts, figuring out budgets, deciding on spirit packs, and planning the summer season.  As usual, during the blogging process I have discovered new things about my surroundings and myself.  I have made new friends, connected with new coaches and new people and still have lots to work on.  I want to take a little time and share with you some of the things that I need to work and what I have learned in the last thirty days.

I have learned that as I get older and gain more experience, I learn to see past the BS excuses my students give me.  I know when their heart is not in it and when they are just going through the motions.  I need to not take it personally when a student leave the program, not every one is a cheerleader and not everyone works well in my style.

Work to do.
I really want to focus on hitting all those individual and team goals that we set at the beginning of the season.  I want them to feel like they are working hard and accomplishing things every day.  I want our program to continue to be a role model for other schools.

This season is going to be an emotional one.  As the blog challenge progressed, I learned that 90% of the coaching knowledge I have, was learned at my current school.  Each year I come closer and closer to retiring as a coach and the thought of not being with my current school, students and staff saddens me.  I will be forever grateful for the lessons learned and memories made here.

Work to do. 
Focus on the individuals to make the team better.  I need to make sure that I connect with each team member each day.  They need to know that I care about them and the work they do.  Motivation to carry on the traditions set before them and leave their mark on the program.

I have learned that I need to spend some time on my coaching knowledge.  As we head into the new season with the new rules, I need to be better about asking for help and letting some of the control go.  (Eeeekkk!)  I need to stay on top of the trends and techniques that will make us better. 

Work to do.
Stick to the practice plan.  I usually have the entire season planned out by the first practice.  I need to stay focused on that plan so that we get everything done that needs done.  I need to help them do the best job they can do.

I have learned that you cannot rebuild a burned bridge in a year.  Some things are beyond repair and sometimes you just have to let those people go.  I have done my part and built my bridge back up, but if they don’t want to cross it, at some point we have to realize it is their loss.

Work to do.
I need to prepare my assistant coaches and staff to lead and the team.  I will never be able to retire if I don’t train my replacement.  Let go.  Let them lead.  Let them have control.

I have learned that no matter the circumstances, life goes on.  We can think, plan and prepare all we want but at the end of the day, things are going to happen and we need to be able to roll with it and move on.  My program is successful because I have made it successful.  The kids come and go.  Some work hard and some don’t, but all of them have made this program successful.  As a coach, I learned from every single one of my cheerleaders and I hope they have learned from me.

Thank you for following along the past 30 days.  I hope that you too have learned something or have something that has inspired you.  I know that the comments of the readers opened my eyes many times.


Monday, April 29, 2013

Your piece of the puzzle

Last year I had my team participate in a team bonding project. When I first started I though it was going to be just fun and it turned out being one of the most powerful projects of the season.

As a team we were a little disjointed, we were senior heavy and many of them had caught the senioritis bug and were not working to their potential.  The underclassmen were struggling to carry the team and motivate the senior girls that should have been motivating them.  It resulted in weak practices, some very poor performances and the team missing opportunities that could have been amazing.  I had seen the project on Pinterest and figured that it wouldn’t hurt to try.

Find a jigsaw puzzle that has at least as many pieces as you do team members.  Each teammate gets a puzzle piece.  If you have extra, you can take one or give the extras to the captains and managers.

The directions are to decorate the blank side any way they want.  They can color, paint, glitter, add stickers, feathers, etc.  The only rule is that they have to leave the puzzle piece in tact so that we can assemble the puzzle.  Make sure that all decorations are firmly attached.

I handed out the pieces to the puzzle, gave them the directions, and two days to decorate the puzzle.  At practice, I had them get their puzzle pieces and assemble the puzzle with the original image facing up on a board.  Once they had all the pieces collected and assembled, they flipped the puzzle over to reveal the team puzzle.  There were a few girls that did not bring their puzzle piece, so the puzzle was not complete. 

