The cheerleading season can be very long and difficult. If you are on a competitive All-Star program, you may have tryouts before Worlds in April and not have your season end until Worlds the following April. If you are cheering on the sideline, you often have your tryouts in the late winter or early spring, and then cheer all the way through until December if your football team is successful, or throughout the winter during basketball season. That means a full year of cheering with the same people, with the same coaches, in the same locations, often in the same uniform. This kind of uniformity of activity can lead to monotony. When the season becomes a burden, it is easy for your squad to become disengaged from practice and each other. However, there are some things that you can do to help you and your teammates stay engaged throughout the season.
Relationships Are Important
The first and most important thing you can do to work on engagement is to work on relationships. Relationships matter. You and your teammates have a long year together. Because of this, it is important that each of you have open paths of communication that allow you to speak with each other in an honest way that builds bridges rather than tearing them down. Nothing is worse than having to spend a year cheering with people that you do not get along with. Work hard on building relationships and trust within your team. Put in the effort to make your squad a group of people that you care for, and who care for you. Year-long seasons are much easier when you are concerned about each other’s well-being, both physical and mental. Only by having that sense of community concern can you build engagement throughout the year.
You joined your squad because you enjoy cheerleading. Cheerleading should be fun! So the next thing that you and your teammates can do to stay engaged throughout the season is to make it fun. The cheerleading season can be a grind. Skills training, skills practice, the constant run of competitions performances and games can often make it seem like all you are ever doing is cheering. Practices can quickly become a chore, especially once you’ve already got the basic skills you’re going to be using all year. However, this is when you can gamify your experience. Make skills work into a game, and engage your teammates with a little friendly competition on the mat. Think about doing lib-offs, or a jump contest, or having a dance off. Initiating these small competitions within your squad to help work on skills that you will need when you are performing will make it a little bit more fun. Just working on motions or jumps all day can be mind-numbingly boring. On the other hand, competing with your teammates to see who has the best jumps is fun and lets you work with each other on skills in a way which is both supportive and engaging. Only by making practice more fun can you increase the engagement level for you and your team, especially once you get into the doldrums of November and December.
Good Vibes and Gladiators
One of the most important things about increasing engagement for your athletes is to realize that engagement begins with you. If you come into practice, a game, or a competition and are angry or unhappy, it is easy to become disengaged from what is happening in the moment. When you walk into cheerleading, it is important to put away your other cares and concerns and be present for your squad. This can be really hard – the other issues in your life are important and deserve your attention. But there is a time and place for that, and that time and place is not on the mat. Once you tighten your shoes and get ready for practice, bring the good vibes and be positive and supportive towards your teammates. During the next few hours you need to be a gladiator – fighting for every stunt, sticking every landing, punching every motion. You can help your teammates become engaged by practicing full engagement yourself, and leading by example.
As the cheerleading season stretches on, it is easy to fall into bad habits. Checking your phone during practice time, coming in late, complaining about the practice schedule – these are all common examples of unengaged athletes. However, if you can build community and relationships with your teammates, help to create fun and friendly gamified practices, and lead by example, you will see a transformation in those undesired behaviors. Cheerleading is a sport that requires you to be “on” all the time – and this can be emotionally draining. Don’t be afraid to take a little time to recharge. Carve out some personal time to deal with your own feelings, and be honest with yourself about where you stand. If you can do all these things you can help keep your athletes engaged.