Archive for July 2011

Crazy Cheer Moms

July 21, 2011

I read an article on Rivals, which is a website dedicated to high school athletics, that got me really angry.  I’ll summarize, but in case you want to read the full article, here is the link.

The gist of it is that a cheerleading mom in Texas sued the school her daughter went to (and cheered for) because she did not make the cheerleading team.  The suit alleges that there were Title IX violations equating to gender-based discrimination.  The cheer mom’s case was thrown out in a lower level Federal court.  She took it to the Federal Court of Appeals.  That court wrote a hilariously scathing opinion of the cheer mom and upheld the previous court’s ruling.

Now, if you actually believed your daughter was a victim of some form of unlawful discrimination, I would be completely supportive of seeking out a legal remedy.  HOWEVER, this was clearly not the case.  The mom’s suit actually states that one instance of discrimination was that the captain of her daughter’s cheer team should have been, and was not, dismissed from the cheer team for having kissed the other cheerleader’s boyfriend.  ARE YOU SERIOUS???  This crazy cheer mom tried to (literally) make a federal case out of what is essentially a teenage romantic rivalry.

The crazy cheer mom’s lawsuit goes on to make various other ridiculous claims.  You should read them.  They are rather funny.  I’ll just point out one more example that I think illustrates how delusional this idiot was.  The crazy cheer mom actually cited as evidence of Title IX discrimination that other cheer mom’s on the team threatened to sue her (the crazy cheer mom) if she (the crazy cheer mom) did not return video tapes that belonged to the cheer team. 

Let that sink in for a second….ok, here we go.  So the crazy cheer mom stole property from the team (ok, she probably borrowed it, but then refused to return it).  The team asked for it back.  The crazy cheer mom did not return it.  The team did the proper thing which was to pursue the matter lawfully in the civil courts (the crazy cheer mom probably would have called the FBI).  And somehow, that action equated to gender-based discrimination against the crazy cheer mom’s daughter.  Huh???

First, I want to say a great big thank you to the court for getting it right.  Apparently, they dismissed the case as swiftly as the law would allow, wasting as little time and resources as possible.  Our courts are way over-burdened with legitimate legal actions as it is.  People like the crazy cheer mom not only waste tax dollars but also delay the resolution of important legal matters.

I also want to thank the court for smacking down the crazy cheer mom in their written opinion.  They don’t pull any punches, even going so far as to compare the crazy cheer mom’s writing to that of a 4th grader.  It’s good stuff!

But the point of this blog is not merely to go off on a rant about the crazy cheer mom.  There are actually lessons to be learned here.

The first has to do with the image of cheerleading.  Guess what folks.  Cheerleading is the butt of a lot of jokes.  Will Ferrell made his name in comedy on Saturday Night Live, and his most famous skit was making hilarious fun of cheerleading.  The movie, Dodgeball, has an entire subplot that is completely unrelated to the rest of the movie that does nothing but make fun of competitive cheerleading.  Even movies that have tried to make cheerleading mainstream, like Bring It On, play into cheerleading stereotypes.  A lot of folks in the cheerleading community don’t like this prevailing social opinion of cheerleading and have blamed the media for portraying cheerleading in such a light.  Guess what.  The media is not to blame.  We are.  And by “we,” I mean cheerleader, coaches and parents who, like the crazy cheer mom, act like idiots.  Remember, part of cheerleading is supposed to be about representing your community, school or organization in a proper way.  That is an extra responsibility that cheerleaders are supposed to accept.  So when one of our own does something irresponsible and stupid (like the crazy cheer mom), it should be looked at with greater scrutiny than if the same mistake was made by a different student or athlete.  That’s just the way it is, so we have to be mindful and not make those kinds of mistakes in judgement.

Another lesson we can take from the crazy cheer mom incident is that cheerleaders need to treat each other nicely.  Look, the crazy cheer mom was crazy.  No disputing that.  But if she felt so strongly that her daughter was being singled out and picked on, maybe she was.  That’s no justification for bringing a federal suit against someone.  But still, we should not tease or exclude anyone on our team.  Cheerleading is hard enough when everyone is working together.  It is impossible when people on the team are being petty, uncooperative or cruel to each other.  The daughter of the crazy cheer mom might have been odd.  She might have dressed funny.  She might not have been very talented.  Who knows.  There is usually someone on every team that doesn’t really fit in with everyone else.  Those are your teammates that you should be the most supportive and inclusive of.  They are your opportunity to do the right thing.  That is especially true of the leaders on the team.  I don’t know if the captain was right or wrong for allegedly kissing the alleged boyfriend of the daughter of the crazy cheer mom.  Regardless of that, this team clearly had personality issues for things to have gotten all the way to federal court.  Those personality issues should have been worked out by the girls on the team.  If everyone on the team had been thoughtful and supportive and really cared about each other, I can’t help but believe things never would have gotten so out of hand in the first place.