It was interesting that the girls that were the least invested in the team were the ones that did not participate.  The message sent to the team was that you have to do the work to be part of the puzzle and no team is complete without all of its team members.  The team members that did participate were able to see themselves as a part of the bigger picture and it actually motivated them to work harder at the remaining practices that season.  They even started pushing the girls that were slacking off more.  They saw the potential they had and knew that in order to complete the puzzle every piece was important.


X-Ray Vision

Seeing beyond the excuses and learning that Coaches always know.  Always.

This topic letter was a bit of a challenge until a fellow coach of mine offered up X-Ray.  As a coach of teenagers, I see a lot and I hear a lot.  In order to maintain the image that we want for our team, we have to be able to read a personality almost instantly.  As a veteran cheerleader and cheer coach I have gotten good at reading my squad and knowing when they are trying to BS me.  As a great friend of mine says, “You cant BS a BS’er”.  When I was a teenager, I thought I was sneaky enough to get away with things and I was ALWAYS caught.  My mom ALWAYS knew what I was up too.  Years after I was in high school and no longer living at home I asked her how she did it.  She simply said pay attention and listen. 

Society has gotten to the place where monitoring my team’s social media sites is important to maintain the image we have set for our program.  At tryouts and at my information meetings I tell the kids what I am looking for them to do and why.  I ask them to add our team page as a friend on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc.  If they are following the rules there should be nothing to hide.  There have been a few times where my students were at a party or participating in something that they shouldn’t have been and it has shown up on a social media site.  I don’t stalk their pages, I simply read through and if something catches my eye I look into it.  99% of the time my kids are fine.  I see some language issues and a few questionable photos now and then, but for the most part, they are good. 

As a coach, I feel that it is important to monitor these sites.  You have a program that’s success is dependent on young girls making the correct choices.  They need to understand the responsibility that they have to the team.  Even colleges are getting on the social media circus.  Our local university here expects it squad members to work hard and portray them selves in a positive manner.  They have IIE on many of their practice clothes.  IIE means, Image Is Everything.  Putting those three simple letters on the practice clothes is just a small reminder to them to stay focused and do the right things. 

This past weekend was the tryout for the university.  As a coach, I highly suggest that if you have the opportunity to attend a tryout, you should go.  It is amazing to see the differences between high school and college.  While many of the things that college tryouts do we are not allowed to do in high school, there are so many things that we can take from watching back to our teams.  Each girl is required to attend tryouts wearing the school colors.  They must be “game ready.”  Hair should be done and clothes nice and neat.  Makeup on, clean shoes, manicured hands. Be on time, no phones, pay attention, etc.  They want to see what you will look like on the sidelines of a game or at an event for the school and if you have the discipline to be in their program.  If you don’t present yourself well at tryouts you are probably not going to during the season. 

Pay attention and listen.  Watch social media.  Listen to them when they are sitting around talking on breaks.  Pay attention to what they wear to school.  Talk to teachers.  Communicate with parents.  Listen to their friends in the bleachers during games.  You will find out quite a bit just by doing these things.  It matters. When I make comments to my team about a party or get-together that I knew about, or things they are doing, they always ask me and I always say, I know everything.  You don’t want to be that coach that gets the call from their athletic director saying that half your team is sitting out for 6 weeks because they made the choice to drink at a party and got busted by the police. (Guilty).  It may seem like a lot more work, but if you truly want your program to improve, you need to monitor your team outside of practice just as much as inside.  They don’t stop being cheerleaders when they take off the uniform.


Friday, April 26, 2013

Workout Woes

Mixing up your cheer workouts throughout the year.

Lets face it, jog, stretch, motions, jumps, stunts, tumbling, dancing, cheers, chants, conditioning… over 100 times in a season.  Almost everyday for 8 months… I think we would all get bored!  Keeping our athletes motivated to come to practice and give 100% each time is a challenge.  Sometime around mid November, the kids start to get burnt out.  Keeping the fun in practice is one of the many ways to mix up your practices and make each day, week or month more exciting.

