Wednesday, April 9, 2014

E is for Enthusiasm

Enthusiasm is taught, and also contagious.  As coaches, we try to teach our cheerleaders to lead their crowd.  To lead they must set an example.  To set an example they must see the example or understand the goal.  Cheerleaders are a visual bunch.  They feed off their surroundings.  Their first contact with the material, event or project is the coach.  If they see that their coach is excited or motivated about what they are doing, they will most likely be excited as well.  As a coach, we have to sell it.

Recently my cheerleaders were asked to perform at a retirement party for a local dignitary that graduated from our school almost 40 years ago.  When I was first asked to have them participate, I was skeptical of their reaction.  I know that being involved was going to be a great experience for them and the retiree.  I also knew that I had to sell that it was a privilege and an honor to be asked (which it was).  I needed to find a way to connect what they were interested in and what our current traditions were with what the graduate would remember of cheerleaders in 1975. 

The choreography was simple, I chose music from the era, put a dance to it that would be fun for the girls and fun for the crowd that was reminiscent of the 70’s, but challenging enough to keep with the skills we have now.  I chose uniforms from our collection that they haven’t used in a few years so that the girls felt a little nostalgic.  I also had them Google Farrah Fawcett so they could style their hair like hers.  By taking the time to do all of these things, it made the girls feel more connected to the performance and the era.  Because they had the connection, they were in turn excited and enthusiastic about the event.

With each practice, performance, fundraiser, charity event, assembly, etc. the coaches must be excited and enthusiastic about what they do.  The cheerleaders will follow that lead and the enthusiasm will translate to the crowd.  We must teach our cheerleaders to be enthusiastic about everything they do.  Turn practices into creative games and squad competitions.  Give them something to look forward to other than just showing up and working material and skills. 

Over time you, the cheerleaders and the crowd will have more fun at events.



Monday, April 7, 2014

D is for Dedication

Dedication (noun) – adherence to something to which one is bound by a pledge or duty.

Today’s students are from the “Now” ideal. 
They have knowledge and information instantly at their fingertips. 
They can chat with friends and family right now.
They have television DVR so they don’t have to watch commercials. 
This generation has not been forced to understand patience.  They do not know what it is like to have to sit and wait through three and a half minutes of commercials or wait to speak to the friends they just saw until they get home.

How do we teach this new generation about working hard for results when they are so used to instant gratification?  When pride of performance and long term goals are not as important as “What’s in it for me now?”  I’m sorry to say that I don’t have a firm answer to that, but I do have some ideas and I know what I’ve tried and what works for the Title 1 city students that I coach.

In order to be dedicated, one must see and understand the goal in front of them.  They need to understand the path to achieve it.  One great way to do this is to create a road map of the goal.  An actual poster with a road.  Think the “Game of Life” game that we played as kids.  The end game is the goal for the season.  Along the road (in order) put the smaller goals that they need to see and accomplish.  They cannot move forward until they have done the time at each stop along the road.  If your end of season goal is to perform at a competition, they break all the pieces they will need to know along the road.  Get creative with this and add in fun things too.  Bonding, parties, dress up days, assemblies, etc.

Dedication is also to a family.  Turn them into a family.  Support each other.  Build the honor and duty to their family and teach them how to rely on each other.  Many of my kids do not come from supporting families.  They look to the athletic teams and coaches that they play for as leaders and an outlet from their everyday lives.  We have found a balance between love and friendship with the team and hard work and dedication.  It takes practice and patience to make it all work.  Find what works for your kids and go with it.

Every team must – Dream. Believe. Achieve.


C is for Coach

Are you ready to coach?

Making the choice to become a coach is one that should not be taken lightly.  Good coaches spend infinite amounts of time working for the teams they coach, planning, preparing, analyzing, and watching film (Yes, even cheer coaches watch film).  A lot of time goes into planning a successful cheer season.  Cheerleaders are an active and involved bunch as I have mentioned many times. Someone has to be in charge of coordinating all that.

I don’t want to scare you off from coaching, but I would like to outline a few things to think about before getting into a head coaching position.  To take a quote from the Boy Scouts, “Be Prepared.”

Time management
The first thing to consider when making the decision is to determine the type of squad you are going to have.  Set up a meeting with your Administration to discuss the expectations they have of the program. This meeting will serve many purposes, we’ll refer to it often.  If the administration would like a highly involved squad that participates in many games and functions, then your time commitment is going to be greater.  If they simply want a squad that shows up to games and the occasional assembly, then you won’t have to spend as much time.

An involved team will require approximately 15-20 hours per week from the coach to prepare, plan, practice and attend games.  I typically spend 1 hour per day planning and then 2 hours per day at practices 3-4 days per week.  Once or twice a week we have games to perform at which are 2-3 hours.  You could spend more or less time than this depending on your coaching style.  I am a pretty hands-on/involved coach so I spend extra time when I can.

