Life After Cheerleading
I was once told by someone with more UCA College National Championship rings than he has fingers that “cheerleading is less than this much of your life.” He was holding his index finger and thumb about an inch apart. This was on the first day of the varsity season, and he was our program’s advisor. After that, we went right into goal setting exercises.
Making this point at that moment might seem slightly at odds with the purpose of motivating a new team to work hard and reach goals. However, not only was it strangely effective, more importantly, it prepared me for the many retirements (breaks) in cheerleading that I have experienced throughout my life.
First, the motivational effect of the statement came from two points. The first was the person saying it. This was a person who practically created the concept of a cheerleading dynasty. Everyone in the room loved and respected him. So for a person like this to make a statement seemingly AGAINST the activity that we were all there to participate in…that really grabbed our attention. The second point was one of urgency. If cheerleading is such a small part of our lives, we needed to make every moment we had count. I can tell you for certain that every person on our team got that message and worked harder than any group of people I have ever been involved with.
The next lesson from our advisors remark was, to me, much more meaningful. It was simply that cheerleading ends for everyone. There will come a day when you no longer go to practice. You will stop doing pep rallies and decorating lockers. You will have participated in your last car wash. You’ll take the mat at competition for the last time. My observation (and experience) has been that it usually happens before we want it to. This can be for all sorts of reasons. Our bodies get tired (or old). The costs become to expensive. School, relationships, family and life in general just get in the way. Cheerleading is not like any high school sport because there is virtually no off-season in cheerleading. you go from football to basketball to competition to tryouts to camp. And you have to be 100% invested the whole time. I do not know a single cheerleader who is not stretched very thin to keep everything covered. Eventually, you will have to say enough.
Now, the purpose of cheerleading is not solely to have fun, be popular, make friends and win championships. Those things are fun and they are important. But the real purpose of cheerleading is to learn everything you can before you get (pushed) out. You need to learn about time management. You have to learn about enduring discomfort (be it from conditioning during 2-a-days or standing on the football sideline in the pouring rain. You get to learn how to get in front of other people and lead (be it a crowd and a cheer or your teammates at practice). Wrap all of these things (and many more) up into a nice pretty package and what you are really learning is to be able to work harder and accomplish more than you previously thought you could so that you can break through any wall and overcome any challenge. Yes, you can learn that from cheerleading. And if you do that, you will be successful in your life after cheerleading as well.
In case you’re wondering, the reason for this article at this time is that I am taking an extended break from coaching, effective last night. I’ve had some fantastic personal changes recently, including getting married 4 months ago and a promotion at work (yes, I have a non-cheerleading day job). After a couple of weeks of trying to balance everything, I came to realize that I was not able to put as much into coaching as I wanted to. To me, that made it clear that I needed to step out and give someone else a chance.
Fear not dear reader. My retirement from coaching will in no may affect this blog. I still need to get my cheerleading fix, after all! I’ll also still be judging and making “guest appearances” as a speaker or instructor at clinics and such. And I think I’ll get back into coaching eventually. But if I don’t, I am fine with that, too. I’ve already had a longer cheerleading career than my advisor predicted back on our first day of practice. But that doesn’t change the truthfulness of his message to us (me). Cheerleading is NOT life, but cheerleading IS training for life. Use cheerleading, while you can, to learn how to dream big, plan smart, work hard, sacrifice, and follow through. Do that and when the time comes for you to retire too, you will be able to without regrets and with plenty of preparedness for what comes next, during your life after cheerleading.