Cheerleading and the Olympics

Posted August 6, 2012 by cheerleadingdaily
Categories: Stories and Opinions

With the 2012 Summer Olympics in full swing, now seems like a perfect time to discuss the topic of whether or not cheerleading should become an Olympic event.  I can tell you that when I cheered (back in the 90’s), I was absolutely certain not only the cheerleading SHOULD be in the Olympics, but that it WOULD be in the Olympics in a couple of games.  History has proven me wrong on the second count.  As for the first, that is still very much up for debate.

Regardless, the first issue I’d like to consider is whether or not cheerleading would be good for the Olympics.  Assuming those of you reading this article are cheerleading enthusiasts, like me, you’re probably going to be surprised by my response.  No, I don’t think adding cheerleading to the Summer Olympics would do much to improve the Olympic games.

My saying this is in no way meant to be a put down of cheerleading.  If you follow this blog, you must realize that I love cheerleading.  I treat it with as much (or more) respect as anyone I know.  However, there are a lot of competitions/sports that I respect that I don’t necessarily think make a nice, neat fit in the Olympics.

Olympic events are best when they are very inclusive of a large number of participating countries.  Track and field events are the quintessential Summer Olympic sport.  Every country in the world has the resources to field a track and field team.  Every person on the planet can run.  In that, this year, the world witnessed its first double leg amputee compete in track and field against able-bodied athletes.  Talk about inclusive!  Furthermore, only in track and field can you find a country has economically disadvantaged as Ethiopia able to dominate certain events, year after year.  Certainly, the wealthier countries still have an advantage in terms of population, training techniques, coaching and equipment, but even with that, most of the world has a chance to be competitive.
Of course that isn’t the case in every Olympic sport.  Ethiopia will probably never field a competitive Olympic gymnastics team.  You either need a wealthy population to train privately, like in the USA, or you need a well-establish, government sponsored training program, like in China and Russia.

As for cheerleading, in spite of the rapid increases in international participation, competitive cheerleading is still too highly concentrated in the USA to make for a successful competition at the Summer Olympics.  That isn’t to say there isn’t great cheerleading in other countries.  There is.  I’ve seen (and judged) teams from over a dozen countries, and have witnessed some exceptional athletes on the competition mat.  However, outside of the USA, what you just don’t see enough of are dedicated cheer gyms with the facilities to practice full-out performances of their routines.  Very few international cheer teams have an opportunity to practice on a full-size cheer floor (let alone a spring floor!) until they are at the warm up mat at a competition.  This puts these teams at a huge disadvantage in terms of practicing timing, spacing, showmanship, endurance etc.  Teams in the USA run their routines over and over, full-out, fine-tuning each step of each performer for every 8-count.  You can’t do that when you’re practicing on 2 strips of cheer floor and you have to practice 2 stunt groups at a time and never get to run your tumbling sequence full-out.  You can take the greatest diver in the world but if you never let them practice in the pool, they’re going to splash on every dive.  The same is true for international cheerleading.

This is not to say that this will forever be the case.  Once there is a greater competitive balance among international teams, that might be a great time to revisit the conversation.  But we just aren’t there yet, and I don’t think there is anything wrong with admitting that, and continuing to work at it until we’re there.

Additionally, I don’t think including cheerleading in the Olympics would necessarily be a good thing for cheerleading.  Frankly, I think the professional cheerleading event providers operating today already do a great job.  I don’t think the Olympics could put on nearly as strong of a cheerleading competition as Cheersport Nationals in Atlanta, Jamfest Nationals in Indianapolis, NCA Nationals in Dallas or UCA Nationals in Orlando.  And that isn’t even considering Worlds, which is already the premier international cheerleading event.

There’s a reason the Olympics doesn’t consistently include other very popular sports like baseball and golf.  Both of these sports are incredibly popular and played at a very high level, internationally.  But they also both have such tremendously established other competitions, that an Olympic tournament would be something of a let down.  Think about it.  Would the Yankees shut down during the baseball season so they could send Alex Rodriguez to the Olympics?  Of course not.  They would much rather focus on the World Series.  As for golf, I’m sure Tiger Woods would love to compete for an Olympic medal, but would he skip the Masters to do so?  Here’s another example.  Consider soccer, which is in the Olympics.  Doesn’t the world pay more attention to the World Cup than to the Olympic soccer event?  I think by far.

I could be mistaken.  I certainly think an Olympic title in any event is always a special thing.  But when there are already highly established championships in place, trying to fit an event into the Olympics might not really do much for that event.  One more example.  When people talk about Michael Jordan, what do they think about first, his 6 NBA championship (and multiple MVP’s), or his 2 Olympic gold medals?

This hasn’t been my best-written article because I’m writing about something (the Olympics) that I am anything but an expert in.  I would not be surprised at all to hear an argument from someone who would completely change my point of view.  But for now, the way I see it, cheerleading isn’t a very good fit for the Olympics.  Additionally, I don’t think the Olympics would do very much for cheerleading.

