Archive for the ‘Stunting’ category

Cheerleading Rule Changes, March 2012

March 29, 2012

This article is about the sweeping rule changes that were recently implemented affecting both high school and all star competitive cheerleading.  I’m going to address the situation in general terms, understanding that there might be exceptions, but if I went into great detail to every specific aspect of the changes, this article would be way too long.  So, with the disclaimer out of the way, here we go…

What we’re really talking about are limitations that have been placed on what skills cheerleaders are going to be allowed to perform.  That, and some age restrictions and I think a uniform restriction down the road.  If you want to know my opinion about the uniform restriction, look up my article called Dress For Success.  As for my opinion on the age limitations, check out the article called Age Appropriate.  THIS article is going to focus on skill restrictions, in general, that have been put in place.

People are understandably upset about the changes.  A lot of coaches and athletes have worked their butts off to master difficult tricks that they want to perform.  They want to stand out.  They want to shine.  What’s more, they want the competitive advantage that they have earned with the blood sweat and tears that they invested in training to progress to the point that they can execute the toughest cheerleading skills around.  After all of that hard work, the rule changes have taken that away from them, and they don’t think that is fair.

They are right.  IT IS NOT FAIR.

However, it is still the right thing to do.

Yes, I know I just said it wasn’t fair.  But it is still right.  It is the only solution to a serious problem.  The ends justify the means in this case.  And even though you might not be the cause of the problem (or at least you might not THINK you are), you have to pay the price for the greater good.  We need a safer environment in cheerleading.  The status quo was not an option.  And the coaches, the parents, and the event providers were not getting it done.  This is the result, and once again, it was absolutely the right thing to do.

Before you tune me out completely, let me explain with an example.  10 years ago, people who earned $40,000 a year were allowed to borrow $400,000 to buy a house that was only worth $250,000.  Whether or not you’re a financial expert, you can probably figure out this is an example of a “high risk” loan.  Banks were allowed to make as many of these loans as they wanted.  They were very profitable.  The problem is if the borrower couldn’t pay back the loan, the banks would lose money and the borrower would lose their house.  A lot of bank took a responsible approach to high risk loans.  They used honest appraisers to determine the value of the house.  They looked at the borrower’s future income, credit history, etc.  They limited themselves to only making so many of these loans so that if some of them went bad, the bank wouldn’t get hurt too much by it.  The problem is, most of the bank were not responsible.  They gave out billions of dollars to people who could never repay it, figuring they’d just take the houses back and still make a profit when they sell them.  But then housing priced crashed.  The banks couldn’t sell the houses.  The people couldn’t make the payments.  Before you know it, we have a global financial crisis.  Folks who worked their whole, honest lives saving to retire saw their home and investments lose all of their value overnight.  Folks started getting laid off.  People’s dreams and futures were crushed.  Let’s face it.  Life as we know it changes and may never be the same.

Now, banks aren’t allowed to loan money like that anymore.  Not just the banks that screwed it up.  None of the banks.  The rules had to change because too many people were taking advantage of the lack of rules.  Is it fair that the banks that did the right thing lose the chance to make a good profit on the occasional high risk loan?  No.  It is not fair.  But the chance that someone else might is just too great.  We can’t afford another financial melt down, so before it happens, the rules had to change for everyone.  To the “good” banks, thanks for being responsible, but you’re going to have to make your money another way.  By the way, the big banks that messed everything up got bailed out by the tax payers for the greater good.  That also wasn’t fair, but it looked like the only way out of that mess.

The rule changes in cheerleading are kind of like that.  Hey, there are lots of good coaches out there doing things the right way and teaching their kids the hardest skills around properly and safely.  Those programs should not be punished with the programs that have failed to be responsible.  But just like with the banks, you can’t make that distinction.  The rules had to change for everyone before cheerleading had a meltdown of injuries.  And if that happened, the changes that would have been made could have been much more drastic.

By they way, before you assume your program is one of the innocent ones, maybe you should think again.  Do cheerleaders in your program start working on standing tucks before they have perfect standing back handspring series?  Do bases base with arched backs but no one says anything because at least the stunts are still hitting?  Are there 10 or 20 kids in the gym that cross compete of multiple teams because it is easier and quicker to have a few kids doing all the flying than taking the time to instruct every flier on the team?  Are kids that should be on youth (by age and size) getting pulled up to juniors and even seniors so the team can do harder stunts?  Believe it or not, high school girls CAN base other high school girls.  It just means they have to be taught good technique instead of being given a flyer the size of a Barbie doll.

