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We received the following email in our inbox from a 13-year-old aspiring all-star cheerleader and enlisted program director/coach Tara Wieland of Michigan Storm Cheer & Dance to share her insights and advice:
Q: Hi, I am a 13-year-old and I love the concept of cheerleading and would love to cheer myself. So can I still be on an all-star team even though I am not be able to tumble and be super flexible? I am super-strong and spirited—and I was wondering if that is enough. Can you please help me? Cheerleading is my dream and passion, and I don’t want to give it all up for not being “extreme enough.”
Tara Wieland: From someone who has been coaching a very long time, I wish kids like you grew on trees! Physical talent can be taught, but the drive, inner passion and self commitment cannot. I’d have to say you’re already much further ahead than some elite level athletes in our industry. If cheer is what you love, go for it! Keep that drive alive in every practice to push yourself further than you ever thought was possible. The cheer world in general needs more kids like you. Good luck and dream big!
Question: How can I help my athletes overcome mental blocks in tumbling and stunting?
Answer from sports psychologist Dr. Caroline Silby: Unfortunately, there are no quick fixes to solving mental blocks (resulting in not going for a skill). Yet there are some strategies that can accelerate the timeframe in which athletes move past the block and acquire some advanced coping skills in the process:
Keep it Rational – It’s important to keep this whole process non-emotional. When an athlete cries and gets upset, offset this with your own positive body language (i.e. relaxed posture), tone of voice (i.e. normal tone) and encouraging non-verbals (i.e. head nod). Be firm and clear about actions he or she can take to meet expectations, but check the emotions at the door.
Create a Systematic Approach – Coaches put themselves in charge in the gym by what they do versus what they say. When we talk too much to children, they are just waiting to see what we will actually do rather than say. Having a systematic approach to navigating mental blocks can provide a structure for all [involved]. Then, when these challenges occur, you both can move into execution mode, saving a lot of discussion and emotion.
Get Them Doing – Instead of directing attention to the unwanted behavior (i.e. not going on skill), identify actions the athlete can execute. Provide opportunities for him or her to build momentum by doing, even if it’s not the skill you want to see completed. You can build a ladder of exercises, drills, etc. that serve as a build-up to completion of the actual skill. When the athlete won’t go, have him or her choose a lower rung on the ladder and execute.
View as an Opportunity – Mental blocks are an opportunity for athletes to navigate fear and learn emotional control. Help them identify positive connections between their own actions and positive results or progression. The coach is responsible for providing athletes with a system and athletes are responsible to the coach for executing that system. When mental blocks occur, both of those areas tend to break down. Being present and “in it” with athletes creates a balanced sharing of responsibility.
Take the Pressure Off – You can accomplish this by minimizing the amount of time you allow athletes to work on the skill. This can help athletes tap into their own desires for doing the skill rather than relying on you to motivate or scare them into doing it.
State Intentions – Have the athlete state one action she commits to executing that puts her in control of the skill (i.e. breathing, shoulders down, etc.). Prior to the skill attempt, have her state out loud the intention. For example, “I point my toes” or “I breathe on the swing.”
Encourage Use Of Imagery – Mental blocks create negative feelings and reactions linked to the skill. Have the athlete create a fantasy story around successful execution of the skill including where she could be, sounds she hears, aromas she smells, textures she touches, etc. When she attempts the skill, she steps into the story providing an opportunity for her to experience new feelings and reactions surrounding the skill.
Keep Questions/Discussion to a Minimum – Trying to engage athletes in discussion about why they will not do a skill is typically ineffective. Minimize use of questions as this leads to more thought and discussion preventing momentum from being built.
Interrupt the Pattern – Have the athlete work on the desired skill in sets of three attempts. Regardless of whether athlete goes for the skill, after 3 attempts, interrupt the pattern with positive action (deep breath, another skill, timers, tense and release, body language check, etc.), then start again.
Inform Parents – Communicate system/game plan to parents so that all adults are in charge and supporting the systematic approach. This allows parents the opportunity to support at home what you are doing in the gym. If parents have questions, invite them to speak with you.
Caroline Silby, Ph.D. is an expert on the development of adolescent athletes and has served as adjunct faculty at American University for 12 years. She holds a Doctorate and Master Degree of Sports Psychology from the University of Virginia and authored Games Girls Play: Understanding and Guiding Young Female Athletes (St. Martin’s Press, 2001) and was contributing author to Sports Secrets and Spirit Stuff (American Girl Company, 2006). She has worked with 2 Olympic Gold Medalists, 11 Olympians, 3 World Champions, 12 National Champions, and hundreds of Division I student-athletes, coaches and teams.