One final thought.  I could definitely see a spin-off of cheerleading eventually establishing itself as an Olympic event.  I think the emerging sport called Stunt could be a good candidate for the Olympics in the future.  If you haven’t heard of Stunt, I suggest doing some digging.  It’s a pretty cool activity that really boils competitive cheerleading down to the purely athletic side of the activity.

In the mean time, I think it might be neat to figure out ways to use traditional cheerleading during certain select Olympic events to add to the experience of the spectators.  The London games have tried to do that (s0rt of) by having “entertainers” that are similar to cheerleaders at volleyball, beach volley ball, basketball and I think handball.  I’m not sure that the execution has been the best, but I like where they’re going with it.  Cheerleading started out on the sidelines as a way to encourage the athletes on the field (or court) and to entertain the audience.  I would love to see that aspect of cheerleading highlighted at the Olympics more than see them trying to force a cheerleading competition before the world is quite ready for it.

Cheerleading Rule Changes, March 2012

Posted March 29, 2012 by cheerleadingdaily
Categories: Competition Advice, Stories and Opinions, Stunting, Tumbling

This article is about the sweeping rule changes that were recently implemented affecting both high school and all star competitive cheerleading.  I’m going to address the situation in general terms, understanding that there might be exceptions, but if I went into great detail to every specific aspect of the changes, this article would be way too long.  So, with the disclaimer out of the way, here we go…

What we’re really talking about are limitations that have been placed on what skills cheerleaders are going to be allowed to perform.  That, and some age restrictions and I think a uniform restriction down the road.  If you want to know my opinion about the uniform restriction, look up my article called Dress For Success.  As for my opinion on the age limitations, check out the article called Age Appropriate.  THIS article is going to focus on skill restrictions, in general, that have been put in place.

People are understandably upset about the changes.  A lot of coaches and athletes have worked their butts off to master difficult tricks that they want to perform.  They want to stand out.  They want to shine.  What’s more, they want the competitive advantage that they have earned with the blood sweat and tears that they invested in training to progress to the point that they can execute the toughest cheerleading skills around.  After all of that hard work, the rule changes have taken that away from them, and they don’t think that is fair.

They are right.  IT IS NOT FAIR.

However, it is still the right thing to do.

Yes, I know I just said it wasn’t fair.  But it is still right.  It is the only solution to a serious problem.  The ends justify the means in this case.  And even though you might not be the cause of the problem (or at least you might not THINK you are), you have to pay the price for the greater good.  We need a safer environment in cheerleading.  The status quo was not an option.  And the coaches, the parents, and the event providers were not getting it done.  This is the result, and once again, it was absolutely the right thing to do.

Before you tune me out completely, let me explain with an example.  10 years ago, people who earned $40,000 a year were allowed to borrow $400,000 to buy a house that was only worth $250,000.  Whether or not you’re a financial expert, you can probably figure out this is an example of a “high risk” loan.  Banks were allowed to make as many of these loans as they wanted.  They were very profitable.  The problem is if the borrower couldn’t pay back the loan, the banks would lose money and the borrower would lose their house.  A lot of bank took a responsible approach to high risk loans.  They used honest appraisers to determine the value of the house.  They looked at the borrower’s future income, credit history, etc.  They limited themselves to only making so many of these loans so that if some of them went bad, the bank wouldn’t get hurt too much by it.  The problem is, most of the bank were not responsible.  They gave out billions of dollars to people who could never repay it, figuring they’d just take the houses back and still make a profit when they sell them.  But then housing priced crashed.  The banks couldn’t sell the houses.  The people couldn’t make the payments.  Before you know it, we have a global financial crisis.  Folks who worked their whole, honest lives saving to retire saw their home and investments lose all of their value overnight.  Folks started getting laid off.  People’s dreams and futures were crushed.  Let’s face it.  Life as we know it changes and may never be the same.

Now, banks aren’t allowed to loan money like that anymore.  Not just the banks that screwed it up.  None of the banks.  The rules had to change because too many people were taking advantage of the lack of rules.  Is it fair that the banks that did the right thing lose the chance to make a good profit on the occasional high risk loan?  No.  It is not fair.  But the chance that someone else might is just too great.  We can’t afford another financial melt down, so before it happens, the rules had to change for everyone.  To the “good” banks, thanks for being responsible, but you’re going to have to make your money another way.  By the way, the big banks that messed everything up got bailed out by the tax payers for the greater good.  That also wasn’t fair, but it looked like the only way out of that mess.

The rule changes in cheerleading are kind of like that.  Hey, there are lots of good coaches out there doing things the right way and teaching their kids the hardest skills around properly and safely.  Those programs should not be punished with the programs that have failed to be responsible.  But just like with the banks, you can’t make that distinction.  The rules had to change for everyone before cheerleading had a meltdown of injuries.  And if that happened, the changes that would have been made could have been much more drastic.