You might have double downs in your gym, and do them safely, but if your program does those things (listed above) and other similar things, your program is cutting corners.  That makes you part of the problem too.  Cutting corners contributes to the environment where we have teams believing they have to attempt crazy hard tricks to be remotely competitive, and if they aren’t competitive, their kids will go to another gym, and then what are they going to do?

We have an environment where cheating is accepted.  Hate to say it, but it is true.  There will be teams at Worlds with 20-something year old guys on the mat competing in the senior divisions.  You and I know this is going to happen.  In fact, some of the programs complaining about the rule  changes have every intention of cheating in this way.  Cutting corners.  Instead of teaching young kids, they hang onto the ones who should be moving on.  The programs that do this and the event providers who look the other way, you’re responsible for forcing these changes just as much as the coaches who push kids past progressions and put dangerous stunts on the mat.

So now that I’ve made everyone made, please just take a deep breath.  Now exhale.

It isn’t fair.  It is not.  But it was right.  It had to happen.  Cheerleading is going to go on.  And now, maybe, cheer programs will have to find more creative ways to stand out.  Maybe programs will have to focus on teaching the less experienced kids how to keep up instead of mostly focusing on teaching elite kids a standing double full.  Seriously, where are all of the complaints about that discrepancy?

This is the new environment, cheerleaders.  The rules have changed.  You are challenged in a new way.  And that is pretty exciting.  The real competitors inside you will see that.  You have to stop feeling like a victim and move forward.  This is going to make a better cheerleading for all of us in the future.  Find new ways to stand out.  To shine.  Move forward.  You can do it.

Single-Base to Hands

October 23, 2011

It’s one thing to see three bases holding a little girl in the air in a stunt.  It is another thing entirely to see one base supporting the flyer.  As cheerleaders, I think we take the sight of a single-base stunt for granted.  To most people, seeing one person balancing another person in air really gets their attention.  This, by the way, is true for judges too!  Score some extra points by throwing a single-base stunt in your routine somewhere.

The thing about single-base stunts is that they are not nearly as hard as they look, once you get them in the air.  I’ll talk about that a little more later in this article.  But once the flyer is at the extended level, a single-base stunt can actually be easier.  In terms of balancing the flyer, you have one base keeping the flyer’s feet level instead of two bases trying to do so.  Also, a single base can stand perfectly directly under the flyer.  That means that once they lock out their arms and legs, all the flyer’s weight is being supported by the base’s skeletal structure (bones) instead of with their muscles.  And trust me, your bones are stronger than your muscles!  In multi-base stunts, although the bases are supposed to get as close to each other as possible, positioning themselves under the flyer as much as possible, in real life, bases rarely execute this perfectly and usually have their hand slightly out in front of their faces meaning the weight of the flyer is held in their shoulder muscles and not in their skeleton.

Moving on to the technique portion of this article, we are going to look at a basic technique to get your flyer from the ground up to the shoulder level in a single base stunt.  It is called a J-up.  This is the method I usually teach to beginning coed stunt groups because it is basically an assisted coed-style toss-to-hands.  However, this technique works fine with an all-girl group as well.

In the J-up, your main base and your flyer assume a standard coed toss position.  This is where the base places their hands on the flyers hips.  The flyer holds onto the wrists of the base.  The main difference between this technique and a regular toss is that a secondary flyer is involved.  The secondary flyer is in a crouch to the right side of the flyer in about the position they would be if they were standing up spotting the stunt.  The flyer holds their right foot up so that their knee is bent at or less than 90 degrees.  The crouching secondary base holds the flyer’s right foot using the same grip they would for a double-base.  It is important to note that the bases right foot is going to be slightly out in front of her left foot because her knee is bent.

Now for the toss.  The main base and the flyer execute a regular toss-to-hands.  Without getting into too much detail, they dip with their legs, they drive with their legs, pushing off their toes.  All the while, the flyer is pushing their down with their hands on the bases wrist, which transfers their body weight to the wrists.  As the flyer rises, as the main bases’ arms fulling extend, the flyer pushes (flicks) with her arms straight down her body.  At this point, the flyer would usually be fully released and in flight.  Here is the difference with the J-up.  First, the flyer is only jumping off of one foot.  As the flyer jumps, they will feel the secondary bases stand up and drive their right foot up and underneath them.  This is where the name J-up comes into play.  Because the flyers foot is slightly out in front of her, the secondary base has to “hook” the flyers foot back towards the main base to get it directly beneath, while the base is driving the foot up.  From the side, this movement would somewhat resemble the letter “J.”  Anyway, the secondary bases drives the foot they as high as they can.  At the same time, the flyer is standing up strong on that leg.  The flyer will be weightless on the way up.  As the stunt comes back down to the shoulder level, the flyer should have all of their weight on the right foot.