Warm-up.  I know my teams HATE to run, so we alternate our warm up each day.  We have a conditioning warm-up that we do to music, we jog and stretch, or we DANCE.  If you have been to a wedding in the last 5 years, you have probably seen the Cha-Cha Slide or the Wobble.  These are great ways to get the bodies warm and muscles loosened up.  In the cheer world, we do a few as well.  The Georgia Bounce, Monkey on a Stick and Ice Cream and Cake are a few cheerleader favorites.  All of which have specific music and motions that match.  You can find the how-tos on Youtube, and if you need the music for any of them, I can email it to you.

Games.  Sometimes I use games for conditioning.  The cheerleaders get to run around and play games, at the same time they are getting in a cardio workout. Depending on the game, maybe get in some light weight lifting.  These are good the day before a game or major performance to help relieve stress and condition without pushing to soreness.  Red Light, Green Light and Sharks and Minnows are great for cardio.  Like the dances, cheerleaders have some games that they learn at camp that are also good for cardio and strength.  Lovers Leap and Ships and Sailors are all variations of Simon Says.  Some times they are running around, some times climbing on each other, jumping, lying down, spinning around, etc. 

Themed Practice.  Another way to keep the kids looking forward to practice is to have themed days or dress up days.  Pick one day a month or so and set a theme.  Super Hero, Princess, Decades (50’s/60’s, 70’s, 80, etc.), Colored practices, or animals are all fun ideas for dress up days.  On these days, the cheerleaders would dress up in clothes that represent the theme.  If it is colors, assign each stunt group a color and the group that has the best representation of that color wins a prize. For decades, have each grade be a different decade. You can choose your themes by month as well. 

Here are a few samples of what my teams have done in the past:
  • July – Christmas/Red, White & Blue
  • August – Super Hero Training Camp
  • September – Pirate (National Talk Like A Pirate Day is this month!)
  • October – Halloween
  • November – Boot Camp (for Veterans Day)
  • December – Beach Theme (opposite of Christmas in July)
  • January – Disco or Jungle Theme
  • February – Pink out practice (Valentines Day)

You get the idea. Many times, we plan food or snacks around these dress-up days and make it a break from the norm.  Just make sure the kids know that they need to be safe for working on material.  Make sure they remove all capes, hats, boots, and accessories before stunting!

Here are a few more ideas that you could implement:
  • Picnic Practice -Practice all day in a park.  Each member brings a different food.  Work on new material.
  • Pillow Cases -Each person brings a white pillowcase to practice and Squad members draw and color each other’s pillowcases. Maybe before going away to camp?
  • Quote of the Day -Squad members take turns bringing a poem or a positive quote to practice to share.
  • Secret Pals -Week, Month, or Season.  Assign or draw for names.  Send notes, small gifts, etc.

Mix it up and keep it fun.  Break up the monotony of the everyday routine.  This will help squad bonding and creating those memories that last long after senior night!


Thursday, April 25, 2013

Variety in Coaching

The longer you coach, the more you see. 
The more you see, the more you learn. 
The more you learn, the more you have to teach. 

As a veteran coach I am asked all the time how I figured out my coaching style and what to do in certain situations.  My answer is always the same… Time.  When I started out coaching that first JV team, I had so many plans and dreams of what they would be.  I quickly learned that my dreams and plans are directly related to what they want to do.  There is a saying “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink.”  This is SO true with coaching youth and teens!  As adults we tend to forget that teens don’t have the same plans or dreams that we do.  They do not see the world as we do.  We see the potential in our athletes when our athletes see sleep and food.

A long time coach will tell you that they start each year with those same plans and goals that they did the first year.  The difference is, the longer you have been coaching the better you get and motivation and getting the team to buy into what your trying to do. You have to change the way you coach a little bit each year to motivate the different types of students and different types of athletes.  You don’t change your expectations, you simply change the delivery. 

