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.”
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.
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.