It is important to note that there are a lot of moving parts involved.  The flyer has to perfectly execute elements of a coed toss and elements of a multi-base load into a double base.  This is not a simple thing!  So expect that it will take some trial and error to get the timing down.  The timing for a toss is tricky enough.  The timing for the secondary base knowing when to drive takes practice to get down.  Probably the biggest trick is the flyer figuring out when to stand up and get their weight onto to the secondary base.  So take your time and be patient.  You’ll get it sooner or later.

Once you have all of that figured out, you should consistently be “tossing” the flyer so that their feet are at least eye-level to the main base.  Eventually, you want to be able to get the toss to an extended level!  Wherever the highest level of your toss is, that is when the main base should catch the feet of the flyer.  Generally, that is going to involve a grip in the center of the flyer’s foot with the base’s index finger beneath the heel of the flyer’s foot.  You might be wondering how that happens on the right foot since the secondary base is holding the heel and toe of that foot.  The answer is simple.  At the highest point where the flyer is still weightless, the secondary base should release the heel of the flyer with their left hand, but maintain their grip on the toe with their right hand.  This should happen exactly before the main base catches the flyer’s feet.  Once the main base has their grip, the secondary base should assist either the flyer’s right ankle or the main bases right wrist with their left hand, depending on how high the secondary base can reach.  Also, once the main base has their grip on the flyer’s feet, the flyer should transfer about 1/3 of their weight into their left foot.  In doing so, 2/3 of the flyer’s weight is being supported by 3 hands (right hand of the main base and both hands of the secondary base), and 1/3 of the flyer’s weight is being supported by one hand (the left hand of the main base).

This technique is extremely versatile once it is perfected.  You can use this for toss liberties.  You can modify it for full-ups.  As earlier stated, you can toss to should height or to a fully extended level.

As always, make sure that you aware of safety and spotting requirements of whatever event you compete at related to single-base stunts.  You may be required to have an additional spotter behind this stunt.  Also, as always, make sure you have perfected all necessary progressions that lead up to this technique before attempting it.  Success in stunting is all about taking your time and perfecting each level of skill difficulty as you go.

Coed Stunting; Power and Strength

August 26, 2011

In case you’re new to reading this blog, I need to fill you in on my background.  I’m a former college cheerleader, with the HEAVY emphasis on the word “former.”  I can’t remember the last time I tumbled, and I have not stunted with any regularity in at least 5 years.

Several weeks ago, a student of mine asked about working on coed stunting.  She is an excellent student.  The kind that you don’t mind going the extra mile for because you know she’s going to try to make the most of the time you give her.  So I really felt inclined to help her out.  The problem is, after 5 years of coaching from the sidelines (and from behind the keyboard), I really didn’t know if I could still stunt well enough to give an effective lesson.

After thinking about it for a long while, I decided to agree to stunt with the student.  Since she has never coed stunted before, I knew we could spend lots of time just working on fundamentals, so it’s not like I’d be holding her back by not quite being able to still base elite stunts.  Also, for me, stunting is really good exercise.  I’ve pretty much kept up with my strength since retiring from cheerleading.  However, in terms of overall athleticism, I’ve let a lot slide.  So I figured the pressure of not wanting to let a student down, not to mention not wanting to embarrass myself, would be good motivation to get me back into stunting shape. 

Stunting is not like static strength training.  Static strength training is basically sitting on a bench or machine and pushing heavy weights around.  You’re trying to concentrate on specific muscles or muscle groups and isolate them with each exercise.  This style of workout CAN be very effective and help you get bigger and stronger.  However, basing coed stunts has more to do with “power” than with “strength.”  Here is the difference between the two.

Strength is what it takes to pick up and hold heavy objects.  Someone who is strong would be well-suited to help you move furniture.  They can lift and carry.  If they pace themselves, they can keep this up all day.  Power is different than this.  Power is explosiveness.  Power is what allows martial artists to break concrete blocks.  It is more related to overall athleticism than to size and sheer strength.  To gain power, you have to train differently than you do for strength.

