Here’s how to handle the stress when you find your squad in a sticky situation.
By Brianne Carlon
Most cheerleaders like to think of their squad as family. Over the course of the season, you’re bound to get close with your gal pals. But even little (or big) sisters can step out of line sometimes. From swearing to stealing, AC ’s put together tips on how to get your teammates back on track without losing your cool—or a friend.
The Situation: One of your teammates keeps talking about you and some other girls on the squad during games! Her accusations are not flattering, and you’re getting tired of the vicious whispering.
How to deal: “I knew when I decided to try out for captain that there were going to be some sticky situations,” says Sydney Williams, a 16-year-old cheerleader at Cameron County HS in Driftwood, PA. “But I didn’t think it would be as bad as it is.”
Jealousy can often feed the rumor mill, and gossip can not only ruin someone’s name and reputation, but can be dangerous. Many times, the rumors aren’t even true. “Think of a game of telephone,” says Tonya M. Huffman, author of Spreading the Gossip. “By the time the last person gets the message, it’s usually distorted.”
As a cheerleader, you can put an end to this harmful cycle. When someone approaches you with gossip, don’t respond or simply act uninterested. If a team member continues to knock someone’s clothes, Huffman advises “Try saying something jokingly like, ‘Girl, don’t talk about her outfit, she just likes the color black.’ Or you could evade the topic and say, ‘I don’t really pass her in the hallways often enough to see her clothes, but yesterday she wore a nice outfit that everyone seemed to compliment her on.’” If you do this in a playful way, few will resent it.
Remember, gossip affects more than just one person. People don’t want to be around someone who’s constantly putting others down; don’t get caught up in it. “Don’t try to please everyone,” Huffman says. “Do what’s right—not what’s popular.”
The Situation: The three-year veteran on your squad thinks she knows it all and won’t stop acting like she’s the coach.
How to deal: “Some cheerleaders sometimes get the idea that because they’ve been involved in the sport for so long, they know everything!” says Meagan Fedor, director and head coach for Rage Allstars in North Syracuse, NY. “But you should allow a coach to take care of the bullying or back talk,” she says. The best thing a cheerleader could do is show her support. Pull the girl aside and try asking something like, “It looks like you’re having a bad day, what can I do to help?” Pam Headridge, head coach at Oak Harbor HS in Oak Harbor, WA, recommends acting like a supportive leader rather than a disciplinarian. “The better you listen, the better leader you are,” she says.
You can offer your assistance, but you should let your coach deal with the situation. “It’s too hard for the captain to be the disciplinarian among peers,” Coach Headridge says. “The coach needs to make the final decision. If not, the cheerleader who steps in will be the one who kids will pick on and alienate.”
Cs, Ds and Fs
The Situation: A girl on your squad has let her grades slip and now she is ineligible to practice and—(yikes!)—compete.
How to deal: “At one point, I had nine cheerleaders who were academically ineligible,” Coach Headridge says. “Luckily, most of them got their grades up, but one wasn’t able to compete.” This may mean rearranging routines for each competition to compensate for the missing girl(s), which can be bewildering to those who are doing the changing. It’s hard to be emotionally prepared when formations keep shifting.
To do your part in keeping your teammates’ grades above average, arrange study nights once a week for the whole squad. Tell everyone to bring their books and order in pizza. Flip through note cards together and quiz one another before big tests. Ask your coach to be a liaison between the squad and school study groups. If someone’s struggling, the coach can point her in the right direction to get some extra help.
The captains can even come up with little rewards (like getting to sit out the last lap around the track at practice) when someone gets an A in a class. A little friendly encouragement and team spirit is all it takes to help keep the squad’s GPA close to a 4.0!
The Situation: A few cheerleaders have been helping themselves to other people’s belongings at competitions and they invite you to join in on the 10-finger discount at their next mall trip.
How to deal: “I had three girls get caught shoplifting,” Coach Headridge says. “That’s breaking our athletic code, which cheerleaders sign just like any other athlete at our school.” The girls were promptly removed from the squad. The team then met to discuss what happened. “It shocked them, but we rallied together,” she says.
As a cheerleader, your main concern should be motivating the squad. If you do find out about a team member who’s stealing, you should encourage them to go to the coach themselves. Don’t attempt to handle the situation yourself. “It should be brought up to the coach privately because sometimes the coach has a better perspective on the situation,” Coach Headridge says. “The coach may know reasons for the behavior and be able to step in and handle it privately.”
The Situation: A few older cheerleaders ask if you want to come “party” with them. They talk about how wild it got last time and allude to drinking, smoking or or worse.
How to deal: Make sure these girls know that you’re not willing to get involved with anything illegal. “I avoid offending my friends by telling them I don’t feel comfortable in situations where there’s alcohol or drugs,” says Meghan Rikard, a cheerleader at Oak Harbor HS. “I’ll only hang out with them outside of those places and most of my friends understand.”
This situation is serious. Alcohol and drug use are illegal and dangerous. If anyone is pressuring you to drink or try drugs, tell your coach immediately. Your cheer squad is not the place for this behavior.
The Bottom Line
When you find your squad in a sticky situation, don’t be afraid to talk to the people involved and stay strong in your beliefs. “Explain that what they’re doing could possibly hurt the team and risk them not being able to cheer,” Meghan says. The threat of losing the privilege to cheer might be enough to get their behavior back in line and get them to think about the good of the squad. Then, get back to the fun part—cheering on the sidelines!