There is a cliché that I believe is true.  It goes like this.  “No one is completely useless.  Everyone can at LEAST serve as a bad example.”  Well crazy cheer mom, thank you for being a bad example.  While this kind of publicity is bad for the image of cheerleading (makes me cringe thinking about it), at least we can try to learn from it.  Cheerleaders, be inclusive of your teammates.  Reach out to the ones that are struggling to fit in.  Communicate with each other when there are problems.  Work them out.  Coaches, when there are things that the kids aren’t working out, you need to step in.  Communicate with the parents early so there are no misunderstandings.  Let the school administration know if there are ongoing issues that you are struggling with.  And parents, including you crazy cheer mom, let’s keep things in perspective.  Cheerleading is a wonderful activity, but remember, it’s only cheerleading.  In the future, try not to make a national joke of yourself, waste tax payer money and Federal Court’s time because of a cheerleading issue.

Hardest Standing Tumbling

July 18, 2011

I’ve had a lot of readers writing it to ask about standing tumbling.  The most common request is to hear about what tricks are the hardest and/or score the highest.  I can’t do anything the easy way (ask my wife), so rather than just talk about skills and scoresheets, I’m going to go on a little rant as well.  But I promise I will ALSO answer the two questions mentioned above.

I remember when standing fulls were first coming around in cheerleading.  There were only a small handful of people throwing them.  They were freakish athletes with huge vertical leaps and incredible body awareness.  Nowadays, a lot more cheerleaders are throwing “standing” fulls.  However, they aren’t really standing.  They are taking 3 or 4 running steps backwards (maybe more), pounding their feet into the spring floor, and letting their momentum and the springs throw them over into the skill.  Don’t get me wrong, this is an elite trick.  Not everyone can do this.  However, it is NOT a standing full and should not be given the same credit that someone should get for doing a true standing full.  In fact, if you take steps into it, it shouldn’t even be considered standing tumbling at all.

Before anyone starts to argue, here is an example to help explain why I have this opinion.  Consider front tucks.  The traditional (and easiest) way to perform a front tuck is to take a few running steps, perform some kind of a hurdle (overlift, underlift or Russian-my favorite), and perform the front tuck.  This is a running tumbling skill.  No one would disagree with that.  It is not uncommon to see a level 3 team throw about half-squad running front tucks (which to me is one of the best ways to max out level 3 running tumbling).  However, when someone performs a standing front tuck, that is a true showcase tumbling move.  You’ll put that single cheerleader out in front so the judges can’t miss it.  In fact, a true standing front tuck is so difficult most cheerleaders will actually perform a toe touch before it so they can bound into the front tuck and get a little momentum. 

I’ll throw you for a bit of a loop now.  A true standing front tuck is a heck of a lot harder than one of the backward running things people are passing off as standing fulls these days.  Don’t believe me?  Take any of the cheerleaders throwing the aforementioned “standing” fulls and ask them to try a standing front tuck.  The vast majority of them probably won’t even try it.  If they do, most will land right on their seat (that’s cheer talk for “butt”).  The one’s that make it to their feet will almost certainly fall back onto their bottom (another cheer word for “butt”).

So how is that for a news flash.  A standing front, which technically is legal as a level 4 skill, is vastly harder than a standing full, which is not legal until level 5.  As for what is THE hardest standing tumbling skill, it is hard to answer.  I once saw a true standing double full (with no steps back).  That was pretty hard.  Much harder than the long, complicated passes people perform from a standing position, because in those passes, you gain momentum as you go.  They basically turn into running tumbling.  So for now, my answer to what trick is hardest is a true standing double.

