What to do—and what not to do—during college tryouts.
*** By Alexandria Neason
All too often, cheerleaders consider graduation from high school a bittersweet celebration. While finally graduating is a huge accomplishment, with it comes the premature end to your cheer career. But just because your high school days are ending, it doesn’t mean your cheer days have to! Cheering in college has evolved into a booming and ultra-popular choice among high school cheerleaders. More and more schools are gaining the respect and support from their communities that’s necessary to build talented and successful collegiate cheerleading programs and offer hopefuls like you opportunities—such as scholarships to help offset the cost of post–high school education. Now, all they need is for you to try out! AC, along with some well-known college coaches, is here to help prep you to walk into your next tryout ready for whatever challenge is thrown your way.
Do: Come prepared!
First impressions are extremely important in all aspects of life, and cheerleading is no different. Think of tryouts as a job interview and show up dressed in your best, on time and with everything necessary to make the process run smoothly. In your case, the job is a spot on the team, and your boss is your future coach. Coming prepared to tryouts is your first step to proving that you’re serious and dedicated not only to cheerleading, but also to your spot on the team, should it be given to you. This means doing your homework before attending any clinics or tryouts. Check with the coaches and find out what paperwork needs to be filled out and handed in before or on the day of tryouts. Waiting until the last minute is a definite no-no. Tracy Denton, cheer coach at the University of New Mexico, says, “If someone shows up late or in disarray, that could be a sign of how things will come.” Arrive early, and give yourself time to get lost if this will be your first time visiting campus. Come in your freshest attire: cheer shorts, a sports bra, tank or T-shirt, absolutely no jewelry and cheer sneakers. Add a funky bow in the school’s colors, a smile and you’re all set!
Don’t: Try out unless you’re willing to fully commit to the team and university.
Unless you’re new to the sport, you understand that once you become a cheerleader for your school, you’re handed a big plate of responsibility. Not only will you have to manage school and practices, but you will also be cheering at home and away games, traveling to tournaments, participating in campus activities and community service and preparing for your own competitions—and you’ll be expected to do so with grace and little evidence of the sweat that you undoubtedly will shed. To make a long story short, you’ll be busy, all the time!
There’s no off-season in cheerleading and it’s no different once you get to college. This means being flexible, especially with your social schedule to fit the needs of the team. This can be disappointing at times, but you are part of a greater good and the experience you get from cheering in college is one that’s exclusive to you and your squad mates. “Your college experience is being an athlete,” and while you may give up an ordinary one in the name of cheerleading, University of Alabama varsity coach David McDowell assures us that “you’re still getting one in return.” What other activity will give you free courtside tickets to basketball games, or put you on the sidelines of a football stadium packed with fans numbering in the thousands? Most coaches do encourage their cheerleaders to get involved as much as possible within their campus communities, and outside of cheerleading. “We really feel like it’s important for these individuals to have a great time in college,” Coach Denton says. Remember to keep track of what events you’re committed to in order to prevent schedule conflicts. Because cheerleading truly is a team sport, you will be expected to make your commitment to the squad a top priority, second only to academic and family matters.
You’ll also need to remember that you represent your coaches, your teammates and the entire administrative staff of your college or university, in and out of uniform. You will most likely become a familiar face around campus, so remember that how you act in public will almost always become a reflection of your squad, and can make or break the public’s opinion about an entire program, not to mention that any mistakes are likely to make it back to your coaches!
Do: Sharpen your skills before tryouts.
One of the biggest mistakes high school kids make prior to tryouts is allowing senioritis to get a pretty tight chokehold on cheerleading. It can be tempting to slack off in the weeks leading up to tryouts, but if you want your tryout experience to be as painless and as successful as possible, be sure to keep working out, stunting, tumbling and cheering. Research the program you’ll be trying out for and know what will be expected of you skill-wise. “Go to a practice, submerge yourself into the environment” suggests Coach McDowell. Find out if and when clinics or open practices are offered and take full advantage of them. This will also allow you to meet the coaches and current team members, and decide if the program is one that you’ll be comfortable with. For many high school cheerleaders, co-ed stunting will be a new concept. Find out if the program offers clinics or open practices so you can learn the new style, or visit a local gym to work on your stunting skills. Members of all-girl squads who learn how to co-ed stunt prior to tryouts get “a leg up,” according to Candi Richeson, University of Florida head coach.
