Got competition jitters? Here’s can’t-live-without advice from past Cheerleaders of the Month.
by Danielle Calodney
1. Kiara Nowlin, 16, Oct ’11 COM, California All Stars Small Coed, Oaks Christian HS in Westlake Village, CA
2. Caitlin Herring, 17 age, June ’10 COM, World Cup Shooting Stars
3. Andrea Stickel, 18 age, Aug ’11 COM, Nor-Cal Elite, Valley Christian HS, San Jose, CA
4. Adrianna David, 17 age, April ’11 COM, Maryland Twisters F5
When it comes to competition, AC knows to go straight to the experts. Which is why we gathered together some of our past Cheerleaders of the Month to give you the inside scoop on the world of competitive cheer. (These pros even fess up to getting their own backstage jitters!) Read on to see how these top athletes overcome anxiety and put 110 percent on the mat every time.
AC: Do you have any advice for a team embarking on its first-ever competition season?
Adrianna David: Have fun! Competing in your first competition can be intimidating but the stress is so not worth it! Keep your cool and know that whatever happens, happens! It’s not all about winning, anyway.
Caitlin Herring: Relax. Everything you do on the competition mat is the same as what you’ve been doing at practice, and you’ve done those skills hundreds of times. So, be confident! Trust yourself, trust each other, smile and have fun.
Andrea Stickel: It can be easy to get caught up in all the stress and feel rundown from a late-night practice. So, remember: Don’t blame your teammates if they make a mistake because you don’t perform perfectly every single routine, either.
Kiara Nowlin: The more prepared you are, the less nervous you’ll be out on the floor. Practice a lot so you know you have the routine down, and make sure your skills are consistent.
AC: What’s the hardest thing about competing?
Kiara: Controling my nerves. People say their nerves go away when the music starts, but mine don’t. It just makes me more nervous!
Caitlin: Recovering from a mistake. It’s hard to feed off the energy of the crowd when they suddenly go quiet. Giving up seems easy, but bounce back strong and don’t let a simple mistake ruin everything you’ve worked for.
Adrianna: The hours we spend to look so glam with our hair and makeup for a near three-minute performance makes me laugh, but it’s my favorite part!
Andrea: Keeping a smile on your face in the middle of the routine when you already can’t breathe and you know you still have the other half left. You have to give 110 percent every time!
AC: Why do you think competition is important to cheerleading?
Caitlin: Not only does it give cheerleaders a common goal to work toward, but it also demonstrates to the world that cheer isn’t just standing around yelling “Go team!” Competition demonstrates the athleticism and hard work we put into our practices and ultimately, our performances.
Adrianna: It really does show the athletic aspect of the sport. When you think about it, to combine all of the things we do into a two minute and thirty second routine is honestly crazy!
Andrea: It pushes squads to be better. Without competition, cheer wouldn’t be at the difficulty level it’s at today.
AC: How do you deal with the pressure at competition?
Caitlin: I focus on how good it feels to walk off the mat after having performed a perfect routine.
Kiara: I just know that I have to trust myself, and my team, to do what we’re supposed to do. The amount of practice we put in is good evidence that we’ve worked hard enough to do well at any competition, but we just have to come together as a team and perform the routine the best that we’re able to.
Adrianna: Having fun with my team always gets my mind off competing. Also, our coaches set a schedule for the entire weekend so we stay busy and focused.
Andrea: I challenge my negative thoughts by remembering that I’ve done everything I could to perform to the best of my ability. I also focus on my team instead of worrying about what other competitors are doing. Sometimes, walking around with my teammates while blasting music takes my mind off the stress and reminds me to just have fun (plus it’s great bonding time).
AC: Do you have any advice for overcoming backstage jitters?
Kiara: Breathe, stay positive and be confident!
Caitlin: Turn the jitters into adrenaline. Everything you’re about to do, you already did in the warm up room.
Adrianna: Whenever I’m nervous I jump up and down and start laughing. I know it sounds weird, but it gets my mind off of the nerves! And then all my teammates laugh, so they’re distracted, too!
Andrea: Smiling and hugging my teammates for good luck right before I go on seems to put me in a more relaxed mood.
AC: Does your squad have any tips for topping out the score sheet?