By they way, before you assume your program is one of the innocent ones, maybe you should think again.  Do cheerleaders in your program start working on standing tucks before they have perfect standing back handspring series?  Do bases base with arched backs but no one says anything because at least the stunts are still hitting?  Are there 10 or 20 kids in the gym that cross compete of multiple teams because it is easier and quicker to have a few kids doing all the flying than taking the time to instruct every flier on the team?  Are kids that should be on youth (by age and size) getting pulled up to juniors and even seniors so the team can do harder stunts?  Believe it or not, high school girls CAN base other high school girls.  It just means they have to be taught good technique instead of being given a flyer the size of a Barbie doll.

You might have double downs in your gym, and do them safely, but if your program does those things (listed above) and other similar things, your program is cutting corners.  That makes you part of the problem too.  Cutting corners contributes to the environment where we have teams believing they have to attempt crazy hard tricks to be remotely competitive, and if they aren’t competitive, their kids will go to another gym, and then what are they going to do?

We have an environment where cheating is accepted.  Hate to say it, but it is true.  There will be teams at Worlds with 20-something year old guys on the mat competing in the senior divisions.  You and I know this is going to happen.  In fact, some of the programs complaining about the rule  changes have every intention of cheating in this way.  Cutting corners.  Instead of teaching young kids, they hang onto the ones who should be moving on.  The programs that do this and the event providers who look the other way, you’re responsible for forcing these changes just as much as the coaches who push kids past progressions and put dangerous stunts on the mat.

So now that I’ve made everyone made, please just take a deep breath.  Now exhale.

It isn’t fair.  It is not.  But it was right.  It had to happen.  Cheerleading is going to go on.  And now, maybe, cheer programs will have to find more creative ways to stand out.  Maybe programs will have to focus on teaching the less experienced kids how to keep up instead of mostly focusing on teaching elite kids a standing double full.  Seriously, where are all of the complaints about that discrepancy?

This is the new environment, cheerleaders.  The rules have changed.  You are challenged in a new way.  And that is pretty exciting.  The real competitors inside you will see that.  You have to stop feeling like a victim and move forward.  This is going to make a better cheerleading for all of us in the future.  Find new ways to stand out.  To shine.  Move forward.  You can do it.

Single-Base to Hands

Posted October 23, 2011 by cheerleadingdaily
Categories: Stunting

It’s one thing to see three bases holding a little girl in the air in a stunt.  It is another thing entirely to see one base supporting the flyer.  As cheerleaders, I think we take the sight of a single-base stunt for granted.  To most people, seeing one person balancing another person in air really gets their attention.  This, by the way, is true for judges too!  Score some extra points by throwing a single-base stunt in your routine somewhere.

The thing about single-base stunts is that they are not nearly as hard as they look, once you get them in the air.  I’ll talk about that a little more later in this article.  But once the flyer is at the extended level, a single-base stunt can actually be easier.  In terms of balancing the flyer, you have one base keeping the flyer’s feet level instead of two bases trying to do so.  Also, a single base can stand perfectly directly under the flyer.  That means that once they lock out their arms and legs, all the flyer’s weight is being supported by the base’s skeletal structure (bones) instead of with their muscles.  And trust me, your bones are stronger than your muscles!  In multi-base stunts, although the bases are supposed to get as close to each other as possible, positioning themselves under the flyer as much as possible, in real life, bases rarely execute this perfectly and usually have their hand slightly out in front of their faces meaning the weight of the flyer is held in their shoulder muscles and not in their skeleton.

Moving on to the technique portion of this article, we are going to look at a basic technique to get your flyer from the ground up to the shoulder level in a single base stunt.  It is called a J-up.  This is the method I usually teach to beginning coed stunt groups because it is basically an assisted coed-style toss-to-hands.  However, this technique works fine with an all-girl group as well.

In the J-up, your main base and your flyer assume a standard coed toss position.  This is where the base places their hands on the flyers hips.  The flyer holds onto the wrists of the base.  The main difference between this technique and a regular toss is that a secondary flyer is involved.  The secondary flyer is in a crouch to the right side of the flyer in about the position they would be if they were standing up spotting the stunt.  The flyer holds their right foot up so that their knee is bent at or less than 90 degrees.  The crouching secondary base holds the flyer’s right foot using the same grip they would for a double-base.  It is important to note that the bases right foot is going to be slightly out in front of her left foot because her knee is bent.

