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Parent Cheer Teams

Parent Cheer Teams

The lights dim, as a local gym’s newest squad takes the floor to show off their newly acquired tumbling skills, jumps and stunts. An MC introduces the group as AC/DC’s “Back in Black” begins to rail from the auditorium speakers. A crowd of teenage athletes holds up signs and begins to cheer wildly for individual members of the squad. Someone proudly yells out, “That’s my mom!” and a team of parent cheerleaders begins to perform.

These days, the above scenario isn’t an uncommon one at all-star gyms across the country. In addition to recruiting for their youth rosters, many gym owners have found themselves forming cheer teams comprised of athletes’ parents. Aside from giving cheer parents a means of getting to know one another, the main reason behind creating these teams is to provide parents with an appreciation for what their children do during a typical competitive cheer season.

“Having a parent team is awesome because they actually get a little taste of what their kids go through,” says Alisha Dunlap, owner of Sherwood, AR-based gym Cheer Time Revolution. “It gives them a taste of how much heart and soul their kids put into the sport.”

While parent teams are certainly open to cheer amateurs looking to give their child’s sport a try, many are made up of adults who used to be all-stars and are longing to get back out on the floor. Scott Mizikar, who teamed up with his wife to coach several seasons of HotCheer’s parent team, explains that unlike adolescent cheer teams—which require extensive tryouts—parent teams are more of a laid-back experience. “We had an open sign-up and encouraged the parents to give it a try,” he shares. “While there are some teams that compete, we did it for the sake of doing it as an exhibition.” (This was also the case with Dunlap’s team, who channeled their competitive spirit into showing their stunts during gym-wide showcases.

Lisa Shaw, who owns Unique Sports Academy and directs the Maryland Twisters in Waldorf, was shocked when several of her cheer parents approached her and asked if they could form a parent team last year. “Most of them have full-time careers and children in the program, [so they are] busy,” shares Shaw. “Everybody had so much fun though that we’re going to do it again this year.”

The best part of hosting the team, says Shaw, is the enthusiasm that it adds to the program. “Their exhibition brought not just the Maryland Twisters to come and have a good time, but other gyms as well. Everyone was laughing and clapping and the parents took it very seriously. It takes a little edge off and adds some fun to the sport,” she says.

While some parent cheer teams refrain from competing, Shaw’s team, “Aftermath,” took their matching T-shirts and choreographed routines to last year’s Reach the Beach competition in Oceanside. “The team is asking to do more competitions this year, so we’re going to add another one in this season,” she adds.

In terms of finances, most gyms tend to charge a nominal fee for their parents to participate on the teams, while others absorb the costs themselves. HotCheer co-owner Kelly Makay collected $10/month as tuition from the adults on her gym’s parent team; in addition, she tallied the total cost of purchasing music for their routines ($500 per mix) as well as the exhibition fees (which averaged $150) and divided those costs between the team’s existing members. Though she saw a huge emotional benefit from the team, especially through the bonding between cheer parents that occurred at her gym, she explains that there wasn’t a financial gain to hosting the team.

“The coaches were paid hourly to coach it, staff members were often wrangled into babysitting team members’ children, and it tied up floor space that I could have rented out to high school teams,” she says.

For Shaw’s Maryland Twisters program, she charges her parent teams a small fee for uniforms ($30), competitions ($40) and music ($30), but unlike the HotCheer team, her coaches volunteer their time to coach the parents. “Our parent team doesn’t affect our bottom line,” she adds. “The goal of the parent team is to have fun and get the parents involved in sports.” Such was the case with Cheer Time Revolution’s Dunlap, who didn’t charge her last roster of parent team members. “It was more about giving the parents a means of bonding and to open their eyes to see how much time and effort these kids really put into the sport,” she explains.

While parent teams have proven to enhance a cheer program, gym owners note that they are often difficult to keep running. One of the biggest challenges can be scheduling, according to Mizikar. “These parents are busy with their lives, their families and their jobs, so being able to count on them for weekly practices isn’t easy,” he explains. “When they can’t show up for 3-4 weeks at a time, it makes it hard to put a routine together.”

Recruiting is also difficult, says Dunlap, who saw her team’s roster dwindle just weeks into the season. To combat the attendance issue, Shaw suggests that coaches schedule practices on Sundays or coordinate rehearsals when their children are also practicing at the gym. And, of course, there is the issue of what athletes think about their parents becoming cheerleaders. “Some of the kids loved it, and some are embarrassed to death,” states Mizikar, who suspects that certain HotCheer parents enrolled on his team just to embarrass their kids.

Shaw has found that her Maryland Twisters kids have embraced their parents cheering so much that they’ve jumped at the chance to coach them: “The kids often stay around for the parent practices and you see them going, ‘Get tighter. Lift your legs up higher. Point your toes on your jumps!’ It’s really rewarding for them to see their parents learning the skills that they themselves have already mastered.”

-Nicole Pajer

Our First Year: TNT Cheer

Our First Year: TNT Cheer

Anyone who’s read our “Starting a Gym 101” series on theCheerProfessional website knows that launching a new all-star program can be a massive undertaking—from setting up the logistics to securing the right insurance to attracting clients. To find out what it really takes for a successful start-up, we spoke with three cheer professionals who’ve just completed their first year at the helm. See how TNT Cheer’s first season went…and what they learned.

First Year Case Study #3: TNT Cheer

Location: Waterloo, Iowa

# of athletes: 125

Inspired by her daughter’s involvement, Amanda Freet took over the TNT Cheer all-star program from a trampoline and tumbling gym, because she wanted to take the program to a new level.

CP: What inspired you to open the gym?

Freet: My daughter. She had been doing competitive cheer at a local trampoline and tumbling center here for a couple of years. As a parent, I sat by the sidelines every day at practice, and I didn’t see the program growing, so I asked the owner what I could do to help move it forward. That’s where it started, and from there, I took the three coaches to a USASF regional meeting. We came home so excited and full of ideas.

CP: What were some of the challenges you faced this year?

Freet: First of all, trying to balance being a parent and owning a gym, especially one that your child cheers in. I want to be there to support her, but I also have to do what’s in the best interest of the gym. We were trying to put together a stunt team, and in my heart of hearts, I wanted my daughter to be one of the flyers on the stunt team, but it wasn’t the best decision for her program, so she didn’t fly in it.

CP: Any special goals for the future?
It’s all about getting people into the gym and getting people exposed to the gym. Especially here in the Midwest where we’re at, nobody knows about competitive cheer, so right now it’s getting the word out about competitive cheer.

CP: Do you do anything special to get new clients into the gym?
Where the competitive program was previously, they just had competitive cheer. We’ve started up a recreational cheer program, and we’ve got almost 100 kids in the recreational program since we opened the doors in October. That gives them an opportunity to come in and try cheer at more of a recreational level, without having the financial and the time commitment that the competitive program has. So that’s been very helpful.

CP: What advice would you give someone who’s thinking about starting a gym?
Do your research. Attending the regional meeting through USASF was very eye-opening. It was a great chance to meet different people, and to hear how different gyms started and how they got to where they were. The camaraderie has been amazing for us. I mean, yes, we may be competing against each other [at events], but outside of that competition, you’re calling each other. You’re getting helpful hints from each other, talking about problems and issues that you’ve had within your gym, how you’ve changed things and how you’ve overcome it.

-Lisa Beebe

Wrap the Year Up Right

Wrap the Year Up Right

At Sebring, FL-based Edge Cheer, athletes and their families end the year with a formal banquet full of awards, trophies and certificates. Owner Jenny Rowe says, “In this particular industry where it’s all about the team—and sacrificing and doing what’s best for the team—it’s a really big deal to get to individually recognize the strengths of these kids. We give them an opportunity to stand up in front of their parents and peers, [so they can have] their own particular moment of glory.”

Edge Cheer’s awards include funny categories, like “Most Likely to Get Injured,” as well as superlative awards like “Class Clown.” Rowe says they’re easy to prepare, as many of the awards are simple certificates: “I go to Office Depot and get pre-done certificates and we print them out ourselves.”

The formal banquet takes almost a year to plan, because of the size of the gym (200 athletes, 140 of those all-star). The cost of catering and trophies is funded mainly by ticket sales from an end-of-season recital. Every kid also gets to take home a DVD slideshow of photos taken throughout the season. If organizing a banquet for the first time, Rowe suggests thinking of it as a wedding reception and considering what type of atmosphere you’d like to create. “Do you want something formal? Or do you want something more like a team picnic?”

Karen Brenner of Egg Harbor Township, NJ-based All Star One knows the right answer to that question for her gym. Though this year’s banquet was held at a country club, she plans to borrow an idea from ACX’s Randy Dickey next year and throw All Star One a tailgate banquet with things like a chili cook-off, live DJ and a dunk tank. “We have a huge parking lot, and I know we could make that a great event for our kids, more like a carnival. [Something as formal as a country club] is just not ‘us,’” says Brenner. “The tailgating party is so much more up our alley.”

One of Brenner’s biggest honors she awards is “Team of The Year,” for which she selects the team she was most worried about at the start of the season that has come the furthest by its conclusion. “They get little tiaras with stars on them, like a little crown. They all love that,” shares Brenner. At the banquet, she also distributes branded candy bars with a picture of the team and each athlete’s name, as well as small individual banners that she describes as a “mini-version of a vinyl banner that you’d get when you win a competition.”

Moving Forward

Wrapping up the year doesn’t just mean acknowledging the accomplishments of the year past—it also means planning ahead for the future. One effective way to do that is by conducting a survey to get feedback from athletes and parents on how the season went.

Gerry Richardson, president of Glen Burnie, MD-based East Coast Majestic, uses Survey Monkey to conduct an online survey. She recommends open-ended questions, like: “What do you like best about the gym?” and “If you could change one thing, what would it be?” For Richardson, no question is off-limits, and she advocates other gym owners take the same approach: “If people have thick skin, there’s nothing they shouldn’t ask.”

Richardson asks survey respondents to rank each of the year’s competitions in order of how much they liked them. (“If you get 90 percent of people saying they hated this one competition, you probably should not go to that competition again.”) Richardson also suggests asking athletes, “What level do you belong on?” because it lets her know whether they understand their placement level or not.

Michele Hasson, owner of Pride Cheer & Tumble in Collinsville, IL, conducts prefers in-person and paper surveys to the digital variety. At the end of the season, parents come to a roundtable, during which they are given an option to pick up an additional survey at the front desk. Hasson says, “It’s anonymous except by team, so we can see if there’s a pattern. This team didn’t like this event, or didn’t like this practice day.”

Hasson’s survey is fairly simple. She advises picking five or six things that are important to you as a gym and asking “Yes/No” questions like “Do you feel that the amount of practice time for this team is enough? Do you want weekend practices? Do you feel our attendance policy is fair?”

When conducting a survey for the first time, Hasson recommends including anything you’re thinking of changing for the next season. “For example, if you’re thinking of requiring certain practice clothes for the following season, I think it’s a good idea to get some feedback on that, which is what we did when we started [following that policy],” she shares.

Richardson and Hasson both find an annual survey to be a valuable communication tool between gym owners, parents and athletes.  Opening those lines of communication—even when they’re telling you something you may not want to hear—can help make your gym even more successful moving forward.

-Lisa Beebe

Owner’s Manual: Patrick Fogarty of Cheer World

Owner’s Manual: Patrick Fogarty of Cheer World

Vital Stats

Name: Patrick Fogarty, Co-Owner and Program Director

Gym: Cheer World All Stars

Location: Brecksville, OH

Founded: 2007

Size: 807 athletes

Gym Size: 14,000 square feet

The Debrief: In 2013, Cheer World won the USASF Chairman’s Cup Award, a prestigious award given for outstanding service. Over the years, the gym has donated $200,000+ to Children’s Miracle Network and has also worked with charities like Rush for a Cause and Ronald McDonald House. The efforts have been led by co-owners Patrick Fogarty, A.J. Ganim and Greg Ganim. We spoke with Fogarty to find out why service is such a big part of his gym culture.

The Dish: We have been doing charitable work since the day our doors opened. At Cheer World, we are a family and we believe in being life coaches first and cheer coaches second. To that end, we band together as a family and get involved in our community in any way we can.

Anyone can coach a back handspring. We pride ourselves on working on many other aspects of the kids, not just the athlete. We do it because it’s the right thing to do—both for our involved gym families and the community. Does volunteering at a festival that has families from all over bring attention to our program? Of course. It does bring media attention when you do charity work.

We feel that cheerleaders and community service go hand in hand.  Cheerleaders have great personalities—they light up a room. When you give the kids the opportunity to help other kids, they excel at it.  They love it and feel such a sense of accomplishment in helping; it’s something bigger than them. The athletes build such a sense of how they fit into the fabric of their own communities, and how they can help those around them.

As far as scheduling, it is certainly something to manage, but it’s worth every hour spent. We do a lot of our community service projects in conjunction with our booster club, so we get support and help from our involved parents. It also helps our booster club build relationships with other businesses and programs in our community, which has been helpful.

As far as advice to other gym owners, I would say partner with your booster club. Find a few involved parents and make it an expectation of being a part of your program. Giving back to our community has become as important to our athletes and families as attending practices and learning that next skill. Build it into your culture.

We have a Summer Growth Series, which is a series of events and speakers over the summer. Traditionally, this has only been open to our athletes and kids, but we want to grow it to extend beyond our doors and into our community. We have guest speakers talk about many different things including health and fitness, diet and healthy eating habits, recognizing bullying (and what you can do about it) and other youth-focused topics. We would like to build these talks and seminars into community events where local kids, not just kids in our program, attend and learn. That’s our next focus and hopefully it will be happening this summer.

We tell our athletes and families that it isn’t about what happens on the mat—it is about the footprints we leave when we step off.

Choreography: To Hire or Not to Hire?

Choreography: To Hire or Not to Hire?

Your teams have the same skills as the competition, but your competitors are always getting higher scores. Is it time to hire a choreographer to work full-time at your gym? Or is it a smarter move financially to bring in an outside choreographer to craft one killer routine for the season? Each option has its pros and cons.

According to Casey Popp of CheerForce San Diego, one of the major benefits of having a choreographer in-house is ongoing availability. “If you have an injury or financial setbacks for certain families, and your roster changes, it’s nice to have that person in there.” Popp also pointed out that for many gyms, bringing in outside choreographers involves costs above and beyond the choreography itself (such as airfare and housing, depending on how far the choreographer has to travel).

Kyle Gadke agrees, maintaining a balanced viewpoint as both senior choreographer of Platinum Athletics and head of his own independent choreography company, Spirit Fx. “I think you really just have to assess your program and see where you’re at, because there are some programs that probably aren’t ready to have that extra expense. It’s already hard enough for a lot of people to pay for cheerleading. With choreography, I feel like the average goes from $2,000 all the way up to $6,000 per team. If you’re in a small area with only a couple of teams in your gym, that might not be an extra expense that you can divide by the number of kids in your gym, [on top of] uniforms and tuition and all the other expenses that parents have to pay for the sport.”

However, bringing in outside choreographers has its benefits, not the least of which is someone who can view a program with fresh eyes. Anthony Best of Cheer Legendz says, “I can tell you from our experience that as the gym has grown, it’s been better to bring in people from the outside, because you get a different perspective and new ideas.”

Like Gadke, Jamie Parrish choreographs for many gyms alongside his staff position with the Georgia All-Stars. He believes contracting a freelance choreographer is ultimately the more affordable option for many gyms. “What they pay [a choreographer] to do a full routine is far, far less than what they’d have to pay to have someone full-time on staff, or even part-time on staff,” says Parrish. However, he says that cost-effectiveness changes for large gyms that need to create routines for more than five teams: “You might want to have someone full-time [in that scenario].”

Diversity also comes into play. Parrish believes that gyms who do choreography in-house run the risk of every routine blending into each other. “With an in-house choreographer, you have that choreographer’s flair, that choreographer’s style, and all of your teams tend to look the same,” he warns.

So when it is worth it for a gym to hire out? Best of Cheer Legendz says, “I think if you really look at your scoresheets from year to year and they start to say the same thing all the time, then maybe it’s time to look outside. Maybe you can get a fresh, creative idea as to some new ways to help increase your scores.” Gadke agrees, saying it’s essentially guaranteed that any gym is likely to achieve certain results when they bring in an outside choreographer. “If you’ve never hired out before, nine out of 10 times, hiring out should increase your scores and help your program grow.”

If your gym does start hiring out, Parrish recommends working with different choreographers throughout the season: “Having multiple choreographers brought in is not only going to help you with each team being kind of different, but also for your coaches to see our process and learn from different people, which I feel is more beneficial. Sometimes the creative process or something [a choreographer] might do or say can rub off a little bit on your staff.”

Another advantage to bringing in people who’ve worked at other gyms? Their experience is a valuable resource. When Best brings choreographers into Cheer Legendz, he and his business partner take them out for a productive dinner meeting, where they can glean “knowledge from them about other gyms they’ve worked with around the country. How are they doing things? What are fundraisers that have worked for them? Most choreographers have worked in a gym or are currently working in a gym, so it’s a great opportunity to get some new ideas.”

No matter how you choose to hire a choreographer, be sure you know what you’re looking for and whom you’re dealing with. Gadke strongly recommends checking everyone’s references, even if you need someone fast. “If there are no references out there, there’s probably a reason for that. If they can’t show you videos of their work, there’s probably a reason for that. Do your research. Ask around. There’s nothing wrong with asking a choreographer, ‘Hey, can I have a couple references of clients you’ve worked with, and do you have any video samples of work that you’ve done?’ I think it’s important, too, just to see the work, because I know my style of choreography is typically very clean and symmetrical. If you’re someone that’s looking for a very sassy, girly style, that’s not something I personally offer.”

-Lisa Beebe


Our First Year: Ideal Cheer Elite

Our First Year: Ideal Cheer Elite

Anyone who’s read our “Starting a Gym 101” series on the CheerProfessional website knows that launching a new all-star program can be a massive undertaking—from setting up the logistics to securing the right insurance to attracting clients. To find out what it really takes for a successful start-up, we spoke with three cheer professionals who’ve just completed their first year at the helm. See how Ideal Cheer Elite’s first season went…and what they learned.

First Year Case Study #2: Ideal Cheer Elite

Location: Duluth, Minnesota

# of athletes: 60

 Chelsie Waller and her co-owner Ashley Penny are bringing legitimate all-star cheerleading to the Duluth area for the first time—and working with local families to realize its potential.

CP: You bill yourselves as the first USASF gym in Duluth. Has that helped you position yourself and get more credibility?

Waller: Being the first USASF-registered gym in the Duluth area is a really great credential. It catches people’s ear and makes them want to learn more, and kind of validates what we’re doing. However, with the exception of a small rec-style league about 40 miles away, there’s never been an all-star program in Duluth. So when we say we’re the first USASF-registered gym, a lot of people don’t know what that means. We’re doing a lot of educating.

CP: How did you first get started?

Waller: To properly convey passion, you need to meet people face to face. In March, we had a couple meetings where we invited parents, athletes and potential coaches to come in and meet us. At that point, we already had a lot of our business stuff lined up—we had tryout packets set, costs set, uniform prototypes. We did as much as we could to get them to catch onto this craze that we’re so excited about.

CP: What was your biggest challenge along the way?

Waller: For us, it’s a constant struggle explaining to people what all-star is. Even when they see the things we do on the news, read about us in the newspaper or come to an exhibition, people still don’t necessarily get it. We had someone come in to one of our open gyms and ask what color our pompons were. So it’s been about branding all-star and getting people excited about it as a competitive athletic sport.

CP: What advice would you give someone who’s preparing to open a gym?
Remember that if you’re opening a gym, you’re opening a business. We cheer people get so passionate and so busy with the uniforms and the coaching and the choreography, music and competitions [that] it’s easy to leave behind the business aspect—and it’s very important not to do that. I think it’s important for anyone that wants to open a gym to know that you do not need to do it all by yourself, nor should you. As a business, you should hire an attorney, an accountant, a bookkeeper and a payroll service. Don’t be afraid to ask for help on the business side.

CP: What have you learned this year?
We learned the hard way that if you don’t tell parents that they can’t do something, they probably will. We never thought to make it a point to tell people that they can’t put our logo on things until we went to a competition, and there was a group of parents that had hand-drawn our logo onto some T-shirts using puff paint and spray paint. We kind of looked at each other in horror, because there was nothing in our code of conduct or gym rules that they couldn’t do this. So we’ve learned to make a rule for everything, even if it seemed silly.

CP: What are your goals for year two?
Growth. 100% growth.  I’m looking to grow the program in athletes, looking to grow the program in teams, I’m looking to grow my athletes in skills, and I’m looking to get the teams to grow closer. We didn’t do a lot of outside bonding events last year, and that’s a shame, so it’s definitely something I’m focusing on this year.

-Lisa Beebe

Our First Year: Pittsburgh Pro All-Stars

Our First Year: Pittsburgh Pro All-Stars

Anyone who’s read our “Starting a Gym 101” series on the CheerProfessional website knows that launching a new all-star program can be a massive undertaking—from setting up the logistics to securing the right insurance to attracting clients. To find out what it really takes for a successful start-up, we spoke with three cheer professionals who’ve just completed their first year at the helm.

First Year Case Study #1: 

Location: Imperial, PA

# of athletes: 21

Though it’s not technically Pittsburgh Pro’s first year in business (the gym is actually in its fifth year), first-year cheer director Paige Crimson Priano and two other programs had to start the program from scratch last season with just 10 athletes. The previous year, the gym had about 40 girls, but they all quit and went to different gyms, except for one veteran. Find out how this fledgling program is reinventing itself:

CP: How has your first year in charge of the program gone?

Priano: We got a group of 10 girls that we kept through the whole year—we just had one team. It was a good start for us to see we can handle one team, and now we know we can handle more.  We had a youth Level 1 team, so they were all babies and so eager to learn.

CP: What has been your top priority this year?

Priano: After I took the title of program director, the biggest change I made was communication. I sent at least one email every month to make sure everyone knew the dates coming up. By the end of the season, I was sending weekly emails. Communication helped build our relationship with the parents. I feel like I know every single parent now, and I want to keep that [momentum] going.

CP: Can you tell us about how your “Become a Pro” camp helped grow the program?

Priano: We were supposed to have our last competition in April but had to reschedule it, so we had the whole month of April open, still with only 10 girls. We were trying to think of ways to get our name out there, and I came up with a “Become a Pro” camp. The flyer said, “Try it before you buy it.” The camp was every Tuesday in April for two hours; we taught the girls all the basics of all-star cheer so they could see if it’s the sport for them. 

CP: What advice would you give someone starting a new gym?

Priano: You have to be organized. I keep a lot of lists. Being organized in your brain is one thing, but being able to see it on paper really makes a difference for me.

CP: What’s something you’ve learned this year?

Priano: Halfway through the season, we realized we were focused on the wrong thing with our girls. The girls were hitting the routines every single competition, but they were leaving feeling defeated, just because they didn’t get first. So we switched from focusing on placement to focusing on the improvements they made from the last competition, and not letting the judges’ decisions affect the girls.  Now, they feel more in control.  We didn’t win our big competition at nationals, but we ended up leaving that competition feeling better than ever because of the improvements they made.

-Lisa Beebe

When Two Become One: Dissolving a Partnership

When Two Become One: Dissolving a Partnership

Like the splitting up of once head-over-heels newlyweds, the parting of ways in business is often tricky, sad and more than a little complicated. Add in the complexities of an all-star cheer business, and breaking up can get downright sticky.