Knowledge of the Rules
Coaching sports comes with a required amount of knowledge of the sport and its rules.  Many times there are sport-specific certifications that must be obtained.  Most of the knowledge is learned on your own time and classes are often paid for on your own dime.  At the minimum, I would recommend that you become certified in CPR/First Aid, Concussions, and the AACCA Certification (American Association of Cheer Coaches and Advisors).  The CPR/First Aid will cost around $40.00 depending on who or where you take it from.  The AACCA certification is $75.00 and done online.  It takes 2-4 hours depending on your previous knowledge of the sport and test.  The concussion course is also offered online from the NFHS (National Federation High Schools).  It is a free course. 

Each state you coach in will follow a national standard for spirit team rules.  The two most common standards are the NFHS or the AACCA rules.  Many of the rules from the two are the same, but with some minor differences.  The two entities have been working closely together for the last few years to start making them similar.  In Nevada, we use the NFHS rules and all coaches must attend a yearly rules meeting for updates.  There is a test at the end of the meeting that we must pass as well.  You will be responsible for knowing which rules you need to follow and making sure that your squad is following them.  In some states, a violation of the rules could result in a fine or even loss of your job. 

The last layer is the school district, each district will also have generic all-sport rules that you will need to know and follow.  These typically deal with the amount of practice time, when you can practice, grade requirements, athletic clearances, numbers of games and missing school.  If you are not familiar with any of the rules or organizations listed above, check with your administrator at your initial meeting for these requirements.

Travel is something that falls under time management, but could be its own category.  Check with your admin in that first meeting about the travel requirements of your squad.  Do they travel to away games? Where are the games? For some schools travel may be simply across town or a few miles down the highway to another town.  In some schools travel could be a 5 hour bus ride.  Check to see what the expectations are.  Are the cheerleaders required to find parent drivers? Will the school or district pay for bussing? Do you as the coach need to become certified to drive a district van? Be prepared.

Financial Security
Coaches do not do it for the money.  Yes, some coaches get paid, but many of us spend more in a season than we get paid.  Gas, goodies, pizza, coaches clothes, certifications, etc.  They add up.  You should make sure that you’re financially secure before taking on the job. 

The next few things to consider are more emotional in nature, but non-the-less important. 

How are you at dealing with difficult people?  If you’re a youth coach you deal with mostly difficult parents.  If you coach middle or high school you deal with difficult teens AND their parents.  When coaching, you need to communicate team expectations often and in writing to keep the difficult people at bay.  Set rules that you are willing to enforce and make sure that your athletes and parents understand them before starting.  I suggest having them sign the rules to make it easier enforce them later on.  Also be prepared to use every ounce of patience that you have when dealing with these people.  They are not bad people, just passionate about their kids and sport. 

You will also need the have the ability to compartmentalize your emotions.  Kids and parents will say and do things that will constantly push your buttons.  As coaches, we should act with professionalism at all times to maintain order and respect as a coach.  We will need to keep our personal feelings and emotions in check.  It is not easy.  I have been known to cancel a practice mid-way through to keep myself from losing my cool on the team.

All of these things make coaching sound awful, but really coaching offers SO many wonderful and rewarding points that all the preparation and time management become worth it.  The first time you see a struggling athlete accomplish a goal or learn a new skill and they light up with excitement you forget the drama and the struggles.  Years after you coach a student and they come back and thank you for the leadership and lessons learned, you’ll cherish their memory.  It will be worth it knowing that you impacted their lives in a positive way, helping them to find themselves and become better people.  They touched your life too, and you were impacted by having them on your team.

It’s worth it.


Thursday, April 3, 2014

B is for Balance

Coaching is a Balancing Act

If you are a veteran coach you know that coaching cheerleaders is not just about showing up to games and sitting in the bleachers for 3 hours (freezing your behind off).  Cheerleaders, being the most visible group in the school, are at EVERYTHING.  From practices and games, to assemblies, to charity events and fundraisers.  This group is go, go, go. 

Balance between work, cheer and family is often the downfall of many cheer coaches.  The turnover rate for a new cheer coach is quite high.  I would say this could be due to the school just grabbing a faculty member and saying, “hey, you’re our new cheer coach”.  Sometimes it is a parent that steps in to coach because no one else would, or it’s a young adult that was a cheerleader and misses it so much they think they can jump in a head up a program.  Those coaches who are successful have figured out the balance of the pieces. 

To be successful and balance your life you need to start with your priorities, whatever they may be.  If you work a 9-5 job, you know that is a priority, and probably the first priority.  If you have a family, then you need to figure out a way for them to get the rides they need, fed and bed each night.  Cheerleaders typically have events (practice, games, etc.) three to four times a week in the evenings.  If you do the math all of these things don’t add up.  Something is going to have to give. 

Working, coaching and family can work, but you will have to make some sacrifices.  No one can be at two places at once.  Here are a few suggestions for making it work:
  • If you have an excellent assistant coach you can utilize their help in practices.  Have them help warm-up the team and get them started on the material for the day. 
  • Family and Friends can help shuttle your smaller family members around.  I am fortunate enough to have a husband that is also a coach, he knows and understands what coaching means to me and we share baby duties in our off seasons.
  • MAKE LISTS! This is the most important piece of advice that I can give.  Make a master calendar and carry it with you at all times.  Set reminders on your phone, put the calendar in a place where your whole family will see it and review the calendar daily.  There is nothing worse than double booking yourself for two places at once.