Now for the toss.  The main base and the flyer execute a regular toss-to-hands.  Without getting into too much detail, they dip with their legs, they drive with their legs, pushing off their toes.  All the while, the flyer is pushing their down with their hands on the bases wrist, which transfers their body weight to the wrists.  As the flyer rises, as the main bases’ arms fulling extend, the flyer pushes (flicks) with her arms straight down her body.  At this point, the flyer would usually be fully released and in flight.  Here is the difference with the J-up.  First, the flyer is only jumping off of one foot.  As the flyer jumps, they will feel the secondary bases stand up and drive their right foot up and underneath them.  This is where the name J-up comes into play.  Because the flyers foot is slightly out in front of her, the secondary base has to “hook” the flyers foot back towards the main base to get it directly beneath, while the base is driving the foot up.  From the side, this movement would somewhat resemble the letter “J.”  Anyway, the secondary bases drives the foot they as high as they can.  At the same time, the flyer is standing up strong on that leg.  The flyer will be weightless on the way up.  As the stunt comes back down to the shoulder level, the flyer should have all of their weight on the right foot.

It is important to note that there are a lot of moving parts involved.  The flyer has to perfectly execute elements of a coed toss and elements of a multi-base load into a double base.  This is not a simple thing!  So expect that it will take some trial and error to get the timing down.  The timing for a toss is tricky enough.  The timing for the secondary base knowing when to drive takes practice to get down.  Probably the biggest trick is the flyer figuring out when to stand up and get their weight onto to the secondary base.  So take your time and be patient.  You’ll get it sooner or later.

Once you have all of that figured out, you should consistently be “tossing” the flyer so that their feet are at least eye-level to the main base.  Eventually, you want to be able to get the toss to an extended level!  Wherever the highest level of your toss is, that is when the main base should catch the feet of the flyer.  Generally, that is going to involve a grip in the center of the flyer’s foot with the base’s index finger beneath the heel of the flyer’s foot.  You might be wondering how that happens on the right foot since the secondary base is holding the heel and toe of that foot.  The answer is simple.  At the highest point where the flyer is still weightless, the secondary base should release the heel of the flyer with their left hand, but maintain their grip on the toe with their right hand.  This should happen exactly before the main base catches the flyer’s feet.  Once the main base has their grip, the secondary base should assist either the flyer’s right ankle or the main bases right wrist with their left hand, depending on how high the secondary base can reach.  Also, once the main base has their grip on the flyer’s feet, the flyer should transfer about 1/3 of their weight into their left foot.  In doing so, 2/3 of the flyer’s weight is being supported by 3 hands (right hand of the main base and both hands of the secondary base), and 1/3 of the flyer’s weight is being supported by one hand (the left hand of the main base).

This technique is extremely versatile once it is perfected.  You can use this for toss liberties.  You can modify it for full-ups.  As earlier stated, you can toss to should height or to a fully extended level.

As always, make sure that you aware of safety and spotting requirements of whatever event you compete at related to single-base stunts.  You may be required to have an additional spotter behind this stunt.  Also, as always, make sure you have perfected all necessary progressions that lead up to this technique before attempting it.  Success in stunting is all about taking your time and perfecting each level of skill difficulty as you go.

Coed Stunting; Power and Strength

Posted August 26, 2011 by cheerleadingdaily
Categories: Stories and Opinions, Stunting

In case you’re new to reading this blog, I need to fill you in on my background.  I’m a former college cheerleader, with the HEAVY emphasis on the word “former.”  I can’t remember the last time I tumbled, and I have not stunted with any regularity in at least 5 years.

Several weeks ago, a student of mine asked about working on coed stunting.  She is an excellent student.  The kind that you don’t mind going the extra mile for because you know she’s going to try to make the most of the time you give her.  So I really felt inclined to help her out.  The problem is, after 5 years of coaching from the sidelines (and from behind the keyboard), I really didn’t know if I could still stunt well enough to give an effective lesson.

After thinking about it for a long while, I decided to agree to stunt with the student.  Since she has never coed stunted before, I knew we could spend lots of time just working on fundamentals, so it’s not like I’d be holding her back by not quite being able to still base elite stunts.  Also, for me, stunting is really good exercise.  I’ve pretty much kept up with my strength since retiring from cheerleading.  However, in terms of overall athleticism, I’ve let a lot slide.  So I figured the pressure of not wanting to let a student down, not to mention not wanting to embarrass myself, would be good motivation to get me back into stunting shape. 

Stunting is not like static strength training.  Static strength training is basically sitting on a bench or machine and pushing heavy weights around.  You’re trying to concentrate on specific muscles or muscle groups and isolate them with each exercise.  This style of workout CAN be very effective and help you get bigger and stronger.  However, basing coed stunts has more to do with “power” than with “strength.”  Here is the difference between the two.

Strength is what it takes to pick up and hold heavy objects.  Someone who is strong would be well-suited to help you move furniture.  They can lift and carry.  If they pace themselves, they can keep this up all day.  Power is different than this.  Power is explosiveness.  Power is what allows martial artists to break concrete blocks.  It is more related to overall athleticism than to size and sheer strength.  To gain power, you have to train differently than you do for strength.

Stunting actually requires both power and strength.  When you toss (or walk in) they flyer, you are using power.  You have to be explosive and fast.  The more speed you can generate for your flyer at the moment you release her (flick), the higher your toss will go.  Now that she is in the air, strength takes over.  Now you are holding her weight with your upper body.  You are ALSO using your legs, back and core to stabilize and balance.