So what happens when one of the partners of an all-star gym wants to retire or pursue other passions?

Legal experts advise not waiting until one person is ready to retire—or wants out—to discuss what will happen with your beloved gym. Business litigator Jay McDaniel, founder of the McDaniel Law Firm, P.C. says it’s imperative to think about not just getting into a business but getting out of it—especially when it comes to cash.

“The cost of not having planned for the exit as one of the principal owners of the business is usually multiples of hundreds of what it would have cost to have done it at the time,” he says.

For Freedom Athletics, Inc. founder and owner Nancy McDowell, buying out her partner in 2006 was pretty straightforward and snag-free, even though she and her partner had never discussed what might happen with the gym if either coach wanted out. At the time they started Freedom from scratch in 2003, McDowell says, “it was just bubblegum and lollipops. We were coaches. And we had all these kids and it was awesome.”

Fast-forward three years, and McDowell’s partner decided she wanted to pursue other career paths. Fortunately, she says, the gym’s attorney was a family member, so the transfer of ownership was seamless. And according to McDowell, there has never been a hint of ill will: “We have a very good relationship. She’s done choreography for me [since the split], so it worked out really nicely.”

D.S. Briggs, Tumbling Director of Metro East St. Louis-based Pride Kids Sports Center, has a different perspective on buyouts. Years ago, he was a staff member of a buyout that was initially treated like a merger so as not to lose key support from its team families and community. In that situation, the gym he was employed by wasn’t necessarily looking to buy or acquire another program, but when they were approached by another gym to join forces to compete with a mega-gym moving into the area, the merger worked—at first.

“Maybe about a year or two later, we ended up buying the program out completely [rather than being equal partners] because things had deteriorated to the point they had no option but to sell,” he says.

Briggs says to make these types of buyouts work, the new owner needs to be sensitive to just who the “old” gym was. “The gym that is taking over has to respect the client and the culture of the smaller gym,” says Briggs. “It takes time to assimilate a whole gym culture into a different culture; it can’t be rushed into or expected to survive without hard work by the perceived leaders in both gyms.”

And, as always, communication is key, says Briggs. “You have to have a lot of open honest discussion about the goals, hopes and dreams, and what really are the personal dreams and philosophies of both programs,” he explains. “You have to figure that out right from the beginning. Otherwise, it’s not going to work at all.”

And when it comes to what McDaniel calls “business divorce” (when one partner wants out), he says most business owners don’t prepare for it when they are just starting out. In his experience, only about 25 percent of his clients have given it real thought. Most, he says, find it difficult to focus on an event that could be 25 years away. “The idea is, ‘we will deal with it someday’ or ‘yeah that’s a good idea’. [They always say], ‘We’ll get back to you,’” shares McDaniel.

Avoid that trap and start planning now for a smooth exit with these helpful tips:

1.   Put in agreements to buy and sell. “You come to agreements on how you are going to value the business and you put in place funding for it,” says McDaniel. “That way, the person who stays has funds to buy the other person out.”

He adds that one effective way to do that is by taking out life insurance policies on the principals of the company. With that method, if one of the co-owners dies, the business will have the proceeds of the life insurance policy to pay their family the value of their share of the company.

And when it’s time for retirement, the business will have the cash value of the life insurance policy to pay the retiring partner or withdrawing partner.

2. Incorporate a deadlock clause. McDaniel also suggests putting a deadlock clause into a well-drafted business plan, which can save a lot of heartache down the line. “It basically says that if we can’t agree, then I can make an offer to buy a proposal,” he says.

3. Steer clear of a DIY split. Things can get particularly dicey when the people splitting up attempt to do it themselves. That’s a big no-no, according to McDaniel: “Never do it yourself. About half of my litigation cases come from do-it-yourself business entities. Get a decent lawyer.”

4. Communicate, communicate, communicate. In McDowell’s case, she feels fortunate the process went so smoothly. A key ingredient, she stresses, was talking through everything from the beginning. “Be very honest and upfront from the get-go. Be very clear about what you want. And put it in writing.”

-Lindsay Martell

Private Lessons: A Primer

Private Lessons: A Primer

The good news: Private lessons can certainly add an extra layer of perceived value for gym clientele. The bad news: at times, offering privates can also add more hassle for gym owners between scheduling, pay structure, and other considerations. However, in the end, most gym owners, coaches and parents agree that private lessons offer an array of benefits that make it worth the effort. Find out how gyms around the country handle this popular revenue stream:

About Time

The trickiest aspect of offering private lessons in a gym, most say, is scheduling. Some gyms have set times at which the lessons can be offered, while others leave it up to coaches to handle their own schedule.

At the Wilson School of Gymnastics, Cheer and Dance in Chambersburg, Pa., coaches have freedom to schedule their own private lessons—within reason. According to team coordinator Rachel Roberts, privates can’t be scheduled during class times, so most coaches arrange them immediately before or after the student’s team practice.

At Virginia-based Cheer Extreme Roanoke, coaches also have liberty with scheduling, and several use business cards to help parents contact them for privates. Gym owner Bobby Lozano offers assistance with scheduling and pairing up people for privates. “Parents will come to me and say, ‘My daughter wants to work on her back handspring. Who does a really good job working with that age group and skill?’” Lozano says. “I figure out who would best suit that child [and his/her needs].”

Kristen Shimmel, a coach with Cleveland-based X-Cel Athletics, says scheduling is the responsibility of the coaches, but it’s not always easy. “At our gym, the space is always utilized by squads or tumbling classes, so private lessons use whatever free space is available at any one time,” she says. “Space is often an issue, but you just have to get creative!”

Private Benjamins

Where gyms vary more widely in handling private lessons is how coaches are paid. Some gyms allow coaches to keep 100 percent of the earnings as a means of supplemental income (and extra incentive), whereas other gyms take a cut of the cost or expect the coach to do privates as part of their existing salary.

For instance, X-Cel Athletics pays its coaches, including Shimmel, through the gym’s payroll. At Wilson and CEA Roanoke, coaches are paid directly by parents, although both Roberts and Lozano say there is a standard rate for the lessons. And at Georgia-based Renegade Athletics, private lessons are simply another way coaches earn their hourly salary.

“All of our privates are scheduled and paid through the gym,” explains owner Leslie Pledger-Griffin. “Instructors make their hourly pay regardless of what they are doing—office work, tumbling class, privates lessons, teams or whatever.

Lozano says payment for privates used to go through the gym, but the coaches now make 100 percent. “Coaches do the work for it and deserve the money,” he says. “The added incentive for coaches to work more privates is that they’re getting the full amount of money. In the end, it benefits the gym because the kids they are working with cheer for us.”

Why Privates Matter

Offering privates can help assure parents as to the one-on-one attention and education that their child is receiving—helping to ensure gym retention. For Wilson parent Beverly Musgrave, private lessons are a welcome aid to her daughter’s skill development. “The one-on-one time gives her the chance to really concentrate, and focus more on what the coaches are asking her to do,” Musgrave says.

Gym owners and coaches can also use private lessons to help the team at large—targeting needed areas of improvement. For instance, when Roberts was prepping her athletes for U.S. Finals this spring, she worked privately with one particular athlete to nail a key tumbling skill. “We had one athlete who was extremely inconsistent with her standing tuck,” says Roberts. “She wanted to be really sure she was going to hit.”

For Renegade Athletics, privates are about supply and demand. “Our office always tries to push classes over privates, but some parents and kids are insistent so we try to fulfill that demand,” shares Pledger-Griffin.

Regardless of the reasons, private lessons offer lasting benefits for both gyms and athletes. “At Cheer Extreme, we’ve done privates forever,” says Lozano. “It’s the best way, I think, to communicate with kids. You build bonds on a one-on-one basis.”

-Jennifer Deinlein 

Getting to the Point(s)

Getting to the Point(s)

When Randy Dickey, owner of South Carolina-based ACX Cheer and head of the All- Star Gym Association, unexpectedly had to fly a photographer to an event, the exorbitant price of the airline ticket stunned him. But when he pulled out his credit card, he solved the problem—without spending a dime.

Ever since Dickey first signed up for the American Express Platinum Business Card in 1999, he has been covering gym expenses and reaping significant benefits. “We run everything in the business through the credit card,” says Dickey. “Every month, we rack up several hundred thousand points and use them to pay for everything from flights to hotels, as well as to offset the cost of coaches’ and team rooms.”

For those gyms looking to follow in his cost-saving footsteps, expert Eric Rosen advises evaluating your spending habits before applying for a points-based credit card. “Look at what your typical expenses are,” says Rosen, managing editor of Some cards focus rewards on category spending (awarding cash back or merchandise for specific purchases); other cards provide airline miles and cover hotel costs.

For gyms that travel to competitions mostly by car or bus, a card that offers cash back on gas purchases makes good sense, according to Matt Schulz, senior industry analyst for On the other hand, frequent flyers might want to consider a card that offers airline miles and/or hotel perks. A co-branded card, one that has a relationship with both airlines and hotels, can also offer some incredible benefits. “If you do a lot of traveling by air, over the course of time, you’ll get some great rewards,” he says.

The same idea applies to hotels. For instance, if you always book rooms at a Marriott, having their card may mean some extra nights for free. “You have to have a feel for what you are hoping to get out of a card. Knowing how you are going to use the card should determine which one you select,” Schulz notes, adding that having separate cards for airfare and hotel can help to maximize the rewards. Also, using a card with transferable points means you’ll have more options when it comes to redeeming those points.

Although charging all your gym-related purchases with the goal of getting something free in return is a great idea, Schulz emphasizes the importance of paying off the entire balance every month. “If you don’t, interest charges will make any rewards less of a bargain,” he warns. Also, keep in mind the difference between a charge card and a credit card: a charge card gives the user bigger spending power, but requires full payment every month or a hefty fee and penalties will be assessed. A credit card has pre-set spending limits—carrying a balance will incur interest, but the amount will not be as taxing as the charge card fee/penalties.

The Fine Print: Fees, Bonuses and Penalties

Most credit cards carry an annual membership fee, and those that don’t typically offer fewer and smaller rewards. Fees often range from $50 to $450+ and usually determine the value of the benefits. “If there is a $100 fee and you get a free bag check every time you travel, this could be worth it for [gym owners] that fly a lot,” Schulz notes. “But if the fee is $500 and you travel sporadically, it’s not a good deal. You need to look at terms and conditions and do a little math.” It can certainly be beneficial to have more than one card, but if you are paying a fee on several and only using one, you should reevaluate your strategy.

In addition to reaping travel and accommodation perks, some cards offer rental car insurance and lost luggage coverage, access to airline lounges and other amenities. In many cases, extra rewards like these can offset the cost of fees. Also, almost all cards have bonus signups, so you could earn as many as 50,000 free airline miles from the start. “You should wait until a good offer comes along,” Rosen says, cautioning that most of these cards come with minimum purchase requirements.

Also, gyms that compete overseas (including Mexico and Canada) may incur foreign transaction fees if they use their credit cards for purchases. “What many people don’t realize is that, even if you are in the United States and you purchase something from another country, you may be charged a foreign transaction fee,” warns Rosen.

When it comes to signing any financial document, experts emphasize the importance of reading the fine print. Dickey learned this lesson the hard way: “When I rent a vehicle with my American Express Platinum, I can [take advantage of] car insurance,” he explained. “But at one point I realized that they don’t cover 15- passenger vans and large SUVs.”

Using a credit card wisely can be a cost-effective way to run your gym. “You’re spending the money anyway,” says Rosen. “Why not look for ways to get a return on it?” Just ask Dickey. Based on personal experience, he asserts that every gym owner should be using reward points: “If you’re not, you are just giving money away.”

-Phyllis Hanlon

Visit our blog this Thursday for a list of credit card recommendations from The Points Guy’s Eric Rosen!

Owner’s Manual: Darlene Fanning

Owner’s Manual: Darlene Fanning

ICE began in 1998 with Darlene Fanning renting space from a local gymnastics facility for a program of approximately 60 kids. According to Fanning, the program “quickly outgrew the space” and two other facilities before landing in their current Mishakawa location in 2007. There she built a 50,000 sq.-ft. athletic center, which houses not only the ICE Athletic Center Fitness Club, but also Midwest Basketball Academy, Network Volleyball, a childcare center and even a Starbucks. In 2009, ICE expanded to Fort Wayne, and in 2011, the program opened a third location in Aurora. This year, a big part of the gym’s growth has been the reintroduction of ICE’s dance program—we asked owner Darlene Fanning to share the details.

Vital Stats:

Name: Darlene Fanning

Gym: ICE Athletic Center

Location: Three locations in Mishawaka, IN; Fort Wayne, IN; and Aurora, IL

Founded: 1998

Size: 800+ athletes

# of teams: 24 all-star teams and five all-star prep teams.

Gym Size: 50,000 sq. ft. facility in Mishawaka, IN; a 15,000 sq. ft. facility in Fort Wayne, IN; and a 35,000 sq. ft. facility in Aurora, IL 

The Dish: Many gyms across the country are adding dance programs. Kids want to compete on a larger stage, and this industry gives them that opportunity where their school cannot. As for ICE, we have had dance teams in the past, but no program for the last two years. This season, we’ve taken a much more serious approach in reintroducing the dance program.

We started hip-hop and pom teams in our Mishakawa location because there really weren’t many options for people who wanted to do competitive dance—especially in the area of pom. There are many local dance studios, but few that offer serious opportunities for high-level competition; lots of people had inquired about it because they knew we had very good competitive cheerleading. With access to the industry via our cheer program, we felt we could offer interested dancers the best shot at high-level competitive dance and national exposure.

Since reviving the dance program, we have been able to increase our numbers without increasing overhead very much because we utilize our space more completely. In our Mishawaka location, we are housed within a 50,000 sq.-ft. state-of-the-art fitness club, so we already have three full-sized dance studio rooms with hardwood floors and mirrors that are used for group exercise classes. We scheduled dance during the off-hours of those rooms, and it has worked well.

The start-up is always the busiest part, but with the right people, it can be a very smooth process. For our Hip-Hop Program, one of our cheer coaches actually had more of a dance background and was thrilled to take on dance, so hiring was not an issue. Our Poms Program was not a terribly difficult process, either. Once word got out that we wanted to start competitive pom at ICE, many of the area high school coaches contacted us and even worked together to help us find our current Poms Director. They were thrilled that we could offer a program for kids so that they would already have experience by the time they got to high school. They really understand the value of an independent, competitive/developmental all-star program for kids and how it can help their own high school squads—it’s been great!

We will start competing with our Poms program next season, but our Hip-Hop Program has been competing at all of the same competitions as our cheerleading program throughout the season. Their very first competition was the GLCC Showdown in Chicago, where they earned a bid to the Dance Worlds. Nearly our entire program was there to watch their performance because none of our kids have really seen an ICE Hip-Hop team. With hundreds of ICE cheerleaders and their families in the VIP section the energy was electric. It is the first time an ICE dance team will be competing at Worlds, so we are very excited.

The fact that they earned a Worlds bid their first time out and that there were so many ICE kids cheering them on really embodied what ICE is all about—we support each other like a family and we work to be the best.

-Dina Gachman

Expansion Case Study: CheerForce, Inc.

Expansion Case Study: CheerForce, Inc.

Creating a thriving program is often the impetus for starting an all-star cheer gym—but what happens when that accomplishment generates considerable demand? How do you answer the call to open another location? CheerProfessional asked three gym owners who took the leap and expanded based on their own initial success. 

Learn how CheerForce, Inc. tackles the challenge while maintaining the integrity of their brand.

Expansion Case Study: CheerForce, Inc.

Locations: 6 (California)
Combined Number of Athletes: 500+

Shawn Herrera, founder of CheerForce, Inc., discusses his strategy and business philosophy when it comes to business.

CP: You’re back in school getting your MBA; tell us about that and why you felt it was necessary and what are you discovering?

Herrera: I went back to school because I realized my skill set wasn’t what it should be. The amount of knowledge I needed to do it right [grow the business] was not there. I needed a whole new level of thinking to solve issues, because really, there are two parts to business: product and process.

CP: What do you mean by process?

Herrera: The process, meaning marketing, recruitment, training, all that structure and procedure you need to operate. It is actually more important than the product. But that is not typically the case—most gym owners believe all you need is a good product.

CP: Why do you think that is?

Herrera: It’s the boring stuff—business basics—and no one wants to talk about it. People open for demand, but never think to ask if it will be profitable. Will it be sustainable? You need to step back and look at the numbers: will it work? You also need to stop and think about the end goal, [which should be] profit. It’s not the revenue, it’s the income—it’s that simple.

CP: Knowing what you know now, what would you have done differently?

Herrera: The scariest part: I realized I wouldn’t do it [expand] the way we did. We didn’t have a process in place; we weren’t ready, and we didn’t have staffing.

CP: How have your practices changed?

Herrera: We are working backward, really. Everything I’m doing now, I’m doing as part of my MBA program and applying in my business. To be financially strong, we need basic processes in place. For example, you need to have an original model that is perfect before you copy. CheerForce wants to be able to duplicate ourselves quickly and successfully. We don’t hit “copy” if I don’t have the process right.

CP: What’s your litmus test for knowing when you are ready to duplicate yourself?

Herrera: If you can go away on vacation for a month, will the gym still function? If the answer is no, you still need to work on your structure. If the answer is yes, hit the copy button and duplicate.

CP: Any last thoughts about owning a multi-location gym?

Herrara: I still strive to succeed with the product but not at the expense of my business, like charging less. It’s not sustaining, and it creates a crazy environment for athletes. We always innovate and test things out at our Simi Valley location. We make sure the original is good enough, regardless of where it’s implemented. For example, we are testing a new DVR system. I am creating a process that can work at every location and then we roll it out. We think of ourselves as one organization with seven teams.lp. Ask anybody and everybody! We are in this industry together and there isn’t a guidebook. Though we are competitors, we are all in it for the kids. 

-Cathleen Calkins


Do Dance Teams Equal Dollar Signs?

Do Dance Teams Equal Dollar Signs?

Could the addition of a dance program be something to cheer about at your all-star gym? The sector has certainly seen significant growth in the last five years, with the debut of the Dance Worlds in 2008 and many gyms introducing dance teams and programs. USASF dance committees were formed in 2011 to help foster that growth, and 25 event producers are now on board giving bids to Dance Worlds. 

Being part of this emerging trend comes with both risks and rewards for any gym. Though a dance program can diversify your offering and/or boost your bottom line, it’s important to consider elements like scheduling issues, staffing and costs involved. Incorporating dance teams might not be the right move for every gym owner, so it’s important to know the pros and cons before jumping headfirst into those waters.

Rockville, MD-based Shockwave Allstars started offering dance teams and classes last season. Owner Jessie Leone opened the gym with his wife Carrie almost four years ago, and they now have 15 cheer teams, nine dance teams and 410 total athletes in their 15,000 sq.-ft. facility. “My wife runs a very tight ship when it comes to customer service, and we felt that we could bring that same level of commitment to the dance industry,” says Leone. “We also felt it would be a great complimentary use for our facility.”

One of Leone’s top pieces of advice is to “consider whether you can offer a great product with solid margins that can lead you to profitability.” At Shockwave, the Leones incurred a significant amount of build-out expense when they added studios, but because they didn’t expand the facility, the effort didn’t raise their operating expenses other than staffing

Two locations and 275 athletes strong, CNY Storm is now in its 18th year, and owner Kathy Penree added dance teams five years ago when an existing program that already had dance teams in place joined theirs. Though the addition of dance teams hasn’t yet increased profitability for the gym, Penree believes it’s been beneficial as a way of “giving our athletes another outlet for their talent.”

Fitting the Puzzle Pieces Together

Over at Ultimate Athletics of Ohio, co-owners Denise Haase and Ryhannon Haase-Johnston introduced dance teams six seasons ago. Haase-Johnston oversees the dance program at the gym, while her mom focuses on cheer. The mother/daughter team started with a small dance program offering substantial crossover tuition cuts, which facilitated growth into a larger program. Now that the program is well-established, local dance studios have been coming to Ultimate Athletics for guidance and advice, and going on to compete at all-star competitions.

So how does Ultimate do it? A whopping 75 percent of their athletes participate in both cheer and dance. “We make tuition affordable and really try to balance the practice schedules to accommodate those athletes so they aren’t in the gym seven days a week,” Haase-Johnston explains.

They also try to maximize resources in other areas; for instance, the uniforms and costumes have become multi-purpose as a means of keeping overhead low while still looking professional at competitions. “One unique thing we do to cut back on costs is use our cheer top for our pom teams and pair them with black jazz pants and a mesh leotard to cut down on uniform prices,” says Haase-Johnston.

The tactics seem to be working, as the program has gotten bids to the last three years of Dance Worlds. In May, the gym will be merging with Tumble Athletics to become the newest franchised location of Midwest Cheer Elite—and they hope the dance program will continue to grow. “I wish more gyms could see the potential in turning cheer athletes into dancers,” Haase-Johnston says. “With the right training, it works and gives them an option to express themselves in a different way.”

Scheduling & Staffing 

Like Haase-Johnston, Leone of Shockwave sees dance as a growing sector of the cheer world and a great way for a gym to reach a wider market—provided owners have the right infrastructure in place. However, unlike Ultimate Athletics, they try to have their athletes choose between cheer and dance. “Otherwise, when you get close to competition and start scheduling extra practices, it will become an issue,” says Leone.

At Penree’s CNY Storm, most of her dancers are also cheerleaders, so practice days and times are separated out so that most athletes have a break. “It also teaches those athletes time management skills,” Penree says. However, she adds that competition scheduling can be tough—dance is usually at the beginning or end of the day, making it a long day for any crossover athletes. Smaller competitions can also be a challenge, since there is very little time for costume and makeup changes.

Another top consideration is staffing. Many gym owners stress the importance of not having coaches do too much double-duty, as it can lead to scheduling problems and burnout. One solution is to bring in dedicated dance coaches who can focus on that aspect of the program—for gym owners who are able to find the finances, it can be a huge plus.

Ultimately, the way a dance program is run is up to each individual gym owner, because what works for one gym may not click with another. Consider the infrastructure you have in place, your gym’s finances and your future plans carefully before you commit. If a dance program makes sense for your business, it could be well worth the risks. “Every time a new child joins the gym, your profit margins should be the same for cheer as well as dance,” says Leone. That way, “as an owner you do not care which one they join—only that they join your gym family.”

-Dina Gachman

Missing in Action

Missing in Action

Jamie Gumina distinctly remembers being on the bus with her team and about to leave for JAMFest Super Nationals in Indianapolis five years ago. Energy was high, as the team had worked hard to prepare for the event—but that’s when she realized her base was missing. “We called her, and she said she couldn’t come because she was sick,” Gumina recalls. It was a huge setback for the group from Blue Springs, MO-based Gage Center, but cheer director Gumina got to work quickly.

“We reorganized the team in the little aisle of the bus,” she says. “I told the kids to be strong.” Their action plan? Pulling up a girl from another team to fill in for the absentee athlete. They managed to put the setback behind them and come off with flying colors at the event, placing in the top portion of teams and receiving a Worlds bid.

Yet the gravity of the situation didn’t go unrecognized by Gumina. “Missing practices is the single most important item to making or breaking an entire team. If even one person is missing, an entire stunt group stands around and the pyramid can’t go up,” says Gumina.