One problem all-star cheerleaders might run into as they enter collegiate cheerleading is that they have little experience leading a crowd. “Sometimes we have to train the all-star out of them because we don’t necessarily need that on the sideline,” University of Wisconsin coach Josette Scheer says. Switching your priority from strictly competition to supporting your school’s teams can be tough. Attending games and paying attention to the varied styles of cheer and crowd-leading techniques the cheerleaders use can give you an idea of what sideline cheerleading is all about. By maintaining and improving your basic cheer skills, including jumps, stunting and tumbling abilities, you’ll avoid sloppy mistakes when it’s time to perform in front of a panel of judges. Building a solid foundation of basic skills will make more advanced skills come quickly and easily.
Don’t: Choose a school based only on its cheerleading program.
As much as you love to cheer, it shouldn’t be the only consideration made when choosing a college. Remember that wherever you enroll will be your home for the next four or more years. Make sure your prospective schools have the majors you’re interested in and a social atmosphere you’re comfortable with. You will attend all your classes, and engage in most social activities on that campus. Even if cheerleading is taken away, you should still be happy with your school selection. The school you choose should satisfy not only your cheerleading needs, but your academic and social needs, as well.
Do: Give it your all at tryouts!
Cheerleading has become an increasingly competitive sport. Don’t sell yourself short by getting lazy or shy during tryouts. If you feel confident about a skill (and have perfected it prior to tryouts) then go for it! Tryouts are nothing more than a mini talent show; once you learn all the new material (fight songs, cheers), you’ll likely be allowed to show off your best stunting, tumbling and jumping abilities. Be open to constructive criticism, and don’t worry if you’re stronger in certain areas than others. “We’re really looking for the full package. You have to be able to dance, you have to be able to stunt, you have to be able to cheer and tumble,” says Coach Richeson. If you’re a stellar stunter but are lacking a little in the tumbling department, having a great attitude and showing that you’re ready and willing to learn is impressive to coaches. If you don’t make the team your first time or if you are picked up as an alternate, never stop trying. Continue to improve in whatever areas you lacked, and come back the following year ready to give it another shot. Dedication and determination says a lot about an individual. Alternates—if you work hard all year, you might just be picked up and given a spot on the team later on in the season. Improving on your skills is never a bad thing!
Don’t: Slack off in school, ever!
With college comes university-level classes and grown-up responsibilities. Living on your own and learning to deal with the added pressures of independence can all be alleviated by forming good habits. Learning to balance both your cheer and academic responsibilities is something you’ll be no stranger to if you start working on it in high school. Let your calendar become your best friend. Create a schedule and plan out your days in advance including time for class, homework and projects, practices and games, and downtime to relax, to help keep you organized. Most college teams require its members to maintain a minimum GPA in order to keep their spot on the team, so giving yourself time to study is especially important. “Discipline yourself now,” says Coach McDowell. If you start immediately, by the time you get to college, managing your time will be second nature and a great habit. “We stress to them to stay on top of their schedules and let us know when they need help,” Coach Scheer says. Don’t be afraid to ask for help if you need it. Your coaches and teammates want you to succeed at more than just cheerleading. Take full advantage of the built-in support system (and possible tutors!) that come along with your membership on the team.
College tryouts generally occur in the spring, before high school graduation. Making the team won’t mean much if you let your grades slip and put your acceptance into the school at risk. Don’t take any chances! Academics should always come before cheerleading, but if you learn to manage both, the two shouldn’t conflict.
The bottom line is this: Preparation is the key to excellence. If you put in the hard work necessary for success, and give 110 percent every time, your tryouts experience will be stress-free and a memory you won’t soon forget.
Top 5 qualities coaches look for:
1. Eagerness to learn
2. Team player mentality
3. Outgoing personality
5. Potential to improve
College Cheer Perks:
• Bows will become your most commonly used accessory.
• Professors will recognize (and possibly refer to you) as “the cheerleader”.
• Front row seats to every football and basketball game!
• Exclusive access to your schools top-notch athletic facilities.
• Instant friends on a new campus!