Please note, the above description is only for basic stunts.  Once you start talking about transitions and dismounts, you go back and forth between strength and power.  No room to write about all of that here so I’ll just let you figure that part out on your own.

So back to poor retired me knowing I was going to be stunting in a few weeks.  I decided to take that time to prepare as much as I could to work on power.  I replaced a few of my regular static workout sessions (traditional weight lifting) with more dynamic workouts.  I picked exercises that used multiple muscle groups.  Also, the movements were explosive rather than slow and controlled.  I also tried to focus on exercises that somewhat simulated the movements involved in basing coed stunts.  Here’s what I came up with:

  • Jumping Jacks.  These were mostly used to warm up and to keep my heart rate up between more strenuous exercises. 
  • Bounding Push-ups.  For these, I was actually pushing hard enough that my hands came off the ground.  Using good form also works the core.
  • Sit-ups.  Nothing special here, but you have to work your core to stabilization and to avoid injury.
  • Clean and Jerk.  Dangling relatively heavy weights at my side and rapidly lifting them up to about eye level, controlling them down to should level, and then returning them to the start position.  This sort of simulates your toss.
  • Plyometric Jump.  This is just jumping in the air as hard as you can.  You can jump onto a platform if you like, but I just jumped in place.
  • Flutter kicks.  Lay on your back, lift your feet a couple of inches off the ground and perform shallow switch kicks as if you are swimming.  Another core exercise.
  • Back Raises.  Laying on your stomach, lift your feet and your chest off the ground at the same time.  This works your lower back and is good for stability and injury prevention.
  • Modified Lat Row.  For this, I held a 45-pound plate.  I positioned my hands at the 10 o’clock and 2 o’clock positions (like on a steering wheel).  This is similar to the grip you would have on a flyer’s waist.  Dipping with the legs, you lift the weight as forcefully as you can as high as you can.  Keep the weight close to you, almost dragging it up your body.  If you generate enough speed, the weight will almost come out of your hands at the top.  I think this is a great simulation of a toss.
  • Squats.  Just a static strength exercise, but a good one.
  • Shoulder rows.  I just used light weights and lifted them straight out, circled my arms out to the sides and then returns them back down to a hanging position in front.
  • Lower Back Rows.  I held a 45 pound plate to my chest, bent my knees slightly, leaned forward at my waist and then returned to upright.
  • Tricep extensions.  A basic static exercise.  I used a 45 pound plate instead of dumb bells or a bar to work on grip strength too.
  • Calf Raises.  Another basic strength exercise.
  • Bicep Curls.  Just because.  Not really stunt oriented.

And that is it.  It took about 12 minutes to get through all of the exercises.  That made one circuit.  I did 3 circuits in total.  The first time I did this, I was careful and used moderate intensity.  I increased the intensity a little each time.  This became a great aerobic workout by making it more intense and taking fewer and shorter breaks.

Anyway, after about 3 weeks, it was time to stunt.  I’m happy to say that I survived, and the student and I both felt that the session was successful.  The morning after, I was a little sore, but not especially so.  I have one knee that gives me trouble from time to time, and it was sore, but that is nothing new.  So I guess my preparations helped.  I plan to keep using this workout and to keep stunting once a week.  I’ll write again about it I have any significant observations or make any changes.

For one final note I just want to comment that coed stunting is a really great workout.  You are training all of the major muscle groups, as well as lots of smaller muscles that you do not use much a regular basis.  Always be careful when you stunt.  Nothing messes up your training like an injury.  But if you take your time and follow basic safety guidelines, stunting can really help you (even if you’re an old, retired cheerleader) get into your best shape.

Crazy Cheer Moms

Posted July 21, 2011 by cheerleadingdaily
Categories: Stories and Opinions

I read an article on Rivals, which is a website dedicated to high school athletics, that got me really angry.  I’ll summarize, but in case you want to read the full article, here is the link.

http://rivals.yahoo.com/highschool/blog/prep_rally/post/Court-kicks-out-frivolous-Title-IX-cheerleader-s?urn=highschool-wp3831

The gist of it is that a cheerleading mom in Texas sued the school her daughter went to (and cheered for) because she did not make the cheerleading team.  The suit alleges that there were Title IX violations equating to gender-based discrimination.  The cheer mom’s case was thrown out in a lower level Federal court.  She took it to the Federal Court of Appeals.  That court wrote a hilariously scathing opinion of the cheer mom and upheld the previous court’s ruling.

Now, if you actually believed your daughter was a victim of some form of unlawful discrimination, I would be completely supportive of seeking out a legal remedy.  HOWEVER, this was clearly not the case.  The mom’s suit actually states that one instance of discrimination was that the captain of her daughter’s cheer team should have been, and was not, dismissed from the cheer team for having kissed the other cheerleader’s boyfriend.  ARE YOU SERIOUS???  This crazy cheer mom tried to (literally) make a federal case out of what is essentially a teenage romantic rivalry.

