As cheerleaders, we spend a lot of time working on our tumbling, our stunting, our dances, and, of course, our cheers. We spend countless hours painting signs, leading pep rallies, and encouraging other athletes at our school. We frequently get feedback from other students, athletes, parents, and even teachers about what they feel works and does not. However, when it comes to competition cheerleading we often operate in a vacuum. Less of the community sees our competition routines, unless we perform at a pep rally. Even fewer see us compete if we are on an all-star program. As a result, we get a lot less feedback, and often have to make a lot of decisions about our routine independently, just between the coaches and the athletes. We rarely stop to think about the judges who are scoring our routine, or what they are thinking about while we perform.

What Does the Competition Look Like From the Judges Table?

When we think about competition cheerleading, we think of all the things that cheerleaders do to get ready for the performance. Getting our make-up and hair just right, having a good warm-up, staying calm before we go on stage. More than anything, we think about the routine itself. We spend countless hours perfecting every stunt and tumbling pass. Often, once we are on the mat, the routine flies by so fast that we don’t even notice until it is over. Then we have the congratulations of our friends, family, and teammates, time spent supporting other teams, and finally the awards ceremony.

But what does a cheerleading competition day look like for the judges? The judges arrive before any of the athletes, spend some time with other judges establishing norms and expectations, then take their place at the table. Those judges see 6-10 routines an hour every hour for the duration of the competition. At big contests like NCA All-Star Nationals or Cheersport that can be over 12 hours and over 100 routines in a single day. Those judges have to show attention to detail for each routine, and judging for that long takes considerable stamina. Thinking about how the judges view your routine is an important consideration in your choreography, because it is easy for your routine to just get lost in the shuffle of all the other great teams at your competition.

Does This Routine Tell a Story?

A good cheerleading routine tells a story. Sometimes that story is overt, with a clearly defined theme, and music, movement, and choreography that all aligns with the theme. Sometimes the story is more subtle, and exposed slowly over the course of the routine through the tumbling, stunts, and dancing. However, if your routine is just a skill’s exhibition, with no narrative interwoven between the tumbling passes, it is easy to forget. Think about making a memorable routine, one that will stand out from all the others for the judges. While we spend a lot of time on our stunts and our tumbling, our creativity should also get equal focus. Teams like Top Gun have made their name because of having routines with high levels of creativity that get the judges talking even after the routine is finished.

How Do We Get (And Keep) the Judges’ Attention?

You want your routine to be memorable, full of energetic moments which capture the imagination and excite the senses. Enthusiastic performance is critical, but it is only one of several elements which will help to keep the judge’s attention, and make it a routine that they not only remember, but one that also scores well. Some teams accomplish this through unusual, one-of-a-kind choreography, with innovative stunting that pushes the limits of what anyone has seen before. These unique routines are memorable because they break many of the traditional elements of competition cheer, and have built them back in a different way. Think about the pyramid and dance in a cheerleading routine: these elements are almost always at the end. Something as simple as changing the order and putting those elements at the beginning can get the judges’ attention.

Creating stunts no one has ever done before, or flipping the script in the order in which you perform the elements of a cheerleading routine can be difficult, and may not be an option for your squad. However, every routine can tell a story. Having a narrative element within your routine helps, but that story is told by more than just your jumps, stunting, and tumbling. The narrative is given through your music. Having music that captures the spirit and energy of your team is important, but the music should also help your squad tell your story. The perfect cheer mix can help energize you and your teammates, but it can also energize the crowd and the judges. Consider professionals like to help guide you through creating and developing a cheerleading mix that takes your team to the next level.