40 things coaches look for when picking their team at tryouts.
American Cheerleader April 2007
It’s almost that time of the year. After all the countless hours and the blood, sweat and tears you put into last season, it’s time to start the whole process over again! Tryouts can be one of the most stressful times of the year, but try not to worry. We surveyed coaches from all over the U.S. to find out what they’re really looking for when they choose their teams.
1. Potential: Coaches don’t just look for skills—they’re also looking at your ability to learn skills. “You can teach stunts and tumbling and jumps, but you can’t teach general coordination and ability,” says Coach Shelly Gramatky from California Flyers All-Stars in Santa Clarita. That’s something they have to bring with them.”
2. Go-Getter Attitude: Coach Carolyn Newton from Rio Grande HS in Albuquerque, NM says, “Hands down, I would choose a person who has overall appeal, including energy, enthusiasm and a knockout smile.” Don’t forget determination—it may just help you win that spot on the team!
3. Dedication and Commitment: “When picking a team at tryouts, I look for commitment,” says Coach Donna Freisen of St. Patrick’s Elementary in Staten Island, NY. If you’re trying out for the squad for the first time, show your mettle by arriving on time to all of the clinics and being prepared.
4. Humility: If you think you “have it in the bag,” you better think again. Even if you’ve cheered on the squad before, most coaches agree that any person on their team can be replaced if someone with a better attitude and talent walks into the gym. “We want cheerleaders who’ll listen to their coach, are dedicated to their team and know that the squad doesn’t revolve around them,” says Coach Stephanie Beveridge of GymKix Texas Extreme in Copperas Cove. “I couldn’t care less if you can throw a double full—if you have a self-centered attitude I don’t need you.”
5. Teamwork: Coaches want to have a smooth, problem-free year so it’s essential that they choose candidates who work well with others. “You may score high in skill, but will you be a good team member?” says Coach Dawna Coleman from Ohio Explosion All-Stars in Brunswick. Prove that you can be a part of the team by working with and encouraging both old and new team members.
6. Technique: “A sloppy difficult skill doesn’t look as impressive as clean technique,” says Methodist College coach Melissa Hay from Fayetteville, NC. Freshen up on the basics before you come into tryouts and you’ll be sure to impress coaches.
7. Confidence: Be bold and show coaches you will be able to handle any situation and obstacle that comes your way throughout the year. Coach Ronda Thomas from Galaxy Cheer in Redmond, WA, stresses that it’s key to “Have a positive attitude and outlook.”
8. Creativity: Creativity helps coaches remember who you are. Don’t be afraid to bring your own unique style to tryouts by wearing bright colors or adding personal touches like homemade signs as props. “One year, there was a girl who stated her name and her number every time it was her turn—I’ll never forget that,” says Cheer Dynasty Coach Nicole LaBier from Manassas, VA.
9. Versatility: The more versatile you are, the more impressed coaches will be. “I like an athlete who’s willing to try anything and will work hard at any job you give them. It’s nice to know that you can trust an athlete to get any job done,” says Ohio Valley All-Stars coach Jamie Bennett from Parkersburg, WV. “Trying something new shows ability to learn,” says Coach T.A. Tolchinsky from Nova Southeastern University in Ft. Lauderdale. Before tryouts, learn all the basic skills: flying, basing, back spotting and tumbling.
10. Overall Skill: If you’re skillful at jumps, motions, dancing, stunting, tumbling, and have a positive spirit and attitude, you possess all the qualities of a great cheerleader. “I look for the total package in a cheerleader—talent, academics and a good person,” says Coach Charlotte Allen from Lacey’s Spring JHS in Lacey’s Spring, AL.
11. Persistence: If you didn’t make the team last year, don’t give up. The coaches we talked to say they loved when someone who didn’t make the cut before came back to the gym showing great improvement. “It says a lot when you can see that a girl took time to develop her skills over the year by taking gymnastic classes, stopping by practices and working on motions and jumps,” says Focus Cheer Gym Coach Kelly Beall from Redwood City, CA.
12. Energy: It’s the difference between an exciting routine and a boring one. Take all the nerves and excitement you’re feeling and channel all that energy into a positive tryout. “Acting as though you’re actually at a game cheering really stands out,” say Coach Lorrie Wright from Northeastern University in Boston.
13. Work Ethic: “It’s not only your skill that’s important to a coach; it’s your attitude and work ethic,” says Coach Coleman. Tryouts is the time to work hard and show you’re not afraid to sweat.
14. Cheering For the Right Reasons: If you really love cheerleading, it will show. If you’re just doing it because your friends are, coaches will recognize your insincerity. “Be positive and show that being a cheerleader is what you really want,” suggest Coach Wright.
15. Don’t Hold Back: “If a person truly has passion and understands the need for teamwork, we’ll take that into consideration more so than just skill,” says Coach Tara Cain of Maryland Twisters in Glen Burnie.
16. Punctuality: “Be the first one there and the last one to leave,” suggests Coach Pam Headridge from Oak Harbor HS in Oak Harbor, WA. Coaches want people on their team who will always on time and ready to work, so showcase this at tryouts.
17. Coachability: Coaches want to see you improve your skills, so accept constructive criticism with a smile and listen to what your coach says. “Nothing makes a coach more excited than a coachable athlete,” says OC All-Stars Coach Sean Evans from Rancho Santa Margarita, CA.