I have former athletes that come back, watch practices, and say to me, “Man! You have gotten so soft!  We would NEVER have gotten away with what these guys are doing!”  Also, some come back and say to me that I have gotten mean and they are glad they cheered for me when they did.  At the end of the year, the teams all accomplish the same goals.  They all learned what they needed to learn and participated to the best of their ability.  Very rarely do we have teams that finish a season a disappointment.  The teams learn to work hard every year their own way. 

Some years I am mean and some years I am super nice.  I have learned how to read my team and know how to motivate them.  There are still some years or some seasons where I miss the mark and the teams are not as good as they could have been.  Sometimes it is my coaching and sometimes it is the kids.  Sometimes you get cheerleaders and sometimes you get girls that want to be called cheerleaders.  You learn to do the best you can with what you have. 

At the beginning of every year, I start practices with the same basic plan.  We review or learn motions, jumps, basic tumbling, the fight song and our stunt progressions.  I learn about the team while they are mastering these skills.  If they have the motivation to get through their basics, I know that they are a motivated group and I can push them a little harder.  If it takes the full three weeks of summer practices to learn the basics, I know I have a playful team on my hands and if I push to fast, they will push back.  The teams that learn slower are not bad; they just have a different focus. This theory works most of the time.  I am always evaluating and re-evaluating my team, taking the motivational temperature of their skills.  I have also learned to pay attention to their school schedules.  Major school functions have a direct impact on the athletes.  I know that if we are coming up on Homecoming week that I am going to lose their focus for a while.  We have to be solid in our routines at least a week before any major school function.  If not, we will not have a stellar performance. 

For those coaches who have been coaching a while, please reach out to the new coaches around you and share your experiences.  They are going to need advice when their vision of what those first seasons fizzles before them.

For the coaches that are new and have all the dreams and goals and plans, please keep those dreams!  Listen to the coaches around you that have been there.  They can offer advice and guidance to make sure your dreams are realized!

We are not alone in our coaching.  We should never have to reinvent the wheel!  Listen and learn from each other!  There is a lot of knowledge and experience around you.

Uplifting Exercise

A few days ago, I was reading a book of motivational games I picked up from a yard sale.  I didn’t realize it at the time, but it is for cooperate companies, not for sports.  There are a ton of great ideas that you can adapt for sports programs and cheerleading in general.  It really focuses on goal setting.  The book is called: The Big Book of Motivation Games.  By Robert Epstein, Ph.D.

I saw an exercise in it that I used every year for my cheerleaders before a big performance.
The exercise is called “All That You Can Be” in the book. 

In a Nutshell:
“In a partially-guided imagery exercise, participants visualize themselves working at their peak performance.”

What It’s For:
Use this game if you want to: perform at your peak; boost yur energy when its low; envision and achieve your personal goals; motivate your staff members (Cheerleaders) to perform at their peak; etc.

I use it to help the team visualize themselves performing the routine perfectly in their mind so that when they get on the floor or field they have already ‘done’ it.  It requires no special materials or handouts and only takes about 10 minutes.  It boosts confidence in each athlete quite a bit! 

What To Do:
Advise participants to sit in a relaxed position, close their eyes and breathe easy.  Then recite the following text in a soothing voice:

What I Do:
Have the participants lay on the floor, not touching each other, eyes closed.  I slowly start talking them through the moments before the routine and all the way through until the performance is done. It is important that they think of their answers and stay quiet. 
Here is what we would do if we were preparing for competition:
*Imagine sitting in the bleachers waiting your turn.  What do you see?  Hear?
*Your in the practice room.  Imagine the mat, the other teams stretching and warming up. 
*Next your on deck, standing in the tunnel.  Look around at your teammates.  Imagine how excited they will be when you perform your best. 
*Now, take the floor.  Imagine running onto the mat.  Do you see the crowd?  Do you see the judges?