Dealing with similar attendance issues at your gym? Find out how to deal with the problem head-on:

Form an attendance policy. If your gym doesn’t have an attendance policy, it’s time to form one now. When Gumina set up her business 13 years ago, the gym had no attendance policy—a decision she now questions. “You were just expected to be there, and as one would expect, no one cared about being punctual,” Gumina recalls. She instituted an attendance policy at Gage Center five years ago, and it has made a huge difference in attendance. The specifics: the only excused misses are for mandatory school functions or cases of serious illness. Non-traveling athletes get two excused absences from August through April, as well as pardons for mandatory school functions; Level 5 athletes get three total absences, all of which must be excused.

Be prepared to abide by it. Sometimes you’ve got to be tough on kids who repeatedly defy the rules. Tracy Baker, director of Valley Elite All Stars in Easton, Pa., says the only time athletes are excused is for family emergencies, serious sickness and school grades. “If they miss for any reason apart from these, they’re removed from the program,” Baker says. Similarly, Gumina did not hesitate from removing her best athlete several years ago in light of her missing practice regularly. “It was a tough call, but we had to set an example,” she shares.

Leave no room for excuses. “Well, I didn’t know we had to be there” is a popular excuse many gym owners and coaches hear over and over again. To avoid this, California Flyers All Stars owner Shelly Gramatky puts out her full-year calendar at the beginning of the season. “We include when they have days off, holiday dates, whether we are practicing on school holidays or not (i.e., Veterans Day and Presidents Day). We always post our calendar online and give them a password so they have private access to it 24/7,” says Gramatky. Translation? No excuses for excuses.

Be prepared. Despite your best efforts, athletes will still miss practice at times, so a backup plan is necessary. To that end, Gramatky “keeps rosters of older kids that have moved on but still live in the area to call in case we need them to swoop in and save the day.” Karen Brenner, owner of Egg Harbor Township, NJ-based All Star One has developed a fill-in policy: kids who miss practice have to find someone from another team who can do their job. “So if we have a team of 20 and three kids aren’t attending, we have three fill-ins so we still have a full team,” she explains.

Explain your reasoning. Sometimes simple math can help explain to families how important practice is. Andrea McBride of Denham Springs, LA-based Leaps & Bounds Cheer Energy spells it out like this: “If Susie misses Tuesday’s two-hour practice and Sally misses Thursday’s two-hour practice, then that’s a full week of incomplete practices. That’s four of four total hours of practice busted for the week.” McBride adds that if two more athletes miss practice the following week, then the team then has eight hours of incomplete practice. “So, in four weeks of regular practices totaling 16 hours, only eight were full practices. That is only 50 percent! Who has ever done well at anything with only 50 percent efficiency?” she says.

Make up for what you’ve lost. Some gyms ask kids to do extra burpees or drills if they miss practice, but Gramatky is careful not to make it look like “punishment.” She says, “We try and put a spin on it: when you are late, leave early or miss practice, you lose out on getting stronger with the rest of the team, so adding the extra conditioning into your workout when you miss practices is kind of like a body make-up.” The athletes learn that being able to keep up with their teammates is important to reducing injury. “So we consider it a ‘practice make-up,’” concludes Gramatky.

At the end of the day, Brenner believes that what counts is making your athletes feel valuable: “We tell all our coaches to treat the kids such that they feel irreplaceable. If they believe they’re valued, they’re not going to miss no matter what.”

-Dinsa Sachan


Vetting New Events: A Cautionary Tale

Vetting New Events: A Cautionary Tale

When Jam’s Athletics owner Elizabeth Marsh and her cheerleaders arrived at the Cheer Nation Nationals, they were looking forward to the opportunity to compete; in fact, one of the Jam’s Athletics teams was preparing for their first-ever performance. Instead, they got a heartbreaking surprise.

“The day of the competition, we came in, and there were no mats, pretty much nothing set up,” says Marsh, who was approached by a representative for event organizer Halee Yates to see if they could borrow Jam’s Athletics mats and spring floor at the last minute. This was not only an unusual request from an event producer, but a tall order, according to Marsh. “I don’t have Velcro strips for my spring floor; we actually screw ours in. But I was willing to do it so that the children would have an opportunity to perform. [However,] things went awry from there.”

As reported widely in the media, it turned out the venue wasn’t suited to hold a cheer competition—the ceilings weren’t high enough. Arguments erupted between frustrated coaches, parents and the event organizer, and ultimately, the hotel asked attendees to evacuate because the event hadn’t fulfilled its financial agreement. Teams did not receive a refund. “I had to eat the cost, because I can’t charge my parents for that. I refunded their money,” says Marsh.

Before a big cheer event, there’s often a lot of buzz, but the Cheer Nation Nationals aren’t the only event that turned out to be purely hype. For instance, last year’s Revolution Cheer event sounded like it was destined for success—with powerhouse gyms like Cheer Athletics, Cheer Extreme and Maryland Twisters set to compete—but when the event lost its backer, it ended up getting canceled. Moral of the story? Investing energy, money and faith in new events can often be a risky roll of the dice for any all-star gym.

So how can you vet events properly? Get some pointers from those who’ve learned the hard way:

Do your research. Craig El, co-owner of Ultimate Athletics, prides himself on paying attention to the details before signing his teams up for an event. That’s why he was thrown when the Revolution event went sideways: “I thought The Revolution was a good option,” he shares. “When they chose to come out to the NACCC event that we held at our gym and spoke and did a phenomenal presentation, we bought in 100 percent—not only for the team that they invited, but also with multiple other teams in our gym.”

Is there any way El could’ve foreseen The Revolution’s cancellation? He doesn’t believe so. Even though he always does due diligence, it doesn’t come with any guarantees. “With a lot of these newer competitions, it’s kind of a crapshoot,” admits El. “There really isn’t very much to go off other than previous history of the actual event, and general word of mouth from coaches, owners and industry insiders.” For first-time events, he’s now especially cautious: “If you do support that event, maybe send a few of your teams, not all.

Checking out the event’s background wouldn’t have helped in the case of Cheer Nation. Elizabeth Marsh explains, “There was no way to foretell that this competition wasn’t going to go well or wasn’t going to happen…this was not a brand new event. [Halee Yates’] dad had put on Cheer Nation [events] for years, and it was very successful.”

Trust your instincts. When Elizabeth Marsh was late signing Jam’s Athletics up for the Cheer Nation event, Yates told Marsh that a check would take too long to clear and she didn’t have the ability to process a credit card. Marsh says, “Unfortunately for the first time in all of these years, I paid cash,” shares Marsh. “I never should’ve done that. It was going against every fiber in my whole being, but I did do it.” Other coaches that signed teams up for Cheer Nation reported making checks out directly to Yates, which could be another red flag.   

If an event is having funding issues, they may ask cheer gyms to participate at a higher level than they feel comfortable. Craig El says when The Revolution lost its backer and teams started pulling out, they came to gym owners and asked if they’d be willing to participate at different levels, as well as offering part ownership of the event. At that point, he says, “It was just was something that we were like, ‘Nope, no. Not interested.’” The event ended up getting cancelled because so many gyms pulled out.

With any big event, there’s always a chance something could go wrong—event producers and backers are human, after all. Get as much information as you can beforehand, and you’ll be more likely to protect yourself and your teams from disappointment. 

Editor’s Note: Both Cheer Nation and The Revolution were contacted for comment on this article. The Revolution’s phone number has been disconnected, and Cheer Nation did not respond. A statement on the Cheer Nation website says that they are “working around the clock” to try to compensate those who paid for the cancelled event.



Extras, Extras! (Are They Worth It?)

Extras, Extras! (Are They Worth It?)

Looking for ways to diversify? Find out which “extras” can help you boost revenue—and get insider intel to determine which ones are the right fit for your gym. 



Birthday parties ACX owner Randy Dickey views birthday parties as a great way to woo potential clients. “When you have a birthday party, a kid from your gym brings 20 of their friends in who’ve never even heard of your company before,” says Dickey. He suggests capitalizing by “handing out a coupon to every kid for a free class, or offering some type of promotion [like], ‘Hey, if you come in within a week, you’ll get X amount off your first month’s tuition.’” Make sure you have the right people working the party. Dickey explains that you don’t want “some high school girl that’s on her phone Facebooking the whole time and not paying attention.” Also, be sure you have the bandwidth to do it right—if the facility isn’t ready when people arrive, it leaves a bad impression on potential new clients: “You want a smile behind the desk when everyone walks in and somebody to inform them where to go. From head to toe, you have to put on a show.”
After-school programs Parents don’t see these as an “extra”—they see them as an essential, and your gym can profit by supplying that demand. Marilyn Noon, co-owner of Polk Aces, says, “Working parents need childcare. Parents pay consistently because you offer a service they need. If they don’t pay you, they will still have to pay someone, so it’s typically already built into their budget.” Before getting started, Noon recommends conducting a market survey within your own gym to find out if enough parents are interested. Also, arranging pickups from multiple schools can be tricky. To maximize profits, familiarize yourself with local dismissal times so you can pick up from as many schools as possible with just one vehicle.
Gym rentals Midwest Cheer Elite rents gym space to a personal trainer. Owner Tanya Roesel appreciates that the personal trainer brings new faces into the gym. “We get a lot of moms that come in while the kids are in school, and I bet 50 percent of them sign their kids up for tumbling,” she estimates. “The personal trainer does a [fitness] class at 7 pm, and the kids will tumble with us while their moms work out.”


To protect your reputation, it’s crucial to perform due diligence on your new affiliation. “Make sure you do background checks on whomever you’re renting it out to because you’re basically giving them access to your business,” cautions Roesel. “Anyone coming into your gym and running a business out of it must have good morals and ethics, because if they have a bad background, it could ruin the name of your gym.”
Mommy & Me classes Roesel also offers Mommy & Me classes at Midwest Cheer Elite, and she’s happy with how they’ve worked out so far. She says, “Mommy & Me does pretty well, and it’s in the daytime when we don’t have as much going on. During the school year when the older siblings are in school, it’s busy.” If you want to offer Mommy & Me classes, find a time during the day. Roesel explains, “That type of class is not going to work in the evenings. Unless you have a dedicated area for pre-school tumbling, you aren’t going to want 2- and 3-year-olds running through your gym at 7 pm when you’re working with Level 5 athletes.”
Dance team Rena Blanchard, director of operations at Charlotte All Stars, points out that offering a dance program can make life easier for your clients. “We have a large base of athletes who have siblings who dance, so the families like the convenience of being able to bring the dancer sibling to our gym, rather than going to two different locations.” Blanchard emphasized that it’s important to find the right person to lead the program. “Since dance is not our expertise, we needed to bring an expert in to work with us.“ She also suggests researching other dance studios in the area and checking which ages they serve. Blanchard believes it’s best to start slow— Charlotte All Stars offers dance at just one of its five locations. “Eventually we’d like to turn that into a competitive team, but right now it is strictly instructional.”
Tween dances Bel Air, MD-based Eastern Elite All Stars holds a series of dances called “Second Saturdays.” Trisha Quinn, president, describes the set-up: “We have a dance room that has some wood flooring, and we bring down two sofas. We also rent little circle tables, a popcorn machine and a pizza oven. It’s $10 to get in, which includes a black light lounge. We only offer it once a month so it becomes a special event.” Knowing your audience is key. Quinn says they avoided catering to high school students because their “biggest concern was if they were going to try to sneak in alcohol or do inappropriate dancing.” Instead, they started off holding dances for middle-schoolers, but learned a surprising lesson: “Believe it or not, the kids that are taking to it are the younger, elementary school kids.  They absolutely love it.”

-Lisa Beebe

Expansion Case Study: Stingrays

Expansion Case Study: Stingrays

Creating a thriving program is often the impetus for starting an all-star cheer gym—but what happens when that accomplishment generates considerable demand? Many business owners answer the call for expansion and go on to open multiple locations. To learn more about this approach, CheerProfessional asked three gym owners who took the leap and expanded based on their own initial success. Learn how the Stingrays tackle the challenge while maintaining the integrity of their brand.

Expansion Case Study #1: Stingray Cheer Company, Inc.
Locations: 4 (Georgia and Alabama)
Combined Number of Athletes: 1500+

Casey Jones, owner of Stingray Cheer Company, Inc., talks about his gym’s growth to meet the needs of the community and his staff.

CP: Tell us about the various Stingrays locations.

Jones: We now have four locations including our new gym in Alabama, which will open in May 2014. The other three locations are in Georgia—Marietta and Johns Creek, as well as one overflow gym in Kennesaw.

CP: How do you typically split your time between locations?

Jones: Right now I work at two locations—Marietta and Kennesaw—because that’s where I live. I go to Johns Creek one day a week. We haven’t taken over the Alabama location yet so there hasn’t been a need for me to travel there.

CP: Take us through your expansion history into a gym with multiple locations.

Jones: We started in Marietta, and before opening any additional locations, we wanted to make sure we were doing everything we could there. But we had maxed out our space and it was time to grow.

CP: Was it a function of supply-and-demand, too? How did expansion into Alabama come into play?

Jones: Our All-Star program grew by 200 kids with Johns Creek so we decided to open Kennesaw as overflow. Kennesaw is only five miles away from the Marietta facility; they really function as one gym. Alabama was different—we had a long relationship with the gym there, so we partnered with them before taking over entirely.

CP: What do you perceive as the main risk when it comes to expansion?

Jones: The biggest risk is growing too quickly. You have to have the resources to service the locations (resources being time, funding and staffing). If you don’t, it’s best not to do it at all. For us, I look at the demographics of an area and the population. How many kids are there? How many schools? Is there opportunity to work with the school system, which in turn will feed our all-star programs? But overall, [my advice is to] grow slow and expand when you have to. I’m conservative: as I’ve gotten older in the industry, I just don’t want to chance it [failing at business].

CP: What makes Stingray Cheer Company so successful?

Jones: We wanted to offer a great product and now, with our growth, we are able to offer more people access to Stingray Cheer. We also wanted to provide career opportunities for our instructors and employees; our growth creates that for them.

LLC Vs. Corporation?

LLC Vs. Corporation?

As a new gym owner, looming legal and business matters can flummox you—among them the decision whether to file as an LLC or corporation. Infiniti Elite Athletics owner Cari Ann Bulzone says filing as an S-corp was one of the first things she did when she took over the program from its previous owner in 2012—and it was a learning experience every step of the way. “It’s not something to take lightly; gym owners should definitely do their homework,” says Bulzone, who used LegalZoom as a resource and to facilitate filing.

Whether you go the DIY route like Bulzone or consult a lawyer, here are a few things to consider during the decision-making process:

Liability: Trixie Bennett, executive director of finances/services at Copperas Cove, TX-based GymKix, says that when the gym was set up, protection from liability was her top priority. She chose to go the LLC route because it’s cheap and quick: “LLCs are like the “low-fat” versions of corporations. It gave us the same legal protection as a traditional corporation but with half the ‘fat’ [aka red tape],” says Bennett.

However, both models offer some protection from liability, according to Washington, D.C.-based attorney Thomas J. Simeone. “Both a corporation and LLC limit the liability of the owner for claims against and debts of the company. That is vital,” says Simeone. “But setting up and maintaining a corporation can be more expensive and inconvenient than doing the same for an LLC. For example, corporations may require annual meetings, directors, by-laws, etc. So, for newer and smaller businesses, LLC’s are popular.”

Taxes: From the tax perspective, many gym owners might be better off filing as an LLC. “Unlike corporations, LLCs don’t suffer from double-taxation, in which the corporate entity is taxed and then its shareholders’ dividends are taxed as well,” says Bennett. “Corporations have to pay tax on their earnings before passing the profits through to shareholders to be taxed.”

For example, at GymKix (which is an LLC), any earnings or losses “pass through” to the co-owners and are included on their individual tax returns and taxed at their individual income tax rates. “If you’re a single owner, this might not be too good at tax time as all the profits would be added to your individual income tax return,” cautions Bennett.

Healthcare: When David Skaw, owner of Clackamas, OR-based Thunder Elite All Stars Inc. chose to go the corporation route, healthcare was a prime consideration: “For us, the ability to write off 100 percent of health benefits for officers is important. You can’t do that as an LLC.”

Future Plans: Bulzone of Infinite Elite had the big picture in mind when she decided to file as an S-corp. “I like the idea of being able to bring in other partners; that way, I can offer long-term coaches a little bit more in the future should they want it,” says Bulzone. “I have such great employees who work so hard, and increasing their responsibility will only get you so far. Eventually, I can look at them and say, ‘Would you like to own a part of Infiniti Elite?’” She adds that having an S-corp also allows her to leave her own options open: “Should I decide to leave the program, I wanted the option to pass my shares on to someone else so that the corporation could continue thrive without me if that was ever in the cards.”

Multiple Locations: Skaw of Thunder Elite says if you’re a single-location gym, LLC can be a very viable option. However, “if you have multiple partners and multiple locations, a corporation makes more sense,” he advises. And gyms can have it both ways—even if a gym starts out as an LLC, it’s possible to make the switch to corporation as your business grows and multiplies. “Most states have conversion statutes where you can convert from one to the other,” says New York-based attorney Trippe Fried.

However, switching may be time-consuming and/or expensive. “Though you can switch back and forth, there are fees, and in some states like New York, it can be complex,” says Fried. “You [also] have to transfer the corporate documents into LLC documents or vice versa, so there is some paperwork involved.” In some states, gym owners must go as far as creating a separate entity and then merging the LLC into the corporation (or vice versa). “The result is the same, but it’s a little more expensive from a filing perspective and considerably more paperwork,” points out Fried.

-Dinsa Sachan

Visit our blog for a rundown of the different types of corporations that might work well for gym owners! You can also find handy forms and resources in our “Biz Docs” section.

Expansion Case Study: All Star Legacy

Expansion Case Study: All Star Legacy

Creating a thriving program is often the impetus for starting an all-star cheer gym—but what happens when that accomplishment generates considerable demand? Many business owners answer the call for expansion and go on to open multiple locations. To learn more about this approach, CheerProfessional asked three gym owners who took the leap and expanded based on their own initial success. Learn how All Star Legacy tackles the challenge while maintaining the integrity of their brand:

Expansion Case Study #3: All Star Legacy
Locations: 4 including one franchise (Virginia and West Virginia)
Combined Number of Athletes: 700+

Trisha Hart, co-owner and coach, speaks about her motivation to open additional locations.

CP: How did you come to own multiple locations for All Star Legacy?

Hart: We never looked to expand. We never had the intention, but opportunities presented themselves. When things feel right, it’s right.

CP: Was this personal for you, or was it about business?

Hart: I am passionate about the sport and the industry; I wanted to provide athletes what I had experienced. Our philosophy when it comes to coaching style is “kids come first.” Now we have four locations and 700 kids that compete, and that all came from one dream. I didn’t want to be bigger and better, but there is a financial reward.

CP: From a business standpoint, what did you look at before opening additional gyms?

Hart: We looked at profit and loss—it’s a very basic business model. You must make sure each location can operate on its own. You need to know your bottom line: facility and operational expenses, such as utilities, payroll, travel, equipment, insurance and taxes, as well as bank fees, merchant provider fees, competition fees/surcharges, uniform deposits and other associated costs that might show up. If you can’t keep the lights on, you can’t play the music.

CP: How do you deal with the geographical distance between locations? How do you split your time?

Hart: While we are one program with four locations, we make sure each can operate independently. We communicate day and night about concerns. We listen to those concerns, have conference calls and find solutions. We work together and I trust our staff. I don’t have a regimented schedule as to visiting each gym but I am always available. If an issue develops at one location, we will drop everything and travel.

CP: Any parting advice for others looking to grow their cheer programs by expanding beyond a single gym?

Hart: Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Ask anybody and everybody! We are in this industry together and there isn’t a guidebook. Though we are competitors, we are all in it for the kids. 

Make Your Mark: Protecting Your Gym Brand

Make Your Mark: Protecting Your Gym Brand

You’ve worked hard to establish your own gym, creating a unique identity with colors, logo and uniforms. A few years later, having built a solid reputation, you’re at an event when in swaggers a brand-new team—wearing colors very similar to yours, a logo that looks awfully close to yours and (wait for it) practically the same name as yours, just with a different spelling.

Is this a scenario for yet another Bring It On movie? Unfortunately, no. It’s an all-too-common occurrence for many all-star cheer programs. In fact, that’s exactly what happened to Leslie Pledger-Griffin and her Renegade Athletics teams a few years ago. “We’re at a competition, they walk in [with] our same colors, same name, very similar uniform,” she says. “My kids and the parents were like, ‘What’s going on here?’”

Adam Rufkahr’s St. Louis, MO-based Platinum Athletics has seen its own imitators as well. “We actually have had two gyms that have started up using a version of our gym name or trying to copy older versions of our uniforms,” he says. “Thankfully they weren’t anywhere around us, so they didn’t really cause us too many problems, but it is frustrating.”

And Courtney Smith-Pope, owner of Cheer Extreme, was even surprised to find herself in the competition event business—or so it seemed when a company popped up called “Cheer XTREME Events” using actual photographs of her athletes in uniform, complete with her gym logo.

All three gym owners had put a lot of thought and effort into creating a brand for their own gym, so to see imitators was not something to be taken lightly.

“We have taken steps to protect ourselves locally and to keep things like our logo, uniform, routines, etc., safe from others trying to duplicate them,” says Rufkahr. “For instance, we ordered fully custom uniforms from GK to make sure that not only are we getting the best product in the business, but also they will not use or duplicate our design for any other program.”

Renegade Athletics and Cheer Extreme both have trademarked logos, according to their owners, but even that is not foolproof. “We went through the whole trademarking process several years ago, and unfortunately you can only trademark certain logos and certain words,” says Pledger-Griffin, giving the example of another team that is Renegade All-Stars—which she cannot prevent: “We can only protect Renegade Athletics.”

Logo is another entity that can be hard to make bulletproof. Adds Pledger-Griffin, “I can protect my certain logo that is on my website and my uniforms and things like that, but if [others] put any kind of discrepancy in that logo that would not make it exact, then you can’t really [prevent] that.”

Smith-Pope says that she uses her gym’s logo on all uniforms, rather than the words “Cheer Extreme,” as protection for her brand. “It’s harder to own the words ‘Cheer Extreme;’ it’s much simpler to trademark an actual brand symbol,” she says. “Any picture that involves any of our athletes automatically has our logo in it and subjects it to our rights. If things are going to be photographed, include your logo and (have) your logo trademarked.”

Jim Lord, executive director of the American Association of Cheerleading Coaches and Administrators, says that the first step to protecting your brand is to look at your gym as a business, not just something you love. Trademarking your team’s name or logo is simply protection, he says, because if you find your gym in conflict with another, having the paperwork registering your trademark is proof in your pocket.

Details matter as well: “The more specific you are about what you’re protecting, the better you can do,” Lord says. “You’re going to have a hard time protecting the words ‘Elite Cheerleading Center’ [because] it’s already all over the place. But what [you] could do is have ‘Elite Training Center’ and have a special way you put it together, our logo, whatever our mascot is, so you have a specific mark, that then really becomes more of what you can trademark.”

Lord also recommends gym owners go to their chamber of commerce for guidance on local laws. Having an attorney on retainer is helpful, he says, because they can be familiar with your business and ready to go to work for you.

“In some cases, a simple cease-and-desist letter from an attorney is going to be enough to make somebody change,” says Lord. “[It can] make the [imitator] re-think, do you really want to go to court over this or do you just want to come up with your own logo?”