Now onto the point of what scores the best.  First, you have to consider whether or not an event differentiates between standing and running tumbling.  Most seem to do so.  And most seem to say if it doesn’t come out of a round-off (or some kind of forward running skill), it counts as “standing” tumbling.  As you might have noticed, I strongly disagree with that definition, but for now, I’m out-voted.  For purposed of this article, we’ll use the commonly accepted understanding of what qualifies as standing tumbling.

Generally, to get perfect scores in your standing tumbling, you need excel in 2 aspects.  You have to show off a high difficulty squad tumbling skill.  You ALSO have to demonstrate a handful of “specialty” or “elite” tumbling tricks.

The second category is the simplest to talk about, so we’ll knock that out first.  We’re talking about standing fulls, handspring-handspring fulls, handspring-full-punch front-roundoff-handspring-double full, etc.  This part of your choreography is kind of a no-brainer.  If you have any cheerleaders on your team with this level of tumbling, FIND A PLACE TO PUT IT!!!  I think having 1 cheerleader bust out this something truly memorable like this adds about a point to your overall tumbling.  If you can pull together 3 elite standing tumblers, you are practically guaranteed maxed out standing tumbling scores.  Throw more than that and they’ll be talking about your routine next year at Worlds.  So the point is, obviously, if you have elite standing tumbling, use it.  I told you it was a no-brainer.

As for the squad tumbling, what we’re usually talking about to get consideration for high scores is some form of back tuck.  It can be a standing tuck or a standing handspring tuck.  Either way, if about 80% to 90% of your team throws (and lands) them, you will be in the high range for level 4 or 5 teams.  By the way, the 20% to 10% that aren’t throwing them, the judges notice when you “fake” it.  It does hurt your score, but not as much as busting on your knees.  So fake it if you can’t land it, but keep trying to catch up with your team.

Anyway, if a team manages to actually have 100% participation in a tuck, that can max out scores, depending on the competition.  If that is the best tumbling all day at a certain event, you might max out.  But judges will still probably hold back on perfect 10’s. 

If you want to make sure you max out your standing tumbling, you really need to throw a jump combination right into a back tuck.  You can get away with faking 1 or 2 cheerleaders, but you need almost 100% team participation.  Full squad tripple toe touch back tucks is sort of the standard judges look for to give 10 out of 10 in standing tumbling.

I kind of ranted longer than I planned, so that made the explanation part of the blog a little thin.  Sorry about that.  But I really think standing tumbling choreography is less flexible than most other parts of the routine.  That is, in pyramids, you can make up for lower difficulty with complex, creative and visual elements.  In standing tumbling, you can’t choreograph what your team doesn’t have.  You can only get so creative with presentation of standing tumbling.  So the only sure-fire way to improve that part of your scoresheet is to get in the gym and practice those standing skills.


Get Higher Basket Tosses

July 13, 2011

Basket Tosses are one of the most exciting, dynamic skills performed in cheerleading.  Whether you’re talking about complex, kick double full baskets, or a simple toe touch, nothing gets the crowd to “ohhh” and “ahhh” like height.  There are lots of moving parts in a basket toss, and they all play a part in determining how high the flyer will travel.  This article is going to talk about two of them.  Follow these two, simple rules and you will soon be hearing the crowd “ohhh” and “ahhh” for your basket tosses too.

First, we will talk about the bases.  There are many different elements about the bases and their technique that will all impact the height of their toss.  There is the issue of physical strength.  There is the issue of timing.  There is the issue of experience.  However, there is one, simple factor that will override every other basing issue in terms of basket toss height.  That factor is how high the bases’ hands are at the moment they “break” the basket and the flyer’s feet lose contact with the bases.

The reason for this is simple.  Suppose two base groups are equally strong and have equal flyers.  They throw a basket at the same time.  One base group is taller.  They have longer legs and longer arms.  When they fully extend their arms while their hands are locked in the basket, their hands are 8 feet off the ground.  If their toss generates 4 feet of thrust, the flyer will reach a height of 12 feet.  Suppose the other group with shorter arms and legs stretches up to a mere height of 7 feet.  If they toss just as hard as the first group, their basket will still be a foot lower, just because their release point for the basket was lower.  Make sense?

So now the question is how to go about raising the release point for the bases.  No, you can’t always just go out and get taller bases.  Nice try.  But here are some things you CAN do.