At this point I start playing their competition music and have them mentally run through the routine. After the music is over we go back.
You've hit your ending stunt and dismount to the floor.  As you rally off, do you see your friends and family?  Do you see your team mates?  Do you see your coach?  How does it feel to be done?

When we are done with the mental run-through, I ask them about how they felt.  Were they proud? Did everything hit in their mind? 

If they had problems in a certain area in their mind, those are the areas we focus on at practice.  It is important to discuss the exercise at the end.  It helps the kids understand why we are doing it and it gives them the opportunity to SEE themselves performing correctly.  We do this every time before we compete and they all like it. 

Give it a try for your team, see how it works!

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Staying Organized

Getting organized as a coach can make the difference between a hectic year and your best season ever.  All it takes is a little start up time and the discipline to stick with it.  Here are a few of my tricks to make getting and staying organized easier.

Supply List
  • 3-Ring Binder
  • Clear Page Protectors
  • Tab Dividers
  • Heavy-duty plastic folders with clasps to hold in hole-punched paper
  • Composition Book
  • Heavy Duty Bag.  Either a Duffle or a Curriers bag

The front of the binder should have a master calendar.  I use Microsoft Word to create a calendar on my computer.  Print the whole school year. Use this to add all events and record any absences that your cheerleaders tell you of in advance.  Make sure that you add all events that you have scheduled and dates for.  Update weekly with new events or changes.  Put your calendar in a page protector.

Next, have a Contact list for your team or teams.  Include the full name, cell phone and email for each student.  You can also add the name, phone and email address of a parent.  Put your contact list in a page protector.

Also, keep any forms or documents that your school uses.  I keep a list of all administrators and contact info.  There is a gym schedule of what teams schedule the gym and when.  Include a contact list for other coaches.  In addition, the game schedules for the other sports teams on campus.

You should have a tab section will blank copies of all of the paperwork that the students get. Keep it in order and as you hand out papers, add to this section.  You can write the date that you handed it out on the bottom.

Have a tab for each team.  In my case, I have a tab for the JV and one for Varsity.  Include copies of all the signed paperwork.  Organize it alphabetically by student. Student paperwork includes, permission slips, fees list, cheerleader information sheet, team rules, spirit pack order form, any doctor’s notes and parent communications.

Make sure that you have a tab for individual accounting.  Depending on your records, this should include a ledger of any fees paid, the dues required by each student and any money from fundraising.

At the back of your binder keep any discipline forms and injury report forms so they are ready when needed.

Most schools require you to carry a parent emergency form or clearance form for each child in case of emergency.  These include all contact information for parents and backup contacts along with allergies, injuries and hospital/Doctor information.  I keep copies of these for each cheerleader in the plastic folders.  I keep the folder in my coach’s bag with my team binder.  It is separate for easy access.  If an emergency occurs, I don't want to dig through the team binder to find the one form.

Purchase a simple composition book use it to keep a daily journal.  Record any absences, tardies, discipline, and parent contact.  Jot down what you did that day at practice or the game and the overall feeling of the event.  I also write down what we did for team bonding that day. If we had a discussion, I record the topic and notes on what was said.  This becomes a great tool if you ever have to go back and remember and absences, conversations with students, what day you taught a dance, etc. 

In my coach’s bag, which is my life for the duration of cheer season, I keep my team binders, the emergency forms, my NFHS rulebook, coach’s journal, pens, pencils, hair ties, timer, calculator, and scratch paper.  Depending on your team you can adjust what you carry.  My bag has LOTS of pockets and a heavy duty strap since I drag it everywhere!

This all may seem like a lot, but if you set it up in the beginning and once a week update your binder, journal and clean out your bag you will stay on top of your cheer life.  Use it as a learning tool and set an example for your teams to stay on track!


