It’s every gym owner’s nightmare: put your trust in team moms, and then see that trust betrayed in a big way. Few know that better than the Ohio Pink Panthers, who made headlines in 2014 when a team mom allegedly collected $310 per cheerleader for new uniforms, then disappeared with $6,500 of gym parents’ money. More common are less extreme cases, which are often a matter of team moms being too opinionated or overstepping their boundaries—leading to drama, miscommunication and often one big headache for the gym staff.
Luckily, not all experiences with team moms turn out to be so devastating. In many cases, team moms become a coach’s right hand and trusted confidante. So what makes the difference? Choosing the right people.
At Bel Air, MD-based Eastern Elite Training Center, team moms are a “huge and very important part” of their cheer and dance family, according to coach-owner Karen Eisenhuth. Eisenhuth instituted a team mom program from day one, with the goal of providing an “open and inviting atmosphere for our families.”
Though Eisenhuth had heard the horror stories, she says she had no reservations before enlisting team moms. To find the right folks, she provides a job description and is straightforward about expectations; the selection process takes about two weeks. Once on board, team moms are responsible for sending out information (via calls, texts and emails), organizing team bonding events/fundraisers, assisting with parties and ceremonies and taking on various duties at competition—from holding gear to fielding questions from parents to wrangling the team.
“Our team moms are counted on a lot,” shares Eisenhuth. “However, they have no voting power in coaching, cheer and dance decisions—[instead], they are a support system.”
There is a hierarchy in place as well. The head team mom meets with Eisenhuth and her co-owner each month, and they give her information to pass on to the other team moms. Eisenhuth says this process streamlines communication and keeps things running smoothly. For Eisenhuth, this is the biggest objective of the program—providing open communication lines between owners, coaches, athletes and parents. “[Our team moms are masters of [the] communication chain of command,” she says.
At Pooler, GA-based Cheer Savannah, owner Stephanie Britt’s team mom program is thriving after 15 years, and it works because, like Eisenhuth, she’s particular about who she chooses. “You have to almost do a credit check,” jokes Britt. “We choose people that we recognize as sane, involved, normal, enthusiastic and positive. I prefer people who work [and] who have businesses who are strong leaders in the community. I prefer people who run things.”
Britt works with 14 moms total, or one per team at Cheer Savannah, as well as a “head” team mom. She believes that a big part of having a successful program is running a tight ship—and being able to acknowledge when things aren’t working. “I’ve had to release team moms from their duties [mid-season], absolutely,” says Britt. “Usually, I just note that I won’t use them again the next season. I also have them sign a contract with a handbook and policies, and I constantly remind them of their jobs —what works and what doesn’t, just like an employee.”
In the vast majority of cases, team reps are not compensated, but they will get small discounts or end-of-season gifts. At Cheer Savannah, Britt offers perks such as free “Team Mom” T-shirts or free event admission. Keeping the program drama-free is a major goal for all owners, and choosing wisely and avoiding favoritism is key. Eisenhuth suggests choosing moms who get along with everyone, who don’t have a history of conflict or drama, and, “when in doubt, watch how the mom interacts with her children and other athletes.”
But not all gym owners are on board with the idea of having team moms—like Cheer Factory Florida’s Cody Woodfell. He believes that team moms may be more hassle than help, mainly because he has seen the negativity that it can potentially cause. Instead, Woodfell and his staff choose to communicate directly with parents via Facebook, and he is involved in every aspect of the gym. “We handle any situation you would need a team mom for,” he says.
Though he knows that most parents have “the best intentions,” Woodfell has seen jealousy and drama erupt in the past, and it’s something he chooses to avoid. “Though one would hope they could trust other people whom they place in positions, things don’t always work out as you may intend,” explains Woodfell. “Others may use the platform of team mom and new contact information of other parents to gossip, spread rumors and bring unnecessary drama to the team and organization.”
As Woodfell sees it, it’s best not to blur the lines and responsibilities between clientele and gym staff. He knows that it’s impossible to eliminate drama entirely, but finds he’s able to keep it at by “finding ways to limit it, and then you slow down your own aging process and gray hairs. By keeping parents in the role of parenting and the coaches and hired staff in the role of running everything gym-related, you can do just that.”
In order to avoid any such drama, the coaching staff and gym owners Woodfell knows you can never eliminate drama, but, “You can find ways to limit it, and then you can slow down your own aging process and grey hairs,” he says. “By keeping parents in the role of parenting and the coaches and hired staff in the role of coaching and running everything gym-related you can do just that.”
Though not everyone is a fan of the team mom concept, it’s worth at least exploring to see if it might be a fit for your gym. For Britt, it’s all about liberating her staff and keeping their focus on what they do best. Says Britt, “It allows the coaches to coach.”