Stunting actually requires both power and strength.  When you toss (or walk in) they flyer, you are using power.  You have to be explosive and fast.  The more speed you can generate for your flyer at the moment you release her (flick), the higher your toss will go.  Now that she is in the air, strength takes over.  Now you are holding her weight with your upper body.  You are ALSO using your legs, back and core to stabilize and balance.

Please note, the above description is only for basic stunts.  Once you start talking about transitions and dismounts, you go back and forth between strength and power.  No room to write about all of that here so I’ll just let you figure that part out on your own.

So back to poor retired me knowing I was going to be stunting in a few weeks.  I decided to take that time to prepare as much as I could to work on power.  I replaced a few of my regular static workout sessions (traditional weight lifting) with more dynamic workouts.  I picked exercises that used multiple muscle groups.  Also, the movements were explosive rather than slow and controlled.  I also tried to focus on exercises that somewhat simulated the movements involved in basing coed stunts.  Here’s what I came up with:

  • Jumping Jacks.  These were mostly used to warm up and to keep my heart rate up between more strenuous exercises. 
  • Bounding Push-ups.  For these, I was actually pushing hard enough that my hands came off the ground.  Using good form also works the core.
  • Sit-ups.  Nothing special here, but you have to work your core to stabilization and to avoid injury.
  • Clean and Jerk.  Dangling relatively heavy weights at my side and rapidly lifting them up to about eye level, controlling them down to should level, and then returning them to the start position.  This sort of simulates your toss.
  • Plyometric Jump.  This is just jumping in the air as hard as you can.  You can jump onto a platform if you like, but I just jumped in place.
  • Flutter kicks.  Lay on your back, lift your feet a couple of inches off the ground and perform shallow switch kicks as if you are swimming.  Another core exercise.
  • Back Raises.  Laying on your stomach, lift your feet and your chest off the ground at the same time.  This works your lower back and is good for stability and injury prevention.
  • Modified Lat Row.  For this, I held a 45-pound plate.  I positioned my hands at the 10 o’clock and 2 o’clock positions (like on a steering wheel).  This is similar to the grip you would have on a flyer’s waist.  Dipping with the legs, you lift the weight as forcefully as you can as high as you can.  Keep the weight close to you, almost dragging it up your body.  If you generate enough speed, the weight will almost come out of your hands at the top.  I think this is a great simulation of a toss.
  • Squats.  Just a static strength exercise, but a good one.
  • Shoulder rows.  I just used light weights and lifted them straight out, circled my arms out to the sides and then returns them back down to a hanging position in front.
  • Lower Back Rows.  I held a 45 pound plate to my chest, bent my knees slightly, leaned forward at my waist and then returned to upright.
  • Tricep extensions.  A basic static exercise.  I used a 45 pound plate instead of dumb bells or a bar to work on grip strength too.
  • Calf Raises.  Another basic strength exercise.
  • Bicep Curls.  Just because.  Not really stunt oriented.

And that is it.  It took about 12 minutes to get through all of the exercises.  That made one circuit.  I did 3 circuits in total.  The first time I did this, I was careful and used moderate intensity.  I increased the intensity a little each time.  This became a great aerobic workout by making it more intense and taking fewer and shorter breaks.

Anyway, after about 3 weeks, it was time to stunt.  I’m happy to say that I survived, and the student and I both felt that the session was successful.  The morning after, I was a little sore, but not especially so.  I have one knee that gives me trouble from time to time, and it was sore, but that is nothing new.  So I guess my preparations helped.  I plan to keep using this workout and to keep stunting once a week.  I’ll write again about it I have any significant observations or make any changes.

For one final note I just want to comment that coed stunting is a really great workout.  You are training all of the major muscle groups, as well as lots of smaller muscles that you do not use much a regular basis.  Always be careful when you stunt.  Nothing messes up your training like an injury.  But if you take your time and follow basic safety guidelines, stunting can really help you (even if you’re an old, retired cheerleader) get into your best shape.

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.

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.

Stunt Safety

June 8, 2011

I have already written articles that touch on this subject.  I will probably have to repeat a few points but I will try not to be too redundant.  If you are interested in safe stunting I would highly recommend checking out the articles on Progressions and Communication, because they are both critical to safe stunt practices.

There is a vast amount of material that can be written about how to be safe while stunting.  I could never cover everything from a technical standpoint in just one article.  For that reason, I want to focus this article on personal habits that will help one to be safe while stunting.  But before I get into the meat of that material, I just want to reiterate the importance of following proper progressions.  The BEST way to be safe when stunting is to NEVER attempt any stunt if you have not previously mastered the fundamental techniques that lead up to that more advanced skill.  If you take your time in your progressions, you should always be safe in your stunts.