Caitlin: Our coaches always say, “it’s not what you do in the routine, but how you do it.” Technique is so important when trying to top out the score sheet. So, we make sure our flyers’ toes are pointed in cradles and our tumblers land with their feet together. We make sure everything we do isn’t only difficult, but also flawless.
Adrianna: Our coaches plan new transitions, add in harder stunt sequences and creative choreography for each competition so we max out in every possible area.
AC: What do you think makes the difference between coming in first and second place?
Caitlin: Heart. The team that owns the mat—not just by hitting the routine, but by putting heart and soul into the performance and filling the arena with energy—is a first place team.
Kiara: Sticking stunts and landing tumbling is always important, but some people don’t think about how sharpness and execution of each skill can make a huge difference in a team’s overall score.
Andrea: When two teams have really close scores, the team that has higher energy and better choreography will come out on top.
Adrianna: If both teams hit a solid, clean routine, then all that’s left is which team put their all out on the floor and made it clear they wanted/deserved the win.
AC: What’s the most exciting part of competing?
Andrea: That adrenaline rush—feeling like nothing else in the world matters except performing your best.
Kiara: Hitting a perfect routine!
Caitlin: Seeing what each team comes up with and watching cheer evolve into a more complex and athletic sport with innovative stunting and advanced tumbling.
Adrianna: Performing. The thrill is so exciting, especially when the crowd is on your side. I also love seeing my friends from other teams across the country and meeting new people!
AC: What do you consider to be good sportsmanship at a competition?
Caitlin: Keeping a positive attitude about your competitors, cheering on other teams and sincerely congratulating teams who place above you.
Adrianna: Simply being genuine. Nothing positive will come out of being a bad sport, so be respectful and if you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.
Kiara: Not going on message boards, Facebook or Twitter to say negative things about any team or be cocky about your own team.
AC: What do you do to make sure you display good sportsmanship?
Kiara: Just saying “good luck” can go a long way. If I like a particular team, I do my best to watch them perform and cheer them on, too.
Adrianna: I’ve always been taught to abide by the golden rule—I try my hardest to treat others how I’d want to be treated.
AC: What do you really think about the other competitors?
Caitlin: I think they’re just like my team. We train to do our best, work hard and want to be successful. We can’t hate each other for that. We’re all working for a common
Andrea: Since I’ve been cheering so long, I’m friends with a lot of cheerleaders on other teams. Even though I do want to win, I still hope they do well and appreciate talent.
AC: Any advice on how to react if your team drops a major stunt on the floor?
Andrea: Remain calm and be supportive. Obviously it was an accident, so be encouraging and build your teammates up.
Kiara: Catch the top girl, get up and keep smiling. The worst thing you can do is look angry or react by mouthing bad words on the floor. Remember, people can read lips. And after you get off the floor, don’t be rude to anyone. If you need to cry, it’s okay. Just try to do it in a private place if possible.
Caitlin: Never let your face drop. Keep your composure and perform the rest of the routine at your best. Rack up the points with excellence in every other category because a fall isn’t the end of the world. You and your team [ital: can] recover by giving what’s left in the routine everything you’ve got.
AC: How do you motivate your teammates before a major competition?
Andrea: By setting a tough goal to meet, which is usually telling them we’re going to do a perfect routine and that we’ve worked too hard to give up now. I also give praise every time a teammate lands their tumbling pass or sticks a stunt.
Adrianna: Before we take the floor we pull into a huddle and our coaches motivate us to be the best we can be. All of my teammates have some sort of handshake/ritual we do. Those little things become a part of the experience because we do them every time.
Caitlin: I get them excited to compete and turn their nerves into adrenaline. I tell my top girl not to think and to toss the nerves away, and get excited to perform!
AC: What’s one thing you wish you’d known going into your first competition?
Andrea: It’s not the end of the world if you don’t get first—there will always be other competitions where you can try harder.
Adrianna: Everyone makes mistakes. What are the odds that every team will hit its routine perfectly? With the hours of practice we put in it feels like we should hit, but if we don’t, it’s not the end of the world.
Kiara: The lights will be really bright, so don’t freak out the first time you walk out onto the mat.
Caitlin: There’s no reason to create stress and worry about the routine—if you step onto the mat with confidence, you’re more than likely to come off of it successful.