Cheerleading. Why “cheerleading” isn’t considered a word is beyond me. My spellchecker always wants to make it cheer-leading or cheerleader. I try to abide by my spellchecker as much as I can, but I just can’t on this one. I will always write it incorrectly as “cheerleading.” Make it a word already, Merriam-Webster Online.
Now that I’ve finished my rant, cheerleading is my main hobby. It consumes most of my free time. I volunteer coach, and manage, the cheer program for my town’s youth league (that would be the black and red “Jackson” logo on the left). And I’m an assistant coach at one of my town’s two high schools (see the lion head logo on the right). There was once a time when cheerleading only spanned a few months out of the year. That time no longer exists. Now I’m lucky if I get one month off. But I can’t really complain–I love this damn sport (and yes, I also incorrectly call it a sport). Cheerleading is my abusive relationship.
And today marks the beginning of one of my two cheerleading seasons. Today is the initial tryout meeting for my high school team. In just a few short hours dozens of teenage girls and their parents will funnel into the school cafeteria to sign-up for tryouts. They’ll chat nervously with their friends as they wait for us to tell them what skills are needed to make the squad. They’ll listen to us say that spirit and enthusiasm hold greater weight than a standing tuck, but then proceed to be angry with us when they don’t make varsity, despite having a standing tuck, because they lacked both spirit and enthusiasm. My general advice to anyone trying out for cheerleading–have lots of spirit and enthusiasm. Also, practice correct technique every day.
This not-so-brief introduction to my cheerleading history brings me to the point of this post. Young women and men across the country will be trying out for their high school cheer squads over the next few weeks and months. So below is a list of the top five things I, as a coach, look for in a high school cheerleader. (Remember, these are the things I look for in a good cheerleader. Other coaches might have different opinions.)
- The most important thing, to me, is Spirit and Enthusiasm. A cheerleader’s job is to enthusiastically lead cheers. Some of you are thinking, “Duh, obviously,” but many girls who tryout for my teams don’t seem to get this. They have great motion technique to do the cheers, but refuse to cheer loudly or show spirit after a cheer or even smile at all. They lack the proper spirit and enthusiasm to really rally the crowd. I’ve concluded that the lack of enthusiasm stems from lack of interest in the sport they’re cheering for. And a cheerleader without spirit is boring to watch. The crowd won’t support boring cheerleaders. My advice: become the football or basketball team’s number one fan. Learn to love the sport you’re cheering for, or at least, learn to act like you do.
- Dedication. Dedicated cheerleaders show up to practices and games on time, properly dressed and ready to work. Cheerleading is a team sport where no one sits the bench waiting to be called in for a play. We use every team member every second of every game. We create routines, formations and stunt groups based on having ever cheerleader present. When you miss practices or games, or when you’re late, or not properly dressed, routines have to be changed, and the entire team suffers. A highly skilled cheerleader who is constantly late, unprepared, or skipping practices/games, is not an asset to any team. My advice: If you cannot commit 100% to the team, don’t tryout.
- Proper Motion Technique. Besides smiling and being loud, arm motions are the main “skill” involved with cheerleading. Being able to properly do “Hi Vs,” “Ts,” “Low Vs,” etc… are essential, as most cheers consist of words and arm motions. Having tight, crisp motions gives you the mature, professional look of an A+ Varsity cheerleader; while bent writs and loose elbows will get you a “maybe next year.” My advice: Learn proper motion technique from someone who knows what their doing. Then practice in front of a mirror so that you can see your mistakes.
- A Team Player. Like I’ve already said, cheerleading is a team sport. Each member of the team is just as important as the others. Just because you’re the center flyer, or the featured tumbler, doesn’t mean your contribution is greater than someone else’s. When egos get in the way, the team suffers. A good team player will check her ego at the door and encourage her teammates to do their best. My Advice: Always remember that a team does best when everyone works together. You don’t have to be best friends with everyone on your team, but you have to treat them all with respect.
- Stunting Skills and Tumbling Skills. Some coaches will place these skills at the top of their lists. Stunting and tumbling at games are crowd favorites, and they are what my cheerleaders enjoy doing the most. Regarding stunting, cheerleaders should be able to safely fill at least one of the main stunting positions: flyer, base, or spotter. Tumbling is its own category on our tryout score-sheet. And while it helps to have strong, advanced tumbling, it won’t get you a spot on the team if you are lacking in the four other qualities mentioned above. My advice: Condition your body so that you have the strength to stunt and tumble safely. Also, learning how to tumble takes time. Work with your tumbling instructor, focusing on the drills he or she gives you, to ensure that you learn the skills properly.
I hope you were able to gain some insight into what a coach might be looking for during tryouts. If you want more information on cheerleading, tryouts, skills, etc., you can check out the libary on Varsity.com. It has a lot of great articles. You can also find books about cheerleading online and in your local bookstores, like the one linked here.