Moving on, one key habit of safe stunting is to be responsible for your physical readiness.  You wouldn’t drive a car if you had just pulled an all-nighter “studying” (or doing other stuff).  Obviously, this is because you would be physically and mentally impaired from a lack of rest.  The same is true of stunting.  You should not be flying in the air if you haven’t slept or eaten all day.  You should not be tossing teammates over your head if you are distracted from a death in the family or other tragedy.  You can not safely perform as a back spot if your ankle is being held together with tape and you can barely walk.  There are an infinite number of things that might affect your ability to focus on being safe in your stunts.  In general, you should only stunt if you are well physically, free of debilitating injury or illness, properly rested, and in a healthy mental state.  It is up to you (and/or your coach) to determine if you have some condition or circumstance that would prohibit you from stunting.  But if you are not sure, then you probably shouldn’t be stunting.

Be attentive.  This sort of goes along with the communication article.  You need to be paying attention so that you know exactly what stunt, transitions and/or dismounts you are supposed to be performing.  More injuries happen when someone thinks they are cradling when they are supposed to be stepping down than I care to think about.  But paying attention is also important throughout the stunt.  Bases should not be talking to each other about their day while basing, even if they think they are only performing a very basic stunt.  I have seen concussions out of shoulder sits and torn ACL’s come from thigh stands.  As soon as someone starts taking a stunt for granted, that is when it becomes the most dangerous.  Instead, everyone involved should be constantly watching for signs of a problem.  This will give you the best chance to make whatever adjustments you need to save a stunt (which is always safer than trying to catch a falling flyer).  It will also give you a chance to catch your flyer in the event of a fall.

Practice safe emergency dismounts so you know how to perform them when a stunt falls.  For the record, any time a stunt falls it is an emergency because you must act immediately and effectively or risk a serious injury to everyone involved in the stunt.  It is kind of like having fire drills.  You have to practice what to do when things go wrong or you will not have the muscle memory to jump into action and handle a problem.  Like a fire drill, everyone in a stunt should have an assigned duty if a stunt should fall.  Each base should know what direction of falling is their primary responsibility to cover.  Flyers should be taught to fall safely with their arms up and not kick or flail their arms or legs.  I also encourage stunt groups to practice “sweep” cradles from all of their stunts.  If a stunt is getting ready to fall, sometimes the safest way to dismount is for the back spot to call a sweep and for the flyer to be cradled in that way.

An important element of practicing safe emergency dismounts is correcting unsafe practices when they occur.  In most instances, someone can get away with relatively minor unsafe practices and not have an injury occur.  The bases can drop the flyer to her feet from the shoulder height and she will probably be okay.  Minor issues like this are usually the result of the group simply being in a hurry to move on to the next attempt.  Sometimes it is the result of laziness.  Either way, as a coach or teammate, when you see these lapses in safe technique it is important that you correct them every single time.  Safety is a habit, and so is the lack of safety.

The final point I will make about safety is to never be in a hurry.  When people rush, they make mistakes they would not ordinarily make.  If you start to feel like you are rushing, announce that it is time for a water break.  If you are coaching practice and you do not want to break (for instance you want to keep the team warm and their heart rate up), switch from stunting to jumps for a few minutes and then return to stunting.  Rushing during stunts is not the only time that it can be harmful.  You should not rush to get a new trick.  This is another progressions issue.  I mention it (again) because I frequently hear teams announce in August that they HAVE to get their Full-up Libs by Nationals (as an example).  My response to this is to ask, “Or what?”  The truth is, you do not HAVE to do so.  The world will keep turning if you don’t.  Your team will still compete.  The season will not end.  You should certainly work hard, but if you are rushing, you are quite possibly biting off more than you can chew.  This almost always lends itself to unsafe practices.  And remember that NOTHING slows down your progressions like a serious injury.

Stunt safety is something you have to be constantly aware of.  You must always practice correct and safe techniques so that they become habits.  But remember that the real key to safe stunting is to use good judgement!

Tick Tocks

June 7, 2011

There are a couple of moments from cheerleading that I will always remember.  For instance, I will always remember being amazed to the point of disbelief the first time I saw a Toss Cupie.  Over time I came to learn that this was not nearly as difficult as I thought, but as a cheerleading novice, I was floored by it.  Another one of those moments was when I was a first year cheerleader attending college camp and Pat Wedge demonstrated a Tick Tock.  For those that do not know, Pat had just won his second consecutive partner stunt title.  In his championship routine, he performed a left to right Heel Stretch Tick Tock (not Lib to Lib like we mostly see these days).  Seeing the inventor of the trick performing it live right in front of me was exceedingly impressive.  I have been somewhat fascinated with Ticks Tocks ever since.