Monday, April 22, 2013


Cleaning up your program’s image - PART TWO

Yesterday, I told the story of taking on a program in need of help.  Today, I would like to tell you with a little more detail how we turned a group of misfit girls into a successful cheer team.  Please remember that this did not happen over night, and is in fact still a work in progress.  As the students grow and evolve, the program must grow and evolve along with them.  Patience is the key to coaching any sport!

The first step is to evaluate your program and determine its strengths and weaknesses.  Talk to teachers, staff, administration, students, and parents to get a feel for the image as it stands and what they would like to see.  See what needs work and what needs praised.  There will be some of both.  Attend your schools athletic coaches meetings.  Even if your state/district/school does not consider cheerleading a sport, you should start to treat them as athletes and work towards equality.  Treating your cheerleaders as athletes will help their image improve from ditzy girls jumping up and down on the sidelines to hard working teammates.

With the information from talking to the community, you will need to decide what your teams focus will be.  You could be strictly a sideline team that supports athletics and school events or you could incorporate a competition element into your program.  This focus will be important when determining your team rules and expectations.

Once you have a list of things to work toward and you know your team focus, you can begin to develop a team handbook or constitution that will govern the cheerleaders and offer a defined set of expectations.  You will want to make this easy to understand for people that may not be familiar with cheerleading terms or the athletic community.  It needs to cover all aspects of the program.  Include everything from tryouts, grades, commitment, responsibilities, uniforms, practices, discipline, banquet, fundraising, etc.

Now you can start the task of evaluating the cheers, chants and dances in your program.  Try to eliminate moves and words that could be considered provocative.  Audit your music and make sure that everything is language and image appropriate.  Simply because it is on the radio or you see it on TV doesn’t mean that it is projecting the image you want for your team.  You may also want to check your uniforms.  Make sure that the skirts are not too short and the tops cover mid-riff areas.  Dancing and cheering in short skirts is already risky, we don’t need to shrink the clothes to enhance the imagination of our crowd!

Once you have gone through your rules, your material, your wardrobe and cleared everything with your administration you need to host a parent meeting BEFORE tryouts to express the new expectations and explain to the parents and cheerleaders what you’re trying to accomplish.  If they understand the rules before trying out it will help eliminate surprises later.

During your tryouts, evaluate your potential team on more than just skills.  How did they show up to tryouts?  Check their social media; Are they projecting an image in their daily lives that will reflect well on your program?  Do they help others?  Are they taking direction well from you and your staff?   These things may sound harsh or unnecessary, but they will make an impact on your team in three months when you are tired of working together and stressed out.

It is important to share your team goals and the image you want to project.  Show them examples of other teams (preferably not in your area) that have a poor team image.  Show them examples of teams that have a good team image and include them in the brainstorming of how to accomplish the new image.  If they don’t buy into what you are trying to do and don’t want to make an effort, regardless of how good they are they will not be a good fit for your team.  You and your team will struggle with them all season long. 

I hope this puts you in the right direction for gaining control and respect for your program!


Quality Control

Cleaning up your program’s image - PART ONE

When I took this coaching position 8 years ago, I was the fourth coach in 3 years.  The coach that started the 2004-05 school year quit mid-winter season and the athletic director had to step in and cover until the end of the year.  When I interviewed, one of the biggest concerns of the administration was that they girls have more discipline and we start to recruit more athletic and academic students to be cheerleaders.  They wanted a better image and less drama.  Through our discussions, we decided that the best way to do that was to develop a team handbook that covered all expectations and team rules.  We had a master set of rules that the administration could stand behind when parents had an issue.  We also decide to work very hard at keeping costs low to attract more of the less fortunate athletes that would excel in cheer.