Question: Since different companies have different scoring grids, is there a way to compare them (i.e. a Level 2 Mini first-place score at a Jamfest competition of 79.950 and a Level 2 Mini first-place score at a Varsity competition of 54.36)?
Answer from Jam Brands Scoring Director Jeremi Sanders: Since different companies use different standards and rubrics to score teams, it can get complicated when trying to compare one event company to the next. Since scoring systems are mainly based on what is allowed per level, routines tend to be similar. The difference factors in when certain skill sets are weighted more or less from company to company.
Editor’s Note: Stay tuned for our Winter 2013 issue, in which we’ll have a feature story on various scoring systems and how they stack up — including interviews with Jeremi, Varsity’s Justin Carrier and more!
Question: I am in a market where there is not a gym or all-star program and have almost 20 years of cheer experience but would love some help with getting a gym opened! Do you have any advice for a budding gym owner on how to get started? – Ali
Answer from Gym Kix co-owners Carrie Harris and Stephanie Beveridge: First and foremost, we applaud you for having the enthusiasm and bravery to start your own business. We could probably write an entire novel full of tips for a budding gym owner. We thought back about our first years and decided that there were a few things that are “must know” tips:
***Before starting any venture, especially one as unique as the cheerleading business, we would ask that you evaluate your reason for starting a business. Do you want to make money? Be your own boss? Do you love children? Do you enjoy the sport of cheerleading? What exactly makes you want to start up a business? (Because that is what it is—a business!) Most people start in this industry because they love the sport and they love working with kids; however, it has to be more than that or you will get burnt out. You have to understand that you must treat your business like a business or you will get frustrated and be left broke. Always remember that the owners of McDonald’s love business, not just burgers. You must be a business owner first and a coach second if you want to stay around for years to come.
***After evaluating your motivation, you will want to find a trustworthy accountant, insurance agency and attorney. I have seen many gym owners start up their business and start coaching without a full understanding of balance sheets, payroll, insurance, leases, taxes and the many other facets that can overwhelm even the most veteran business owner. Without consulting honest professionals before making decisions such as signing a lease or writing paychecks, you can have your business torn apart faster than you can say 5,6,7,8.
***In addition, I would network with other business owners in our industry, out of your state if possible. (Conventions are a great way to do this!) You will quickly find that your time is your most valuable asset so please don’t try to reinvent the wheel! Invest the time up front in researching how the successful programs got to where they are. You will want to ask how they register people, how they run their seasons, how they bill and an overview of their day-to-day operations. Find out how others have become successful and tweak it to fit your personality and business model. We have personally assisted numerous new businesses and we are always open to helping new business owners get started by sharing our forms, facility information, operating systems, advice and more. Businesses that have been around will know what works and what doesn’t, and they are usually eager to help other entrepreneurs.
Once you have your location and business items in order, you will need to get an effective marketing campaign started. We recommend the following to ensure your clients can find out information about your business even before your doors open:
- Listing in Phonebook: We recommend using the least expensive listing to save money. Most people don’t consult phone books, so your money is better spent on good signage and having a good online presence. We also cannot emphasize enough how important it is to have your phone answered as much as possible by a real person. If it isn’t possible, then you must ensure that customers are called back in a timely manner. It sounds simple enough, but most places tend to neglect this very important tip!
- Website: We use Jam Spirit Sites as they are affordable and it is very user-friendly.
- Social Media: At a minimum, you should have a Facebook page and Twitter account for your business.
- Business-to-Business Relationships: Join your Chamber of Commerce and start networking with daycares, doctors, schools, real estate offices, local stores, nail shops and the library. Many times, they are willing to place your flyers in their business if you offer to do the same.
Don’t forget to track where you are getting referrals from, at least for a couple years. This will allow you to see where your marketing money is most effectively used.
With these basic tips you can choose your business’s destiny. After years of business, we have come to the conclusion that new cheer businesses are either destined to be a stick of dynamite or a dynamite factory. A stick of dynamite will definitely get attention, but the fuse burns quickly, then it explodes, and then nothing is left but devastation. However, with proper planning, the right motivation and a business mindset, your business can be the dynamite factory: profitable, long-lasting and an asset to your community.
Now go produce dynamite!
Stephanie Beveridge & Carrie Harris of Gym Kix
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