Can there be a happy ending to these situations? Smith-Pope, for one, resolved the problem easily after a conversation with the event producer. “He was great about it, he took all the words down, he took down the pictures,” she says. “He understood and had an appreciation for the work that we’ve done and what we’ve built.”

Rufkahr says he felt it best to take the high road and that gyms with the same name can possibly co-exist. “I think it comes down to focusing on your gym and your product and making it the best it can be,” he says.  “One thing my mom always told me is, ‘Imitation is the most sincere form of flattery,’ so when you look at it like that, really, it’s a compliment.”

-Jennifer Deinlein

Intrigued? Visit our blog for more tips from lawyer James Astrachan on the legal aspects of protecting your brand!

Behind the Merger: West Virginia Cheer Academy

Behind the Merger: West Virginia Cheer Academy

As the divide between small and large gyms grows wider, it’s not uncommon for gyms to merge in an attempt to pump up profits and competitive power. On the surface, the reasons to merge seem clear—building a larger membership base or having the means to form a stronger coaching staff. But dig deeper and you’ll find that a number of other motivating factors are often at play, from strengthening the local cheer community to wanting to benefit the athletes. For our “Behind the Merger” series, we caught up with three gym owners who opted to merge and discovered the real deal behind making the challenging yet rewarding move to become one. See the third in our series below (and don’t miss our first installment with East Celebrity Elite and second with Legendary Athletics)!

Merger #3: Twin City Stars + West Virginia Cheer Academy = West Virginia Cheer Academy

Locations: Big Chimney, WV, and Marmet, WV (suburbs of Charleston)

Reason for merging: Rapid growth, plus gym owners who were ready to leave the business

Combined number of athletes: 220 (80 competitive)

Kayla Wygal, co-owner of West Virginia Cheer Academy, caught the attention of Twin City Stars, and when they wanted to give up the business to spend more time with family, they gave Wygal a call.

CP: Your situation is unique; you absorbed Twin City Stars into your gym.

Wygal: It’s only our second season (we started in August 2012), but we saw an incredible amount of growth. It was scary; Twin City Stars was three years our senior. We had competed against them and they beat us, but the owners liked what they saw and were interested in turning over the business to us. On August 26, 2013, we took full ownership.

CP: Tell us about the logistics before the merger.
Wygal: We were the smaller gym and were 10 miles apart from Twin City Stars at two separate ends of town. We pull [kids] from eight counties in West Virginia with Charleston at the center.

CP: What were the steps you took to merge your smaller gym with their larger program?
Wygal: We built a relationship with the owners over a couple of months and decided to tell our parents first. There were hurt feelings—mostly the Twin City Stars’ parents were upset that the owners didn’t tell them. But then [the parents] got to know us, and the kids could still do what they wanted to do: cheer.

CP: How are you managing it now?
Wygal: We use the same name but maintain the separate locations. Seniors go to the original location of Twin City because the majority of seniors were from there, and juniors alternate between the two locations.

CP: How has becoming a larger gym helped West Virginia Cheer Academy?
Wygal: We were strong at all-star, and they were better at tumbling. They didn’t have enough to make full teams for all-star and now they do. All-star isn’t huge in West Virginia but we have created a buzz and excitement about the expansion. Gyms are talking about us.

CP: What were the reactions you’ve encountered with the membership?
Wygal: The kids are amazing. They are so resilient and do well. The Twin City location parents love us and have taken us in. I have taken on development at Twin City, and some of our parents feel like I’ve chosen them [Twin City] over West Virginia Cheer Academy. That was a surprise, but they are coming around and now the parents are mingling between the two gyms. The attitude is, “We’ve got to do this together if we are going to be successful.”

CP: Are there other challenges?
Wygal: I’ve learned that how you manage coaching staff is key to your success. We have head coaches at each location, and we want to make sure they know they are important. The coaches that share locations have merged. Getting all the coaches together hasn’t happened organically, and we are having our first “all coaches” meeting. Now we are stepping in and enforcing [the mingling]. It will be fine, and we won’t lose anyone; we just need to explain that together they are stronger.

CP: Looking back, would you do it all over again?
Wygal: I would do it all over again. It’s been fun, but it’s been hard. I work 14-15 hour days, but I’ve met so many great little girls I wouldn’t have met otherwise. It’s like with children—you never would have dreamed you could love the second one as much as the first.

CP: Any advice for gym owners presented with the opportunity to expand?
Wygal: Don’t be afraid to be ambitious; don’t fear the opportunity. Yes, it is extremely hard work and it’s expensive. But if you are in it for the kids, it is 100% worth it.

Behind the Merger: Legendary Athletics

Behind the Merger: Legendary Athletics

As the divide between small and large gyms grows wider, it’s not uncommon for gyms to merge in an attempt to pump up profits and competitive power. On the surface, the reasons to merge seem clear—building a larger membership base or having the means to form a stronger coaching staff. But dig deeper and you’ll find that a number of other motivating factors are often at play, from strengthening the local cheer community to wanting to benefit the athletes. For our “Behind the Merger” series, we caught up with three gym owners who opted to merge and discovered the real deal behind making the challenging yet rewarding move to become one. See the second in our series below (and don’t miss our first installment with East Celebrity Elite)!

Merger #2: Shine Athletics + Lake Mary All Stars = Legendary Athletics

Location: Longwood, FL

Reason for merging: Creating a new brand of all-star cheer for the community

Combined number of athletes: 300 athletes (in the all-star program)

Sydney McBride, former owner of Longwood, Florida-based Shine Athletics, spoke to us about her recent merger with Lake Mary All Stars—going from two small gyms in the same community (on the same street) to a powerhouse program with benefits more far-reaching than they originally intended.

CP: When did you decide to merge?
McBride: We merged in May [2013]. The gyms, previously run separately, merged together to create a new, larger program with a new name: Legendary Athletics.

CP: Before deciding to move forward, what were the benefits you felt you would realize if you merged?
McBride: The main benefit was to be able to have one large program under one roof and combine all of our awesome staff together as one. Both of our programs were really strong, especially when it came to staff and child/parent relationships. The majority of the kids were friends outside of cheer and went to school together. Combining the two programs helped us bring the entire community together.

CP: How did you structure the teams after the merger and utilize your staff?
McBride: For this first season, we put a staff member from each of the prior gyms together on each team to make sure kids from both programs feel comfortable.

CP: What were the challenges after the merger?
McBride: The biggest challenge was making everyone from both programs understand and adapt to the concept that the merger was an entirely new program. It wasn’t Shine and it wasn’t Lake Mary All Stars: it was a new, larger program with new concepts, new ideas and a new brand with a new feel.

CP: How did the kids and parents initially react?
McBride: Both of our gyms were previously very big rivals, due to the nature that we were so close in geographic location. So when we announced the merger, everyone was very shocked. But after that initial shock, most people understood and stated they were excited to be a part of a larger program.

CP: What other advice would you offer gyms considering a merger?
McBride: I would highly recommend creating a new name and brand if the gyms merging together are rivals. Also, I think choosing a brand-new location was very helpful in making it easier for everyone from both sides to recognize Legendary Athletics as a new gym and equal [territory] for all families.


Owner’s Manual: Danielle Johnston of Twister Sports

Owner’s Manual: Danielle Johnston of Twister Sports

Less than a year after starting Twister Sports, co-owner Danielle Johnston has made the leap to full-time to foster her all-star gym’s rapid growth.

Vital Stats:

Name: Danielle Johnston, co-owner and coach

Gym: Twister Sports

Location: Warrensburg, MO

Founded: March 2013

Size: 320 athletes

Gym size: 14,500 square feet

Debrief: Though the program began just a year ago, Twister Sports has grown rapidly to 300-plus athletes—necessitating a gym expansion and the full attention of co-owners Danielle Johnston and Angie Fritsch. In light of the enthusiastic response, Johnston quit her job of seven years in October to focus on the gym full-time.  

The Dish: I’ve always been used to a very busy schedule, having worked full-time for the last seven years and also having gone to college for several of those years. My journey toward running an all-star program started in 2009, when I began helping a friend who coached rec cheerleading at our Air Force base. I volunteered that first year, running two squads with her. The following year, my friend moved away and the base offered me the contract.

After graduating college in 2011, I started devoting a lot more time to the program—adding dance to the curriculum and doing some major marketing efforts. By 2012, our enrollment had grown from six to 35 kids, and as a result, the local community center offered me a position. I started teaching cheer and coaching a competitive squad there; they were very supportive but we quickly outgrew the space. It was also missing a spring floor and the right equipment to teach tumbling properly.

The popularity of the community center’s competitive cheer program sparked the idea to start Twister Sports. I’d been dying to start my own gym, but had never really seen it as a possibility—there was already one other gym in our small town of 21,000, plus another dance studio. Once I saw that it could be a reality, I reached out to Angie [Fritsch, now co-owner of Twister Sports], who taught tumbling at both the base and the community center.

Together we had a combined number of about 100 students, and last January, we signed a lease for a 9,000 sq. ft. space in the back of a shopping center. I marketed like crazy on Facebook and through email, but tried to save any money for the opening expenses. I knew I’d have to keep working, and really, I didn’t start Twister Sports for the paycheck—anyone who knows anything about cheer doesn’t do it because it makes a lot of money. We do it because it’s what we love.

We opened the doors to the business in March, and by May, we had outgrown our new space completely. It had only been two months, but our program required major expansion. We got with the landlord and arranged to break down the walls to expand to our current size. On my end, the growth was exciting but also challenging, since I was working about 90 hours per week between the gym and my full-time job in public relations at the base. On top of the two jobs, I am also a reservist in the Air Force, so I was also balancing the requirement of one weekend a month for that.

At first, it was really hard—the biggest challenge was finding time for the “easy” things. I have four kids, ages 3 to 10, and I still had to pay bills and wash dishes and do laundry; also, on top of all that, I have an obligation to stay in shape for the Air Force, and while cheer and tumbling are very athletic for coaches, they’re not the right kind of exercise needed for the Air Force.

The biggest thing that saved me was writing down everything and scheduling almost every single minute. I had to be extremely prepared in the morning to make sure I had everything for the whole day (from clothes for the gym to food for my kids). What I learned is that there’s no way to have a successful gym without sacrifice, and holding down two jobs is often part of that. One job pays you, and the other will take your money if you don’t do it right—both are equally important. A new business is a lot like a baby, so if you have a business partner, make sure it’s someone you could live with…literally. Luckily, Angie and I work extremely well together.

In October, I quit my full-time job at the base to go full-time at the gym. It was a big leap of faith, because [my former job] was fantastic with good retirement benefits—but I had to go with the job that made me happiest. Also, I believe that you get to a point where your business will plateau if you don’t go full-time to take it to the next level. We can’t wait to see where it goes!

The Secrets to Moonlighting

The Secrets to Moonlighting

Is it possible to balance a second job on top of owning a gym? We ask three cheer professionals who’ve been there and done that.

As our economy rebounds from the “Great Recession,” juggling multiple jobs is a common conundrum for many people—and cheer professionals are no exception. In fact, for gym owners, balancing more than one job might be a necessity regardless of what’s happening in the economy. As most owners will candidly share, opening a gym is something you do because you’re passionate about cheer, not because you want to get rich quick.

Just ask these three moonlighting entrepreneurs, who know the perks and pitfalls of juggling jobs all too well.

Stefanie Nelson: In 2010, Stefanie Nelson started North Florida Elite with two 6’ x 10’ folding mats and a small rented space. At the time, she was working as a middle school science teacher, but realized that she missed coaching, so she started a tumbling program. Fast-forward to 2013, and her Starke, FL-based gym is now 6,000 sq. ft., with tumbling programs, cheer classes, a special needs team and half-year/all-star teams. Despite the growth, Nelson still juggles her teaching job with the demands of running a gym—something she’s trying to mitigate. Shares Nelson, “My ultimate goal is to not have two jobs.”

Doing double-duty makes for a very hectic life. Nelson works until 8 p.m. Monday through Thursday, and she’s working at the gym until 9 p.m. on Fridays. On Saturday, she’s paying bills and grading papers. She also leans on her “overly organized” husband, who runs the house and helps coach when she needs him. (The gym recently lost a coach so he’s filling in for the time being.) “He’s the glue that holds it all together,” Nelson says.

People who are thinking of holding down their full- or part-time job and opening a gym shouldn’t have any illusions about the dedication it requires, but Nelson says the rewards can make all those late hours pay off. “The main thing is seeing the girls and wanting them to experience success on—and off—the purple floor,” she says.  “I want them to see that there’s more to the world than our little town in Florida.” (A few students have written about Nelson’s influence in their life for their college essay applications, which she says has been especially gratifying.)

Nelson’s advice to future gym owners is to “be organized and do it because you love it and not because of the money. I don’t want a thankless $100,000 a year job. Make sure you get into it for the right reasons. There have been days when I thought, ‘Why not sell the gym and not work 70 hours a week?’” But for Nelson, the thrill of seeing her athletes succeed both on and off the mat is what makes it all worthwhile.

Leslie Pledger-Griffin: Like Nelson, Renegade Athletics owner Leslie Pledger-Griffin understands the sacrifices that must be made in order to get a gym off the ground. Pledger-Griffin first started teaching tumbling out of the wrestling room in her high school at just 15 years old, and she met her husband at a cheerleading competition. They started their all-star program together, and Pledger-Griffin balanced her job in education for a year before leaving to work full-time at their 12,000 sq.-ft. facility in Calhoun, Georgia.

When she was juggling, Pledger-Griffin would leave the house at 6:30 a,m. for her teaching job, work until 3:15 p.m., drive to the gym and work there until 10 p.m. “You are exhausted,” confides Pledger-Griffin. “You still have to cook supper, wash and iron clothes and, on weekends, you often have practice or competitions. Then you start all over again on Monday.”

On that note, Pledger-Griffin advises anyone working and running a gym simultaneously to take ample time for self-care—whatever it takes. “Time is valuable,” she shares. “There is no shame in taking a nap if you can squeeze one in between jobs. Eat and sleep when you can.”

Another of Pledger-Griffin’s keys to sanity is to “work smarter, not harder.” For Renegade Athletics, she utilizes the web-based class management system Jackrabbit so that she can answer account questions or schedule classes from anywhere. “You can do it from your other job, from home or even from your smartphone,” explains Pledger-Griffin. “It’s the best money we spend each month.”

Michelle Epps: Meet Michelle Epps, who owns Cedar Hill, TX-based Twisters Spirit Athletics. At one point, Epps was working full-time, working on her MBA and running a new gym all at the same time—with a staff that had no real competitive cheer knowledge. “We were learning as we were going,” Epps says of those early days. One of her biggest challenges of running a gym while holding down a second job was “keeping a high level of quality at both jobs.” Yet Epps knew from the beginning that if she were forced to make a choice, she would choose her gym: “It was, and still is, my passion and my purpose. It is that thing that I would do for free.”

Epps stresses the importance of knowing when to work—and when to take some much-needed away time to recharge. According to Epps, it doesn’t do you or your athletes any good of you’re burned out and low on energy. Her calendar was and is her “best friend,” and staying organized and coming to realize that you cannot please everyone are also key lessons she has learned along the way.

The ability to delegate is another crucial tool. Epps urges gym owners to accept the fact that you likely can’t—and shouldn’t—try to take on every single duty yourself. Ask people for help, surround yourself with a great support staff and prioritize. It’s easy when you’re multi-tasking to think that every issue that comes up is urgent; learn what has to be tackled today, and what can wait until tomorrow. On the same note, Epps also advises future gym owners to know their niche and focus on making that great, rather than trying to tackle everything at once.

As far as taking that huge leap and quitting your job to focus on the gym, Epps says, “I think the first step in making the decision to work at your gym full-time is knowing that this is your passion. This is the job that gets you up in the morning and keeps you up at night thinking of ways to make it better.”

In other words, work hard, work smart and go into this for the love of the profession and the kids. If you have to balance two or more jobs—as many owners do at first—take one day at a time and remember that you went into this because it’s your passion. Or, as Epps says, “the thing you would do for free.”

-Dina Gachman

Money Talks: Explaining Fees to Parents

Money Talks: Explaining Fees to Parents

It’s a common gym owner conundrum: “My parents are researching event costs on their own and questioning my fees!” After all, it’s easier than ever for parents to get online and do their own legwork—since event producers are utilizing the same strategies that gym owners use to market their businesses, from informative websites to robust social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter. But what does that mean for gym owners who get caught in the crossfire? We asked Julie Hallam, co-owner of New Freedom, PA-based Titanium Athletics, and Tara Wieland, program director for Midland, MI-based Michigan Storm Cheer & Dance, for their take.

The Transparency Dilemma

The bottom line: parents want to know where their money is going. Hallam first started to notice a spike in this trend during the country’s economic downturn in 2008. “Parents started using the Internet to research fees,” she says. “They wondered where their money was going.”

Like many gyms, Titanium Athletics operates in a rural area. The majority of Hallam’s athletes come from single-income homes. “[The families] are cost-conscious,” she says. Parents review competition websites, look at posted entry fees, run the numbers—but from their perspective, they don’t add up. While Hallam can’t blame parents for being thrifty, she maintains that they’re not taking into account what gyms actually pay to attend competitions: “There is much more to it than that.”

It’s the nuances to the business of all-star cheer and gym pricing, Hallam says, that parents don’t understand. She acknowledges marking up competition fees, but asserts that the approach is essential for gym owners to continue to operate. “It covers additional costs,” she adds, “like my coaching staff’s travel expenses to attend competitions and extras such as credit card or registered check fees.”

Tara Wieland with Michigan Storm Cheer and Dance agrees, adding that parents “don’t realize that event producers often alter their posted pricing at the last minute” due to unexpected schedule changes or cancellations. She, too, has noticed an increase in parents doing their own legwork. “10 years ago, it was different,” Wieland says. “Parents weren’t scrutinizing fees.”

This perceived discrepancy has created confusion (and sometimes anger) on the part of parents, prompting some gym owners to call for event producers to stop posting their prices publicly. However, Hallam and Wieland both believe that demanding competition websites remove pricing from public view is not the solution—rather, strategic parental communication is. 

Smart Strategies

Hallam’s solution is to bundle her program membership dues for the entire season and then spread the costs out over 11 months, starting in June. Her membership includes competition fees but also incorporates coaching, tuition, tumbling, uniforms and competition travel costs for her staff. Internally, she uses a budget and bases her competition schedule on what they can afford to attend without charging more.

She admits she has cut out the smaller events. “They tend to eat up our budget, and our parents are looking for value,” says Hallam. She strives to balance parent expectations (such as competing on the national stage versus locally) with the quantity and quality of competitions they can realistically manage. “We also look at attending events where the awards add value to the cost of competing,” she notes.

Hallam’s intent is not to hide costs from parents. But she believes charging a flat fee—where costs aren’t necessarily allocated to a specific competition—over a period of time allows her to cover all expenses without having to defend her fee structure to parents.

Wieland employs a somewhat different strategy, providing parents with an exhaustive list of where their membership dues are going. “[We tell them], ‘This is how much for coaches, this is how much for travel,’” she says. “Parents know competition costs aren’t the only thing they are paying for.” She too looks for value when it comes to choosing events, putting an emphasis on those that offer a family atmosphere and a superior experience for both the kids and parents.

While Hallam and Wieland approach the issue of presenting fees differently, they agree that, now more than ever, it’s essential to effectively manage the parent-gym relationship. “Our industry has to be sensitive to parents wanting to know where their money is going,” Hallam says. “But there also has to be a certain level of trust [by parents], too.”

An EP’s Perspective

Billy Smith knows both sides of this situation all too well—after all, he was a coach and gym owner before he began producing events at the helm of Spirit Celebration and Amazing! Championships. “[When I owned a gym], I did not hide anything from my parents,” he shares.  “The best thing you can do is be upfront and let them know flat out what the costs are—travel expenses, per diem, hotel, coaching—so they know the deal. I don’t think coaches have the right to gouge parents, just like EPs don’t have the right to gouge coaches.”

On that note, Smith also maintains that posting competition fees promotes consistency and fairness across the board on the part of event producers. “If we didn’t post our prices, I could in theory make up different prices for different gyms,” he points out.

The bottom line? Gym owners must stand their ground when it comes to dealing with parents. “You’ve got to be really careful of how much power you give up when you’re the owner,” cautions Smith. “The gyms that have the most discipline will succeed.”

Pinterest & Instagram: A Crash Course

Pinterest & Instagram: A Crash Course

If Thunder Elite All-Stars coach Cher Fuller has her phone out while her Junior Level 3’s are running a routine, it’s not because she’s texting. She’s boosting the gym’s brand—and bonding with her athletes—by snapping a quick picture or video of their progress to share on Instagram. When she’s not coaching, Fuller works at an ad agency, and she understands how social media can help a business grow. By now, many cheer gyms now have active Facebook and Twitter accounts and know the benefits of connecting with athletes, parents and potential customers on those platforms—but Instagram and Pinterest can develop that connection even further.

“From a business perspective, Instagram is probably a little more lucrative as far as a marketing tool, but Pinterest can be great for building community,” says Kate Boyd, a cheer coach, choreographer and corporate communications expert. Intrigued? We asked Boyd, Fuller and other experts for their tips on how to pump up your gym’s online presence with these powerful tools.

Instagram: Snap a pic that offers a peek inside your gym.

Got a smartphone? Get Instagram. It’s a quick, easy and free way to get your message across. Once you install the app, all you have to do is take a picture, add a short caption and upload it. (FYI: Instagram is primarily for use on mobile devices. You can view photos on a computer, but you won’t have access to your full account.)

Boyd recommends using Instagram to offer a glimpse behind the scenes. “If you’re mixing your own music, take a picture of your computer. If you do your own choreography, take a picture of yourself in the mirror dancing. It gives the people looking at your account a sneak peek at what’s going on,” shares Boyd. Posting fun, candid photos on your Instagram feed will also give followers a strong sense of your gym’s culture. “Everyone wants to win and everyone wants to work hard, but the values embedded in your programs are either a good fit for a family or they’re not,” adds Fuller.

Once you get the hang of it, you can also start employing “hashtags” to get your photos maximum exposure. Adding a simple hashtag like #cheerleading or #Worlds to your post can attract hundreds of eyes to your page and help propel your gym’s name into the social stratosphere.

Pinterest: Pin your way to community connections.

Setting up a Pinterest account can help strengthen your gym’s relationships with athletes and their parents. Pinterest offers community boards where different people can contribute images; Boyd recommends using these to gather T-shirt and bow ideas, as well as a way to solicit suggestions from parents when your gym is planning an event.

If you want your account to attract people to your gym, Boyd suggests creating and pinning your own content as well. She says that the platform can be a good forum for “educating parents regarding behavior, nutrition and sportsmanship. You’re showing parents that you have their cheerleader’s best interest at heart.” A few great examples: the Pinterest pages for North Canton, OH-based NEO All-Stars (which has more than 25 boards on topics like “Conditioning,” “Muscle-Building Smoothies,” “Cheer Moms,” “Cheerleading Worlds,” and “Travel Ideas”) and Marietta, GA-based Legends Elite All-Star Cheerleading (which has boards on topics like “The Summit,” “Cheer Bows,” and “Legends Elite”).

If you’re new to Pinterest, Fuller advises planning ahead. “Sit down with your coaches and your owners and figure out what exactly it is that you’re trying to accomplish. If you want to talk about different stunts that are out there, different bows, different outfits or different teams that you idolize, bucket those into different categories, so it’s not just a chaotic mess.” Creating a Pinterest board for each category (ala NEO All-Stars or Legends Elite) will help keep your account organized as you add more and more pins in the future.