Over time and lots of trial and error you will find your balance.  Finding ways to stay passionate about all of your priorities is a must and always remember to schedule ME time in your planner.  Even if just for a few minutes per day it is important. 

Keep on Coaching on my friends!



A is for Athlete

Are Cheerleaders Athletes?

We can argue whether cheer is a sport until we are blue in the face.  There are valid arguments on either side, for and against. Unfortunately there will not be a formal decision made on the point until all cheer programs are run the same and have the same goals and purposes. 

Some schools have traditional sideline cheerleaders that simply focus on school spirit.  They go to games and do cheers and chants to keep the crowd engaged.  Some traditional squads also dance and perform at halftimes of games and assemblies.

There are schools on the other end of the spectrum that participate in conditioning programs that rival other athletic sports.  These cheerleaders jump, tumble and stunt along with the traditional cheering and dancing. Many of these cheerleaders are full-fledged athletes.  They often participate in competitions and perform against other equally athletic teams.

Across the U.S. there are many variations of these two types of teams.  Even in my state and town we have schools on either side of this model.  It all depends on the school administration, coaches and the athletes available.  There are lots of contributing factors to why a school may or may not have a more athletic program. 

In the smaller schools it may be because the most athletic students are already participating in sports and cannot commit the time or energy to doing both.  It may be that the administration would prefer a team that goes to games and assemblies to support and lead instead of having the more dangerous physical side.

Some schools do treat their cheer teams like other sports.  They offer the same privileges to their cheerleaders as other sports, and expect them to follow the same rules and guidelines with travel, grades, drugs and alcohol, etc. 

There are pros and cons to coaching both types of squad.

The PROS of coaching a less-physical traditional squad:
  • There is less commitment required.  They could practice one or two times per week and only show up to games a few minutes before to participate and still be successful.
  • There could be more interest/participation.  They could have more people participate because the skill-set required is not as advanced. 
  • Lower costs.  The cost of running a lower-commitment team would be less, making the appeal for more participants greater.

  • Less participation.  You might find that fewer students want to participate in this type of program because it could be seen as boring.
  • Fewer Opportunities.  The participants may have fewer opportunities for scholarship and furthering their cheer careers because they may not have learned the more advanced skills that colleges are looking for.
  •  No recognition.  The cheerleaders from this type of squad typically do not earn a varsity letter for their participation.  The amount of skill and participation would not condone an athletic letter.

The PROS of coaching a more physical competitive team:
  • Respect within the school and more athletes could be drawn to participate.  If you have a team that is visible, and works at an athletic level it will draw more athletes to the program and will bring more attention to its physicality.  This can show the student body that they are athletes and the cheerleaders could earn more respect.
  • Collegiate opportunities.  Colleges are looking for highly skilled athletes to join their programs.  They want participants that already have a specific skill set.  Cheerleaders from more physical teams have a better chance of knowing these skills.
  • Athletic letters.  Because these cheerleaders participate and the same level as other sports they can earn the athletic letter and in some schools have opportunities for athlete of the month/year recognition.

The Cons:
  • Higher commitment.  The amount of commitment required to be good is much higher (5-6 nights a week). Many students don’t try it because they do not want to commit that much.
  • Loss of participation.  You are limited to certain types of athletes with a physical squad.  Many kids who would be good cheerleaders or leaders of their school don’t get the opportunity to participate due to the high skill level required.
  • Cost.  The cost of running a competitive program can be much higher.  The travel fees and competition fees can be in the thousands per event.  Plus the costs of added coaches and trainers along with choreography and music.  This can add up quickly!

Because of the very different types of squads across the country it is too hard to qualify cheer as a sport.  Some cheerleaders are definitely participating at the sport level.  But many are not training and participating at a level that is consistent with the goals and expectations as a sport.

Let’s take a look as volleyball as an example.  It doesn’t matter if you are at a school with 60 or 6,000 students.  The goals, rules and expectations of the volleyball team are the same.  The coaches are teaching the same basic fundamentals and the volleyball matches are the same.  This is true for soccer, football, softball, track, wrestling, basketball, baseball, golf, etc. 

Because cheer can be so varied, it cannot be defined as a sport.  I know there will be a handful of cheerleaders and coaches that do not like that statement, but the facts are that not all cheerleaders are participating at an athletic level.  At my current school, my cheerleaders have worked incredibly hard to earn the right to be considered a sport (within our school).  Each year we have to sit down and define what a sport does, what privileges they get and evaluate our program.  They have to commit to working hard and keeping the traditions in place.

Regardless of the type of program you coach or cheer for, take pride in it.  If you with a sideline squad that is less physical, find ways to make it great.  Become a family and a support system.  Whatever the size or the physicality of your squad, give them goals and expectations.  Let them have successes and something to be proud of.


A to Z Challenge.

I know I am behind in the challenge, but I will be catching up today and getting on the ball.  

As always in life, the best laid plans can fall apart.  I have had my posts planned out for weeks, but have gotten swamped with life and not had the opportunities to write as much as I'd like.  

Please be patient and check back...