When asked by CheerProfessional to define success, I had to evaluate what success meant to me. Success by definition is characterized by three points: 1) prosperous termination of attempts or endeavors; 2) attainment of wealth/position/honors; or 3) successful performance or achievement. There are many professional roles in our industry, and each of those roles can be weighed differently but all stay true to the definition.
But what defines a successful professional in the cheerleading industry? In reference to cheerleading gyms, individuals may see success as creating their own stand-alone program or having the largest gym or most athletes. For event producers, success might be measured by the quality of their event or by its size in numbers. And coaches and choreographers might measure their success by the overall score their teams are given during a performance.
But as for my personal view of success, it goes back to my focus and the reason I am passionate about this industry that we work in—and that is the kids. I view my own success by making the industry a better and safer place for the next generation of All-Star cheerleaders. I am a product of the All-Star World. I have been lucky enough to work year-round in a competitive and ever-changing sport that I love. I am able to teach proper technique and rules to teams all over the country as well as overseas. As a choreographer, I am able to bring confidence and creativity to teams and make them shine. And as an event producer, I am able to create quality events where teams are promised fair, affordable, and fun competition. To me, I would say that I am successful because I do what I love and love what I do.
Liz Gigante, event producer and gym owner of Vancouver All-Stars shares this focus with me and it was refreshing to hear how her gym measures their success. “Success at Vancouver All-Stars is not defined by the number of trophies or banners on our walls; that is what you see upon entering our gym. That is what the outside world thinks we view as ‘success.’ However, the ones living and breathing VAS’ success know that VAS is about helping our athletes reach their potential and to prepare them for the real world via the lessons taught in our amazing sport. When the gold fades, our love for our gym and each other stands strong and long. Watching our athletes grow up to do amazing things with their lives knowing they were each a force in contributing to the history of ‘VAS Excellence’ elicits pride and a true feeling of success. This was a part of the vision that the gym was founded on.”
Gigante has numerous national titles and has consistently been among the highest-placing international teams at the Cheerleading Worlds, but that is not how she measures her success. The team at Vancouver All-Stars has produced amazing coaches who have graduated from the program and are now giving back, athletes that have gone on to major universities (including the University of Louisville), and athletes with character, class, and respect which makes VAS a success in Gigante’s eyes.
But to ask “What defines being a successful professional in the cheer industry?” depends on the goals of that particular person. To some, success means the impact left in the industry and some may see it as the yearly salary they rake in. Others may view your success by the teams that you work, maybe by the number of rings on your fingers, or maybe by the way you made their child feel.
I feel that it’s healthy to compare yourself and your program to others when validating your success as long as you take all variables into consideration. If you’re a choreographer who has only been teaching for a few years, you cannot compare yourself to someone who has been well-established and around for a decade, unless the comparison is to when they were just starting out. As a gym owner, you cannot compare your small-town program to a program that exists in a major city much larger than that of your own. My suggestion would be to recognize all of your accomplishments—large or small—and weigh your success by your ability to set goals and achieve them.
With the ever-growing nature of our industry, some many strive for success or fame unethically or in an unhealthy manner. Some think that winning equates to success, but that is not always the case. When the focus of the program is only to win, many things can be lost. Unethical gym practices, recruiting from other gyms, and sacrificing athlete safety for advanced level skills are unfortunately all too common nowadays. And is there pride in creating championship athletes if you sacrifice championship character?
Success is not a milestone or a rite of passage, but instead it should be seen as a journey. In this industry, your experience as an athlete will make you a better coach or gym owner. Let your experiences and accomplishments along the way define your success and, like the many accomplished and successful professionals in this industry, always strive to achieve more and to be better!
I find my generation of industry professionals grateful to have so many positive role models to learn from. Les Stella of the USASF is a championship coach and successful industry leader who admits to always wanting to learn more to make himself better. Michael Burgess, President of the United Spirit Association, is a well-decorated industry professional whose value of fairness and equality makes this industry respectable and honorable. And Karen Wilson, coach and parent to an all-star cheerleader, is constantly reinventing ways to prolong the life of all-star cheerleading for the future and longevity of the sport. With these and so many other role models to look up to, there will be a long list of successful industry professionals to come.
Mahatma Ghandi said, “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” For those seeking success in the industry, keep your focus on what is truly important, follow the lead of those who came before you, and be the professional that athletes and younger professionals will admire. And again, success is not about the destination, but on the ongoing journey!