Here’s the Warmup for Cheer posted on Twitter the other day.
Proprioception and its Relationship to Tumbling
Cheerleader Parent Handbook
Have you ever thought to yourself “Help! I’m a Cheer Parent!”? I am sure every parent of a child in cheerleading has thought these words. To find the best solutions, we probably should run as quickly as possible to a psychologist. In any sport, athletes deal with many psychological issues. All we want as parents, is for our child to be the best in the gym. That is a very natural desire, and it is okay for us to feel this way. It is only when we try to take over our child’s sport for ourselves that we are in the wrong. I know because I have been there.
Let me give you an example. I have six children, all of whom have cheered and competed in gymnastics. When one of my children, Christi, was six, she had a mental block on her round-off back handspring. It was the day before our family vacation. Well, I just went crazy. I thought, “Oh my gosh, she’s never going to tumble again!” And so I did what every parent does or wants to do for her child—I helped her. I made her do ten standing back handsprings and ten round-off back handsprings every day, on any surface, the entire vacation. She cried, but I still stuck to my plan. I told myself that I was making sure I helped her, just like a good mother should. I had it all wrong. Christi needed to relax, and build confidence. Repetitions (at a higher level of stress) wasn’t helping at all. She was only six years old. She eventually got her back handspring back, but I will never forgive myself for being so psychotic at the time.
Children always realize they are in competition with other athletes. We do not have to constantly remind them of this and compare them to the other children they are competing against. I feel that many of us live vicariously through our children. I know I have. I did not have the opportunities that my children have and I want them to compare favorably to everyone else. I am sure others feel the same way. But, that is a foolish thing for a parent to do. Remember, we are supposed to love and accept our children with no strings attached. This means that they do not have to be as good in the gym as we think they should be in order to gain our love and acceptance.
We all want our children to be in the front so that everyone can see them. I can remember getting so angry because one of my children was behind someone else and I could not see her.
Parents, this sport is not about us. It is about teaching children the nine core values of athletics. No one is in front all of the time or is the best at everything. Even if someone was, cheer does not revolve around your child—be a team player. Your desire should be to want to see improvements in every athlete and, therefore, a better performance by your team.
I can remember a time that my youngest, who was ten at the time, cried because she wanted to base instead of fly. Another time, ,however, she told her coach to take her down so that another little girl could fly. It was really sweet and I was so proud of her because it showed that she cared more about others than about herself (a good character quality for a team athlete to possess).
I believe that the best thing we can do for our children is to let them lead in what they want and to own their own skills. If they do not love what they are doing, their experience will not be valuable to them as humans. I love every minute of my job, and the athlete’s job is his or her sport. My parents were not very involved in my cheerleading. It was me who wanted it, not my parents. I would practice it any time I had the opportunity because it was my love, my passion, and it still is to this day.
What About Coaches?
Perhaps you need to get to know the coaches. They will be more than willing to give you a report on your child. Tumbling coaches have it the roughest. Accusations they often have to deal with include: “He likes that little girl better,” “I don’t get to do my skill enough,” “They don’t get enough turns,” “Why aren’t they spotting them more,” and “They won’t let me move on,” to name a few examples.
First of all, let me tell you a story. One of my little girls was on a level 5 gymnastics team when she was seven years old. I watched her practice one day and she did only four cartwheels in an hour. I was furious. However, what I did not know was that her coaches were putting her through other strengthening exercises to build up her ability to perform the skill. I learned that what you see is not always what you get.
Some days in tumbling, we do not even do the skill they are working on. For instance, a back handspring requires strength in plyometrics, core, shoulders, hamstrings, and glutes, and the athlete also must know how to engage her head, core, and power bases. I have seen many people spend thousands of dollars on a back handspring when all they needed to do was strengthen their body appropriately and the skill would have been easy.
Athletes must follow progressions from A to Z to learn well and completely. Plus, it will keep them injury-free and psychologically relaxed. Conditioning is extremely important, so do not neglect it.
If you feel something is wrong, do not talk about it to other children or parents. Go straight to the coach and in a non-threatening way, talk to the coach about your issue. Never blame other people. That only makes you look very small and picky. Always remember that a difficult situation is usually one in which we do not have a clear picture or are not familiar with what is going on. Finding out what is happening from all parties involved provides an easier approach to the problem.
If your child develops a mental block, please do not go crazy. There is help. I am enclosing my “Breaking Free” document on how to deal with mental blocks. There are other aids online as well. Dr. Alison Arnold and Dr. Pamela Enders are two great sources of help.
The worst thing you can do is add more stress to your child’s overload. The best thing to do is to see if you can identify the trigger—whether it is stress from within, stress from coaches, or stress from outside. Relax. It will get better the calmer you are.
You May Be Thinking, What Is My Role?
You have several roles to play. First and foremost, to support and love your child with no strings attached.
After that, you should ask your child’s coach what conditioning exercises your child needs and why, so that you have a clear picture of the physiological strengths and deficiencies of your child’s body.
