Your 10 biggest tryout problems solved
By Colleen Leonard
American Cheerleader April 2008
Think you’re the only one who’s spooked by cheer tryouts? Think again! “The most terrifying part for me is standing tumbling,” admits Stephanie Ma, a 17-year-old Dublin HS cheerleader in Amarillo, CA. “In the end, though, I get most freaked out when the results are posted. Having to wait is the most nerve-racking thing ever.”
Fear no more, though—we’ve scoped out the top 10 biggest fears every cheerleader’s felt during tryout time. With a little help from AC, you’ll be on your way to scoring a spot on the team, so study up and get to work!
Tryout Trauma #1: “I’m terrified I’ll forget the dance.”
This popular fear doesn’t need a myth buster: Cheer wannabes tend to either forget the dance when they’re trying to practice at home or slip up on a few steps on the big day. Don’t worry though—it’s not just you. “Every new girl or guy freaks out if they don’t know the dance perfectly on the first day of tryouts,” says Lindsey Van Brunt, 17, of Woodcreek HS in Roseville, CA. “You’re not expected to know the dance right away; you’re just expected to go home and practice.”
AC Fix: To prevent bouts of forgetfulness, be sure to always use the written rule: Bring along a notebook and jot down the steps you’re taught during tryout clinics (use stick figures for motions and numbers for 8-counts). The coach will take notice, and you’ll have peace of mind knowing that you have a cheat sheet of the steps when you need them.
Finally, if you do forget the dance during tryouts, wing it! Improvising with your own steps or asking to start over (only once!) are usually sure bets—judges can be more understanding than you might think. “Fake it ’til you make it,” says NCA judge Noelle Stewart. “Keep smiling, and don’t stop just because you goofed up.”
Tryout Trauma #2: “I’m scared to try out by myself.”
If public speaking is your greatest nightmare (it’s the number one fear in America!), trying out solo or with a small group probably seems like a daunting task. Instead of just shaking in your cheer shoes, use this time as an opportunity to shine above the competition.
AC Fix: Adding a little something special, like a bright cheer bow or unique cheer shorts, will give you a boost of confidence—and you’ll set yourself apart from others will help the judges remember who you are. Then, take deep breaths, calm down and remind yourself that everyone else is feeling the same way you are—even if they don’t look it!
Tryout Trauma #3: “I have to stunt with a new group.”
If it’s your first tryout, here’s how it usually goes down: You’ll probably be asked to perform several different stunts with other potential cheerleaders (i.e., Extensions) in front of the judges (the coach will most likely group everyone together according to height, strength and best overall fit). If it’s your first time stunting, you’re in for an exciting—and stressful—experience.
AC Fix: The judges aren’t expecting perfection—they’re looking to see how well you work with others and whether or not you’re willing to try something new (and get back up if your stunt falls down). “Listen closely to what your coach is saying and focus on your job as a base, top girl or spot,” suggests Jillian Cuestas, 17, a cheergyms.com All-American team athlete from Tracy, CA. “Be versatile!”
Tryout Trauma #4: “My tumbling skills are lacking.”
Whether you’re trying out for school cheer or all-star, judges will often ask you to perform a set of required and optional tumbling skills. The biggest fear of all? Knowing another potential candidate has more advanced skills than you do!
AC Fix: If a back tuck isn’t realistic, but you have a round-off nailed, perform it like a pro and do the best you can. Saying, “I can’t” is a big no-no at tryouts, but performing a skill you’ve never done in your life can be extremely dangerous, not to mention sloppy. “Before anyone tumbles at tryouts, I always ask the person if he or she can do the skill five times in a row without any problems,” says Russell T. Blackwell, who’s been judging competitions and school, all-star and rec tryouts for nearly 21 years. “If you can’t do it well, you shouldn’t be doing it at tryouts at all.”
Tryout Trauma #5: “My nerves always get the best of me.”