There are many, many varieties of Tick Tocks.  They can be done as a coed stunt, or in an all-girl stunt group.  They can be done from right to left or left to right.  They can done from Stretch to Lib, from Arabesque to Stretch (one of my favorites!), or the more traditional Lib to Lib or Stretch to Stretch.  They can be done from the shoulder level up to an extended level (sometimes called a power press).  They can even be done from the ground up to the top (sometimes called a switch-up, or a giddy-up).  But with all of these variations, there are still a few techniques that you can count on to help you in every Tick Tock that you perform.

The first technique is the use of “air-time.”  I did an entire article about “air-time” and it is available under the Stunts tab, so I won’t go into too much detail.  But basically, how this relates to Tick Tocks is that you want the bases to release the flyer’s foot and re-establish their grip on the new foot while the flyer is still weightless.  That is at the point in the “pop” before the flyer really starts coming down again.  In other words, it is at the top of “pop.”  Again, please see the previous article for more explanation of this point.

Another technique is for the bases to only “pop” with their legs and by shrugging their shoulders.  They should never bend their arms to pop.  This is because you want your bases to catch the Tick Tock with locked out arms.  If they catch it with bent arms it is much harder to keep the stunt in the air.  The bases can absorb the shock of the catch with their legs, but should not do so with their arms.

One other point for bases is to try not to change their grips.  In coed stunts this is pretty simple.  You would only change your grip if the Tick Tock involved switching from an Arabesque grip to a Lib or Stretch grip.  But with all-girl stunt groups, we are accustomed to having a “main base grip” for the base that is on the side of the flyer’s locked out leg and a “side base grip” for the base on the other side.  During a Tick Tock, the flyer changes the leg she is standing on, so it seems intuitive that the bases might change their grips.  You can have your bases do so it you like, but all of that fumbling of hands makes it much harder than it needs to be.  I have found that it is much simpler to have the bases keep their hands in whatever grip positions they started in.

For the flyers, it is important to put your second foot in the exact same place that your first foot was.  A lot of flyers try to “step over” to the other base.  Remember that in a Tick Tock, you should not travel.  Also, your bases do not want to have to move to go get you.  They just want to pop you straight up, have you pick one foot up and put the other foot right back in the same place where the first foot was (and where their hands are waiting).

Another important issue for the flyers is to make sure your leg is locked out by the time you have your foot in the bases hands.  If the flyers leg is bent when the bases catch the foot, it will be a less stable stunt.  Also, when the flyer stands up on the bent leg, that will momentarily increase the weight on the bases and make it harder to support the flyer. 

If you are trying to learn a Tick Tock, there are several ways you can work up to it that might make it easier.  If you are doing extended Tick Tocks, start off with the flyer holding the hands of a “post” (or two) who is in an elevator (half).  Gradually have the post offer less and less support until the post is no longer needed.  Before I even get to that point, I like to teach the Switch-Up where the flyer loads into the bases on her left foot and switched to a right footed Lib on the way up to the top.  This gives the stunt group the feel of a Tick Tock but without having to balance a Lib before the transition to the second leg and without so much impact at the end of the trick.

Probably the most fundamental drill I use for Tick Tocks is simply having the flyer stand in a left Lib on a line on the floor and having her switch to her right Lib with her foot landing in the exact same spot on the line.  In doing this, the flyer is practicing landing in the same spot, landing with a locked out leg and performing the transition quickly enough to still be weightless if she had been “popped” in a real Tick Tock.

Most stunts, including Tick Tocks, are way too complicated to cover everything in just one article, so I am cutting this one off now.  Please feel free to post any specific issues or questions about Tick Tocks that I have not touched on (there are MANY), and I will try to post a useful reply.

Too Big to Fly

May 12, 2011

I was recently in the warm up area of a competition.  The large room was filled with mats and those mats were filled with teams.  My team was stretching out and I had a moment to observe other teams on the floors.  Just then, one high school team marched right past me in a single file line.  It was either the bright red uniforms (I like bright colors) or the military-like precision of their movements that initially caught me attention.  But something else about this team captivated me.  Every girl who walked past our team seemed to be almost the exact same size. 