Be aware that nutrition is important. 50% of Americans are on diets, with 35% being chronic dieters and 10% having an eating disorder. As a personal example, one of my daughters is and always will have an eating disorder. She developed her disorder when someone told her that she was big. This caused her to go on a low-carb diet, which sent her into a vicious bulimic anorexic cycle. Watch your child and make sure they are feeling good about themselves. Do not push them to be something they are not or do not want to be. After all, it is just cheerleading. Life is more important.
Then ask if they need any extra classes, like a flyer class or a jump class, to ensure that they are in the best shape for their year.
It takes a cooperative effort between your child, yourself, and the coach to put your child in the best position to succeed, both individually and together with the team. Also, make sure they do not miss any important events. It is always better to try not to miss any at all. We know there will be exceptions: vacations, family emergencies, etc.
What If My Child Does Not Like It Anymore and Wants To Quit?
First of all, if your child tried out for cheerleading, she owes the coaches that year. It is never a good trait to teach our children that they can just quit at any time. They must finish the season and give it their best. Remember that it takes every piece of the puzzle to complete the masterpiece. It is the same with our teams. Each and every person is important and if one quits, the puzzle is incomplete. After the season is over, you may then allow your child to make the choice to continue or not.
What If My Child Is Just Not Good?
Children go through many stages in life as far as growth. At some points they are very awkward. Let me give you an example. My son was on a men’s gymnastics team for a long time. He was very strong in the lower half of his body, but the upper half had not yet caught up with the lower half. He was fifteen and was very sensitive to criticism. His coach did not recognize this physiological fact and made my son feel that he was not very good. There were several skills he could not do, so he quit the team. Two years later though, when his body equaled out, he could then do all the skills without any practice.
So, your child may just be growing. This is a good thing, so be understanding and supportive. Although they may become frustrated, they will probably grow out of it in time. Also, get them a conditioning sheet and exercise with them. Always tackle problems together rather than letting the problems take over.
What About Competition Etiquette?
First, make sure you have all the itineraries and necessary items and get your child to the competition on time. It is very embarrassing to a child to be late and it is not very responsible on the parent’s part.
Secondly, do not talk to officials yourself about scoring on your team. Leave all of that to the coaches. Remember to support the whole team and all the teams within your gym.
What Else Can I Do?
At the end of the routine or competition, please do not talk about your child’s failures. Talk about their improvements, successes, and what they learned from this performance. Children know when they have made mistakes. They do not need us to point them out. The idea is for each performance to get better than the one before.
Lastly, have fun with your children. You only have them a short time. Enjoy them and do not sweat the small stuff. My children are amazing and fun and are the joy of my life, even though I have made many mistakes. Do not major on minor issues. Major on those things that will build good character in your child.
Learn Your Vocabulary:
Then there are twisting skills. You need to count how many times the athlete spins to see what the skill is. There are half ups, 3/4-ups, full ups, 1/4-ups, and double ups.
A pyramid is a combination of stunts, flips, and transitions (moving from one skill to another).
The mental block is one of the most frustrating situations for both the athlete and the coach. Blocks are created by many factors. Sometimes a child who is young and has learned very quickly with no fear will realize, “Hey, I can get hurt.” When this happens, they will block. My youngest child learned up to a double full by the time she was six. When she was nine, she hurt her knee and it made her fearful until she realized that by conditioning specific areas, she was building up her body. Once she realized this, the fear of injury became less.
Sometimes fear is caused by lack of progression. In cheerleading it is imperative that we master every step of every skill before moving on to the next skill. Doing so will create consistency in our performance. If the skill is inconsistent, the athlete does not feel the skill the same each time, allowing fear to set in.
At other times, the athlete will fall, become nervous, and block.
Other causes of blocks include being forced to do one more repetition when fatigued and just being a very easily distracted athlete who needs to learn focusing techniques.
Many times there is simply too much outside stress in the athlete’s life. This can include school stress, such as too much pressure to perform well academically. It can include stress from a family conflict, such as a divorce, illness, or from the death of a family member. It can include stress as simple as coming back from a vacation, or a parent or coach pushing a skill too hard. Sometimes it is as simple as this is the only area over which the athlete retains any control in life and they exercise that control whether consciously or unconsciously.
The worst approach to the mental block is, “There’s nothing wrong with you, you’re just stubborn” attitude. The coach says just do it and threatens the athlete with whatever can be held over his/her head. This in itself creates more stress and less production from the athlete’s body. Usually tears result, which helps no one. An athlete with a true mental block cannot force his/her body to perform the skill, so negative comments or humiliation are not effective. The key to unlocking this mental imprisonment is positive repetition with good technique, mind focus training, and positive reinforcement.
One way of handling the mental block in a group setting such as a cheerleading squad is to allow the athlete to do his/her tumbling separate from the group. This prevents intimidation by peers. If you have the luxury of having a person spot the athlete through the practice without the athlete feeling humiliated then the group may work well. It depends both on the team’s approach to its peers struggles and on the coach’s ability to maintain a positive attitude with that athlete. I have seen squads who were so positive with their teammate that group tumbling was a positive experience, but I have also seen it devastate an athlete. I believe one on one is much better with a younger child especially 6-8 years old. Mental blocks seem to become contagious with this age, whether driven by sympathy, empathy or just new awareness of fear.