First, make sure the bases are close together.  At the moment they release their grip, they should be chest to chest.  This will allow their arms to be straight up, perpendicular to the ground.  And separation between the bases will cause their arms to be angled a little more.  In order to be as close together as possible (without banging heads when the flyer loads in), make sure to use good posture, keeping your shoulders directly over your hips.  Do not lean forward and absorb the flyer’s weight with your back.  Instead, absorb with your legs.  Not only does this help you stay close to each other, it also protects your back from injury.

Second, when you are tossing your basket, you want the bases to literally jump.  A lot of people are surprised by this, but it makes perfect sense.  For one thing, if you are throwing with your legs (pushing) as hard as you can, you will jump.  So if you aren’t jumping, you still aren’t pushing your best.  Secondly, if you jump 4 inches off the ground, that raises your release point 4 inches in the air.  Every inch makes a difference when your flyer is trying to learn a new skill, so don’t give them away with bad technique.

Finally, toss straight up, following through by “flicking” your fingers straight up in the air.  Sometimes, you will see bases follow through by throwing their heads and hands back.  They might be jumping, but instead of jumping straight up (in the direction they want the flyer to travel), they do a  “C” jump with arching backs.  This greatly lowers the release point of the basket.  It also disperses all of that momentum out to the sides instead of concentrating it directly under the flyers feet.  If might feel, and even look, like a more powerful toss, but it is inefficient.  Most of the energy is being wasted instead of used.  Don’t make that mistake.  By the way, it can also cause the flyer to by thrown behind the head of whichever base is arching the most because the following through of their hands behind their head will take the flyer in that direction.  Do that and you’ll wind up on YouTube, in a bad way.

As for the flyer, your job is to capture as much of the energy generated by the bases as possible.  You do this by doing two basic things.  First, you stay in contact with the bases hands as long as you possible can.  In other words, do not jump!  As you feel the bases driving up, you should be standing up on the balls of your feet.  Squeeze your legs and feet together.  If your legs separate, your feet can start to slide off the basket before the bases release their grip.  Sliding off the side of the basket can waste the majority of the power generated by the bases, so squeeze those feet together. 

Also, make sure to keep good body position, staying perpendicular to the floor.  Your shoulders, hips and toes should be in a straight line at the moment the bases release.  If anything is out of alignment, some of the energy of the toss will be used to take you in that direction instead of it all being used to take you straight up.

Like I said, there are many other considerations in baskets.  But follow these basics and you’ll probably start seeing better height.  Also, always, always, always use good spotting and cradling technique in baskets.  If people start getting hurt, they lose confidence, and then technique goes out the window.  When the flyer is confident that she will be caught, she will keep her hands and elbows to herself and the bases won’t be getting black eyes or busted lips.  It is a win-win.  And that is not only good for safety, it will also get you the “ohhhs” and “ahhhs” that translate to better scores for your routine.

Mental Blocks – Standing Tucks

July 8, 2011

As requested from one of our readers, this article is going to deal with mental blocks related to standing tucks.  Please keep the suggestions coming.  They are most appreciated!

Standing tucks seem to be one of the most significant mile-stones that a cheerleader reaches in their skill development.  Tucks are often the gateway trick of making the varsity team at your school or the highest level team at your all star gym.  On judging panels, “squad tucks,” still always seems to be the standard to score in the 9 out of 10 range for standing tumbling, and I don’t see that changing any time soon.

Lots of cheerleaders hit a road block when they start working on a standing tuck.  I believe it is very common for cheerleaders and coaches to think students have a mental block when the struggle to throw their standing tuck.  However, in almost every case, I believe this is a misdiagnosis of the problem.  Here comes a lengthy explanation…

When it comes to tumbling, most TRUE mental blocks come from the anticipation of the trick.  For instance, they are nervous about their full.  They think about it in the round off.  They undercut their back handspring.  They lose their power, and then bail out on the full.  But a standing tuck is over with in basically the blink of an eye.  There isn’t much time to get nervous.  Mental blocks sometimes occur, but I’ve found them to be rare.  In fact, most advanced students that I’ve worked with who have suffered mental blocks lose all of their tumbling EXCEPT for their standing tucks.  I have even seen standing tucks used as a therapeutic tool to help students overcome other mental blocks.

I’m not saying that there aren’t a lot of cheerleaders who struggle to overcome a fear of standing tucks.  There are many.  I was one of them.  However, there is a difference between being afraid to attempt a trick and having a mental block. 