The crazy cheer mom’s lawsuit goes on to make various other ridiculous claims.  You should read them.  They are rather funny.  I’ll just point out one more example that I think illustrates how delusional this idiot was.  The crazy cheer mom actually cited as evidence of Title IX discrimination that other cheer mom’s on the team threatened to sue her (the crazy cheer mom) if she (the crazy cheer mom) did not return video tapes that belonged to the cheer team. 

Let that sink in for a second….ok, here we go.  So the crazy cheer mom stole property from the team (ok, she probably borrowed it, but then refused to return it).  The team asked for it back.  The crazy cheer mom did not return it.  The team did the proper thing which was to pursue the matter lawfully in the civil courts (the crazy cheer mom probably would have called the FBI).  And somehow, that action equated to gender-based discrimination against the crazy cheer mom’s daughter.  Huh???

First, I want to say a great big thank you to the court for getting it right.  Apparently, they dismissed the case as swiftly as the law would allow, wasting as little time and resources as possible.  Our courts are way over-burdened with legitimate legal actions as it is.  People like the crazy cheer mom not only waste tax dollars but also delay the resolution of important legal matters.

I also want to thank the court for smacking down the crazy cheer mom in their written opinion.  They don’t pull any punches, even going so far as to compare the crazy cheer mom’s writing to that of a 4th grader.  It’s good stuff!

But the point of this blog is not merely to go off on a rant about the crazy cheer mom.  There are actually lessons to be learned here.

The first has to do with the image of cheerleading.  Guess what folks.  Cheerleading is the butt of a lot of jokes.  Will Ferrell made his name in comedy on Saturday Night Live, and his most famous skit was making hilarious fun of cheerleading.  The movie, Dodgeball, has an entire subplot that is completely unrelated to the rest of the movie that does nothing but make fun of competitive cheerleading.  Even movies that have tried to make cheerleading mainstream, like Bring It On, play into cheerleading stereotypes.  A lot of folks in the cheerleading community don’t like this prevailing social opinion of cheerleading and have blamed the media for portraying cheerleading in such a light.  Guess what.  The media is not to blame.  We are.  And by “we,” I mean cheerleader, coaches and parents who, like the crazy cheer mom, act like idiots.  Remember, part of cheerleading is supposed to be about representing your community, school or organization in a proper way.  That is an extra responsibility that cheerleaders are supposed to accept.  So when one of our own does something irresponsible and stupid (like the crazy cheer mom), it should be looked at with greater scrutiny than if the same mistake was made by a different student or athlete.  That’s just the way it is, so we have to be mindful and not make those kinds of mistakes in judgement.

Another lesson we can take from the crazy cheer mom incident is that cheerleaders need to treat each other nicely.  Look, the crazy cheer mom was crazy.  No disputing that.  But if she felt so strongly that her daughter was being singled out and picked on, maybe she was.  That’s no justification for bringing a federal suit against someone.  But still, we should not tease or exclude anyone on our team.  Cheerleading is hard enough when everyone is working together.  It is impossible when people on the team are being petty, uncooperative or cruel to each other.  The daughter of the crazy cheer mom might have been odd.  She might have dressed funny.  She might not have been very talented.  Who knows.  There is usually someone on every team that doesn’t really fit in with everyone else.  Those are your teammates that you should be the most supportive and inclusive of.  They are your opportunity to do the right thing.  That is especially true of the leaders on the team.  I don’t know if the captain was right or wrong for allegedly kissing the alleged boyfriend of the daughter of the crazy cheer mom.  Regardless of that, this team clearly had personality issues for things to have gotten all the way to federal court.  Those personality issues should have been worked out by the girls on the team.  If everyone on the team had been thoughtful and supportive and really cared about each other, I can’t help but believe things never would have gotten so out of hand in the first place.

There is a cliché that I believe is true.  It goes like this.  “No one is completely useless.  Everyone can at LEAST serve as a bad example.”  Well crazy cheer mom, thank you for being a bad example.  While this kind of publicity is bad for the image of cheerleading (makes me cringe thinking about it), at least we can try to learn from it.  Cheerleaders, be inclusive of your teammates.  Reach out to the ones that are struggling to fit in.  Communicate with each other when there are problems.  Work them out.  Coaches, when there are things that the kids aren’t working out, you need to step in.  Communicate with the parents early so there are no misunderstandings.  Let the school administration know if there are ongoing issues that you are struggling with.  And parents, including you crazy cheer mom, let’s keep things in perspective.  Cheerleading is a wonderful activity, but remember, it’s only cheerleading.  In the future, try not to make a national joke of yourself, waste tax payer money and Federal Court’s time because of a cheerleading issue.

