Like I always say, there are very few absolutes in cheerleading. When I write about technique, I try to present things that work for most cheerleaders. However, if something you’re doing works better, so long as it is safe, have at it!
Flyers, I think you have the hardest position in stunting. My apologies bases and back spots. I was one of you, and I definitely appreciate the skill involved in what you do. But flyers have it much harder. Forget the fact that everyone sees and judges the flyers every move. After all, experienced judges will be watching and scoring bases on technique too. Let’s also forget about the fear/trust factor. Sure, flyers are the ones high up in the air and more at risk of catastrophic injury, but bases don’t feel all that safe when their flyer’s elbow is doing a 720 degree rotation a few inches away from their eyes, nose and mouth. Everyone in a stunt has to deal with some degree of trust and fear.
The factor that is truly unique to flyers (that I want to deal with in this article) is that flyers have to perform blind. Yes, flyers can see. However, a flyer can not see themselves. And whether or not a flyer is doing their job (staying in the air) has everything to do with whether or not they are in the correct body position. The bases, the coaches, the judges and the parents out in the waiting room can see exactly what the flyer is doing in the air, but the one person who really, truly needs to know if their hip is a half inch out of alignment has to try to “feel it out” because they can’t see it.
Now that we’ve established that body position is so important for flyers, and that they have to gain an instinctive ability to hit the right body positions, let’s talk about what correct body position means. There are several popular buzz words people use when talking about flying. The rest of this article is going to talk about some of the main ones.
The first is “Hollowing out.” The best explanation I’ve ever heard of what hollowing out means is for the flyer to suck their belly button back into their spine while also trying to pull it up into their rib cage without holding their breath AND while keeping eye contact. Yes, it is a lot to take in. I try to simplify things somewhat. The purpose of hollowing out as I understand it is to put the flyers shoulders into alignment with their hips. That’s it. The lifting through the diaphram that is described above is really all about preventing the flyer from “slouching,” because slouching drops the shoulders in front of the hips. I actually do use the above description when teaching flyers to hollow out, but I ALSO explain to them how this results in proper shoulder to hip alignment. I believe having that understanding helps flyers to hit the position more consistently.
The next most common phrase I hear is “Stay Tight.” This is very good advice. There is no faster way to a crashed stunt than a flyer bending their knee, and if the flyer squeezes their thigh muscle tightly, their knee is not going to bend. One commonly used drill for staying tight is having a flyer lay on their back and lift their feet so only their shoulders are on the ground and their body is “straight as a plank.” When I teach staying tight, I want the flyers to focus on their lower body in order to keep things manageable. The main areas of tightness are to squeeze the seat (pinch a penny), squeeze the thighs, and (for 2-legged stunts) to squeeze the inner thighs, keeping legs shoulder length apart. Doing that much should be enough to keep a flyer from collapsing out of a stunt.
Another commonly used phrase is to “Lift Up.” I think this is a frequently mis-used phrase. To me, the lifting that should take place is the hollowing out with the diaphragm. Instead, people seem to want their flyers to lift with their shoulders so that the deltoid (shoulder muscle) is pressed against the flyer’s ears. I believe this is a mistake. For one thing, the shoulder is a ball and socket joint, so if you lift the shoulders enough, they will start to roll forward. That will put your shoulders out of alignment with your hips. That’s no good. Also, squeezing the shoulders up like that can restrict a flyers ability to breathe. Also not good. I encourage flyers to keep their shoulders relaxed and to lift with their diaphragms instead.
The last phrase I will discuss is “Don’t Heel/Toe.” The misconception related to this phrase is people believe that heeling and toeing cause stunts to go bad, when in fact, heeling and toeing is usually the result of improper shoulder/hip alignment. If the flyers shoulders are pulled to the front, that will cause a flyers weight to shift forward and she will toe. If a flyer’s hips drop back, that will cause her weight to go backwards and she will heel. When the hips and shoulders are properly aligned, the flyers weight will be close to the middle of her foot, and sometimes slightly closer to the heel. If a flyer is having heel/toe problems, I try to correct the shoulder/hip alignment. That usually fixes the problem. One other suggestion I make is to make “a fist” with the toes (good for locking out a shaky ankle, too).
Once again, this is just general advice that applies to most flyers for most stunts. I’ll get around to more specific technique for specific stunts in future articles. Also, as always, use trial and error. Use whatever technique is safe and consistent for you!