Getting Started

Before you set up a profile, think about how you want to brand your gym. “What kind of message are you trying to get across? What kind of picture are you trying to paint?” asks Sarah Gosnell, owner of Legends Elite All-Star Cheerleading, who keeps those questions in mind as she manages the gym’s Pinterest page.

When you first set up a new account, don’t rush into promoting it. Fuller recommends posting at least 10 pictures before you share the link publicly, so that you aren’t directing people to an empty page. “The best way to populate an account is when you don’t have followers. Get a few pictures up there, so that when you start driving traffic to your account, you actually have something to keep people there. It gives them a reason to come back,” she suggests.

As you build your account, always keep your gym’s goals and desired image in mind. Gosnell advises, “Be sure that whatever you’re putting out there, you’d be okay with your competitors seeing and kids who cheer for a rival gym seeing.” Once it’s set up and you’re ready to spread the word, share the link on your official website and on your Facebook or Twitter pages. If your gym’s athletes, parents and coaches are using Instagram or Pinterest, follow them and encourage them to tag you in posts. And, finally, don’t feel pressured to set up more accounts than you can handle—choose what feels right for your gym and master that platform. As Fuller points out, “There are a lot of great social platforms out there, but if you try to get onto all of them, you’re [likely] to neglect something. Pick what you’re interested in, and focus on those.”

-Lisa Beebe



Get With the Program: Starting a Loyalty Program

Get With the Program: Starting a Loyalty Program

Worried about gymhoppers? Consider implementing a loyalty program. These incentive-based programs provide a win-win situation by helping gyms retain clientele—and giving those families a reason to stay loyal. At Charleston, SC-based C3 Cheer and Dance, loyalty rewards range from free uniforms to discounted class tuition to free contest entries. “Our gym greatly benefits from loyalty programs because it gets our families spreading the word about our gym’s many classes and programs, and [our various reward offerings] help keep the existing customers happy,” says gym owner Robin Ridout.

While some gyms like C3 Cheer and Dance have full-fledged loyalty programs, others implement targeted initiatives with the same aims. For example, Deana Ellison at Revolution Cheer and Tumbling Center offers referral credits. “We do not currently have a loyalty program, but we do offer a referral credit of $100 for referring a new cheerleader and a $50 credit for referring a new tumbler,” she says. “That can add up to a lot of credit, but it also brings us a ton of new clients.”

Let’s Get It Started

Before putting a loyalty program in place, here are two questions to ask yourself: 1) what do you expect to achieve from a loyalty program and 2) how do you plan to reward your clients? Ridout says she focuses on enrollment numbers in the gym and rewards loyalty with items that enhance the experience in the gym—such as local food coupons, cheer shoes, leotards, dance costume sponsorships and scholarship funds for tuition.

“I think it’s important to reward clients with tangible positive contributions that are used in the gym,” she says. “That way I see them back in the gym, year after year.”

Money for rewards doesn’t necessarily have to come out of the gym budget, either—Ridout says sponsors account for 99 percent of the loyalty rewards given at C3 Cheer and Dance. “It is positive and also allows me to toot the horn of local vendors and individuals and let the donors feel like a part of my gym program,” Ridout adds.

At Mississippi-based Oxford Cheer, Zach Lee has gone high-tech with his loyalty program—by enlisting a text service to send out regular messages to teams and parents on the latest developments in the gym. “It really is about keeping everyone in the loop. Sometimes it’s something as simple as saying ‘Have a good day’ or informing them about cancellation of practice because of bad weather,” he says.

The loyalty program is also integrated into the text service. As part of the program, parents and athletes receive texts about contests and other loyalty initiatives, and they can get juicy rewards for spreading the word. “If they show [the text] to a non-student, who then logs in to the Oxford Cheer system to enter the contest, the member who originally referred the contest to the new person gets discounts, open classes and open gym that week,” Lee explains.

Striking the Right Balance

Some gym owners choose to incentivize families with tuition cuts—offering incremental rewards for the amount of time spent as a customer. For instance, at Legion of All Stars in Georgia, tuition drops by $15 after a member’s first all-star season. At Cheer Fusion All Stars, tuition drops by $5 per year, so an athlete who has been at the gym for three years would receive $15 off tuition every month.

Many loyalty programs focus on monetary awards, sometimes as high as $100 per athlete for new client referrals. Could some gyms be giving away too much? It was a hot topic at various conferences this year, but ultimately, each gym owner must decide what works for his or her individual gym (with many learning through trial and error).

According to Lee, incentives and perks can only help so much. He believes that educating the parent is the most important part of fostering loyalty. “The more they know what’s going on, the more we’re on the same page and the more they know what to expect,” he explains. To achieve that end, Lee also makes it a point to frequent the open area of the gym where parents watch their kids practice. “I try to answer all their queries one-on-one,” he says.

And no matter what method you use to reward loyalty, consistency and organization are the keys to making a program work, says Ridout: “Setting goals and deadlines, establishing criteria for selecting [contest] winners and sticking to the awards posted is key.”

-Dinsa Sachan

Share-ables and Wearables: Fun Ways to Reward Athletes

Share-ables and Wearables: Fun Ways to Reward Athletes

It’s a memorable moment at the Oregon Dream Teams gym, as an athlete throws a round-off/back handspring/tuck three times in a row. Mastering this new skill qualifies her for a special honor—she gets to ring the gym’s dinner bell. Practice halts as everyone in the gym gathers round to watch the athlete demonstrate the skill and give her a round of applause. The bell is just one of numerous ways gym owner and coach Tori Cotton gives her athletes public recognition, whether it’s in front of cheering teammates or with a shout-out on the scrolling web banner of

Akin to an angel getting its wings, the sound of the bell signifies athletes getting their due for putting in all the hard work—and the Pavlovian response often equals them working even harder. Find out how to elicit strong performances from your athletes with these creative reward ideas.

Give Share-able, Social Rewards

Cheryl Davies, owner of Florida Triple Threat All Stars, awards “Spirit Fingers” to athletes who’ve learned a new skill and can perform it consistently. The gym’s newsletter includes a Spirit Fingers column that lists the name of everyone who learned a new skill (and what skill it was). Explains Davies, “I even list the people that come to our tumbling classes who aren’t on a team. They get put in the newsletter and they get so excited. ‘I’m in Spirit Fingers!’”

At Cheer Force One in Mobile, Alabama, athletes are honored through their “Got Skills” program. If an athlete throws a skill three times consecutively without a spot, they get to put their name in the gym’s “Got Skills” box; those names are then compiled into a list that’s spotlighted via social media. “Every Monday, we post a list on our Facebook page of all the kids and what skill they got. They can share it with their friends, and it gives an extra little push for the gym,” says gym owner and director Sean Sutton.

Sarah Macrow of Cheer Extreme Allstars also highlights athletes on social media when they learn something new. When shooting video of an athlete trying a skill for the first time, she recommends, “Instead of stopping it just after they finish their tumbling pass or their first back handspring, record their reaction. Ask ‘How did that make you feel?’ or ‘How was that?’ and get that moment of celebration.”

Give Wearable Rewards

At Cheer Extreme, Macrow acknowledges the achievements of kids who are too young for social media by inviting them to pick the theme for their next practice. If an athlete asks everyone to come in Halloween costumes or wear knee socks and pigtails, teammates show their support by dressing as requested.

Earlier this year, Macrow created a simple but memorable award for her athletes by bringing a ball of red yarn to the gym.  She cut it into pieces that athletes could tie onto their wrist, ankle or shoe. When an athlete got the skill of the week (which might be something like “landing with your feet together in a jump”), they earned a piece of yarn.  Each week, she handed out segments of a different color yarn. “[Even though the reward was given in] June, some people still have them tied onto their shoes or backpack,” she marvels.

Cheer Force One uses silicone wristbands to reward athletes for more abstract achievements, like paying close attention or overcoming a fear. “It’s something that doesn’t have to go to the best kid in the class, or the most talented kid. It’s an opportunity for anybody, regardless of skill set,” says Sutton. “That way, even if Sally Sue will be working on this back handspring for the next three years, she can still earn a band in class, and that’s a little bit of praise and recognition.”

What Doesn’t Work?

An old program at Oregon Dream Teams rewarded athletes with fake dollars that they could save up to spend at the pro shop. Cotton says, “Nobody ever got into it, and I think it was because it was such a delayed gratification. It’s like, ‘Oh, I have to save up 20 of these bucks to get anything,’ and for some kids, that could be three years of tumbling.” If you’re proud of your athletes’ accomplishments, find a way to let them feel appreciated right away—and the rewards are likely to come back to you as well.

-Lisa Beebe

Moving On Up

Moving On Up

Angela Havard Patton with athlete-coaches

The old adage “Go with what you know” is a familiar one for Cheer Savannah owner Stephanie Britt. When hiring new employees, Britt tends to go straight to the source—athletes from within her gym who’ve been there, done that.

The decision has always been a no-brainer for Britt, who finds it extremely advantageous to use coaches who grew up in the culture of the gym. After all, they already know the drills and terminology, so very little training is necessary. In addition, the athletes are familiar with gym policies and can teach others how to best represent themselves and Cheer Savannah to the community. “You’re only a leader if people follow you,” says Britt, “and leadership is key to any gym program’s success.”

Britt isn’t alone—this strategic move speaks to the ushering in of a new generation of all-star athletes just starting their cheer careers and taking the reins. As the industry has matured, so have its core athletes who have cheered all-star since they were young children. This experience gives them a unique vantage point to offer current gym owners, many of whom live and breathe the business but never had the chance to take the all-star mat themselves.

Angela Havard Patton of Texas Cheer is also on board with this approach. She says she exclusively hires only current and former all-star athletes to help run her cheer program, which is designed to be a “low-cost, low time commitment” gym. “I believe in hiring and training our youth to be leaders,” says Patton, “because they are so open minded at a young age and have so much creativity.”

Angie Caldwell and Elaina Bertoli

Considering hiring some athletes on as coaches or staff members? Find out how to make it a seamless transition from those in the know:

Give it a test run. Consider holding a tryout of a different type—at Cheer Savannah, all coaches must go through a trial period in which both sides try each other out before permanently joining the staff. During that time, Britt looks for “that glow, that passion, that leadership—you just know when it’s there.”

Currently, Britt has two former athletes and even two moms-turned-coaches on her staff. After being around the team and helping their own daughters train, the mothers learned so much about cheering that Britt decided to use all that impromptu education and put them to work. “They have the gift,” says Britt, who firmly believes that a coach’s most important attribute is the ability to mentor and lead.

Continue to foster a sense of loyalty. One of the great things about hiring an athlete from within is that he or she likely already has a strong loyalty to you and your program. Just ask Steven Hogenson, who spent his senior year of high school cheering at Eagan, MN-based Northern Elite All-Stars and now both coaches and cheers on the gym’s open team. Hogenson says he can understand how important the gym is to the kids since he used to be one of them. “The gym is not just a job, but a home and family,” says Hogensen.

Communicate clear expectations. With a doctorate in special education, Patton uses her background as a behavior specialist to teach athletes not only cheer skills, but also how to become leaders. She firmly believes the key to keeping kids out of trouble is to give them a home base, a place to go and rules to follow. Because the younger kids look up to the older ones as real life role models, Patton expects her athlete/coaches to also assume leadership roles in the community. She has a strict policy against any negative social media activity and asks the athletes to hold each other accountable by reporting to her any suspect behavior.

Patton feels that ultimately, when coached by peers, kids try harder. “When you set the bar high, kids rise to that level,” says Patton. Her mantra for coaches: “You must be reliable, you must make a commitment, and you must show up. You don’t let down your family.”

Help them embrace their new role. One of the biggest challenges many athletes-turned-coaches face is asserting their newfound authority to others that were once teammates or friends. 18-year-old Elaina Bertoli can relate—she currently helps coach four teams at Five Star Cheer Academy in Joliet, Illinois, while still competing in All-Stars and preparing to attend college in the fall.  Gym owner Angie Caldwell first asked Bartoli to help coach the minis and younger teams when she was 15 years old and she’s been wearing two hats ever since then.

“The hardest thing about transitioning from being a peer to coaching is knowing when to step back from being a friend to being a teacher,” says Bartoli. She says that Caldwell has helped her feel more comfortable in the new role by always having her back and encouraging open communication when problems arise.

Bartoli is also continually learning new lessons. She recently suffered a slipped disk and concussion, which showed Bartoli the importance of proper safety precautions and taught her about what is most important as both a competitor and a coach: “I learned you have to fail sometimes in order to really be able to appreciate winning.”

-Vicky Choy

Implementing Your Gym’s Social Media Policy

Implementing Your Gym’s Social Media Policy

The following is a guest post from coach, choreographer and social media consultant Kate Boyd:

By now, you’re aware that you need a social media policy, and you may already have one created. So start by giving yourself a high five! Because the first step in implementing a policy is to have one (or at least be in the process of it).

But once you have it, you need to take the next step: putting it into action. You could just hand over a sheet with the guidelines to your team, coaches and parents … but that won’t get you very far if you won’t be taking the steps to also enforce the policy. So below I’ll outline a few ways that you can make sure your guidelines are not ignored.

Make it a part of your handbook or constitution. Show your team that you take these guidelines very seriously by incorporating them into your regular handbook or constitution. Include it as part of your expectations for behavior and consider making your team members—and their parents—sign it to show that they have read it and agree to it.

Assign consequences and follow through. When preparing your guideline,s be sure to think of consequences for infractions or working them into your demerit system (if you have one). Make them specific and create a safe reporting system so others feel as though they speak up about inappropriate behavior on social media.

The most important part is to follow through. You shouldn’t punish every instance reported, since many of them probably won’t deserve that. However, when something does fit your criteria for inappropriate behavior, stick to your guns and enforce the policies you worked so hard to produce.

Empower and encourage your team captains and employees. The truth is that you will not be able to monitor everybody’s social media activity alone. You will have to give some extra direction and power to those you’ve chosen as team leaders to help you out if you want to ensure effectiveness. Tell them what you’re looking for, encourage them to engage online and give them the authority to report or draw attention to inappropriate behavior from your team.

Educate parents. Another part of your social media team could be the parents of your athletes. Take some time to educate them about the technology and threats involved in social media and the policy you have put into place to protect their children. Then encourage them to be a presence on social media by interacting often with their children online and offline about what’s being posted.

Engage frequently. Even though delegation will make the job of enforcing your policy much easier, it doesn’t absolve you from being involved on social media. You should still make an effort to have a presence on the various channels that your athletes use and interact with them there. It will help build accountability as well as relationships.

I know some of this may seem controlling or as though you’re infringing on their freedom of expression, but a solid social media policy is about protecting your athletes as well as your business and reputation. By implementing your policies, you’re creating increasingly social media savvy human beings who will be equipped to make wise decisions and ultimately succeed.

Kate Boyd is a coach, choreographer and consultant whose goal is to make you, your team and your program look its best. Visit to learn more about Kate or to find articles about leadership, technique and choreography.


All in the Family: Coaching Your Own Kids

All in the Family: Coaching Your Own Kids

Many cheer professionals wear several hats—not only as gym owners and coaches, but also as parents. And when the two worlds meet, things can get complicated. After all, raising a child is a challenging endeavor for any parent, but the ante is especially raised when doing double-duty as parent and coach. Issues like favoritism, overcompensation and parental guilt constantly arise and have become frequent topics of discussion in private Facebook groups for cheer professionals.

Just ask Cheer Savannah owner Stephanie Britt, who admits that she is often harder on her daughters, 14-year-old Southern and 13-year-old Saylor. Britt expects more from her own kids because she wants them to cultivate a desire to be the best and to form a strong work ethic. As Britt sees it, the best way to handle the issue of nepotism is by not publicly celebrating her girls’ success or liberally praising them; she feels that, as their coach and the owner of the gym, doing so would be unprofessional. Britt believes that this approach has taught her daughters humility and the meaning of earning your spot.

However, in private, Britt is quick to tell Southern and Saylor “good job” and let them know just how proud she is of them. In return, her daughters recognize this approach and have no problem with it. Says Britt, “I don’t want my girls to get their self-worth from cheerleading. I want them to know I love them whether they can flip or not.”

Not Being “That” Parent

In exploring the pros and cons of coaching your own kids, one of the biggest pros noted by coaches was getting to spend time with their children that they otherwise wouldn’t get due to the time demands of the cheer business.  However, the flip side is the issue of nepotism and how one handles walking the fine line between being a coach and being a parent.

Cheer professionals Aaron Flaker and Les Stella know this conundrum all too well—though they don’t coach their kids in a cheer gym, they’re out on the baseball, football and soccer fields living out these scenarios. “You can turn off being a coach, but you can’t turn off being a parent,” says Flaker of The JAM Brands, who coaches his 10-year-old Braxton and 6-year-old Tyce in both baseball and football.

Flaker’s driving philosophy is that in order for a team to thrive, all athletes have to be empowered to do well. He believes strongly that kids should be able to flourish on their own, and the only way to facilitate that is through fairness to everyone. In light of that, Flaker feels that he probably goes out of his way to make sure his kids are treated the same as everyone else—probably to the point that his sons may think he’s harder on them than others. He doesn’t ever want to engage in “Daddy ball,” where parent-coaches tend to focus only on their own kids and their abilities.

“When you’re in the stands, at least you literally have distance from your kid, but as the coach, human nature kicks in and you have to try not to let your kid’s performance affect you,” explains Flaker.

Stella has also seen his share of “Daddy ball,” as he spends up to three weekends every month coaching his kids’ soccer teams. He originally started coaching 7-year-old Gavin and 11-year-old Spencer in order to spend more time with them—after all, his role as USASF’s Vice-President of Rules, Safety & Judging keeps him on the go pretty much 24/7. Stella believes that in order to successfully coach kids, you need to be able to relate to them, and this is where his background as a former cheer coach serves him well. “Know your audience, and coach accordingly,” he advises, adding that it’s vital to know what type of motivation and coaching approach will elicit the best performance from athletes.

At the start of every season, Stella sets the tone with his sons by sharing that if he gets on their case, it’s only because he wants them to thrive. He says that his boys understand this and don’t feel singled out. Stella is very cognizant that as a coach and parent, there is always a bigger picture at play. “At the end of the day, it’s not about you or your children, it’s about the team,” he shares.

Moving Forward After Mistakes

Though Bravo All-Stars head coach Adriane Callahan now coaches her daughter Marina’s Level 3 team, she almost didn’t get the chance to have this shared experience with her child. Before coaching all-star cheerleading, Callahan coached Marina in gymnastics and pushed her very hard in a rigorous program that was challenging for Marina. According to Callahan, Marina felt her mom was unfairly being tougher on her than others and quit gymnastics largely because it stopped being fun.

Things changed when Marina joined Bravo—once she advanced to the level that Callahan coached, the two forged a fresh start by talking about how they would do things differently. Marina came to understand that she would be treated like any other kid, and Callahan realized that it’s okay to let Marina naturally progress rather than forcing it. Callahan now admits that she probably worked Marina too hard in gymnastics because she wanted her to be on par with the others, even though her skill wasn’t yet at that level.

Through this experience with Marina, Callahan learned to let the child’s desire and ability drive how you teach them—and, above all, to make sure that they are having fun. “I believe that every coach has to be true to their individual coaching philosophy much like every parent has to follow their own parenting philosophy,” shares Callahan. Marina’s current success and love of cheerleading shows Callahan that, this time, mom and daughter got it worked out right.


Keeping It Classy (On Social Media)

Keeping It Classy (On Social Media)

Social media and its various tools—Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest—provide a wonderful opportunity for gyms to interact online, but the very nature of the beast can sometimes put a gym’s reputation at risk. One derogatory remark on Twitter, and 1,000 re-tweets later, your popularity could hit rock bottom.

The best solution for keeping your social media reputation in check? Implementing a social media policy. Cheryl Pasinato, owner of Tewskbury, MA-based East Celebrity Elite, says that having such a policy in place has been a key factor in managing her gym’s social media activity. “It’s a golden opportunity to represent your gym in a positive manner,” says Pasinato. “Social media is a superb way to market your activities and generate revenue, but a policy helps regulate your online presence.”

Lizzy Stice, a hip-hop coach at Springfield, OR-based Emerald All Star Cheer, agrees. “It’s important for gyms to have a policy for their teachers, students and parents because people can easily throw stuff out there in social media and provide a false reality of the gym—good or bad!” cautions Stice.

If you’re considering introducing a social media policy for the 2013-2014 season, here are some tips to Tweet by:

Keep it short and sweet. A social media policy doesn’t have to be too long or elaborate. For example, the social media policy at East Celebrity Elite is all of 450 words long. It lays out the importance of social media tools in establishing the gym’s image, as well as some do’s and don’ts for all stakeholders—owners, coaches, athletes and parents. Even at a succinct 176 words, the social media policy of Dover-NH based Prime Time All Stars gets across the same message. Most gym owners will put the policy in their handbook, and some may even post it on their website. The key? Making sure all the members of your gym are aware of it through any channels necessary.

Make it meaningful to your gym. What you put in the policy will largely depend on your gym’s experiences and social media requirements. Both Prime Time All Stars and East Celebrity Elite emphasize the importance of putting out a positive image of the gym and not posting anything negative. For example, one pointer in East Celebrity Elite’s policy reads: There will be no negative comments on any forms of social media regarding any athletes, coaches, staff or other programs allowed. Please only post positive comments.

Other pointers include using appropriate language and not posting inappropriate pictures. Alison Reynolds, head coach at Tri-State Cheer All Stars (Havertown, PA), says they have an uncomplicated theory behind their policy. “It’s pretty simple—if you wouldn’t say it to or share it with a child, don’t post it,” says Reynolds. “Our gym owner always says, ‘It’s all about perception.'”

Spell it out using examples. While crafting your social media policy and laying out rules, it might be a good idea to explain every rule with an example. This makes the rules crystal clear to the readers. For instance, here’s the pointer about inappropriate pictures in the East Celebrity Elite policy: No inappropriate pictures posted. If you are engaging in something illegal or inappropriate, please do not share with everyone in social media. For e.g., pictures of underage athletes drinking at a party even though not in ECE clothing.

Personal page protocol: Sometimes members of a gym might be tempted to share a personal tidbit on the team page, but Stice cautions that “too many things can be taken the wrong way over social media, so unless it’s something really positive—like the birth of a baby—they shouldn’t really post it.” This concern can even translate to employees’ personal pages, according to Pasinato. “How a staff member represents themselves on their personal page ultimately has a bearing on the gym’s reputation, so we encourage them to post appropriate content on their personal profiles and pages, too,” she says.

Put emphasis on professionalism. Pasinato says she is very particular about keeping online interactions between members of her gym strictly professional. “We don’t encourage coaches to ‘friend’ athletes on their personal profiles,” she says. “Moreover, some of the coaches are really young and would not be comfortable sharing details about their personal life with the kids.” For ECE, all interaction between coaches and athletes is restricted to the team Facebook page; in fact, even parents aren’t allowed on the team page. “We have a separate page for parents, which we update with team news from time to time,” she adds.

Know the ramifications of pushing the limits. Despite publicizing your social media policy, sometimes there will be cases of misconduct. At Emerald All Star Cheer, the consequences can be serious. “Our policy is that if anything is seen as inappropriate or negative towards the gym, there will be a sit-down conversation with the gym owners and the defaulters,” says Stice. “There is always potential they can be let go.” At ECE, in case of an inappropriate comment on an athlete’s or parent’s part, they generally ask them to take down the post and have a conversation about the incident. “If it happens again, we ask them to leave,” adds Pasinato.