Tryouts can lead to a ton of different emotions and anxieties, including nervousness, excitement, dread and anticipation. You’ve been practicing 24/7 and want nothing more than to make the team—no wonder you’re stressed!
AC Fix: The key here is to calm down, stay focused and take your time—rushing the cheer is a common mistake. “Just think of the judges as friends you know from a different cheer team,” says Jillian. “Pretend they’re asking you what kind of skills you can do—show your personality and have fun!”
Tryout Trauma #6: “I have an injury or illness.”
Talk about a bummer—having a torn ACL or being stuck at home with mono is never fun, but when you’re sick or injured when tryouts roll around, what’s a cheer wannabe to do?
AC Fix: Talk to the coach before tryouts and explain your medical situation (attending the tryout clinics and watching anyway will show your dedication). If you cheered on the same team the year beforehand, the coach may leave an open spot for you after you’ve recovered, or allow you to try out later in the season when your body is in tip-top shape.
Last but not least, if you’re physically not ready to cheer quite yet, take a few months off and get yourself ready for next year’s tryouts. The most important thing is to be healthy and safe, and if that means holding off on tryouts while recuperating, it’ll be well worth the bed rest!
Tryout Trauma #7: “The competition is fierce!”
Whether it’s your first year trying out or your fifth, spotting someone with cheer super powers can make anyone feel on edge. “When I’m up against other cheerleaders, I get most scared of what skills they have over me,” says Stephanie. “It definitely gets intimidating when they have amazing jumps or can throw higher tumbling passes than I can.”
AC Fix: When it comes to your competition, focusing on yourself is super-important. “Visualize yourself doing the skill even if you can’t do as much as the others, and don’t worry about what everyone else is doing,” says Russell.
If you’re the one who’s got the best moves in town, be sure to go out of your way to introduce yourself to others and offer to help someone who’s clearly struggling. Remember your first tryout? You weren’t born with that fabulous full, after all!
Tryout Trauma #8: “I’m worried about my voice.”
If you’re trying out for a school team, judges and coaches want to hear a big, clear and strong voice that bleacher fans can hear, especially during games and pep rallies.
AC Fix: Practice your “cheer voice” at home: Remember that being loud and speaking clearly are super-important, but screaming and screeching are completely different things—and major no-no’s, according to the judges. “Yell from your diaphragm—it’ll give you a long, steady voice instead of a high, pitchy squeal,” Noelle says. “If you’re told to ‘spirit’ or ‘rally,’ at tryouts, always say words, such as ‘Go Big Blue!’ rather than just yelling ‘woohoo’ a bunch of times.”
Tryout Trauma #9: “I don’t know what to eat before tryouts.”
Pizza or pop? Fruit or a sandwich? The decision may be tough, but one thing is certain: Eating before tryouts can mean the difference between making the team and performing at your very worst. “I’m usually so nervous before tryouts, I can’t eat or drink anything,” Lindsey says.
AC Fix: Instead of skipping food altogether—and risking harming yourself—be sure to eat right leading up to the weeks before tryouts. Foods high in carbs will give you extra energy, so a sandwich, fruit or veggies are your best on the day of tryouts—no sugar needed. “I try to eat something healthy that will keep me energized, and I drink plenty of water or Gatorade so I’m hydrated,” Stephanie says.
Tryout Trauma #10: “I’m bigger than the others.”
You walk into tryouts and notice a group of students who are 4’11″, 100 pounds and clearly surefire bets to make the team, right? Wrong!
AC Fix: So you’re not pint size—so what? Cheerleaders come in all shapes and sizes, so before you get down on yourself and think you won’t make the team based on your body type, think again. “No team is the exact same size,” adds Noelle. “It’s more about what you can bring to the team and what you have to offer, not what you look like.”
It takes all sizes to make a top team—especially muscular bases and tall back spots. Need a little inspiration? You’ll be pleased to know that super-buff Madonna, curvy girls like Ciara and Mandy Moore and majorly tall Cameron Diaz were all cheerleaders before they were famous…we’ll flip to that!