Honest fear of a standing tuck might simply be a matter of not having perfected it yet.  Remember in an earlier paragraph where I mention that tucks are often a gateway for a cheerleader to make a varsity team.  That being the case, a lot of cheerleaders rush to start learning a tuck, well before they should.  They have not yet perfected their back handspring.  They have not yet developed the lower ab and hip flexor strength to pull their legs and hips over their shoulders.  In other words, they are physically not capable of consistently landing their tuck, their body knows this, and they are rightfully scared.  I believe that this fear is frequently mis-labeled as a mental block.

Dealing with THAT type of fear is simple, but time-consuming.  I suggest taking a look at another article on this blog called Standing Tucks are Simple.  It provides some useful guidance on tuck technique. 

As for gaining confidence (overcoming fear) in your standing tuck, there are two things that will help you do that.  The first is do more tucks.  I know, I know, pretty obvious.  I had an instructor once who used to quiz us by saying, “Repetition is the key.  Repetition is the key.  Repetition is the key.  What is the key?”  Every responded, “Repetition.”  I think this saying is especially true in standing tucks.  Also, do not allow yourself to be limited to only throwing them with a spotter.  If you have to take your shoes off to throw them by yourself, do it.  If you have to use a cheese mat, do that.  Use a trampoline (under supervision, and using correct technique).  And, of course, also use a spotter.  But you are better off throwing 100 tucks with a cheese mat and no shoes than throwing 10 tucks on the hard floor in shoes with a spotter.  Remember, repetition is the key!

The other thing to help build confidence is conditioning.  The first thing you have to do is be honest about your physical condition.  I once had a young student.  She learned very quickly and was performing advanced running tumbling by the time she was 10.  But then, she started gaining weight.  Lot’s of weight.  By the time she was 13 she was 40 or 50 pounds over weight.  Not surprisingly, her tumbling suffered.  Her mom had her in private lessons and open gyms, looking for some technique that she could learn to get her to start landing her tumbling again.  News flash: there isn’t one.  You have to be an exceptional athlete to throw a tuck.  The moral of the story is be honest.  Maybe you need to tone up a little.  Maybe you need to work on your abs.  Maybe you need to improve your jump strength.  Whatever it is, as you become physically stronger, you will automatically develop more confidence in your tumbling.  Soon, that “mental block” will start to fade away.

Now to get into REAL mental blocks.  Like I said, these are rare for standing tucks.  These are when you have a well conditioned athlete who is proficient in their standing tucks, and suddenly, for whatever reason, they get freaked out and won’t throw them anymore.  I think I have seen this happen 4 or 5 times in the thousands of students I have worked with.  In most cases, it has eventually derailed their cheerleading career.  However, there are a couple of things we’ve tried that have helped, at least in the short-term.

The first thing is to video tape them performing the skill.  I actually use video as a teaching tool for stunts and tumbling, even when there is no mental block to overcome.  When a student actually sees what they are doing, not only does it help them correct technical issues, it really boosts their confidence.  By the way, everyone I’ve ever shown video of their tumbling too has commented that they didn’t look anything like what they visualized in their mind.  It makes a big difference.  Try it!

Most other techniques I’ve used involve rather advanced spotting skills.  Do not attempt to use these spotting techniques if you are not a strong spotter/instructor. 

The first is a “forced spot.”  I use this on students who are scared to even begin.  I stand next to them and count out the tuck, “5, 6, 7, 8.”  On “1,” if they do not go, I pick them up and flip them over and land them on their feet (I’m a pretty strong guy).  This is usually very sudden and a little scary/shocking for the student, even though I tell them ahead of time that I am going to do it.  Pretty soon, they are more scared of having me flip them than they are of just throwing the tuck.  They are still getting a spot, even if it is only a “mental spot” and I am not actually helping them physically, but at least they’re throwing it.

The next spotting technique is a “delayed spot.”  At this point, the student is scared, but they are throwing it with a spot.  Now, instead of starting with my hand already on the student’s back, my hand is just behind her, not touching her.  As she starts to perform the tuck, I put my hand on her back so she can feel it, and then she continues through the skill.  You can start off touching the student as soon as she bends her knees to start her jump.  Then, work your way down to where you are not touching her until just before the landing.  Also, try to get to where your arms are hanging at your sides rather than in a ready position behind the student.  All of these adjustments make the student “feel” more exposed, which allows them to overcome increasing degrees of fear.  When doing this, make gradual changes.  Do not make adjustments until the student has truly mastered whatever degree of spot you are giving them.  Also, NEVER try to “trick” the student.  If you say you are going to touch their back halfway through, you’d better do it, even if they don’t need it.  If you lie to them, you will lose their trust and you will be useless to them as a coach.  Seriously, that is no exaggeration.