Stay vigilant. While social media is great for your gym’s publicity, you’ve got to be vigilant about what’s happening on your gym’s collective presence—which Stice says can be a pretty intensive endeavor. “I am constantly checking in on our team’s Facebook page, Instagram, Twitter, team website and YouTube videos,” she confides. “This can be exhausting, but pays off in the long run because I make sure that everything we do is cohesive and is how we want to be represented.”

-Dinsa Sachan

Part 2: Free & Low-Cost Systems, Policies & Technology That Every Gym Should Have in Their Toolbox

Part 2: Free & Low-Cost Systems, Policies & Technology That Every Gym Should Have in Their Toolbox

As a gym owner or program director, you have a lot on your plate! So we’re giving you some of our favorite free and low-cost resources to help you be more efficient, organized and profitable in your all-star cheerleading career. (This is Part 2 of this article, so if you missed Part 1, be sure and grab all the cool resources there, too.) These articles are not an advertisement for any listed company or app. It is simply of listing of the tools our consulting clients love the most—and that we love the most—to help you grow your gym.

Evernote: Welcome to productivity and research heaven! Evernote makes it easy to remember things big and small from your everyday life using your computer, phone, tablet and the web—putting notes, web clips, and images available in one place. Collaborating online with coaches, vendors and staff is a snap with this tool, and it’s awesomely free. (Upgrades available).

Trello:  Trello is another free productivity and collaboration tool that organizes your projects and ideas into boards. In one glance, Trello tells you what’s being worked on, who’s working on what and where something is in a process. Like Evernote, it has mobile apps to keep you informed on the go. Look at both programs and decide based on your personal preference if you want to use both or just one of these very cool platforms to help you and your team run smoothly and stay accountable to all that needs to be done.

SignUpGenius: Here is an awesome one for team moms and your booster club: this site allows you to create forms and then invite others to sign up and pitch in! Need items for the goodie bags? Just make your form here and invite them to sign up for what they want to bring. It has many uses, and the basic version is free!

Google Calendar: Your gym calendar should absolutely be online accessible. Google calendar allows for multi-user sharing and editing with great control over who sees what. Color coding allows for easy organization and visual attention to specific items. Because it’s web-based, you always have it! Google calendar allows you to sync with your other existing calendars easily, such as iCal or Outlook. Yes, it’s free. If you don’t already have a Google account (Gmail, YouTube, G+, etc), just go to and sign up. Then click “calendar” and watch your productivity go way up.

iClass Pro: If you want a more streamlined vehicle to manage your classroom signups, payments and communications via your website platform, this is a great resource. It’s your all-in-one manager for all things class and team related. One of our favorite features here is broadcast text or voice communications for your teams, which is fantastic for on-the-go communications while at competitions or other emergency notifications that your gym families must hear. (ex: “Team Jaguars, our competition time has been changed to 3:23pm. Please meet up at Section 110A by the blue doors 20 minutes earlier than the email notice last night!”). This system offers a free 30-day trial and is priced at $129/month for a single facility thereafter.

WordPress:  This website platform was originally created to help bloggers easily build their websites. WordPress is one of the smartest and easiest (and free) platforms to build your entire cheer website, even if you do not have a blog. (Although you should, and that’s an entirely different post.) The simplicity of WordPress makes it easy to set up, edit your site, add pages, posts and pics…all without needing to wait on (or pay for) a web developer! If you get stuck, though, WordPress is such a common framework, that you can easily find by-the-project contractors to help you on Elance or Odesk, which we discussed in part one of this article.

BlueHost: There are many hosting companies out there, but we recommend this one because they have by far the most reliable service we’ve seen over the years. You can get unlimited email and storage, and prices start as low as $4.95. Bluehost also offers a huge benefit: a very simple one-click system to add your WordPress site, complete with super-easy video tutorials. This alone can save you several hundred dollars by not having to hire someone to add your WordPress to your domain. Full disclosure here—if you do sign up for Bluehost by using this link, we may receive an affiliate commission for referring you. We are transparent about that. But we really do recommend Bluehost because we love it and use it ourselves.

Your own YouTube Channel: Having a YouTube account is different than having a YouTube Channel for your gym. It’s free to make one and will help you drive your brand in big ways, since YouTube is such a dominant search engine. Simply log in to your account, then create your channel by naming it, adding your logo and company descriptions, as well as links back to your site. We suggest naming your channel the same as your Twitter name or website when you set it up. Also, when you begin uploading your videos, place your website link with the complete http:// in the description first, before you start typing what your video actually is. This prevents the link from being cut off in the description section and helps you drive traffic back to your site, which is really the goal in most cases.

It’s been a joy sharing with you.  We consider it a privilege to help build leaders in the cheerleading industry. Stop by and say hello if you run into us during competition season, or stop by our site to learn more about how we can help you in your gym.

As always…we’re cheering you on,

Aly & Andrea


Identical twins Aly Calvo and Andrea Kulberg, M.Ed are leadership development experts and consultants for the cheerleading industry. They are former University of Texas cheerleaders, and former NCA Staff. Andrea is one of the founding partners of a major international event producer, served as the International Representative for the USASF Board of Directors, and is in the USASF Hall of Fame. Aly and Andrea together have been named among the best business coaches in the country and among the “Top 50 Women to Follow on Twitter.” Now, they help coaches, gym owners, and parents have extraordinary experiences within the cheerleading community via their online training, mentorship programs, live events and competitions. For more information about Aly & Andrea, click here or find them on Facebook or Twitter. To request a free consultation for your gym, click here.

Free & Low-Cost Systems, Policies & Technology That Every Gym Should Have in Their Toolbox

Free & Low-Cost Systems, Policies & Technology That Every Gym Should Have in Their Toolbox

A special welcome to our newest writers, Aly Calvo & Andrea Kulberg, M.Ed! Here’s the first of their contributions for CheerProfessional’s website:

One of the greatest gifts about working in the spirit industry is that we have the opportunity to touch lives. We hear you as gym owners and coaches reflect that sentiment to us every day in our work. We as a cheerleading community love what we do! But the truth is, if we don’t run our gyms like a true business that needs to be profitable, we will lose the opportunity to help shape so many lives.

In order to be successful in any business, you must be the master of 3 things: increasing revenue, decreasing expenses and being quickly adaptable.

So today, we’re going to give you some resources to help you do all of that. If you own a gym or manage a program, this is part one of two—giving you free and low-cost systems, policies and technology to help you earn more, save more and free up your time and resources to keep doing what you love.

ELance & ODesk: Welcome to your outsourcing heaven! If your gym owner to-do list is higher than the kick double baskets, it’s time to get some help in the right areas. Elance and Odesk both offer per-project and per-hour contractors to help you with almost any task you can imagine. Even if you have strong admin staff up front, there are some tasks that truly are better off being outsourced simply to protect your time and resources. That is, your time is better spent in the gym coaching, or networking, or building relationships with athletes, families or prospects than it is trying to enter names into a spreadsheet or figure out how to use Photoshop so you can make an image for your next flyer. Evaluate your to-do list and delegate where you can to free up your resources. You’ll be surprised at how inexpensively you can get so much work done without hiring an employee.

Fiverr: You’ll be amazed at what you can outsource for just $5! Need a quick logo? What about a banner for your fan page? Fiverr is a fun resource where you’ll find all kinds of helpful (and sometimes unusual) jobs available for contract at just $5 each. Use it for your smaller, less critical jobs that do not go to the resource above.

MailChimp: If you are still managing your mailing list via Gmail or any other dated database type system, you will love this resource. MailChimp is a free web-based platform that allows you to collect and manage your mailing list via Opt-In forms, auto-responders, broadcasts and more. If you don’t know those terms yet, you should. You can learn more about them and why you absolutely need them for your marketing in a post we wrote for you here. While there are other mid-level and higher priced platforms with more advanced features to help you manage your prospects and mailing lists, MailChimp is the reliable free one. And if you are just getting started, it’s all you need. (Emphasis on “need.”) MailChimp also plugs in nicely to leading class management software, which we will cover in part II of this article.

Wufoo: How will you give your gym family what they want, if you don’t actually know what they want? The answer is to survey them with 1-4 simple questions, with the last one being open-ended so they can say what they want without selecting from a drop-down list. Make your survey name-optional so they can remain anonymous if they prefer. Teach them via regular interaction that you are actually listening and taking action based on their survey results, so they are actually moved to respond. Over time, you’ll get great interaction here. It will help you protect your time and money by guiding you as a gym owner or coach in what programs to deliver, and more importantly, what not to deliver. It will also make for a culture that says your gym actually listens to the people who pay them and trust them with their children. Your free resource for surveys: There are fee-based plans, but the free plan is sufficient for most gyms.

Social Media Must-Haves for Cheer Gyms

We teach entire classes on this and it’s worthy of much more than a paragraph here. But for now, here are the absolute minimum basics for your gym’s social media marketing:

Every gym should have a Social Media Policy and a Defined Content Management Team. Best practice is to have regular meetings reviewing this policy and responsibilities with staff, athletes and parents. Everyone in the gym should know the policies and sign off on them. Anything less is a liability to your brand and the gym culture you work so hard to build. It can even be dangerous to your athletes. Remember, the Internet is permanent.

Talkwalker: This is a fantastic free and easy resource to help you monitor your online reputation in real time via email or in an RSS feed reader. With all businesses, including yours, monitoring your online reputation is mandatory. Be aware of what is being said about you, your staff, your coaches, athletes and your competition. The speed at which your reputation grows or crashes depends on it. Note: In past, we have recommended Google Alerts as a monitor, but it has lately proven unreliable and we no longer advise using it. Talkwalker is a strong alternative for all things being said about you on the web.

Another free and reputable monitor is Social Mention. It monitors your key phrases across the web and social media channels, and also delivers a sentiment analysis across social media mentions and hashtag tracking. #SuperCool

Hootsuite:  We use Hootsuite every day to protect us from the time-suck that social media can be. It allows you to schedule tweets and posts for future release, organize feeds so you can see what matters without distraction, save drafts for multiple posts over time and plenty more. There are other similar platforms out there, but Hootsuite delivers all the features you need. Plus, it is free and easy, and offers an inexpensive upgrade to Pro version if you want to divide social media tasks amongst staff. The only caution we have for any of these platforms is to be careful with duplicate posts across accounts and remember to keep it socially engaging. (Translation: do not post the exact same content across your Twitter and Facebook feed all the time.) Socially engaging means you still take the time to interact with your fans and followers in real time. Scheduling is convenient, but it is not a replacement for real engagement and response to real people behind real accounts.

Coach’s Eye: This handy app for your iPad, iPhone or Android takes coaching for your visual learners to a whole new level.  Simply record video of the skill, and play back for them to watch and learn with features like slow motion, side-by-side comparisons of efforts to show progressions, ability to draw lines, arrows and circles to drive home what you want your athletes to focus on and much more. You can even record yourself giving instruction to the athlete while you play the video and draw on it and then email the recorded lesson to athletes or parents. As a coach, this is one more way to help you speed up learning curves and over-deliver for your teams.

TimeTrade:  Here’s the truth: Your coaches should not have to give out their personal cell numbers in order for athletes to schedule private sessions. Nor should athletes or parents have to call or drive to the gym to find an appointment, only for a staff member to question if the coach is available or not. Introducing your online private session scheduler, TimeTrade. TimeTrade is a low cost platform that allows you to show available times to anyone wanting to schedule a session with you, and they simply sign themselves up in one of the windows you’ve specified. Features like automatic reminders, calendar syncs and invites to sign up make it easy. You can even create custom buttons for your website inviting athletes to “Click Here to Schedule with Coach John.” This is the system we use to schedule all of our consulting sessions and it saves us tons of money on the administration side without sacrificing any customer care. It is very user-friendly.

There are more resources we want to share with you, so join us next Monday at CheerProfessional next time for part two of this article. We’ll share more on organizing your staff systems, world-class parent communications and maximizing marketing dollars with easy tools. We encourage your comments and questions below.

As always…we’re cheering you on,

Aly & Andrea

Identical twins Aly Calvo and Andrea Kulberg, M.Ed are leadership development experts and consultants for the cheerleading industry. They are former University of Texas cheerleaders, and former NCA Staff. Andrea is one of the founding partners of a major international event producer, served as the International Representative for USASF Board of Directors and is in the USASF Hall of Fame. Aly and Andrea together have been named among the best business coaches in the country and among the “Top 50 Women to Follow on Twitter.” Now, they help coaches, gym owners and parents have extraordinary experiences within the cheerleading community via their online training, mentorship programs, live events and competitions. For more information about Aly & Andrea, click here or find them on Facebook or Twitter. To request a free consultation for your gym, click here.

To Comp or Not to Comp?

To Comp or Not to Comp?

The divide over whether to provide complimentary tuition to certain athletes, including boys, is not new. For those in the “pro” column, they typically comp athletes with the idea that offering a free ride will attract additional membership to a gym and—in the case of male athletes—round out a team to deliver an edge over the competition.

Shawn Herrera, owner of Simi Valley, CA-based Cheer Force, believes comping athletes is a rampant practice in the industry but concedes it’s something “most gym owners don’t want to discuss or admit to [doing].” In reality, comping usually doesn’t work, Herrera opines. “Comping kids is like saying ‘I don’t believe in my product; we’re not good enough,’” he adds. “When you give people services for free, they don’t value it.”

Herrera uses Cheer Force’s special needs program as an example. “We used to provide free tuition for the kids [with special needs],” he explains. But it didn’t pay off: the kids didn’t take it seriously, and parents weren’t vested. There wasn’t the consequence of “wasting money or time,” Herrera reasons. Ultimately the kids dropped out.

But when Herrera made the decision to begin charging a low monthly $25 fee, something surprising happened: the parents didn’t resist and the kids started showing up. “It added value,” he says. “It was an epiphany: you don’t need to make it free to get kids to join your program.”

For Karen Potucek, co-owner and coach at Fairfield, NJ-based JuST Cheer All Stars, the topic of comping is complicated. “It’s a big issue,” she admits. “I don’t know how I feel about comping in general, but comping boys [versus girls] is not fair.” Potucek understands the need for male athletes but she empathizes with girls who could also use financial help. At 150 kids, her gym is on the smaller side, but “everyone pays,” she says.

Similar to Potucek, Herrera also takes a hard stance on comping athletes, but he does believe in providing financial breaks to his membership in the way of incentives. “For our higher-level athletes, we offer a 50 percent discount in fees based on skills,” he says, meaning if an athlete can perform a complicated tumbling routine or move, they pay less tuition.

Amy Grey, director of Palm Desert, CA-based Desert Elite Mavericks Cheer, has a different take: she considers scholarships and comping necessary. “We don’t do it across the board,” she says. But when they do, it is typically based on one of two things: loyalty, in the case of financial hardship, or the team’s need to entice boys to join. “Male athletes are few and far between,” points out Grey.

While Desert Elite will cover operational costs, such as tuition, it doesn’t mean those athletes receiving scholarships get a free ride. “We will comp their tuition but they pay the hard costs,” Grey notes, referencing “hard costs” as non-tuition-related expenses like uniforms and travel.

Like Grey, Tammy Smith, coach and president of Big Bear Elite Cheer in the resort community of Big Bear Lake, Calif., uses comping to maintain her membership. “[Waiving fees] gives kids a chance,” Smith says.

But Smith’s situation is unique. “Big Bear Lake is a small town and most parents don’t have the money,” she says. She knows firsthand—Smith started Big Bear Elite Cheer in August 2012 at the urging of parents because the alternatives (mostly school teams) were too expensive. Smith’s yearly program costs $150 and includes everything from coaching to uniforms. Competitions are extra, but are paid for by team fundraising and a partnership Smith created with the Lighthouse Project, a local non-profit devoted to creating a child-honoring community.

To date, Smith has 50 kids enrolled and believes her program goes beyond cheerleading. “It builds their confidence and teaches them discipline,” she says. Smith’s biggest motivator: to help all children who want to join her team—regardless of their ability or inability to pay. However, while Smith waives fees for athletes, she doesn’t let them off the hook. “They still have to raise the money,” she says, adding that they have two options: “They can sell candy, which we facilitate, or they can ask someone else to pay.” Smith believes this arrangement doesn’t diminish her program’s value.

It is this risk of diminished value that inspires Cheer Force’s Herrera to look beyond his own views on the issue of comping toward the future. “Comping is just a short-term fix to the problem [attracting new membership],” he says, “and owning a gym is a long-term investment.”

-Cathleen Calkins

Showcase Spotlight: JuST Cheer!

Showcase Spotlight: JuST Cheer!

As family and friends filed into the bleachers, the young cheerleaders of Fairfield, NJ-based JuST Cheer All Stars waited patiently for their turn on the rented spring floor in the clean space of the local high school gymnasium. Outside the gym, the chilly December air permeated the hallway, where a handful of vendors had set up tables and were ready to sell everything from ribbons and JuST Cheer logo tees to pizza, sodas and snacks. The schedule for the day’s event was tight: “First Tinys, then Minis and levels building up to the fives,” says Karen Potucek, co-owner and president of JuST Cheer All Stars, noting that, for many of the athletes, it was their first time performing in front of a crowd.

Despite the jittery cheerleaders sitting cross-legged around the perimeter, this wasn’t a competition—it was simply JuST Cheer’s pre-season showcase. “We’d been doing showcases in one form or another for the past few years,” says Sean Sova, coach and co-owner. “But this was the first time we did one for the whole program in one day, and it was a great success.”

Showcases have all the elements of competition: a cheering crowd, nervous athletes and the desire to do well. It’s also a tool many gyms employ for marketing their facility and their athletes—not just locally, but also online. (For instance, Charlotte All-Stars showcase videos can be viewed on YouTube, and Woodlands Elite streams theirs on According to Sova, the benefits are far-reaching, from engaging current athletes to recruiting new talent. “Our cheerleaders invite friends, some from other all-star programs or recreational cheer teams,” says Sova, adding that the showcase helps pique curiosity among these potential clients.

But putting on a showcase is a “considerable” effort, says Potucek. Because their gym doesn’t have bleachers, she and Sova had to make arrangements to use the high school gymnasium. It’s also expensive: JuST Cheer’s outlay included rental of a spring floor for $3,000 and the space for $2,000. To recoup costs, they charged admission of five dollars per head and sold food and gear on-site.

“We broke even,” Potucek says, but notes they could have saved money had they used the spring floor in their gym. Other money-saving initiatives require creativity and planning. For instance, Potucek says they’ve forged unique partnerships in the past, such as asking the high school hockey team for help. “JuST Cheer donated $300 to the team for their assistance,” she says. “That can help make a showcase relatively cheap.”

The use of social media also keeps costs down. “Social media has increased in our gym over the past few years,” says Sova, “and it has been invaluable.” For last year’s showcase, she and Sova sent out “Come See Us” information using Twitter and Facebook and asked parents and kids to do the same. Post-showcase, videos of the day’s event were viewable on YouTube and also distributed via email. “This is extremely helpful in improving routines and preparing [athletes] for upcoming practices,” says Sova. He adds that having the ability to watch showcase video afterward has been “the single most important tool we have to help correct poor technique.”

Showcasing is often also beneficial for family and friends. For many, it is the first time they can see their children perform because travel time and distance for competition can be a challenge for some parents. It also sets the kids up for competing: they experience the feeling of performing and become more comfortable in front of a crowd. “There are accolades, too, which builds confidence,” says Potucek. “I’ve had parents tell me there is no [more] ‘talking them off a cliff’ when it’s time to compete.”

The event is also open to the public. “We do get people from other gyms,” says Potucek. “They want to see what we’re doing or see their friends.” Yet Potucek and Sova agree this is not a negative: it serves to generate interest in JuST Cheer’s program. “We do get a couple of kids out of it,” adds Potucek, whether it is recreational program children looking to step it up as an all-star or cheerleaders from other gyms that like what they see. “They think it was fun and want to join,” he adds

Yet the main motivator for JuST Cheer is to “get the kids on the floor and get them experience,” says Potucek. Sova agrees, adding, “especially those athletes new to all-star cheerleading.”

-Cathleen Calkins


The Big Reveal

The Big Reveal

At Kernersville, NC-based Cheer Extreme Allstars, team placements are no longer simply announced online, but have now become a festive affair with much more fanfare. This spring, owner Courtney Smith-Pope introduced the “Teal Reveal,” a gala event held at a local church. Smith-Pope spent the morning with her team moms stuffing personalized invites for each athlete, and when she yelled “Go!” later that night, the athletes eagerly ran to each decorated table to see which team held their fate. In retrospect, Smith-Pope said she loved seeing the athletes react to their placements—hearing happy screams, seeing them hug their moms, being able to comfort a select few who were disappointed—but the event was also helpful on a practical level.

“We get to say thank you to all the parents personally. They come in, and they’re all dressed up, and we show a video with the highlights of tryouts that gets everybody all excited for the season,” shares Smith-Pope.

Of course, not everyone is always excited by the news at the start of a new season—many gym owners must deal with parental pressure to place their child on a higher-level team. To keep team reveals from being stressful and/or tense, it’s important to set the tone for a positive experience by establishing clear expectations, outlining long-term goals and, of course, communicating with athletes and parents.

Five top tips for a successful team reveal:

1. Have standards—and stick to them. While parents may want to see their child succeed right away, the proper placement is one that will be both safe and challenging for the athlete. The best way to avoid unpleasant surprises on placement day is to be specific about what you’re looking for from athletes at each level and make sure everyone on staff shares your vision. Jessica Bugg Smith, owner of Nicholasville, KY-based Kentucky Reign, advises, “Establish policies and procedures for how you want to run your program, and be consistent across the board. If you say that you need a certain skill set for a certain team, you have to stick to your guns.”

2. Follow your own rules. Gym owners and coaches often face pressure to give certain athletes special treatment, but when you do a favor for one person, word gets around. Other parents will expect you to bend the rules for their children, too. Cheer Extreme Allstars is in its 20th year, and Smith-Pope has learned a few things along the way. “The kid you put on the team because you’re close to them…it never works out in the long run. It gives them a more inflated sense of value than they really actually have. They take advantage of the situation, and it’s worse when other parents find out that something like that happened and you moved a kid or did something after the fact. You have to be on the up and up.”

Letting favors affect team placement also does a disservice to the whole team. Bugg Smith offers this example: “You take a child who’s working on a back handspring, right at a Level 2. You put her on a Level 4 team, and what ends up happening is one of two things: either the kid with the Level 2 skills doesn’t continue to develop her own skills, because in practice, you don’t have time for her—or on the flipside, you focus so much on trying to get that kid up to par that your Level 4’s aren’t getting what they need to get to Level 5.”

3. Build relationships. Create an environment where parents know you want what’s best for their child, so they will trust you and respect your decisions. Bugg Smith communicates with parents as often as possible about their child’s progress, and she makes it crystal clear that coaches and parents are working toward the same goal. “All we all want is success for the athlete,” shares Bugg Smith. “Our coaches’ number one priority is to give their kid the best chance of success. That doesn’t necessarily mean winning every championship, but that the child is progressing and growing.”

4. Create a shared vision.  Proper placement benefits the individual athlete, their current team and every team they join in the future. Bugg Smith advises owners of smaller gyms to think long-term: “It’s very important that we’re focusing on the process of developing the athlete versus just where they are this year.”

