By Megan Cassidy
American Cheerleader April 2009
This spring, newbies and seasoned pros alike will face a whirlwind of nerves, strained vocal cords and hairspray nausea that can only be classified as one thing: cheerleading tryouts. These weeklong events can decide your life for the entire (cheer) year! Here, coaches give tips on what small stuff to sweat and how to deal with the fumbles.
Pregame: What coaches look for before tryouts begin
• Hit the books: Especially when considering college cheerleading, GPA and test scores should be priority number one. “It’s become increasingly competitive to gain acceptance to major colleges and universities,” says Linda Gooch, cheerleading coach for the University of Central Florida in Orlando. “It’s very important to prepare for the SAT/ACT tests early. Take your test during your junior year for the first time, and if you don’t get the score you want, you’ll still have time to prepare for the test and retake it as a senior.” Think of it this way: Before you can make your dream college team, you have to be accepted into the school.
• Prep clinics: “Studies” outside of the classroom can be an awesome idea for girls and guys unfamiliar with certain requirements of their dream squad. “If you don’t come from a coed program or have much experience with coed partner stunting, look into college prep clinics that are offered by the university teams in your area or by the school that you’re trying out for,” Coach Gooch says.
• Expecting one skill set to carry the dead weight of another: You may have the most solid standing back tuck this side of the Mississippi, but if your motions aren’t cutting it, don’t expect to make the cut. If you’re an all-star shooting for a school squad, take it back to basics. “I see a lot of problems with the athletes coming from all-star teams,” says Phyllis Schatz, coach at Shaler Area HS in Pennsylvania. “Many of them just don’t have the motion technique. It’s very important to practice in the mirror.” That’s sound advice for all types of cheerleaders.
During Tryouts: What coaches look for off the mat
• Look the part: Make sure you pay close attention to clothing, hair and makeup rules outlined by the coach, and let your skills be the way the judges and coaches remember you. But more important, act like a cheerleader at tryouts, even when you think no one is watching. “Several things I look for that aren’t listed on the score sheet are work ethic during tryout practice, ability to follow instructions and response to constructive criticism,” says DeShannon Davis, cheerleading coach at Meridian HS in Mississippi.
• Showing up late or unprepared: The night before tryouts, make sure you have all your papers (and have them signed), outfits and scheduling sorted out. “We had to fill out a whole packet of paperwork, or else we weren’t allowed to step foot on the mat,” says Hayley Gronek, a senior at Francis Howell HS in Missouri. Hayley’s coach, Jennifer McChesney, agrees. “If they don’t have their paperwork, they’re done,” she says. “And when a girl arrives late, it sets the tone for what kind of person she is. This is an important date!”
Game Time: All eyes on you
• Against the odds: You would follow your 0–10 football team to the ends of the earth, cheering all the way. You deserve your own dedication, too! If there’s a roadblock in scheduling or physical abilities, your going the extra mile to make it work will make you a shining star in the coach’s eyes. “We had a girl try out with a broken leg,” says Coach Schatz. “She got out there with her broken leg, even as far as doing the splits! When she was doing her jumps, she had another girl spot her and jumped on one leg. She made up enough points in other areas that she was able to make the squad!”
• Extra “wow” factor: Leave your modesty at the door. If you have a skill or an idea that will add a little extra kick to your tryout, do it! “The most impressive tryout I’ve ever witnessed was when one athlete used two stunt groups in her tryout,” says Coach Davis. “She truly showed her stunting skills that day, proving she could stunt, no matter which group she was assigned to.”
• Losing your cool: A little nervousness can get the adrenaline pumping, but nerves can turn nasty when they’re seen in your movements and on your face. Tame the beast by practicing the dance and cheers until you can do them in your sleep. Even if you do miss a motion or two in front of the judges, stay calm; a little fudging can go a long way. “There are some who show it in their face when they think they goofed up,” says Steve Avgerinos, head cheerleading coach at Illinois State University. “The kids who carry themselves in a mature fashion and who can handle it when things don’t go perfectly seem to always do a little better.”
• Giving up: Don’t throw in the towel if you muddle a portion of your tryout. Ask the judge if you can take another shot at what you know you can do. “We’ll always have a girl or two who will go out there and forget everything,” says Coach Schatz. “They will refuse to try it again, when the judges are nice enough to let them repeat it.” That kind of attitude is a sure way to lose points.
Cheerleading tryouts can be your time to shine! Ace this test, and you’re in for an awesome year. Just remember to follow your own advice: “Keep that spirit up!”