18. Leadership Qualities: There’s a reason they call us cheer leaders. Being able to get the crowd involved is an integral part of being a cheerleader and tryouts are the time to prove you can do it.
19. Fast Learners: Coaches expect you to pick up new material at a certain pace, but learning shouldn’t stop in the gym. Practice all material at home and don’t be afraid to ask for extra help. “Find out what the teams’ skill level is and exceed that,” suggests Helfrich Park MS coach Audra Brown from Evansville, IN.
20. Uniqueness: During the interview section of tryouts, you should include why you are different from the other candidates and how you can be beneficial to the team. “You should shine in the areas you’re strongest in,” says Coach Terry Fisher from Florida All-Stars in Valrico, FL.
21. Enthusiasm: “Personality is key in cheerleading. Everyone can cheer, tumble and stunt at our tryouts, but it’s their personalities and crowd appeal that sets them apart,” says Coach Ginny Hitt from Oviedo HS in Oviedo, FL.
22. Physical Fitness: “Get into shape before tryouts,” says Coach Miller. Start the process early. Eat right to give your body the energy it needs and start a conditioning regimen that includes both cardio and weight training workouts so you’re in shape for tryouts.
23. Manners: Coaches demand respect when you’re in their gym, so mind your manners and don’t talk back! “Although a high score is the foundation of a good tryout, a good attitude and having respect for others will always go a long way,” says Coach Gina Tedesco from North Rockland HS in Thiells, NY.
24. Don’t Make Excuses: If things don’t go your way, try to figure out what went wrong. “Have the courage to speak with the coach in a non-confrontational setting and ask to see your score sheets for what areas need to be improved and then work on them,” says Coach Hay. Your coaches will appreciate that more than a song and dance about what went wrong.
25. Good Listening Skills: Good listening skills are key to a safe cheerleading environment. So many stunts could be saved by paying attention and being a responsible team member.
26. First Impressions: “Everyone is always so tense at tryout time, [their personalities don’t show],” says Coach Lillie Morris from Brunswick HS in Brunswick, MD. Make an effort to set yourself apart from everyone else so you don’t become one of those girls who the coach doesn’t remember.
27. Buddy Up: Learning and working with a partner is easier and more fun than doing it alone. “Ask a girl already on the team to help you. This will give you a friend on the team and is sure to help you to improve,” suggests Coach Freisen.
28. Encouragement: If another person messes up during tryouts, cheer them on to keep going and finish strong. “Someone who encourages another person during tryouts shows me that they aren’t petty and will be a positive influence throughout the year,” says Coach Marlon McPhatter from Central Bucks East HS in Doylestown, PA.
29. Enjoyment: “Too many times girls worry about what others can do and not what they need to do,” says Coach Kathy Brannon from Orange Park HS in Orange Park, FL. Even if you’re super nervous, try to have fun. When you’re having a good time, so will everyone else around you.
30. Eye Contact: “Something that always stands out during tryouts is constant eye contact with the judges,” says Coach Diana Hec. Connect with them and they’ll know you can connect with a crowd. This shows that you can handle yourself well in front of people.
31. Deal With Pressure: “I look for someone who steps up, doesn’t get scared and can act natural under pressure,” says Coach Brown. Coaches understand that sometimes you make mistakes, but if something goes wrong, they need to know you’ll be able to handle it.
32. Attentiveness: Be prepared to save a stunt when it’s coming down, catch a top girl who’s falling or move out of the way when someone is tumbling. “Pay attention, prove that you’re willing to do what it takes and work hard,” says Coach Bennett.
33. Cooperation: “I looked for respect, courtesy and cooperation,” says Coach Morris. Everyone has their opinions, but you need to be able work together to meet a common goal.
34. Be Prepared: One big mistake coaches see at tryouts is when girls aren’t dressed to perform. “Girls should come in with their hair up, no jewelry, nails cut short, appropriate clothes and a great attitude,” says Coach Beth Sarnacki from Cromwell HS in Cromwell, CT.
35. Do Your Homework: Contact and keep in touch with the coaches from squads you’re interested in trying out for. This is the best way to find out team requirements and tryout dates. “Ask to view a practice and attend every game possible to watch how the cheerleaders perform,” suggests University of Oregon coach Laraine Raish from Eugene.
36. Good Grades: “Sometimes the best cheerleaders aren’t the best students—and cheerleaders who are good students is what we look for,” says Coach Beveridge. Cheerleaders need to be awesome athletes who excel both in and out of the classroom, so make sure you don’t slack off on your schoolwork.
37. Mistakes: Recover from a mistake by smiling, doing standing tumbling or a jump if you can’t remember the motions. “It’s what you do after the mistake that tells me what kind of a cheerleader you’ll be,” says Boise State University coach Julie Stevens from Idaho.
38. Self Motivation: This is one of the main things Coach Susan Burton from Gordon Central HS in Calhoun, GA, looks for when picking her team: the ability to motivate yourself to advance without being asked.
39. Weaknesses: Find out your weak points from previous coaches or tryouts and improve on them as much as possible. Coach Beveridge suggests, “You should start practicing your skills at least six months to a year before tryouts so you’ll have a competitive chance.”
40. Go All Out: “Pay attention to the material taught and on the day of tryouts come out as a performer—everything needs to be sharp, dynamic and even over exaggerated at times,” says Coach Burton. Giving it your all is extremely self-satisfying and worth just as much as a flawless performance.