If an athlete or parent is disappointed in a placement decision, they may threaten to leave and go to another gym, but according to Smith-Pope, that’s a mistake. “The biggest skill you can have in our sport is competition experience. Sometimes they think, ‘I’ll work on those skills and then come back to Cheer Extreme,’ but in reality, if you want to make the team, you want to be on the floor with us, years prior to that.”

5. Consider how you share the news. A successful team reveal relies on finding the right fit for your gym. At Kentucky Reign, team placement is a relatively casual experience. Bugg Smith explains, “We just need you to come in, see what you can do. Generally people know where they’re going. It’s not a big surprise.”

At Cheer Extreme Allstars’ Teal Reveal, the event acted not only as a fun way to kick off a new season, but also a valuable opportunity for parents to ask questions. In the past, Smith-Pope would field texts and phone calls from unhappy parents at all hours of the night, but she enacted a new policy at the Teal Reveal: “Any question they have has to be asked in person.” She found that parents were less confrontational this way because they wanted to avoid making a scene. Coordinating an event like the Teal Reveal is certainly more work than posting a list, but according to Smith-Pope, “We had the best year ever last year, and this really set the tone [for the new season] right from the start.”

-Lisa Beebe

Owner’s Manual: Joshua Kennedy

Owner’s Manual: Joshua Kennedy

Want to secure juicy sponsorships for your gym? Joshua Kennedy shares the inside scoop.

Vital Stats:

Name: Joshua Kennedy, founder, owner and coach

Gym: Intensity Cheer Elite

Location: Horseheads, New York

Size: Six cheer teams and three dance teams

Gym size: 16,500 square feet

Debrief: As founder, owner, and coach at Horseheads, New York-based Intensity Cheer Elite, Joshua Kennedy has his hands full managing this rapidly growing gym. Now in its fourth year, Intensity has been successfully seeking out creative sponsorships and partnerships to help offset some of the costs and expenses that come with running a gym with 75 cheerleaders. Kennedy took the time to share his experiences and give some tips about seeking out – and securing – local and corporate sponsorships.

The Dish: When getting started, it’s important to evaluate the perception of cheerleading in your area. When I first I opened four years ago and asked this same question, I would say it would have been unrealistic to get a business sponsor without an “insider.” Since then, my program has helped to change the community’s outlook on competitive cheer and they are much more supportive now.

In addition, people are seeing that we are not just about training athletes but also about building character, which provides a greater attraction for support. Give a business reasons they should support the program, showing how it will in turn provide something worthwhile to their business. Also, make sure your gym is showing support for the community. Our program goes caroling during Christmas, conducts food drives for the local food bank and raises cancer awareness.

For this season, my gym offers a few different tiers of sponsorship: Bronze, Silver, Gold and Platinum. In the lowest tier (Bronze), I start a low bottom offer of a sponsorship of $25, which gets their business email recognized on our website. As you go up the tiers, the sponsorship commitment increases. Platinum requires a sponsorship of more than $1,000, for which I offer the business a window advertisement (and space for) their marketing material inside my gym. They also get a plaque with a program photo for them to display in their place of business; I am also offering sponsors of this tier [a photo op in which] they may hold a placement trophy from one of our events.

Overall, the bottom line of the gym is greatly impacted by sponsorships. I’ve received not just monetary support, but also material support such as wood supplies, paint and food for fundraising dinners. We’ve turned $400 in food donations from businesses and local supporters and had the fundraiser bring in over $3,000. These fundraisers, donations and sponsorships enable me to assure my clients that I have community support to help them offset the costs of the season.

Ultimately, sponsorships do enable us to travel more with our teams. However, the ownership of the gym has the ability to direct sponsorships to where they need them to be. Since my program has been growing so fast, many of my sponsorships have been focusing on new facilities, facility improvement and equipment investments. If the owner can show the community and businesses that their sponsorships are benefiting the kids (and not the bottom line), the possibilities can be endless.

Visit our “Biz Docs” section to see the letter Kennedy uses to secure sponsorships!



And Now For a Word About Sponsorship

And Now For a Word About Sponsorship

When Cheer Zone Cheerleading athletes sport T-shirts around town in Mount Washington, Kentucky, it’s more than just a way to show team pride—it’s also a savvy strategy for keeping the program afloat. The various company logos decorating the back signify the successful T-shirt sponsorship program created by owner Tamara Erdes to help offset the financial burden for the gym’s 60-plus athletes and their families.

“Our sponsorship is set up more to help the parents than it is the gym,” explains Erdes. “We want to provide them every opportunity to cheer.”

It’s a win-win situation all-around, as the sponsors receive valuable exposure throughout the year with the T-shirts being worn at competitions and events. Erdes makes it easy for all types of companies to get involved by offering various price points, such as larger logos for more money or smaller logos for less. Other forms of exposure sweeten the deal: “It’s easy to give the company a shout-out on Facebook or put their name on a banner,” adds Erdes. “The company not only loves the exposure, but they will be more likely to help again in the future.”

Stumped on how to set up your own sponsorship program? Get started with these five strategies:

Get the athletes in on the action. At New York-based Core Athletix, owner Rob Ulrich employs a similar approach in enlisting sponsorship. Like Cheer Zone, businesses receive different perks depending on the level of sponsorship—from being on a T-shirt to being listed on the Core Athletix website. Sponsors range from “little mom-and-pop restaurants and shops to large franchises and corporations,” and athletes are largely responsible for driving the effort. “Athletes ask the businesses to sponsor them and help fund the ever-increasing cost of all-stars,” explains Ulrich, who currently has 200 all-star athletes and 300 additional athletes training in the gym’s two facilities.

Make your expectations clear. How much support is realistic to expect from sponsors? That really depends on your program and its manpower. The amount Erdes and her athletes have raised has been “dependent on the parents and how willing they are to go out and get the sponsorships,” she says. “Some families have raised over $500 with minimal work.” Setting a minimum can also bolster efforts—at Grand Cheer in Katy, TX, co-owner Casey Lane says that they usually ask for donations of at least $250 to help offset the cost of things like uniforms or competition registration fees.

Consider obtaining non-profit status. To secure sponsors, building trust and strong bonds with the community is essential. And when businesses feel that they’re helping a good cause—and that their donation is building a positive image for their brand—they’re even more likely to lend a hand. Case in point: Anaheim, CA-based Maximum Cheerleading, where owner and program director Nelson DeDios says that having non-profit status has helped land more sponsorships since businesses can write off donations. The process of becoming a non-profit can be long and arduous, requiring high amounts of paperwork and taking up to 12 months, but DeDios says it has been highly worth it for his 10,000 sq. ft. operation.

Lane of Grand Cheer, which has about 45 competitive athletes, agrees. Thanks to the program’s non-profit status, Grand Cheer has been able to attract sponsors ranging from Sears Hardware to Terminix to Action Gypsum Supply. “You better have your 501c3—otherwise, the big money will not even look at you,” he states.

Don’t be afraid to get creative. Funds aren’t the only way sponsors can show their support—scholarships, equipment and resources are also fair game. “The best thing you can do is talk to people and see if there is any mutual benefit,” says Lane of Grand Cheer. “Sears is a sponsor of ours, but they don’t give us any money; we get to use their parking lot for car washes when we do them.”

Go all in. When deciding whether to introduce a sponsorship program, consider the time and energy it will take. According to DeDios, you should expect to get out of a sponsorship request what you put into it—and that goes for athletes and parents, too. “Be prepared for the amount of work [this entails] when deciding if this is something you want to pursue,” says DeDios. “When someone really puts forth the work, it’s feasible to be able to pay off your entire season, but collecting that type of donation takes a ton of work.”

The bottom line: Some gyms have students whose families are able to donate large sums or pay for their child’s travel and expenses without a problem, while other gyms need more support—and there’s nothing wrong with asking for it. Like those interviewed for this story, many gym owners have found that local businesses want to help out, enabling local youth to become more physically fit, pursue a passion and learn life skills that will stay with them into adulthood. To get the most bang for your buck: 1) make sure you offer different price points, 2) engage the kids and parents in sponsorship efforts, and 3) explore all avenues when you’re looking for sponsorships.

“We as gym owners have a ton of resources right in front of us,” Ulrich says. “We have a gym full of kids and parents—tap into them and their resources and help them help you.”


More Than Business

More Than Business

At Mystic All Stars in Apple Valley, CA, signs on the wall proudly proclaim “Family,” and its teams chant “We are Family” at practices and competitions. The close-knit atmosphere at Mystic signifies what is true for so many all-star programs—that gyms can be much more than just places to practice tumbling, twisting and rehearsing for the next big event, but rather places where seeds of meaningful relationships are sown. Strong emotional connections often form between coaches and athletes, thanks to the intense training and shared cheer experiences that bind them together. But are such deep bonds good for business—or risky business?

On the positive end of the spectrum, coaching provides a great opportunity to influence kids positively and instill beneficial traits and habits in them. Mystic All Stars owner Robert Alvey says he and his staff go to great lengths to form special bonds with their athletes. “I have had the pleasure of influencing students of all ages and socio- economic backgrounds,” shares Alvey. “Some of my students come from broken homes and this is the only family they know.”

Coaches can also help students deal with unforeseeable tragedies in their lives. At Cheer Extreme’s Raleigh location, owner Kelly Alison Smith saw this firsthand when an athlete’s mother was recently diagnosed with leukemia. The mother was in desperate need of bone marrow donations, and finding a match was a tall task.

“[The athlete] was devastated and so were we,” says Smith. “Together we devised a plan to set up as many bone marrow drives as possible. We spread the word about how easy it is to donate bone marrow and received hundreds of cheek swap sets.” Within two months, Tonia’s mother got a call that a match had been found. Adds Smith, “The relationship formed between this family and me will be everlasting.”

Seeing the athletes bloom into responsible, productive adults is another heartening byproduct for coaches and gym owners. Very recently, ACE Cheer Company owner Happy Hooper attended the wedding of one of his all-star athletes. “I simply thought, ‘How amazing that I have had the honor to watch her grow into an amazing young person, cheer in college and watch her enter the workforce as a contributing member of a marketing firm,” he says. “Now I’ve seen her achieve yet another outstanding life rite—to marry the person she loves.”

Setting Boundaries

Though relationships shared with athletes are undoubtedly fulfilling, they can also be personally challenging—especially when cheer professionals get too attached. Alvey recalls one male athlete to whom he acted as a “surrogate father,” granting a full cheer scholarship and even allowing him and his mother to reside in his guest home temporarily. When the athlete unexpectedly transferred to another gym, Alvey was devastated. “I have only one flaw and that is I care too much,” says Alvey. “That can sometimes let you down.”

He adds that it’s helpful if you can keep things in perspective and accept that you will be disappointed once in a while: “No matter how hard you try there may be that one kid in a hundred that you just can’t help, and as painful as that might be, you just have to let them go.”

For Alvey, sometimes “letting go” also means recognizing that what’s best for the athlete isn’t always what’s best for the gym. When Brandon Shinnamon, an at-rish athlete whom Alvey had personally recruited and mentored, showed exceptional cheer potential, Alvey decided to refer him to Pacific Coast Magic. There Shinnamon could cheer on its Worlds team “Mysterious,” whereas the highest level offered at Mystic All-Stars was Level 3. “I didn’t want him to miss the opportunities that would be afforded to him [as a Level 5 athlete],” says Alvey.

However, even when you have a tight bond with a particular athlete, it’s crucial to avoid favoring any one person or placing individual needs over the team as a whole. “As a coach or gym owner, you must find that line to make sure you never develop favorites,” warns Hooper. Smith even goes as far as to sometimes overcompensate—she admits that she is usually harder on those she is closer to during practice. “So, from a public eye, it seems the opposite,” she explains.

The bottom line is to not overstep the line. “It’s okay to build relationships, but always make sure you set boundaries and establish them and don’t stray from them. This will help the students to understand when you may have to be stern or help to correct a negative action,” says Alvey.

If gyms have policies stressing that each athlete should get individual feedback and attention, it can help deter coaches from getting too involved with a favorite few. At Cheer Extreme Raleigh, the coaches are tasked with keeping detailed notes on each athlete and how he or she is progressing throughout the season. “We send out individual progress reports to each and every kid in my gym, so they feel the personal touch from the coaching staff,” says Smith.

Ultimately, cheer professionals need to accept the fact that they won’t be able to resolve all of the problems in their athletes’ lives—and that the parents should always be informed about serious issues. “If  a situation begins to approach the inappropriate line, you as a coach should seek the parents’ help. If your attempts to reach parents or family members fail, then encourage the athlete to reach out to a professional counselor,” advises Hooper.

When Families Don’t Pay: 5 Things You Can Do

When Families Don’t Pay: 5 Things You Can Do

Cassandra Rice of Henderson, NV-based Cheercats has watched her gym, Gymcats, grow into a thriving business over the last 21 years. In 1992, Gymcats started out with a base of just 150 members. Today their current roster counts 1,500 clients with 220 athletes enrolled in nine cheer programs. Each week Rice’s clients pass through the front door for rigorous 90-minute tumbling, cheer and choreography workouts. For the casual observer, it’s a scene that might seem to come with ease. In truth, Rice works hard to strike a balance between managing a dynamic program and ensuring that families continue to support it.

Ever since the economic downturn of 2008, owners are finding they need to get a little creative when it comes to answering the question: what to do when clients don’t pay? Though on-time membership dues are one of the biggest challenges gym owners face, minimizing late payments is possible—particularly when solutions can prevent members from getting behind in the first place. Here are five tips that just might pay off:

Be proactive by contacting clients immediately. Facing the problem of delinquency head-on creates a devoted customer base, says Angela Havard Patton, owner and coach of Dallas-based Texas Cheer. With 160 kids enrolled in her program, Patton uses email and texting to remind parents and kids when fees are due each month. She also maintains a low monthly tuition rate, noting competition fees are paid separately. But when families encounter a rough patch, Patton offer solutions such as payment plans to help get clients caught up.

Rice has also found that “working with financially troubled clients pays off.” The collection measures at Gymcats are straightforward—she and her staff call unpaid clients on the 18th and 19th of every month to provide a friendly reminder: “We communicate that parents must respond by the 20th and 21st or their child will sit out.”

For clients unable to make full payment, consider volunteer options and work-credit opportunities. At Gymcats, some parents clean the gym in exchange for their children’s participation. Rice believes that some form of barter is necessary and that members must demonstrate a willingness to meet their obligation—she warns against comping or giving scholarships to financially troubled clients. “We’ve found that doesn’t work; especially when they [the client] show up with a new car,” says Rice.

Over the years, Rice has encountered a few families that have either been reluctant to consider work options or unwilling to pay altogether, but those instances have been few and far between. Overall, the approach has helped the gym retain clients long-term. “[In those instances], we lost only one child rather than the whole team,” says Rice.

Patton agrees that most situations are salvageable, estimating that “99 percent of the time parents want to pay.” During her gym’s tenure, only one family has not. “We had to let them go,” she says. “But I make every effort to help parents because if I don’t, it hurts the kids.”

Use a contract. Every year, Rice asks clients to sign a new contract. While this may seem overly cautious, Rice uses it to emphasize costs—not just tuition and membership dues, but estimated travel expenses associated with competitions as well as coaching and choreography billings. “It’s almost like sticker shock,” Rice justifies. “We don’t want any surprises, and we don’t want them to sign up for something they know they can’t afford.”

Contact a collections agency. Denise Olewnik, owner of Pennsylvania-based Keystone Extreme All-Stars, decided to use a collections company two years ago. “Collection works,” Olewnik says, adding, “It’s not personal.” But before this became her go-to method, Olewnik tested a number of strategies to encourage parents to pay.

She used to list delinquent client names on a secure, members-only website. While the practice was successful, it made parents angry. “We stopped because we would rather offer good customer service [than alienate clients],” Olewnik notes.

After that, Olewnik implemented a two-pronged approach. If tuition wasn’t paid during the season, kids weren’t allowed to practice until they were current. If, at the end of the season, they remained delinquent, kids were barred from tryouts for the upcoming year. However, she soon discovered clients would either stop coming or move to another gym.

Prior to sending a client to collections, Olewnik still favors sitting kids out as a means to encourage parents to pay. While using an outside agency to collect billings is effective when necessary, Olewnik warns it only results in receiving a percentage of the actual money owed. Thus, her advice remains: “Don’t let it go that far.”

Alternatively, hire outside help. With a full-time job as a special education teacher, Patton decided she needed help. “I hired an accountant to assist with collections,” Patton says. Her accountant positions herself at the front door during evaluations, and fees are collected before a child can take part. “Sometimes that’s tough,” she admits. “But it works.”

Involve other gyms. While Rice has never had to use a bill collector, she is not afraid to enlist the help of others. “In Nevada, gyms communicate with each other,” she says. “If a client doesn’t pay, their name is shared,” adding that other facilities do take note. Olewnik says there is a similar tactic in place in Pennsylvania but concedes it is voluntary and isn’t always followed.

Despite differing strategies, Patton, Rice and Olewnik agree that ultimately gym owners must work hard to maintain relationships and encourage on-time payments. “We realize people struggle,” Rice says, insisting she feels good about charging and collecting fees. “We know we have a good program and people have to be willing to recognize that and pay for it.”

Recruiting: Shades of Grey

Recruiting: Shades of Grey

A new gym’s tryouts listed in the local newspaper calendar. Facebook ads promoting a new team. A Twitter campaign that targets most of the local cheer community. Coaches wearing shirts emblazoned with gym info at competitions, making sure to be seen by the Level Five athletes. Signs in the median of the road, attracting the attention of athletes on their way to their current gyms. There are also promises: free tuition if you’re good enough—not to mention free uniform, free travel and the assurance you’re going to Worlds. Cash bounties for getting your (talented) friend to sign up from your competitor. Cheerlebrity-style opportunities for sponsorship, exposure or branding.

Somewhere in there, there’s a line between “good” recruiting and the kind of tactics that cheapen the sport. But where is that line? And as increasing numbers of current all-star athletes move on to be cheer professionals, where will the standard be set in the future?

It’s a conundrum highly unique to all-star cheer gyms. “For most businesses, recruiting means merely gathering more customers. However, in the cheer gym business, it typically means trying to get kids from a different gym to quit there and join your own gym,” explains Cheer Athletics co-founder Jody Melton. With so many gyms vying for business, prestige and trophies, many cheer professionals view recruiting as a means of building the perfect team or shoring up weak areas in an existing squad.

On the surface, most coaches and gym owners can agree on the broad strokes of what’s acceptable and what’s not. Currently competing cheerleaders are out of bounds, but during the off-season or if the cheerleader actively seeks out information, athletes are fair game. “Our overall policy is that no staff should approach an athlete that they know to be a part of another gym,” says Melton. “If that athlete approaches us, then we will talk about our program, staff and facility, but will not trash talk any other gym.”

To some degree, many gyms rely on athletes and families to do their recruiting for them. In the Yelp age, good word-of-mouth is certainly vital for the success of all of a gym’s programs, not just its highly competitive squads. Understandably, gym owners hope that their happy team members will tell their friends about their cheer experience.

“I think ‘good’ recruiting happens through general advertising and with positive word-of-mouth communication,” says Andrea McBride, director and head coach of the rec and all-star cheer programs at Denham Springs, LA-based Leaps and Bounds Sports Center. “‘Bad’ recruiting happens when there is an overstepping of boundaries. Athletes that are clearly committed to another gym should not be approached until they have completed their commitment for the season.”

As for whether it makes financial sense for a gym to essentially pay gymnasts to compete there, opinions vary. New or aggressively growing gyms often seem to recruit most heavily, especially in offering substantial scholarship packages to athletes with advanced skills and experience. And this strategy wouldn’t keep happening if it didn’t work—programs that can attract the best athletes are often the ones taking home the gold. There is also more at stake for today’s all-star athlete, thanks to bigger trophies, more gymnastics/cheer scholarships, TV coverage and “cheerlebrity” status for the lucky few.

However, recruiting athletes whose sole concerns are the next title or trophy can have a downside. “I don’t know if gyms using recruiting as a quick fix on the way to Worlds really have longevity,” said Morton Bergue, owner and founder of “Once you promise to win and don’t, your kid is going to go to the next gym where they think they can win.”

As the frequency and intensity of recruiting between gyms grows, some cheer professionals are calling for stricter regulations. However, there are few explicit rules about recruiting, and many that do exist don’t require teams to abide by them.

“With the structure we have now, there’s not much we can do about it. And as much as I hate recruiting, as much as I disagree with it, you can’t recruit someone who’s happy,” reflects Bergue. “I hate saying that because it hurts. Even today, I had a girl tell me she was switching gyms because she ‘wanted to win Worlds’—those were her words. It was upsetting and it made me sad, but I can’t promise her that. I can promise we’ll have a good program, I can promise we’ll love your kids and try to get them scholarships and into good colleges, but I can’t promise Worlds. Make your kids happy and they won’t leave—that’s the moral of the story.”

-Janet Jay

Emergency R/x: Handling Medical Issues in the Gym

Emergency R/x: Handling Medical Issues in the Gym

It’s not easy for the staff of SWAT All Stars in Fairfield, California, to train an athlete who has double medical trouble—varicose veins and asthma. The varicose veins can be particularly worrisome when even minor injuries happen on the floor, as they make it difficult for the athlete’s body to produce a scab after bleeding. “In cheer, athletes are always [prone] to being cut, but for her, a simple cut could become an emergency,” says Andres Cantero, the gym’s administrative director.

To ward off issues, the young cheerleader wears compression socks to ease the pain from varicose veins and minimize skin exposure. Coaches also keep asthma pumps handy in case she has an attack, and her mother has to be always around to help in case of emergency. However, the concerns do add an extra layer of work and worry for gym employees. “It is not easy, and there is no manual on how to best do this,” says Cantero.

At Renegade Athletics in Calhoun, Georgia, owner Leslie Pledger has also come across her share of athletes with medical issues—including some that were life-or-death. “One athlete had sustained a brain injury when she was younger and it was very dangerous for her to be inverted, so she couldn’t do any cartwheels or handstands,” shares Pledger, who was able to gain clearance from a doctor for the athlete to join the gym’s special needs squad.

In the gym environment, cheer professionals are sure to encounter kids with a gamut of medical conditions, ranging from asthma to heart disease. Here are a few tips to help you rise to the challenge of coaching and helping these athletes stay healthy:

Make the right call. Most gyms have a release form that parents fill out and sign when an athlete registers at the gym. At Renegade Athletics, Pledger is always diligent about carefully reviewing the medical information area of any release form submitted. “When I see something on the medical history that I don’t know about, I look it up and try to determine if I need a release from a doctor to allow the child to participate,” she says. Pledger adds that irrespective of what the doctor decides, coaches have to take the final call. “Some times the doctor doesn’t understand how strenuous competitive cheerleading is and may clear a child anyway,” she points out.

However, this doesn’t mean that athletes don’t get to participate at all—Pledger simply finds the right fit for each athlete’s individual needs. For instance, an athlete who had injured her shoulder at another gym was placed on Renegade’s semi-competitive team since lifting was prohibited, while another who had a heart condition joined Renegade’s low-impact community performance program.

Take it on a case-by-case basis. Even though there is no one-size-fits-all solution for all medical problems, there are some basic questions that need to be asked every time a child with a medical condition walks into the gym. From there, once any issues are brought to light, cheer professionals can dig deeper and work with parents to create a safe environment. “A plan of action should be made with all parties: the coach, the parents and the athlete,” says Jim Lord, executive director at American Association of Cheerleading Coaches and Advisors.