An important aspect of coaching that will prevent some mental blocks and aid in their recovery is the ability of the coach to find and respect the learning style of each of his/her athletes. This means as coaches we need to be able to teach our skills in at least 7 different ways: linguistic, mathematical, spatial, kinesthetic, rhythmic, interpersonal, and intrapersonal. The following is a short explanation of each learning style: linguistic (one who learns through saying, hearing, and seeing words); mathematical (one who learns through categorizing, classifying and working with patterns, one who is analytical); spatial (one who learns by seeing the whole picture, loves visual pictures); kinesthetic (one who learns by feel or touch, these are always on the move); rhythmic (one who learns by use of music, counting or clapping); interpersonal (one who learns by working with others, loves group learning, social butterflies); and intrapersonal (one who enjoys learning alone – one on one). Our goal as coaches should be to teach each athlete the way they can develop best and reach their maximum potential as athletes and as people. We are creating masterpieces one piece at a time, and we must make sure we are careful in our production not to create a flaw in the equipment. It takes ten positive comments to undo the effect of one negative comment. If athletes feel good about their abilities, they will exude confidence but if we tear down their self-esteem with negative, inappropriate comments, then we have athletes who feel they are unable to succeed. This opens them to the formation and/or continuation of a mind block.
Using the following steps to release the athlete from their block also gives them some very important tools to deal with any distraction or obstacle they will face as an adult; therefore, we are helping to develop life skills and good character traits for our athletes, which should be our primary focus in sports. We all have vulnerable areas in our life that could benefit from this system of training. When we can look at ourselves and say it is OK to be less than perfect or to have a flaw we will be a lot farther in our maturation process as a person, coach or athlete. Motivating athletes is an awesome responsibility and we must take it seriously. We must have a plan in our teaching and realize that the child is like a lump of clay. We create an athlete and a person from that lump and in many cases you as a coach are the only positive influence in that athlete’s life. Remember every obstacle can be overcome by proper training.
Learning to increase the efficiency of our minds to see and think about the skill we are performing allows our muscles to yield to the requests we ask of them. When we have a written and visual picture of what our body needs to do, talk positively and breed confidence in ourselves, this will strengthen our nervous system’s connection with the muscles in our body. The truth of the matter is if our body is strong and flexible in every area we have built a body that can always spring back This leaves the mind to do what it does best -move the body in a more powerful way. So conditioning the body from the inside out and training the mind to relax and focus are the most important prerequisites for unlocking this imprisonment we call a “block.”
The steps are as follows:
I call this system “Breaking Free.”
These are examples of application of this system I have experienced.
I have worked with many athletes the last 39 years. In every case where I used this system and the athlete committed to it, it has worked. There are many quitters out there who won’t commit to anything, but those that do will find success.
I coached one girl who used this system. She would do nothing but a round off for 3 years. We worked for approximately 8 months almost daily. She now deals with her fears on a daily basis, but tumbles extremely well, including double full, Arabians, etc.
I coached one girl who wanted to make high school cheerleader. She had to perform a back handspring and a round off back handspring in order to make the team. It took her approximately 6 weeks to make complete recovery from her block. Her mother said her school work even improved.
I have used this system with my own children when we get back from vacations by bringing them into the gym before practice resumes and allowing them to work through their anxiety over tumbling skills.
This system can be a valuable tool in dealing with anxieties an athlete feels in many areas of his/ her life. I encourage you to use it freely and consistently in every area of cheerleading.
In conclusion good luck, have fun and break free.
Our body is made of many joint. Each joint has a primary function of either stability or mobility.
Stability can be defined as the ability to resist an undesired movement
Mobility is the degree of freedom of movement around a joint
Flexibility is normal extensibility of all soft tissues that allow full range of motion of a joint. It is your potential movement.
If we have good neuro control over our muscles we can resist undesired movements so that we have stable joints when we are moving. If our body realizes this control is present then it allows more potential flexibility of the joint.
Hyperextended Jumps are a result of a combination of characteristics:
First the athlete must be dynamically flexible enough. This means they must be able to lift their legs up on their own. Doing straddle lifts, pike lifts,hurdler lifts, and leg lifts will help this. Isometric legs lifts will also increase the strength of your hip flexors. Stretching your hamstrings will help with flexibility. Just be sure to condition the hamstrings also because strength yields more allowed flexibility. Always have them point toes backward.
Secondly, make sure the athletes core is very strong (plank sequences). It must be strong for them to roll their hips.
Thirdly, the athlete must have a strong push off the ground. Make sure they do jumping exercises as well as punching (plyos). You have to overcome gravity to lift yourself off the ground so you must be strong. Also train the athletic stance as it is the physiologically strongest loading of energy for explosion off the floor.
Fourthly, the arms must be strong to help lift the body upwards as they swing into the jump position.