By Brianne Carlon
AC’s got you covered: from dealing with disappointment to creating a successful comeback!
Cheerleading tryouts can be pretty stressful since there are dozens of enthusiastic girls vying for a limited number of uniforms. Maybe you practiced your moves every day after school for weeks, gave your all and were full of spirit in front of the coaches only to find out you’d be stuck in the stands next year. Even though you’re bummed you didn’t nab a spot on the team, it doesn’t mean you should give up on your cheer dreams. Just ask Zenobia Austin Godschalk, who tried out for her high school’s squad her sophomore year but didn’t make the cut. “I was so sad,” she says. “I remember my mom consoling me, encouraging me to try again the next year. She told me there was always another chance.”
Disappointment happens to all types of athletes. Some get cut altogether, and others are placed on a squad lower than they were hoping for. Sandy Harris, a sophomore at Hampton Christian HS in Hampton, VA, knows how it feels. “I tried out for varsity but was put on the JV team,” she says. Miranda Gutierrez, a junior at North Springs HS in Sandy Springs, GA, had a similar experience: “I tried out for our school’s varsity and competition squad,” she says. “I didn’t make it, but I made the JV squad. I was shocked.”
Luckily, all three athletes have happy endings to their stories. After tryouts, Miranda went home and let the news soak in. Then she received a call from the varsity coach. “She told me there was a mistake, and even though I did make the JV squad, I had also made the varsity and competition squad!” she says. “Let’s say my frown turned into a smile.” Sandy became the captain of her JV squad, gaining leadership experience she wouldn’t have gotten on the varsity team. And Zenobia went on to cheer her last two years of high school, two years at Stanford University and, ultimately, two years with the San Francisco 49ers Gold Rush Cheerleaders. “Had I not failed the first time around,” she says, “perhaps I wouldn’t have been so driven to make those subsequent teams.”
If you find out you didn’t make the team, realize you’re not alone. Everyone is different, so no two people will experience the outcome of tryouts the same way. “The obvious emotion is disappointment,” says sports psychology consultant Jodi Yambor, PhD. “But others may feel angry, sad, cheated, ashamed, hopeless, isolated, rejected or jealous.” Instead of getting down, read on for AC’s tips for how to overcome the setback and rock tryouts next year.
Don’t try to minimize what you’re feeling. At this point, it is a big deal and you’re allowed to feel upset. “A day or two is normal,” Yambor says. But there’s plenty you can do to curb these feelings. First, lean on your family and friends for support. Venting on paper may also help. “Journal your feelings,” Yambor suggests. “You’ll be able to see yourself dealing and healing weeks later. You could also write a letter to the coach about how you feel.” Don’t actually send the letter; it’s just a personal way to get your feelings out.
Finally, realize that your identity isn’t based solely on cheerleading. “The loss of identity will be lessened if you have other sources of enjoyment, recognition and challenge in your life,” says Debra Ballinger, PhD, associate professor at Towson University and certified sports psychology consultant. Take a moment to remember what else you’re good at: Are you a straight-A student, a top debater or the craftiest person around? Don’t forget all your other positive traits!
“The fact that you were cut doesn’t diminish your talents,” Ballinger says. “There’s always room for improvement.” Loretta Andre, cheerleading coach at Shepherd Hill Regional HS in Dudley, MA, remembers the story of a cheerleader who tried out but didn’t make the team for the football season. She tried out again for basketball and made the JV team as an alternate. “She worked so hard, and the coaches would tell her what she needed to improve on,” Andre says. “This young lady never gave up. The following year, she made the varsity team with the highest score. Because she listened to the criticism, she was able to better herself and become one of the stronger cheerleaders. She went from not being able to perform a jump or back handspring to having extended jumps and working a full the following year.”
If possible, ask the coach in what areas you can improve. “There’s always stuff you can do in the off-season,” says Beth Sarnacki, cheerleading coach at Cromwell HS. “Condition or get involved in another sport, like track. Cheer gyms are also an option.”
Zenobia also took this idea to heart. She kept cheering, dancing and taking challenging classes to improve her skills. “Tryouts and cheerleading in general are all about hard work,” she says. “Those who excel have often put in hours of hard work to get where they are, and continue to do so over time to keep improving.”
“I also focused on other activities that I enjoyed, like the school newspaper,” Zenobia says. She also hit the books and joined a few other clubs.
“Being cut from the squad, although extremely disappointing, does have some positive points,” Ballinger says. These include the opportunity to spend more free time with friends, get a job and earn money, try out for a different sport, like track or gymnastics, or become involved with new clubs. If your friends are on the squad and you still want to be close to them, ask if you can be the team manager or even the mascot!
There are plenty of other ways to show your team spirit, too. “Make signs, ask the coach if you can decorate the locker room or try the pep group or pep band,” Sarnacki says. You could even start a special fan section for games. “You’ll find that you’re part of the team that way.”
Part of a cheerleader’s job is persistence. If your team is losing and the fans are feeling down, it’s your job to get them pumped up again. Do the same thing for yourself. After an unsuccessful tryout, dust yourself off, practice hard and show up next year with the cheeriest smile on your face.
AC’s got a few tips for you: “Before the big day, have a mock tryout for yourself,” Yambor says. “Go through the process, just like you’d practice a speech before you give it.” This is where visualization can be helpful. “Visualize doing your jumps correctly and having a loud, clear voice,” she says. “You can even picture yourself in the gym where you’ll be trying out. Be sure to use all your senses: What you would see, hear, smell and feel. Make it as real as possible.” Also, try breathing exercises to control your anxiety (inhale for four counts and exhale for four counts). Being a little nervous is normal and even good—it can give you an extra adrenaline boost. But you don’t want to psych yourself out. Finally, Yambor suggests you establish a pre-performance routine: “Figure out what works for you, and go for it!”