I caught myself trying to find “the little” girls in the back of the line.  Nope.  Every one of them looked like fit and healthy bases.  Each girl was between 5″6 and 5″10.  I’d guess they all weighed around 120 pounds, give or take 10 pounds.  After stretching (because a proper warm up is very important), the red team formed up into stunt groups.  The tallest of the girls lined up as back spots.  All 4 flyers appeared to be as tall as or taller than their bases.  Again, they looked fit and healthy, but anything BUT “stick figures.”

The red team has such a professional and serious approach to everything I had observed to this point (including walking into the room), so my expectations were relatively high for their skills.  But I was not expecting what I saw.  Squad Full-Up Liberties.  I think my jaw dropped a little.  Double Downs.  Not the one’s where the flyer lands sort of on her side and the bases have to “bounce” her the rest of the way.  These were full 720 degree rotations with room for the flyers to catch their bases shoulders in the cradles.  But they weren’t finished.  Reload to Crunch.  Full Up (from the Crunch!) to Heel Stretch.  Then they pulled Bow and Arrows.  By the way, there were no front spots on the stunts.

OK, you kind of had to be there to appreciate how much this team stood out.  This was not an all star team.  It was a high school.  The bases were not 200 pound guys, or even 160 pound girls.  They looked like average, athletic girls.  The smallest flyer looked 20 pounds heavier than almost every other girl in the air.  In fact, they looked heavier than some of the girls that were basing them.

By the way, this amazing red team went on the throw beautiful high basket tosses, an extensive pyramid sequence that was poetry in motion and ended the routine with 5 Single-Base Extensions.  No, not 4, like in their main stunt.  They did 5 stunts using 15 girls and the other 5 girls threw standing tucks.

Watching this team execute their skills, it would be easy to write them off as a fluke.  They are that rare “perfect” team that was somehow blessed with flawless technique.  However, this would be lazy.  If you’ve been around cheerleading long enough, you might just remember that this used to be the norm.  OK, maybe not the difficulty.  That has gone up exponentially.  I’m talking about the fact that flyers were not always freakishly small.  Somewhere along the line, we stopped putting “normal” sized girls in the air.  Somewhere along the line, instead of insisting on perfect technique, we started recruiting 8th graders in the hallways for varsity flying spots.  And over time, we have formed a mindset among coaches and cheerleaders alike that an otherwise athletic girl can be too big to fly.  We need to rethink that mindset!

It really is all about technique.  Think about a handstand.  If a 120 pound girl can hold her own body weight (comfortably) in a handstand, then she should be able to hold 120 pound flyer (comfortably) in an extended stunt.  And that is by herself.  For a Double-Base stunt, weight should not be a factor at all.  The key is to use good conditioning and to reinforce proper technique.

Speaking of conditioning, how many kids on your cheerleading team are unable to do a correct push up?  I’m serious.  I bet there are several.  Maybe even a lot.  Hey, I coached a varsity team recently where maybe 4 out of 20 kids could do a push up.  It happens.  It shouldn’t, but it does.  We need to fix this.  We need our cheerleaders to have at least enough upper body and core strength to do a push up, instead of going out looking for smaller and smaller flyers.

And speaking of technique, it comes from consistency.  It also comes from NOT giving up on a girl who has flown all through middle school and suddenly hit puberty and started growing.  Don’t get me wrong.  There are times when a flyer just isn’t working out and she needs to be reassigned to a different role.  However, an experienced and talented flyer doesn’t forget how to fly just because she turned 15 (or 14, or 13).

What has happened is we have been eroding our base of good flyers (that was a pun, by the way) by pulling the smallest and youngest kids off of their youth or JV team and putting them on the junior, senior and Varsity teams.  That means the flyers have never had to learn to be tight and hold themselves correctly because they’ve always just been muscled around by older bases.  It means bases have never had to learn correct technique because they’ve had Barbie Doll sized girls to stunt with.  Bases also have not been developing strength like they would with normal-sized flyers.  Over the years, even though difficulty has increased, technique has been getting worse.

Personally, I am tired of seeing sloppy “elite” stunts.  I am tired of seeing 8th graders flying on 12th grade bases.  I am REALLY sick of seeing the same 6th grade flyer in the same all star gym’s Youth, Junior, Senior and Senior Coed routines.  But what I am especially sick of, and what I think is at the root of the problem, is the notion that someone is too big to fly.