Hardest Standing Tumbling

Posted July 18, 2011 by cheerleadingdaily
Categories: Competition Advice, Tumbling

I’ve had a lot of readers writing it to ask about standing tumbling.  The most common request is to hear about what tricks are the hardest and/or score the highest.  I can’t do anything the easy way (ask my wife), so rather than just talk about skills and scoresheets, I’m going to go on a little rant as well.  But I promise I will ALSO answer the two questions mentioned above.

I remember when standing fulls were first coming around in cheerleading.  There were only a small handful of people throwing them.  They were freakish athletes with huge vertical leaps and incredible body awareness.  Nowadays, a lot more cheerleaders are throwing “standing” fulls.  However, they aren’t really standing.  They are taking 3 or 4 running steps backwards (maybe more), pounding their feet into the spring floor, and letting their momentum and the springs throw them over into the skill.  Don’t get me wrong, this is an elite trick.  Not everyone can do this.  However, it is NOT a standing full and should not be given the same credit that someone should get for doing a true standing full.  In fact, if you take steps into it, it shouldn’t even be considered standing tumbling at all.

Before anyone starts to argue, here is an example to help explain why I have this opinion.  Consider front tucks.  The traditional (and easiest) way to perform a front tuck is to take a few running steps, perform some kind of a hurdle (overlift, underlift or Russian-my favorite), and perform the front tuck.  This is a running tumbling skill.  No one would disagree with that.  It is not uncommon to see a level 3 team throw about half-squad running front tucks (which to me is one of the best ways to max out level 3 running tumbling).  However, when someone performs a standing front tuck, that is a true showcase tumbling move.  You’ll put that single cheerleader out in front so the judges can’t miss it.  In fact, a true standing front tuck is so difficult most cheerleaders will actually perform a toe touch before it so they can bound into the front tuck and get a little momentum. 

I’ll throw you for a bit of a loop now.  A true standing front tuck is a heck of a lot harder than one of the backward running things people are passing off as standing fulls these days.  Don’t believe me?  Take any of the cheerleaders throwing the aforementioned “standing” fulls and ask them to try a standing front tuck.  The vast majority of them probably won’t even try it.  If they do, most will land right on their seat (that’s cheer talk for “butt”).  The one’s that make it to their feet will almost certainly fall back onto their bottom (another cheer word for “butt”).

So how is that for a news flash.  A standing front, which technically is legal as a level 4 skill, is vastly harder than a standing full, which is not legal until level 5.  As for what is THE hardest standing tumbling skill, it is hard to answer.  I once saw a true standing double full (with no steps back).  That was pretty hard.  Much harder than the long, complicated passes people perform from a standing position, because in those passes, you gain momentum as you go.  They basically turn into running tumbling.  So for now, my answer to what trick is hardest is a true standing double.

Now onto the point of what scores the best.  First, you have to consider whether or not an event differentiates between standing and running tumbling.  Most seem to do so.  And most seem to say if it doesn’t come out of a round-off (or some kind of forward running skill), it counts as “standing” tumbling.  As you might have noticed, I strongly disagree with that definition, but for now, I’m out-voted.  For purposed of this article, we’ll use the commonly accepted understanding of what qualifies as standing tumbling.

Generally, to get perfect scores in your standing tumbling, you need excel in 2 aspects.  You have to show off a high difficulty squad tumbling skill.  You ALSO have to demonstrate a handful of “specialty” or “elite” tumbling tricks.

The second category is the simplest to talk about, so we’ll knock that out first.  We’re talking about standing fulls, handspring-handspring fulls, handspring-full-punch front-roundoff-handspring-double full, etc.  This part of your choreography is kind of a no-brainer.  If you have any cheerleaders on your team with this level of tumbling, FIND A PLACE TO PUT IT!!!  I think having 1 cheerleader bust out this something truly memorable like this adds about a point to your overall tumbling.  If you can pull together 3 elite standing tumblers, you are practically guaranteed maxed out standing tumbling scores.  Throw more than that and they’ll be talking about your routine next year at Worlds.  So the point is, obviously, if you have elite standing tumbling, use it.  I told you it was a no-brainer.

As for the squad tumbling, what we’re usually talking about to get consideration for high scores is some form of back tuck.  It can be a standing tuck or a standing handspring tuck.  Either way, if about 80% to 90% of your team throws (and lands) them, you will be in the high range for level 4 or 5 teams.  By the way, the 20% to 10% that aren’t throwing them, the judges notice when you “fake” it.  It does hurt your score, but not as much as busting on your knees.  So fake it if you can’t land it, but keep trying to catch up with your team.

Anyway, if a team manages to actually have 100% participation in a tuck, that can max out scores, depending on the competition.  If that is the best tumbling all day at a certain event, you might max out.  But judges will still probably hold back on perfect 10’s. 

If you want to make sure you max out your standing tumbling, you really need to throw a jump combination right into a back tuck.  You can get away with faking 1 or 2 cheerleaders, but you need almost 100% team participation.  Full squad tripple toe touch back tucks is sort of the standard judges look for to give 10 out of 10 in standing tumbling.