This has been a lengthy article, so I’ll sum up a little bit.  Check out the article, Tucks are Simple, for tuck technique advice.  Be careful not to misdiagnosis a lack of readiness for a true mental block.  Don’t look for short cuts.  Do the work.  Repetitions are the key.  Honestly evaluate your physical condition.  If you encounter a real mental block, video tape yourself.  Watch the tape over and over.  Be able to visualize exactly what you look like.  Seek out a strong spotter and try to gradually wean yourself off the spot.  These techniques are not “tricks.”  You will not just “snap out of it.”  They take time, but they do work.  Have faith and work hard and you will get over your mental block.

Flyer’s Mental Blocks – Solution #1

July 5, 2011

(I plan to do several articles on mental blocks.  I will probably include the first 2 paragraphs of this article in each and every one of them.  Once you’ve read them, you will understand why.)

All mental blocks are different.  They have different triggers.  They have varying consequences.  They surround different tricks.  That being the case, they also have different remedies. 

First, you have to try to understand the mental block.  This is hard to do if you have never had one.  A cheerleader with a mental block is not JUST scared.  If that was all it is, you could overcome a mental block with bribes, threats, or just taking a deep breath and “going for it.”  A mental block is paralyzing.  It is not logical or rational.  And they can happen to anyone, at any time.  Trying to understand them is like trying to understand a migraine headache.  If you’ve never had one, you really can’t comprehend what they are like.  The best thing you can do is be supportive and patient and help the student work through it.

Having said all of that, let’s look at a type of stunting mental blocks.  This one is when a student’s uncertainty causes them to use poor execution.  They will still attempt a stunt, but they won’t really go for it.  You’ll see this frequently when flyers are starting to learn 1-legged stunts like liberties (libs).  They won’t quite lock out their leg.  They will hold their breath.  They will look down.  eventually, they will just sort of fall out of the stunt into the bases cradle.  Worse than that, they might just “step down” onto their back leg, which really means, they’ll collapse and kick their back spot in the face on the way down.

For this kind of situation,one solution is to remove the flyer’s fear of falling.  You can do this simply by having the stunt group cradle the flyer IMMEDIATELY, upon hitting the trick.   This way, the flyer knows they don’t have to worry about holding the stunt.  All they have to do is get up into the stunt (which is the hardest part of most stunts), and then the bases will cradle immediately.  Pretty soon, the flyers will start being more aggressive locking out their legs.  They will start to think about hollowing out.  They will start to concentrate on how they are pulling their lib leg.  They will do these things because they are no longer worrying about staying in the air. 

After a little while, start having the group hold the stunt, but only for a defined amount of time.  I usually start with 2 seconds.  If you tell the flyer they only have to hold it for 2 seconds, it is amazing how they will suddenly start to use good technique in the air.  You can add time as you go, but do not rush it.  In fact, I think it is better to let the flyer ask to hold it longer.  Most flyers start to get pretty competitive with themselves, wanting to hold it longer and longer before cradling.  I usually find myself telling them, “No, let’s just hold it for 5 seconds, not 8.”  Before long, the flyer is begging you to let them stay in the stunt that they were just too scared of to even attempt correctly a few practices ago.

If you are going to try this approach to fixing a mental block, it is important that the group is very confident with cradling.  That is because the cradle is the “security blanket” for the flyer that allows them to overcome their fear.  If the group is not solid with their cradles, you probably have a progression issue and need to back off of one-legged stunts anyway.

One more important point for this approach.  Make sure that you emphasise using proper cradle technique.  It is okay to use a sweep cradle here instead of a pop cradle (in fact I usually do).  But it is not okay to let the group be lazy in the actual cradle.  Make sure the bases are still catching high and absorbing with their legs.  Make sure the flyer is piking her legs and catching her bases’ shoulders, and supporting her weight in the cradle.  If you are using this approach, you will probably be executing a lot of cradles.  That is a lot of opportunity for you to reinforce good technique (or bad), so take advantage of it.

