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!