Ever take things for granted? That’s probably the same as asking if you’ve ever breathed air. We all do it. And it is a good thing when someone reminds us to take a minute and remember what’s important. I bring this up because of a recent conversation I had with a person outside of the cheerleading community. They suggested that some people might find it “weird” for a 39-year-old guy with a 9 to 5 desk job to be actively involved in cheerleading. I fully admit that my first reaction was defensive and not the least bit appropriate. After some time, I actually reflected on the question. I’m glad I did because it gave me the clarity to remember why I continue to coach, instruct and judge. I love the mentoring.
The cool thing about cheerleading is that everyone gets the opportunity to mentor. Cheerleaders on the teams mentor to each other. Judges mentor other judges, coaches and event providers. Coaches obviously mentor their students, and sometimes, even the parents of their athletes. Basically, there is a whole lot of mentoring going on, whether people realize they are doing it or not. And that is what I really wanted to talk about. You have to understand that there is a good chance that someone is watching you, looking up to you, and trying to learn from you. It doesn’t matter what your role is. You have a chance to make an impression and be a good example. And at the end of the day, if you are able to do this, then you have made a difference in someone’s life that is INFINITELY more important than teaching them a cheer or judging a good event.
Other than a few management classes in grad school, I do not have any official training in being a mentor, so take this advice with a grain of salt. But here are a few general suggestions that I think can serve you well as a mentor, no matter what your role is in the cheerleading community.
- Check you ego at the door. If you are a coach, remember that it is not about you. It is not your team. The team belongs to the participants and you are the caretaker of the team. We are there to serve our students and it is our privilege to do so. As a cheerleaders, remember that the team comes first. You may have to be in the back row of a formation or hold a sign in the cheer. Remember that no job is unimportant and always do your best. To the judges, our job is to be fair and offer criticism that is constructive. We work for the teams we judge, they do not work for us. In our comments to the coaches and teams, we need to be respectful of the efforts they have made and understanding of how difficult it is to be a coach.
- Be willing to admit when you’re wrong. As a young coach, I once made a sarcastic comment to a student about what I perceived to be a lack of effort. With great maturity, she told me she was not being lazy and did not appreciate my tone. One of the smartest things I have ever done as a coach was to agree and apologize to her on the spot in front of the team. From that day on, there was a greater trust among us, not to mention, a greater effort. The same applies to cheerleaders. And for judges, you are bound by obligation to admit and correct mistakes. Never be afraid to say you missed something and fix it. There is a lot going on in the routine and lots of technical issues to consider, so anyone could make a mistake. It’s your job to get it right.
- Give an example through your effort. Coaches, show up to practice with a lesson plan. That’s not to say the plan can’t (and shouldn’t) change. But you should not be talking in a corner figuring out what to do next while your team is waiting on you. That needs to done ahead of time. And it is a double standard to ask your students to show up prepared to work if you do not do as much yourself. Cheerleaders, if you work hard, your teammates will notice and step up as well. Remember that your actions speak louder than your words. Judges, make sure you’ve done your homework and know the system you are judging with. Coaches look to your scores and comments to improve themselves. If you do sloppy work and write generic comments (point your toes on toe touches) you are just going through the motions and not serving anyone the way you should.
We all have our own style and we shouldn’t try to all fit into the same mold. I encourage everyone to reply with their thoughts on mentoring, in the spirit of this article, as there are far too many sub-topics for me to cover. The biggest thing I want to leave you all with it simply to be aware of the fact that people are watching you and counting on you to lead them. As soon as you forget that, you forget what is important, and you make cheerleading just a pass time instead of an opportunity to grow and become better human beings.