If you have spent any time at cheerleading camp, you have probably heard the phrase “perfection before progression.” It sounds like good advice, but what exactly does it mean? One of the important things that you and your squad should think about whenever you are looking at a new set of skills, is how your team can get to those skills as quickly and as safely as possible. The key to doing that is to make sure that you have fundamental skills fully mastered before you move on to more advanced skills. We call this training paradigm “perfection before progression.”
This essentially means that if you cannot do a cartwheel, you really should not be working on your roundoff. If you cannot do a roundoff you certainly shouldn’t be working on a back handspring. Going through the skills progressions and showing consistent mastery of fundamentals allows your squad to achieve more advanced skills more quickly and much more safely. That covers the progression part of the phrase – but the perfection part is significantly harder to understand.
The real challenge is maintaining a strict skill progression: even hitting a skill three times in a row is not perfection. Perfection happens when a skill is executed completely free of mistakes: not a foot moves, there are no bobbles, the stunt stays in place. Practicing like this requires a lot of discipline and attention to detail. Just hitting a skill does not qualify as perfection. As a result, coaches often end up in conflicts with their athletes because the athletes hit a stunt and want to move on to more advanced skills while the coaches are saying that they are not ready yet. Unfortunately, sometimes the coaches just give in. This is where serious injury and poor technique can occur.
While there are several major issues with not perfecting fundamental skills before moving on to advanced ones, the most important thing is the risk of serious injury. Advanced stunts require a fundamental set of skills which must be fully mastered and a certain level of athleticism from the people involved. You developed both the athleticism and the fundamental skills by perfecting basic stunts. If you cannot do a perfect extension, you should not be working on a liberty. If you cannot do a flawless liberty, then you should not be working on a switch-up.
One of the things that coaches and students must do together is take a critical look at what they are trying to achieve and make sure that they are identifying any problems in those fundamental skills. It is important for you and your teammates to work on basic skills until you get better at them. Too often, at cheerleading competitions, we see teams that can “hit” but cannot perfectly execute their routine. The absence of deductions does not in itself qualify as perfection.
You and your squad need to sit down and agree about what goals you want to achieve over the course of the year and decide what skills you want to showcase. Once you have agreed on this you can break down those advanced skills into a series of fundamental skills that need to be mastered. By working carefully on the basic skills involved in the progression your team will find that they can move more quickly and consistently towards the goals. Avoid the temptation to advance to more difficult skills until you have shown mastery of those fundamentals. This will help avoid injuries, and align your team’s goals with the best practices of the most successful teams in the country.