As I mentioned at the top of this article, I plan to do more.  If anyone has a specific example of a mental block they would like to see addressed, please feel free to post it. 🙂

Following Through

July 1, 2011

Cheerleading skills are vast and highly varied.  They include complex, synchronized techniques involved in group stunts, and simple but confident straight-armed punch motions on the sideline.  Whether you’re talking about flipping a sign during a cheer or flipping your body in a back tuck, there is one common attribute to the proper execution of ALL cheerleading skills.  The attribute can be called a lot of things, but for this article, I’ll just call it “Follow Through.”

When you hit a motion in a cheer, you have to HIT the motion.  Nothing looks more lack luster than a squad of cheerleaders going through lazy arm motions on the sideline.  A key to having good aggressive motions is confidence in your choreography.  If you are second-guessing the next motion, you aren’t going to be very aggressive or strong with your execution.  The result is that you and your team will look disinterested and unorganized.  This is a basic example.  In other instances, the lack of follow through can be much more detrimental.

Tumbling requires a total commitment to whatever skill you are performing.  When you are upside down in a tuck, you can’t afford to start second guessing what you’re doing.  You need to pull your tuck, keep your eyes open, spot your landing, and stick your feet on the floor.  You have to make the decision that you are going to follow through with the tuck no matter what before you even begin to throw it.  If you do, the worst thing that will usually happen is you might under-rotate and land on your knees.  If you’ve been around cheerleading for any length of time (or spent any time on YouTube), you’ve seen what happens when someone “freaks out” in a tuck and tries to abort.  They set up in the air, they bail out, they land (painfully) on their back, head or neck.  Follow through is what keeps you safe, not to mention, what gets you high marks on your score sheet.

I think stunting is where follow through (or the lack thereof) exposes the greatest difference between competing teams.  A squad that has put the time in at practice and has mastered their progressions is going to be confident.  A well-coached team with good communication skills, where everyone knows their job, is going to execute their stunts without second guessing.  A less prepared team might be able to hit the same stunt sequences as the first team, but that team will never look as good going them.  Here are some technique issues that will show up when people start second guessing what they’re doing.

Bases will not lock out their arms.  I’ve never understood this, but it happens all the time.  When a base is not confident, they leave a slight bend in their elbows.  Maybe this is so the flyer isn’t quite so high in the air.  I’m not sure.  But the result is that they are working harder, they are less stable and the flyer is going to feel it and struggle more than if the bases just locked out.  Listen up bases.  If you are performing an extended stunt, lock your arms out!  It doesn’t matter if it is the first time or the millionth time you have tried it.  Bending your arms will not make the stunt easier.  It will make it harder.  Follow through!

With flyers, it is even easier to see when there is a lack of follow through.  The first thing the flyer will do is look down at the ground.  This is a sure sign that the flyer is second guessing wanting to be up in the stunt.  That flyer is looking for the fastest (not necessarily safest) way to get to the ground.  They are not committed to the stunt.  They do not trust their bases to catch them.  This stunt is not going to hit, and if it does, it is not going to look good.

You can also see a lack of follow through with flyers in one-legged stunts when they don’t quite lock out the leg they are standing on.  This is the same thing as when bases don’t lock out their arms.  It does not make the stunt easier.  It simply makes the flyer work harder.  Do not do this.  Lock out the leg.  Follow through.

One final example for flyers.  One skill that I have noticed a lack of follow through a vast majority of the time is in double down cradles.  Sometimes, it is glaringly obvious.  A flyer will complete a rotation, open up and look down at her bases, and then try to pull a second twist.  This is the difference between a double down and trying to pull two single twists in one cradle.  Not only is it much harder, it looks terrible.  A less obvious mistake is when the flyer does not open up completely, but stops pulling with her shoulders and hips, slowing her rotation.  This is when the flyers land on their bellies or their sides and the bases kind of “bounce” them the rest of the way around.  Anyway, the flyers are essentially going limp right before the cradle.  This might be an instinctive reaction to try to absorb a hard landing.  However, by not completing the double twist, they are actually causing a hard landing because they are not in a good position for the bases to catch them properly.

These are just a small sampling of examples.  You can rest assured that almost EVERY cheerleading technique requires follow through.  In fact, I can’t think of any that do not.  So keep that in mind throughout your season and you will really develop good habits and consistent performances for all of your cheerleading skills.