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:
- Level 1: Round-off—lever from a lunge and turn sideways bringing your feet together so you can jump backwards out of it.
- Level 2: Back handspring—Jumping backwards to your hands and bringing your feet back down.
- Level 3: Back Tuck—Jumping backwards in a tucked body flip to land on your feet
- Level 4: Layout—Jumping backwards in a straight body flip to land on the feet.
- Level 5: Full—Jumping backwards in a straight body, turning around once and landing on the feet.
- Straight Ride: Four people, called bases, throw an athlete straight up into the air and catch her in a cradle position.
- Toe Touch: Four bases throw an athlete into the air, and the athlete then executes a toe touch before being caught.
- Full Twist: Four bases throw an athlete into the air and she turns once completely around before being caught.
- Kick Full: Four bases throw an athlete into the air. As she rides up she kicks her leg and then twists around once before being caught.
- Prep/Half: Three/four bases put an athlete up to shoulder level standing up. They may do libs, arabesques, scorpions, and heel stretches at this level.
- Liberty: One knee is lifted up even with the hip.
- Arabesque: One leg is extended straight backwards.
- Scorpion: The foot of one leg is grabbed and pulled up behind the back trying to extend the leg straight.
- Heel Stretch: One of the legs is pulled straight up in front of the shoulder.
- Extension: Three/four bases put an athlete up on their extended arms. All positions can be seen at this level.
- Toe Touch: The athlete jumps up and reaches out for her toes with her hips rolled backwards.
- Pike Jump: The athlete jumps up and brings both legs up together at the same time.
- Hurdler: The athlete jumps up and brings one leg straight up as if sitting in the air and forward as far as it will go. The other leg is extended with a bent leg. It looks like a checkmark.
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).