I kind of ranted longer than I planned, so that made the explanation part of the blog a little thin.  Sorry about that.  But I really think standing tumbling choreography is less flexible than most other parts of the routine.  That is, in pyramids, you can make up for lower difficulty with complex, creative and visual elements.  In standing tumbling, you can’t choreograph what your team doesn’t have.  You can only get so creative with presentation of standing tumbling.  So the only sure-fire way to improve that part of your scoresheet is to get in the gym and practice those standing skills.

 

Get Higher Basket Tosses

Posted July 13, 2011 by cheerleadingdaily
Categories: Stunting

Basket Tosses are one of the most exciting, dynamic skills performed in cheerleading.  Whether you’re talking about complex, kick double full baskets, or a simple toe touch, nothing gets the crowd to “ohhh” and “ahhh” like height.  There are lots of moving parts in a basket toss, and they all play a part in determining how high the flyer will travel.  This article is going to talk about two of them.  Follow these two, simple rules and you will soon be hearing the crowd “ohhh” and “ahhh” for your basket tosses too.

First, we will talk about the bases.  There are many different elements about the bases and their technique that will all impact the height of their toss.  There is the issue of physical strength.  There is the issue of timing.  There is the issue of experience.  However, there is one, simple factor that will override every other basing issue in terms of basket toss height.  That factor is how high the bases’ hands are at the moment they “break” the basket and the flyer’s feet lose contact with the bases.

The reason for this is simple.  Suppose two base groups are equally strong and have equal flyers.  They throw a basket at the same time.  One base group is taller.  They have longer legs and longer arms.  When they fully extend their arms while their hands are locked in the basket, their hands are 8 feet off the ground.  If their toss generates 4 feet of thrust, the flyer will reach a height of 12 feet.  Suppose the other group with shorter arms and legs stretches up to a mere height of 7 feet.  If they toss just as hard as the first group, their basket will still be a foot lower, just because their release point for the basket was lower.  Make sense?

So now the question is how to go about raising the release point for the bases.  No, you can’t always just go out and get taller bases.  Nice try.  But here are some things you CAN do.

First, make sure the bases are close together.  At the moment they release their grip, they should be chest to chest.  This will allow their arms to be straight up, perpendicular to the ground.  And separation between the bases will cause their arms to be angled a little more.  In order to be as close together as possible (without banging heads when the flyer loads in), make sure to use good posture, keeping your shoulders directly over your hips.  Do not lean forward and absorb the flyer’s weight with your back.  Instead, absorb with your legs.  Not only does this help you stay close to each other, it also protects your back from injury.

Second, when you are tossing your basket, you want the bases to literally jump.  A lot of people are surprised by this, but it makes perfect sense.  For one thing, if you are throwing with your legs (pushing) as hard as you can, you will jump.  So if you aren’t jumping, you still aren’t pushing your best.  Secondly, if you jump 4 inches off the ground, that raises your release point 4 inches in the air.  Every inch makes a difference when your flyer is trying to learn a new skill, so don’t give them away with bad technique.

Finally, toss straight up, following through by “flicking” your fingers straight up in the air.  Sometimes, you will see bases follow through by throwing their heads and hands back.  They might be jumping, but instead of jumping straight up (in the direction they want the flyer to travel), they do a  “C” jump with arching backs.  This greatly lowers the release point of the basket.  It also disperses all of that momentum out to the sides instead of concentrating it directly under the flyers feet.  If might feel, and even look, like a more powerful toss, but it is inefficient.  Most of the energy is being wasted instead of used.  Don’t make that mistake.  By the way, it can also cause the flyer to by thrown behind the head of whichever base is arching the most because the following through of their hands behind their head will take the flyer in that direction.  Do that and you’ll wind up on YouTube, in a bad way.

As for the flyer, your job is to capture as much of the energy generated by the bases as possible.  You do this by doing two basic things.  First, you stay in contact with the bases hands as long as you possible can.  In other words, do not jump!  As you feel the bases driving up, you should be standing up on the balls of your feet.  Squeeze your legs and feet together.  If your legs separate, your feet can start to slide off the basket before the bases release their grip.  Sliding off the side of the basket can waste the majority of the power generated by the bases, so squeeze those feet together. 

Also, make sure to keep good body position, staying perpendicular to the floor.  Your shoulders, hips and toes should be in a straight line at the moment the bases release.  If anything is out of alignment, some of the energy of the toss will be used to take you in that direction instead of it all being used to take you straight up.

Like I said, there are many other considerations in baskets.  But follow these basics and you’ll probably start seeing better height.  Also, always, always, always use good spotting and cradling technique in baskets.  If people start getting hurt, they lose confidence, and then technique goes out the window.  When the flyer is confident that she will be caught, she will keep her hands and elbows to herself and the bases won’t be getting black eyes or busted lips.  It is a win-win.  And that is not only good for safety, it will also get you the “ohhhs” and “ahhhs” that translate to better scores for your routine.


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