By Jennifer Renée Smith
American Cheerleader April 2009
AC asked members of our Hot Squad, a reader panel made up of all-star, college and school cheerleaders, to share their tryout wish lists with us. In exchange, we’re providing them (and you) with an honest reality check courtesy of a few top coaches from around the country. Read on to see if these cheerleaders’ situations are similar to your own, and what you can do to reach your goals.
Our Expert Coaching Panel
Julie Czuchna: Co-owner and head coach of the Cheer Central Suns all-star program in Broomfield, CO.
Pam Headridge: Head cheer coach of Oak Harbor HS in Washington for the past 19 years and the author of 101 School Spirit Ideas: Developing a Successful Cheerleading Program.
Lauren Peetz: Co-owner of Victory! Cheerleading in Concord, NC, where she also manages a group fitness and personal training company, and the former head cheerleading coach and spirit coordinator at Georgia Tech
Scoring a Spot on Varsity
Situation: “I’ll be trying out for a spot on my high school’s varsity team again and would love to improve on tumbling and perfecting my stunting and choreography technique. I used to have a standing back handspring, but I stopped going to my gym, so I lost it.”—Lauren D., age 15, California
Plan of Attack: “I’m currently looking for a new gym to practice my skills.”
- Coach Headridge: The best way to reach your goal is to first and foremost set a positive mental state of mind. You need determination and consistency. It sounds like you think that once you achieve a skill, you don’t need keep working it, but it takes time to perfect the required skills in cheerleading, and once skills are developed, you must maintain a training schedule to keep them. I suggest sitting down and writing out a detailed schedule of gaining the required skills with goal dates. Don’t put off the start date—the sooner you start, the better you’ll get and the more physically ready you’ll be for tryouts. A gym with a trained gymnastics instructor and a spring floor is the best way to learn proper technique for your back handspring. It’s a step-by-step progress and will take time.
- Coach Peetz: If you’ve been able to perform a standing handspring in the past, chances are that you can get it back again. There’s no time like the present to get back into the gym or find a qualified coach to spot you. Don’t put it off until just days or weeks before the tryout, or you may find that you didn’t leave yourself enough time to get the skill back. For some people it’s like riding a bike, but for others it may take your body some re-learning and quite a bit of repetition. The same goes with your stunting. Find a group that’s willing to work with you to get some practice in before tryouts as long as you’re supervised by someone who is qualified.
Learning How to Partner Stunt
Situation: “I’ll be graduating high school a year early and am trying out for a coed college team in April. I’m usually a base and I need flying skills for tryouts, as well as a standing tuck. I can never seem to get it as clean as my running tumbling passes.”—Tessa S., age 16, Texas
Plan of Attack: “I have cheer practice five nights a week already for a competitive squad. Our coaches are amazing and would be willing to help me in a heart beat.”
- Coach Czuchna: Depending on the college you’re going to attend, you may or may not want to start training as a top girl. If you have the tumbling skills and will be working to clean up the standing tuck, you may want to stick with basing since you’ve been trained to be a base on your team and are probably pretty good at it from the amount of practice you say you have. If you really want to fly, talk to your coaches to see if they think it’s a viable option for you. If so, start partner stunting ASAP. Make sure you also work on your flexibility and learn how to double-down from stunts—these two things are key if you want to have a chance at becoming an elite collegiate top girl.
- Coach Peetz: You’re lucky to have such great resources at your fingertips. Definitely use your coaches’ knowledge and experience to help you prepare. If you already feel confident with all your tumbling elements but that one, be sure to dedicate some major time to your standing back. Your coaches should be able to spot you, as well as show you some drills for correct technique. Doing some plyometric exercises can help you increase the power and height necessary for a strong standing back. As for stunting, be sure to find the specific skills the coaches of both the all-girl and coed teams will be looking for. That way, you can use your time wisely and focus on the skills that you’ll need as top girl for a coed team and further hone the stunts you’ve already mastered as a base. Walking into the tryout with at least some prior experience will show drive and initiative.
Transitioning from Junior High to High School
Situation: “I’m trying out for my high school squad in the spring and want to improve my jumps and tumbling skills.”—Jade P., age 13, Ohio
Plan of Attack: “I’ve attempted the toe touch and pike, but never the back handspring because of my fear of going backwards. I’m going to work with my sister, who is also my cheer coach, to nail all these skills.”
- Coach Headridge: Many cheerleaders think that attempting is doing. In reality, a consistent training program is the only way to do it, and there are many good conditioning programs available online. Find one that incorporates push-ups, sit-ups, weight-lifting and plies (for leg power). As for tumbling, start slow and with the basics. Learn forward rolls, cartwheels, walkovers and round-offs. You may not be able to work on back handsprings because of your fear, but think about learning and perfecting front walkovers and front handsprings. Once you’ve perfected these, you might be ready to take the next step. If you and your sister have a good working relationship and she has the training to teach you, great. Ask her to help you develop and maintain a training schedule to reach your goals. Sometimes working with a relative is harder because of the emotional connection. If you two often get mad or frustrated with each other then check out a local gym. Don’t forget to log your training and your improvement and results will come.
- Coach Peetz: If you haven’t previously mastered a back handspring, this may not be your best use of the time you have left before tryouts. It can take people many months or even years depending on many factors such as strength, fear and body awareness. Therefore, I recommend focusing your energy on improving your power, flexibility and form for your jumps. In addition, do some research on what else the coach will be looking for (i.e., strong motions, dance ability) and make sure to dedicate some time to those elements, as well.
Moving Up on All-Stars
Situation: “I’ll be trying out for a higher-level team within my all-star program and would like to improve my jumps and tumbling. I’d especially like to get a round-off handspring full and/or a toe touch back tuck on the floor ”—My’Chelle M., age 16, Washington, DC
Plan of Attack: “I’ve been practicing a round-off handspring full into a pit and the toe touch back tuck on a tumble track.”
- Coach Czuchna: Sounds like all you need is a little extra training. Get into open gyms and additional tumbling classes or private lessons if you can. If you want these skills to be “competition ready” at tryouts, you need to tumble three or more times a week to build your consistency and confidence. If you apply yourself to this plan, these skills are totally within your grasp.
- Coach Peetz: This is a great place to start, but keep in mind that you’ll most likely not be able to try out using the tumble track or the pit. Your coaches will want to see that you can perform these skills on the floor. So, don’t wait too long to make the transition to the floor. Initially, you’ll want to be spotted for safety and to make sure your technique is correct. From there, make sure you’re confident in executing the skill and that your coach or spotter feels that you’re indeed ready to perform the skill on your own. Remember, you don’t want the first time to be at the actual tryout as this is risky, not to mention dangerous.
Did you face any obstacles at tryouts? Tell us about them!