This is it folks, the mythical “off-season” for cheerleading. This is the 2 to 6 weeks you get away from the pastime that we love. The high school cheerleaders have just had tryouts and are off until they go to camp. The all star cheerleaders may have actually just wrapped up one more competition (they will have them in June before long), probably had tryouts, and are now free to schedule a family vacation. Never mind that the all star kids are probably still paying their monthly fees for “optional” tumbling classes. Your break is in terms of time, not finances.
I have often said that one of the hardest things about cheerleading is the lack of an off-season. I mean this from a physical standpoint, in that your body never really gets a chance to recover before the start of the next season. Cheerleaders put off dealing with injuries they incur in August and try to schedule surgery in April and squeeze 12 weeks of rehab into the 6 weeks between tryouts and camp. No wonder we have such a high incident of injury in cheerleading!
I also mean this from a financial point of view. You’re probably paying for tumbling lessons basically year round. If you’re in an all star gym, you pay 11 months, minimum. Anymore, I think most gyms have you paying year round. If you are a school cheerleader, you probably have a “team class” that runs from August through basketball season which goes into February. If you compete later than that, you probably keep paying for lessons late as well. But there is no respite after the cheer banquet. You then have to pay for open gym, tumbling classes or private lessons so you can get ready for tryouts. These, by the way, are probably more expensive than the monthly lessons you took with your team.
But the biggest challenge of the lack of an off-season is the mental grind of it. Cheerleaders suffer from burnout worse than any other athletes in high school. When the football players finish their final game, they have 6 months of anticipation to get ready for the next season. That time away from the sport gives them a chance to recharge their motivational batteries. They work hard conditioning during their off-season, but they are away from football. By the time the next season comes around, they are starving to get into their pads and hit each other. Now I’m not saying cheerleaders don’t love to cheer. But without that time away from cheerleading, we never really get to miss it. Those few weeks off feel like heaven and dragging ourselves back to the first practice, to start all over, can be a difficult mental challenge.
I never cheered in high school. I only cheered in college. Our off-season was from the end of basketball, which was usually March, until just before college camp in early August. That was a nice long break. Most of us, myself included, stayed involved in cheerleading during the break. I worked at gyms, taught at summer cheer camps, and worked out, stunted and tumbled with whomever was still around campus. But I was still on a break. And by the time camp was coming around for my team, I couldn’t wait to pack up and start the season. We came back refreshed, healthy and motivated.
Also, most of the cheerleaders I knew who improved a lot during college did so during this off-season. I know that is when I made the biggest improvements to my tumbling and stunting. During the year, you are so busy you’re lucky just to maintain what you have. That is another huge benefit of having an off-season.
I would love to see cheerleading develop a shorter season for all of the reasons cited above. Having 4 to 6 months away from cheerleading will give athletes a chance to get themselves together, both physically and mentally. It will give them a chance to go get a job, not only to help earn money to pay to cheer but also for the experience of working. It will give cheerleaders some time to try other activities. It will give them time to study. And from a selfish perspective, it will give them a chance to get in the gym and improve their stunts, tumbling and over all athleticism.
As cheerleading coaches, we need to be mindful of “burn out” so that we keep cheerleading safe, healthy and fun. Finding a way to extend the off-season would go a long way to fighting off burn out.