This article is based on a suggestion from one of my loyal readers (I love my loyal readers!). The topic was about the emphasis teams are placing on being “the best of the best,” and whether or not cheer programs are too fixated on raising banners at any and all cost. Seemed like an interesting topic to me, so here we go.
First, I want to recognize the difference between all star programs and school programs. If you are a school program, your priorities should be to represent your school in a positive manner, to support the sports teams of the school at games, rallies, etc, and after those two (and maybe a bunch of others as well) comes competition. That’s not to say that competition isn’t important. People learn a lot of important lessons preparing for and going through competition. And I think the TRUE purpose of school cheerleading is to provide a positive growth experience for the student athletes who participate in it. But I have noticed that the school cheer teams that tend to do well at competitions are usually the better teams cheering on the sidelines too. In other words, they seem to have their priorities in order, and they seem to work hard across the board.
On the other hand, there are way too many school teams that fixate on putting a “National Champion” banner in their gym, and not on simply working hard to be a great cheerleading program. Here’s a bit of news for you, if your team is a great sideline/halftime cheer team, it will be a great competition team as well. On the other hand, if your team is going through the motions at game practice and at games, they are never going to give you their best at competition practices. They will learn that half an effort is acceptable and that’s all they will give you.
Here’s another news flash. National Champion banners are EASY to come by. I hate to say this, but it is true. Event companies are practically giving them away as soon as your registration check clears. If all you want is a banner, just shop around for a “National Championship” that only has 1 team in your division. Doing so is surprisingly easy. And if another team registers late in your division and you want some insurance, no problem! Just tell the event manager you want to switch to a different division. There are plenty of event providers out there that will negotiate your division like a used car dealer negotiates trade ins and cash back.
Speaking of “National Championship” events, has anyone else noticed how there are like 100 different ones every year? Some event companies even have multiple “National Championships.” How’s that work? If you crown one team the best in the nation, what does it say if you pack up your mats, drive 1,000 miles the next weekend and give some other team the national title? Doesn’t seem right to me.
Anyway, on to all star teams. It is hard to complain about all star programs fixating on competition seeing as how they do not cheer games or represent any school or organization (other than themselves). They exist to compete, so it is appropriate that competition is their priority. However, there is a right way and a wrong way to go about things. I disagree with practices that sacrifice the development of individual athletes and the overall program for the sake of a quick fix for the current competition season. Those are things like not being age appropriate (see earlier blog article for details), not perfecting basics to move on to advanced skills, “shopping” for a title (as described above in the school team section), etc.
But again, I cut the all star gyms some slack. They are businesses and they want to make money. In fact, they NEED to make money. To do that, they need to have an impressive resume of titles they can advertise to lure families into their programs. When a cheer gym is fairly new, I can understand cutting corners to get that first title. I can understand looking for a “softer” division for one of your teams. I can understand putting your 6th grade superstar on the youth, junior, senior and senior coed teams. You need some success to promote your program, so for the first couple of years, have at it. But once you’ve been in business for 4 or 5 years, it is time to grow up and compete at the big boy events. After this much time your clients need to be satisfied with your coaching, and if they aren’t, another “Championship” hoodie from the Mega-Cheer Early-Season Leve1 4.2 Division III competition probably isn’t going to do you much good.
I’ve gone on and on and now I am going to (finally) get to the point. The true competition in cheerleading has nothing to do with what you put on the mat. It is not judged and scored by a panel in the back of the room. It has nothing to do with having higher baskets and more double fulls than your rival team. One of the truly special things about cheerleading is that the competition is internal, not external. The hardest part of cheering is getting yourself to the gym everyday for the longest season in high school athletics and consistently working hard, getting along with teammates, fundraising, keeping up with school, and also living your life. I promise you that if you do all of those things you will finish your season highly satisfied, no matter how big your trophy is. If you do all of that and some other team happens to be better, you are not going to be upset. Teams that work hard all year hold their heads up and smile at awards, even if they get second place. Teams that cut corners cry on the floor, and if they do win a title, they really didn’t earn it, and they will probably never feel the satisfaction that comes from doing things the right way. They will keep chasing titles that will be forgotten and trophies that will wind up in the dumpster in the back of the gym in a few years. If your program’s goals are to work as hard as you can and to have fun, the titles will take care of themselves, or better yet, the titles won’t really matter in the big picture.