How to organize your competition practice

Competitive cheerleading is hard. There are a lot of moving parts that have to work smoothly together to create the epic routine needed to win a competition. Coordinating all those elements takes a lot of planning and effort. Critical to success is having practical competition practices that follow a consistent pattern.

Research has shown that consistent practices can help athletes achieve greater levels of performance quickly. Establishing those best practices as part of your everyday competition cheerleading process is important if you want to help yourself and your teammates achieve your goals this season.

Getting results through consistency

When practices are disorganized, it can be easy to lose sight of your goals. When teammates are arguing about who should unroll the mats, or why someone isn’t at practice it can quickly derail the day. Only by clearly establishing expectations for every athlete on your squad can you and your team hope to be your best by the time your first competition rolls around.

There are some givens in how any practice is organized. Practice should start with active stretching and warm-up activities to reduce the likelihood of injury. It is easy to skip this step when it seems like time is of the essence, but injury prevention activities such as warm-ups and stretching should never be skipped. Any time you save would be lost if someone got hurt. Marking the routine, working on the transition and dance, and checking spacing are all ways that warm-up activities can be incorporated into routine practice.

Perfection before progression

Once your team is stretched and warmed up they should begin skills work. Isolate elements of skills and work on them until they are perfect. If people on your team are missing advanced skills, be prepared to do easier skills. Perfection of fundamental skills is critical to achieving more advanced ones. For example, if your team cannot consistently do extended single-leg stunts they should not be working on switch-ups.

The same holds true for tumbling. Be careful to avoid over-tumbling as part of your practice. If someone on your team cannot consistently land a skill, then they need to move back to a skill they can hit every time. Attempting skills which an athlete has not mastered are both dangerous, and can also negatively affect your execution score in your routine. Clean, effortless tumbling wins competitions.

Set the tone with music

While the fundamentals of how to structure a practice are well established (warm-up, stretching, skills isolation, skills combinations, full run-throughs), there are a lot of elements that can enhance the way in which those fundamentals happen. One of the things that can really impact competition practice is the integration of music into the process.

Athletes often share that they are energized by certain songs, and harnessing the power of music to create powerful practices can really help your team. Exercise physiology researchers have discovered that music can significantly enhance athletic performance. The distraction music provides can help divert an athlete’s attention away from feelings of fatigue. The dissociation through music can postpone the impact of fatigue and make you and your fellow athletes execute more efficiently.

Finding the right music to help your team can be difficult: not everyone enjoys the same songs. Consulting music professionals like those at can help you find the perfect selection of tracks to help keep your team motivated. A great practice soundtrack can not only help your team avoid fatigue, but can even make the routine seem easier. Brunel University research showed that motivational music made athletes feel like it took less effort to complete repetitive endurance activities.

Ending practice with self-care

Once skills review and routine practice are over, it is easy to just call it quits, roll up the mats, and head home. However, this is missing a critical element for you and your team. Athletic recovery through stretching and meditation can help your squad leave rejuvenated and refreshed instead of exhausted. Just spending a few minutes on mindfulness and meditation, while working on developing deep tissue stretching can reduce the likelihood of injury throughout the season.

The end of practice stretching can also be an opportunity for team building. Consider doing some basic sharing activities with the team while you are doing deep stretches. Doing so will not only help you feel a sense of connectedness with your team but will also distract from any discomfort the stretching produces. End practice with some silent meditation, allowing all the athletes to leave with a sense of accomplishment, satisfaction, and peace.

Cheerleading season is long and difficult. Having well-organized practices with clear goals and expectations can go a long way to making the entire process more pleasant. Think about selecting energizing music, incorporating active stretching, and finding a few moments of mindfulness at the end of practice to help make this the best season ever.