Rediscover your cheer roots by practicing good technique.
By Marie Freisen
American Cheerleader April 2008
You thought your Stretch double down would score big with the judges, until you received the score sheet and noticed that points were taken off for the top girl’s bent wrists and sloppy cradle. Many cheer programs neglect teaching proper technique to the new generations of high-flying, fast-flipping cheerleaders. Motion drills, stunt progression, proper stretching and strength training are unfortunately becoming increasingly uncommon. But these seemingly simple skill drills can help raise your score at competitions, keep you and your team members safe and injury-free and set the proper framework for learning more difficult skills later.
“Cheerleaders need to constantly keep the basics in the forefront of their minds, otherwise there’s no solid foundation to build on, both literally and figuratively. It goes back to the old saying, ‘You have to learn to crawl before you can learn to walk,’” says Jennifer Molinari, varsity coach of St. Charles Elementary in Staten Island, NY. “Incorporating drills and encouraging proper training and stretching into all practices prevent laziness—plain and simple.”
With tryouts right around the corner, it’s time for your team to get back to basics and focus on the little things that’ll help keep your squad safe and more precise in the new season.
Good Technique Equals Great Tryout
You have to master the core of cheerleading—the basics—in order to succeed at the sport. When you’ve got good technique, it’ll be easier for you to learn new skills. “It’s easy to get overanxious and go beyond your limits in order to impress the team and coaches at tryouts,” says Kate Pauwels, assistant JV coach of St. John the Baptist HS in Long Island, NY. “However, a solid extension or perfectly executed back handspring are way more impressive than jumping into a tuck that’s shaky or pulling an Arabesque that barely hits. The most impressive quality is confidence.”
For stunting, every team should start their season with hang drills and Thigh Stands and build from there. Practicing proper stunt progression can help prevent injury and give your team a strong starting point to build confidence within the stunt group. Once each stunt is perfected, the difficulty level can be increased. By incorporating these drills into every practice, you’ll improve your technique, as well as build strength.
Risks versus Rewards
The biggest disadvantage that teams face when they don’t work on building technical skills is the risk of losing cheerleaders to injuries. Once an athlete is hurt, she’s injury-prone for the rest of the season, and in turn, the team as a whole may not be able to perform their best. Many times cheerleaders and coaches are so wrapped up in the competitiveness of the sport they jump straight into the elite stunts instead of focusing on the progression level necessary to perform those stunts successfully—and safely. However, there are no shortcuts in cheerleading, and it’s important to perfect the standard technique before jumping to the next skill level.
An important part of building a strong technical foundation for your team involves physical strength and endurance. “Strength training is needed because you are lifting, throwing and catching a human being!” says Coach Debbie Cretella of St. Charles Elementary School in Staten Island, NY. “I also recommend cardio workouts to build endurance. Although the final routine is two-and-a-half minutes, the practices [leading up to the performance] can be very intense.” Increase your team’s strength and endurance by adding cardio and weight training into your practice regime early in the season so that you’re ready for all of the challenges that come along. You should also incorporate healthy eating habits into your routine, so you’re receiving all the proper nutrients your body needs after intense workouts or practices.
It’s All in the Details
Broken wrists, slopping motions, toes that aren’t pointed and bent knees are every judge and coach’s pet peeves—and they can result in lots of little deductions that add up to big point losses at tryouts and competitions. Motion drills are something that many cheerleaders forget to focus on, but they’re easy to do and you’ll see definite results when it comes time to perform a cheer or dance. “Cheerleading is not an interpretive sport—it’s judged on precision,” says Coach Debbie. An easy way to practice motions is to do the entire routine in front of a mirror and focus on arm placements. Arms should be tight and wrists relaxed.
It’s never too late to go back to the basics, whether you’ve been cheering for years and have your eye on that captain position, or it’s your first year trying out for the squad. Now is the time to start working out, stretch your muscles and clean up those motions. Remember all the essentials you were taught when you first decided to become a cheerleader. They’re the qualities that’ll separate you from being a good cheerleader to the best cheerleader.
Tryout Training Tips
Focus on your own skills and be supportive of others whether they’re trying out with a somersault or a double full. Make a checklist of your strengths and weaknesses before trying out. Once you’ve discovered what areas need the most work, there are plenty of resources available to help you improve. Many gyms now offer private coaching, which is a great way to receive some one-on-one help in areas that you’re seeking improvement. It’s also a good idea to attend any clinics offered by the team you’re trying out for. You can even ask someone who’s already on the team for their help, which is a great way to learn, make new friends and get a feel for the team to see if it’s a good fit for you.
“I think cheerleaders should focus on the type of team they’re trying out for and what requirements are expected,” says Ryan Randall, coach of Crossland HS in Temple Hills, MD. “The number one thing they should focus on is their present skill level and discovering what will set them apart from everyone else trying out.” Motion drills, stunt progression, proper stretching and strength training are the foundation of every good cheerleader and should be incorporated into your practice regime, especially before tryouts.