Liberties – How to be Solid

May 11, 2011

A Liberty is sort of the entry-level advanced stunt.  Unbraced extended Liberties are only legal at Level 3 and above.  Advanced Stunt Class at many camps require a solid Liberty to participate.  The Liberty is the gateway stunt.  Hitting your Libs means you have arrived.  You are in the game.  So it is more than important that you master your Liberty.  This article is going to offer some suggestions for things to try to get more consistent and confident in your Liberties.

Starting with the bases, it is important that you make your flyer feel as secure as possible.  This starts with your grip.  For the main base, try to cover as much of the sole of your flyer’s shoe as possible.  In other words, do not ONLY hold the extreme heel and toe of her shoes.  The more your flyer has to stand on, the more secure they will feel. 

For the side base, one of your hands should be between the main bases 2 hands, covering whatever is left of the flyer’s shoe’s sole.  The other hand should either on the ankle of the flyer if you can reach that high, or on one of the wrists of the main base to help support the flyer’s weight.  What I think generally works the best is to place the left hand on the main bases right wrist, which is the hand on the flyer’s toe.  This is because the back spot can assist with the ankle/heel section of the foot.

One more word on the bases.  Unlike with 2-legged stunts where you should be spaced as far apart as the flyer’s hips, in Liberties, you should be as close to each other as possible, chest to chest, so that you can both be under the flyer and providing the strongest support possible.

For the back spots, you have a key role in getting the flyer in the air.  You should have your left hand under the flyer’s seat (that’s cheer-talk for “butt”), and your right hand on the flyer’s ankle.  Many back spots make the mistake of setting up a step behind the flyer.  This means you will either have to step in as the stunt goes up, or you will be pushing the flyer forward on the way up.  It is better to set up as far under the flyer as possible.  Try to position your flat hand on your shoulder, like you are carrying a platter.  That way, you will be doing most of the lifting with your legs.

All bases and back spots, remember to squeeze whatever ankle, wrist or foot that you are holding good and hard.  The tighter you squeeze, the more secure your flyer will feel.  Also, that reminds the flyer that they need to squeeze too.

Flyers, you are going to get most of the advice.  Lucky you!  🙂

Getting up, not only are you going to “step and lock” with your main (usually right) leg, not only are you going to push-off of the bases shoulders (or sometimes heads) with you arms, you are also going to take a big, strong jump off the ground with your back leg.  The back leg is the one that flyers tend to forget about.  I think this is because they just let the back spot lift them rather than pushing themselves.  You want your Liberty to “shoot” up to the top as fast and aggressively as possible.  The combination of a strong back leg push and good boost from the back spot is what makes that happen.

One you’re in the air there are a couple of things that you need to do that are standard for most stunts.  You need to hollow out.  Check out the article on flyer technique if you have questions about that.  You have to lock your base leg.  You have to NOT look down.  But there are also a few things that you have to choose how and what to do…

First, what do you do with your free leg/foot?  Some people teach a Liberty to dangle the free leg, get balanced, and then pull it up.  This is done because one thing you NEVER want to do is pull the Lib leg too early.  The earliest the Lib leg should be lifted is at the top of the stunt, after the bases have locked out.  However, that means shifting your weight to lift your leg after the bases have already become settled.  I find that this sometimes destabilizes the flyer.  You can do either, but I prefer to pull the Lib leg at the top without hesitation.

When you “hit the Lib,” you should think about lifting your leg, NOT your foot.  Your foot will obviously come up underneath you, but that should be a result of the leg lifting and not the other way around.  Also, think about lifting you thigh so that it becomes flat like a table, instead of lifting your knee.  Thinking about lifting the knee sometimes causes the flyer to stick the knee forward which has all kinds of bad side effects.  Also, be careful to keep your hips level.  If you lift or lower the hip of your Lib leg you are going to lose your balance.

Some people teach to place the foot of your Lib leg against you base leg.  I think this makes the Lib look prettier.  But be careful.  You do not want to REST your foot against your leg.  If you rest your foot there, is can cause your base leg’s knee to bend or your hip to drop.  You must continue to hold you leg up using the hip flexor muscles and not just press it against your leg.

One other suggestion.  I usually start teaching Liberties with the flyer NOT pulling a high V.  I want the flyer to focus on their hips and on hollowing out.  Pulling a high V while lifting the leg frequently leads the flyer to stick her knee forward and roll her shoulders forward and the stunt falls off the front.  Once the flyer is consistently staying in the air without the high V, adding arm motions is usually simple enough.

I hope some of those suggestions and observations are useful to you.  Feel free to leave your own in the comments section!