We had a few issues come up the first two years with them pushing buttons and trying out the rules.  The girls on the team that were juniors and seniors didn’t want to follow the rules because they felt that the seniors before them were allowed to run wild.  They pushed the rules every chance they got!  There were parties that involved alcohol and strippers, there was fighting, drama, issues of language and disrespect for my and the rest of the team.  I went to the football coach, who had an incredible team of respectful and hard working players.  I asked him what I needed to do to get my cheerleaders on the write page.  He told me that I needed to stick with my rules.  Understand that I couldn’t change my Juniors and Seniors.  They were going to run wild and push buttons.  If I wanted to leave them on the team, I needed to just be ready to fight with them and pick my battles.  He told me that in order to turn the program around I needed to start with my underclassmen.  Treat them like I would when the program was run they way I wanted.  Show them how great it could be and get them to buy into what we were trying to do.  I struggled a little with the underclassmen.  They still saw the seniors breaking rules and being disrespectful and all I could do was ensure that things would get better once that class graduated.

The third year things started out rough.  My seniors from the year before went out with a bang and left a bad impression on the student body and teaching staff about cheerleaders.  They spoke bad about me and what I was trying to do.  When tryouts came along we only had 10 or so tryout.  I ended up taking 8 solid cheerleaders and one potential mess (she quit shortly before camp).  That year we decided to jump in with both feet and make the program a success.  With the exception of one girl, everyone on the team was brand new and never cheered before.  We started from scratch and made that everyone had the basics.  They were young, but they had great spirit.  They worked hard and did everything they could to be involved.  They didn’t want the same image of the teams before them and we rewarded them for that.  Each Monday we brought in snacks to the team to celebrate the successes of the previous week.  They were the first group of cheerleaders to get to cheer on boxes.  (Wooden boxes designed to raise the cheerleaders up about 18 inches to see over the football players on the sidelines.)  They were the first group in many years to get to travel with the football team to away games.  The girls started earning the respect of the teachers and a few of the students. They understood what they needed to and how they needed to do it.  That year we were able to attend the state cheer competition and became the 3A state runner ups in the show cheer and partner stunt divisions.  They saw success for the first time in a long time.  The cheerleaders and the school had something to be proud of.

For my “R” Blog, I will cover Respect and how to earn it.  I will go into detail about defining squad expectations and focus.  I will also explain the importance of your parent meetings and your evaluation skills.


Friday, April 19, 2013

Planning Practice

I think that maybe I have gone through enough touchy feely stuff this week.  
Lets get back to some actual material...

You may have heard the phrase “Championships are won at practice, competition is just where you pick up the trophy.” 

There is a lot to be said about a well-run practice.  Organization, time management, goals and commitment are all key to a successful practice.  Many times cheerleaders have far more on their plate than time allowed at practice.  There are many ways to accomplish what you need during practice time. Evaluate your upcoming events and incorporate those things into your weekly goals.  Prioritize and work on the things that are most important and will take the longest to accomplish first. 

I have found that creating a practice plan helps keep me on track.
I have a binder that I have copies of the practice outline in.  Each day I fill in the goals for each day.

The outline looks like this:

At the end of each practice, I use the back of the practice plan to make notes about things that happened at Practice.  Record any praise or problems, goal achievement, etc.  If we did not accomplish something on the list that needs done I will make a note to remind myself to get back to it.

Fill in the blanks for the items that need attention the next day.  If you take something out to work on a special project, make a note.  If you notice that you are not getting through certain tasks, evaluate the time, determine if you need more time or if you need to keep the team on track, and focused.

One idea for staying within your time is to get a countdown timer.  I found a nice one at the dollar store that will count down to the second.  At the start of each task set the timer, when it goes off they have 1 minute to get a drink of water and move to the next task. 

Some coaches find that writing out the plan on a large piece of paper to display at practice is helpful.  The whole team can see it and know what they are working on next.

You could also use the poster idea as a reward tool.  If you want to get out of practice early or if they want time at the end of practice, make a list of all the things that they need to accomplish before the end of practice.  If they get through the list early, they may get out early or they can have the left over time to work on something special.

Most importantly – Make Notes. 
If I don’t write something down, it doesn't happen.  Make a list, make a chart, or write goals on a calendar… What ever works for you will help you and your team successful.