For example, if an athlete has asthma, coaches will need to ask the following questions: Is the asthma brought on by physical exertion or is it stress-related? What steps can be taken by the parent, athlete and coach to minimize having an episode? At that point, provisions can be made to properly accommodate the athlete. “Coaches will need to determine if the athlete needs an inhaler accessible at all times and, if so, where it will be located,” adds Lord.

Have a master plan. Although athletes with pre-existing medical conditions are arguably more susceptible to emergency situations, even healthy individuals can succumb to injuries. As such, it’s vital for gyms to be prepared for any situation that might arise—and that means forming an all-encompassing emergency plan. At Renegade Athletics, the emergency action plan addresses injuries, hazardous materials and weather emergencies. “Coaches and staff should be trained on how to respond to each of these [situations], and the plan should be posted in the gym for parents and athletes to see as well,” says Pledger.

Equip your coaches to handle situations properly. Additionally, most gym owners advocate that at least one employee on-site should be trained in proper cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and automated external defibrillator (AED) techniques. At SWAT All Stars, all coaches are required to be CPR/AED certified, and much of the early staff training revolves around emergencies and how to handle them.

“We speak on medical emergencies at our first couple staff meetings, and we usually establish and agree upon codes and standards to ensure the safety and health of all athletes,” says Cantero. “Like a fire drill or earthquake drill, coaches need to have a plan in place and everyone on staff needs to know how to react to ensure the best support and services are provided during times of medical emergency.”

Consider requiring physicals to participate. In high school sports, most schools require a physical, but not all gyms have a provision for it. AACCA’s Lord, however, advocates having physicals for all-star gyms. “Gyms should strongly consider requiring PPEs (Pre-Participation Physical Evaluations) in order to minimize the chance of injury due to foreseeable circumstances. They also provide a baseline set of data that can be referenced in the future,” says Lord. 

Reduce your liability. Medical issues raise the subject of liability. At SWAT All Stars, parents must sign a form in which they agree not to hold the gym liable. Cantero also reduces his liability by reducing the time of responsibility they have over their athletes, and he is clear about their capability to handle serious emergencies. “We always let parents know we are not medical professionals, and in cases of emergency, we can only do what is in our knowledge and training capacity,” says Cantero, who immediately refers all emergencies to medical professionals.

In the same vein, Cantero is careful to maintain open communication between parents and coaches. That way, no confusion arises around the way medical issues will be handled. Says Cantero, “Open communication makes the gym aware and allows for coaches and parents to pre-plan and agree how to handle athletes’ medical conditions.”

-Dinsa Sachan

Apply Yourself: Smartphone Apps for Gyms

Apply Yourself: Smartphone Apps for Gyms

“We’ve got an app for that.” 

For gym owners, this is no longer just a trendy catchphrase—in fact, they now can utter those words with confidence. A growing number of all-star programs are recognizing the popularity and usefulness of mobile apps by developing customized apps specifically for their gyms. And the timing is right: more than half of mobile subscribers now use apps instead of Web browsing on their smartphones, according to Internet marketing research company comScore.

For the tech-challenged, a mobile application (or “app”) is a program designed for mobile devices like smartphones and tablet computers. Apps are distributed through application distribution platforms that are operated by the company behind the device’s operating system. For instance, iPhone users download apps from iTunes and the Apple App Store, and Android users download from Google Play.

How does this all play into running a cheer business? Most gym owners create an app to meet two main objectives: communicating with existing customers and marketing to new ones. Find out how it works—and whether it’s worth it.

Just the Push Your Clients Need 

At Future Extreme Cheerleading in Loganville, Georgia, gym owner Micah Redden is currently developing an app that he hopes will help ease his workload. Not only will he be able to notify parents and students of schedule changes and class openings, but the app will also update the online schedule so that he doesn’t have to maintain the gym website separately. Since Redden needs to communicate with various groups, the app will also allow him to choose what information to send or “push” to selected people. “Basically what gym owners want from an app is to advertise, publicize and notify,” says Redden.

Like Redden, many gym owners use push notifications to alert their app users of special events, schedule changes, promotional offers and other updates. The perk of push notifications is that they get more attention than emails and texts, since they automatically appear on a user’s smartphone and demand instant attention. Depending on the app’s design, gym owners can either schedule a specific day and time for the notification or send it themselves.

Another increasingly popular feature is the Quick Response (QR) code, a square bar code that can be scanned by smartphones to quickly access a website. Tanya Roesel of Midwest Cheer Elite in West Chester, Ohio features QR codes prominently when advertising to potential athletes. QR codes are on many of Midwest Cheer Elite’s marketing materials, offering easy access to event information, promotional discounts and links to social media. “What’s great about QR codes is that they don’t take up a lot of space and they provide an automatic link to us,” Roesel explains.

To DIY or Not to DIY? 

Though it may be tempting budget-wise to attempt designing your own app, most experts caution against it. Do-it-yourself mobile app classes are readily available online, but it’s best to hire a professional for apps intended for business use. Apps created in DIY courses are generally based on standard templates, resulting in a somewhat cookie-cutter look; also, gym owners who want their app to be available to iPhone users (currently about 53% of the U.S. market) will need to get approval via the rigorous Apple Review Process. Since Apple prides itself on beauty, design and functionality, they usually will reject any app that looks like a template. (Android phones are less discriminating; they approve and accept all apps.)

When choosing an app designer, it’s also key to hire a company that offers ongoing service support in light of the ever-changing market. Whenever new devices or updated versions of smartphones are released, they require updates in order for an app to work properly. So, unless you’re a software wizard, most would advise leaving the design and maintenance to a professional.

Another advantage of hiring a mobile app developer is the ability to check analytics. “My customers like the easy access to usage reports that can tell them how many people have downloaded and used their apps,” says Gene Cook, owner of 1BoxApps, a mobile app design company in Temecula, CA that has designed apps for Matrix All-Stars, Cheers Unlimited and Five Star Athletics.

Depending on the company, Cook estimates the cost of most apps (including development, design, Apple submission and maintenance) to be between $500 and $700. Though the investment can be steep for some, any business owner knows that long-term profitability means adapting to new technology and keeping up with the evolving times. As for whether all gym owners will eventually adopt apps for their gyms, Roesel predict, “The smart ones definitely will.”

Growing Pains: Going from Small to Large Gym

Growing Pains: Going from Small to Large Gym

The line between small and large gym is drawn by USASF, which defines small gyms as having 75 or less athletes and having one physical location. So is crossing the threshold can be as simple as the difference of just one athlete? Far from it—as making the jump from small to large status can often multiply the risks, rewards and responsibilities associated with running your gym. 

Just ask Candace Guilford, owner of Florida-based Winter Park Cheer Athletics. Guilford relocated her gym in May 2012, shifting from a 4,200 square-foot facility to a 12,000 square-foot space. She felt that the gym was “bursting at the seams,” which prompted the move. Though the extra floor space has been a plus, Guilford says it’s managing the extra bodies that can be a challenge. “I don’t think I expected all of the fires that I am constantly putting out,” says Guilford. “Spending time with coaches, dealing with the kids—when you go from three or four small squads to eight or nine larger teams, it’s a jump. It can be a scheduling nightmare.”

Like Guilford, Pattie Brower of Tri-State Cheer in Havertown, Pennsylvania, has wrestled with similar challenges after expanding her gym. The expansion doubled the gym in size to 14,000 square feet and added a second 54’ x 42’ spring floor and 42’ x 48’ flat floor. Since the ribbon-cutting ceremony last year, Brower has focused her energy on finding ways to keep the space afloat. “Structurally, scheduling teams was never a challenge,” she says. “The challenge is that off time, the fill-in time that offsets the cost of expanding. I just thought, ‘What am I going to do since my costs have doubled?’”

For Brower, the answer so far has been renting space to outside athletes and teams. However, she cautions that gym owners should seriously consider these extra costs when thinking about expanding or moving—rather than just jumping into the decision because they feel like bigger is better. It’s easy to feel energized and optimistic by the success of mega-gyms, but many owners who’ve made the leap say that athletes and their safety should be the primary focus, rather than shiny new equipment or gigantic facilities.

“Don’t get bit by the industry bug and think you definitely need a bigger gym and better equipment,” Guilford continues. “You could easily end up in debt.”

Timing is Everything 

For both Brower and Guilford, the right time came when they felt they had no other alternative. “Making that huge jump was scary,” says Brower. “We waited until we had the right amount of athletes, and we became so large that [it was necessary] to break through the wall and expand.”

Guilford is also an advocate of waiting until your program has physically outgrown its space to make any major decisions. For her, the right formula was waiting until every minute and every inch was optimized before making a move. “All you need is a floor if you have great coaching,” advises Guilford. “Don’t try to jump into a larger location too fast—instead, use your floor time wisely. Don’t move until you maximize your space seven days a week.”

Proper budgeting is also paramount to determining feasibility. It’s important to connect with owners of similar-sized gyms to get a realistic idea of monthly costs, as well as to work closely with a bookkeeper and/or business consultant to estimate projected expenses. (To determine a “break-even budget,” ACX’s Randy Dickey advises taking all of your bills and dividing the total by how many hours the gym is open—it may be helpful to compare your current number and the projected number to see how much they differ.) So is it the right time? Let your ledger do the talking.

Keeping the Small Gym Feel

Stephanie Hoot-Whiddon has been through it all at Richmond, TX-based Texas Thunder—from growth to downsizing to an upcoming move in June to a larger facility. (The Texas Thunder website says it’s “Where Large Gym Talent meets the Small Gym Atmosphere!”) Keeping that close-knit, personal feel is important to coaches like Hoot-Whiddon, and like Guilford and Brower, she does not think bigger always equals better. “This industry is constantly changing,” says Hoot-Whiddon. “A lot of people in this industry don’t do this to get rich, and there’s a lot to be said for smaller gyms. I really do it for the kids.”

That seems to be a common thread between owners who have expanded their gym size. It’s easy for kids and athletes to get lost in the shuffle when the numbers grow, so owners must make extra effort to make them feel like they’re an important part of the gym family. For example, Brower’s gym has team bonding events and sleepovers, and Guilford places top priority on making sure “the kids aren’t just a number where you don’t even know their names.”

For Hoot-Whiddon, “finding a responsible staff is the biggest challenge” when a gym is expanding in size. After all, when growth necessitates hiring more coaches and employees, it can be doubly challenging to find the right employees—and make sure they match your values. “My ultimate goal was to have a bigger program but also keep that one-on-one, fun, friendly atmosphere. Losing that was my biggest fear,” Guilford admits in retrospect. 

For many gym owners, it boils down to whether you’ve done the proper legwork, whether the timing is right and whether you’re expanding for the right reasons. As Brower says, when all those things come together, “The reward outweighs the risk.”

Owner’s Manual: Andrea Fagundes of Athletic Perfection

Owner’s Manual: Andrea Fagundes of Athletic Perfection

In our “Owner’s Manual” column, we ask gym owners to take us “under the hood” and give us their secrets to what keeps their gyms running so smoothly. Find out how Andrea Fagundes and her co-owners at Athletic Perfection handled the transition from small gym to large gym in style:

Vital Stats:

Name: Andrea Fagundes, co-owner (with Jennifer Moore and gym founder Julie Van Os)

Gym: Athletic Perfection Cheer

Location: Tracy, California

Founded: 2003

Size: Eight all-star teams and two all-star prep teams

Gym size: Approximately 6,000 square feet

Debrief: Last summer, Athletic Perfection hit a peak number of 115 athletes—the most the gym has had in its 10 years and a growth of more than 30 percent from the previous season. We spoke with co-owner Fagundes about how her gym is handling the exponential growth—and how they plan to ride the wave of success.

The Dish:

As the class sizes started to grow, Julie realized she couldn’t do it alone, so Jennifer and I came on as partners in May 2012. The biggest thing for the three of us has been to find a balance as far as our respective areas of expertise. In general, I work as the all-star teams director, choreographer, curriculum director and head of merchandise design. Jennifer works on all finance and sales. Julie is call director, along with working on advertising, marketing and choreography. We hold regularly scheduled weekly meetings, which are crucial because they allow us to openly discuss any issues. They also give us time to inform each other of what’s been happening on our end during that week.

Being 100% upfront and organized has been a huge key to our growth. Calendars, conferences and emails are how we stay focused. The three of us had an eight-hour meeting in December during which we planned our entire calendar for 2013. Now we know when picture day is and what days we are open; we have a clear picture of what we need and what we have to offer. The worst thing is for a new face to walk into your gym, and you don’t have an answer for them or a way to keep them in your program. Staying super-organized means that when prospective customers call, we have schedules and dates to share—and they can immediately join a class, team or camp.

Being organized also ensures that, when the gym opens at 5 pm, it’s not a crazy madhouse but instead organized chaos! There are times where it does start to feel a bit crowded in the gym, so we always communicate who will be working—especially during busy hours.

Even as we grow, it’s important to maintain a high level of personal attention. Just like schools have parent-teacher conferences, we offer monthly owner-parent-coach conferences. The gym will not run smoothly if parents are talking about issues among themselves, so we open up the window of conversation. When parents have something they want to address, they can sign up for a 10-minute time slot. The three of us take turns each month [meeting with parents]. We also make sure that at least one owner is available at all times to communicate with parents and kids during business hours.

One of my top pieces of advice would be to never be afraid of having these face-to-face conversations. I probably have meetings once a week with an athlete or a parent. So much of what goes on is usually caused by miscommunication and things getting taken out of context. Ask the parent and see what’s going on—that way, they feel they can get on an even level with you. You get a real read of the struggles an athlete might be facing.

Each staff member is encouraged to choose different athletes each practice and praise them so they know that their work is being noticed. We hand out “You Rock!” postcards, and behind the scenes, we keep detailed binders on each athlete. If we see athletes that haven’t received one in a few months, we do our best to recognize them so they don’t go a whole season without receiving some sort of affirmation.

With more athletes in the equation, it’s important to take a heavier hand in helping them and letting them know that they are part of a family. One of the biggest rewards has been seeing decals for our gym on cars or seeing girls wearing our logo—just knowing that they love Athletic Perfection.


Game Night: Innovation through Motivation

Game Night: Innovation through Motivation

Artwork for this article provided by:
Photography by Karissa

Almost as one, the squad held their breath. Their eyes were fixed on a Jenga tower, perilously placed and swaying back and forth slowly. If their teammate could pull out a piece and successfully replace it, they’d only have to do whichever exercise was written on it. But if she were to knock the tower over, it would mean an automatic full-out of the whole routine for them all. She pulls the block out gingerly and…. 

It doesn’t matter whether the tower falls: the athletes are engaged, having fun and training hard. Above all, they’re excited to come to the next practice at Raleigh’s Cheer Extreme just to see what their coach, Sarah Swicegood Macrow, will come up with next. “You can do a game with anything and make it fun, and it ends up motivating them to do what they need to do in a routine,” says Macrow. “By the time they leave practice, they’re sweating and tired, but to them, they just tried to win at Go Fish or Jenga.”

Macrow isn’t alone in believing that there’s more to being a cheer coach than running drills and routines. At Southlake, TX-based Spirit Xtreme, coach Melissa Meriwether kicks off practices by grabbing her iPhone to cue up her athletes’ new favorite game: the “Wheel of What.” The free app features a spinning gameshow wheel that chooses how they’ll train that day. “We always walk that fine line between not wanting to burn them out, but keeping it fresh and fun,” explained Meriwether. “That was one of the reasons I started an all-star cheer gym. I thought, ‘There’s got to be a way to be competitive but still keep it fun for the kids.'”

Instead of laps, her girls run races against each other or see who can reach the top of Spirit Xtreme’s climbing ropes the quickest. Athletes are encouraged to work with a buddy or partner—both for support and to develop the team dynamic. It’s all part of an increasingly popular model in all-star gyms: innovation through playful motivation.

The Three F’s: Fitness, Focus and Fun 

Photography by Karissa

Along with teaching new skills and refining routines, cheer professionals are also exploring new, interesting ways to approach training and fitness. At Spirit Xtreme, Meriwether recently realized that while all of her athletes wanted to improve their jumps, many dreaded the thought of doing toe touches every day. Thus began “The 50 Day Challenge,” an optional training regimen that she introduced as an incentive. The premise was simple: start at one toe touch and one pushup, and every day, add another. (Some cheer moms even joined in for fun!) At the end of the 50 days, athletes who completed the challenge were entered in a prize drawing—but, of course, the true rewards came through the added training.

“They were choosing to take part rather than being forced,” shares Meriwether. “I think we can all relate to that: when something is a game or competition, we jump right in—as opposed to when someone says, ‘You have to do this,’ and then it’s not as much fun.”

Trying new ways of learning can also mean simply switching up the way teams conduct practice and showcase new routines. At USA Wildcats East in Norwich, Conn., owner and head coach Ryan Spanich stages real-life “slow-motion replays” to show teams what they need to improve and how to do it. He also encourages individuals and/or small groups to perform for the team at large in spotlight sessions. “[All-star cheer] is such a team sport that a lot of individuals can get lost in it,” he explains. “This particular exercise brings it back to the individual and makes them more accountable for what they do.”

Square Peg, Meet Round Hole

More traditional coaches may balk at such unconventional techniques, but Meriwether and Macrow say that trying something different can work wonders. For those who are hesitant, Meriwether suggests choosing one area of focus and experimenting. “Find an area where you’re willing to make the sacrifice to try something new,” advises Meriwether. “Shaking things up for the kids will work different muscles and keep them excited.”

Of course, there is also the element of added work and imagination on the coach’s part, but it need not be stressful, says Macrow. She cautions other coaches not to overthink ideas, as some of her most popular games involve easy props like yarn or sidewalk chalk. (See “Just Press ‘Play’ sidebar for ideas.) “Each game puts a different spin on what we do, and it helps them keep up with their skills,” says Macrow, who often posts new ideas on ASGA’s Facebook page. “And even though it’s more work, it also makes practice more fun for everyone—including the coach.”

As for any concerns that a playful approach might cause athletes to goof off, it tends to bring about quite the opposite. “I think playing games makes it a more rewarding experience,” explains Macrow. “We work harder and we do a lot more, but they don’t realize it because practice feels like it goes more quickly. They’re not working for Nationals, they’re working to win the game—and that makes them better and builds that team bond everyone is looking for.”

Check out our blog for ideas on how to put these tips in practice!


Danger Zone: Forming An Intruder Plan

Danger Zone: Forming An Intruder Plan

In the face of tragedies like the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting, gyms and event producers are forming contigency “intruder plans” to ward off potential disaster.

Since a gunman killed 26 people at Sandy Hook Elementary in December, the incident has propelled businesses—especially ones involving children—to review their safety procedures. And all-star gyms are no exception: to counter threats, many gym owners are beginning to talk about forming an “intruder plan,” a blueprint that will help them tackle a safety crisis like Sandy Hook.

Guy Beveridge, co-owner of security consultation firm Isaiah Group, says that these gym owners are on the right track. Even though statistically there is no huge uptick in violence at gyms, he believes Sandy Hook should serve as a wake-up call for owners. CheerProfessional spoke with experts like Beveridge, as well as gym owners and event producers to find out what they’re doing to make the cheer world a safer place:

Inside the Gym

Though it’s important for all gyms to have some sort of crisis and/or intruder plan, what works for one gym may not work for another. When drawing up a plan, it’s important to tailor it to your gym’s own individual needs—keeping in mind variables like location, layout and number of available staff. At CAS Cheer and Dance in Chesapeake, Maryland, owner Tracie Jones is always acutely aware of who is coming and going. “As a small facility (3,000 square feet), we don’t have the luxury of a front desk,” she explains. “Our front door is our front desk, and upon entering, one is ‘in the gym,’ so our policy keeps that in mind. We keep a keen watch on people. When someone who is not affiliated with the program enters, we greet them immediately with a ‘Can we help you?’ and place ourselves between them and our athletes.”

In putting together a plan, it may be useful to enlist the services of a third-party firm. Beveridge says most security firms start by doing an initial risk assessment for between $500-$1,000, after which they can identify solutions for the gym’s unique security challenges. Though the investment may be hefty for some, Beveridge says that gym owners may not be able to afford not to do it. “To put that in perspective: a child can learn a cartwheel in a backyard from a friend. However, the performance, execution and safety of that cartwheel will be suspect,” he says.

In states where concealed-carry licenses are legal, some gym owners are in the process of adding another layer of protection and taking things into their own hands. However, Frank Sahlein of 3rd Level Consulting says that being armed isn’t always the best option. “The incident could be well under way by the time the weapon is located, loaded and ready for use,” says Sahlein, who provides consulting services to a number of gyms. “A child could also find the weapon and harm themselves or others inadvertently.”

However, Beveridge believes that it is a personal choice for gym owners and that there is nothing wrong with acquiring weapons for protection. He does add the caveat: “If a gym decides to add a weapon to their facility, they must take the necessary steps to ensure that access to the weapons is limited and that staff is trained in advanced weapon handling.”

No matter what course of action you choose or policy you put in place, it’s important to keep parents in the loop. Some of them may have concerns about gyms installing guns and shouldn’t be kept in the dark about such decisions. “Gyms should hold discussions with parents and address their concerns head on,” says Jones of CAS Cheer and Dance.


At Events

While no facility is immune from the possibility of an intruder, events may be even more at risk than gyms. “With gyms, the safety lies in the front door and the front desk. There are multiple layers of protection, which provides more of a deterrent than an open arena,” explains Dan Kessler, co-founder of The Jam Brands. “[Event] venues are big and wide, and there can be multiple events going on in the convention center simultaneously. With a gym, there are just a few dozen or hundred people per night, whereas an event has thousands.”

In light of this fact, Kessler says that meticulous attention is paid to both prevention and reaction plans. Venue emergency plans and exit door layouts are reviewed six months to a year before an event takes place. Armed police officers and event security are present at all events, and Jam Brands employees are trained to be “vigilant for anyone who looks out of place.” If anyone is indeed found to be taking unauthorized pictures, looking or lurking in inappropriate areas or exhibiting other warning signs, the person is questioned by staff—and, if necessary, removed immediately.

The Greater Midwest Cheer Expo also follows a specific protocol. “Our staff is briefed on all emergency exits for each venue that we attend,” says co-owner Teresa Barbiere, who has been producing events for 14 years. “If there is someone who appears irate or not in full control, all employees are instructed to immediately contact either me or my husband.” (Barbiere’s husband, a co-owner of the company, is also constantly patrolling events throughout the day.)

Parents also add to the system of checks and balances. Kessler says that parents who attend Jam Brands events often alert staff to people that may not belong. “Parents will come up to us and say, “This guy is sitting over here, and he doesn’t seem to be with a group,’” he says. “They bring things to our attention, and then we’ll ask, ‘Who are you with? Who’s the program owner? What’s the coach’s name?’ and other things that can detect whether they belong at the event.”

Renegade Athletics owner Leslie Pledger-Griffin says that this type of vigilance is absolutely necessary. As example, she cites a recent event in Atlanta where another local team experienced a scare—a female athlete’s phone was stolen from her cheer bag in the team room, and when her mother tracked the phone through an iPhone app, they located it in a halfway house for sex offenders.

Kessler says this type of situation points to the need for vigilance and education across the board—not only at events, but at gyms and schools. “There is a level of responsibility to coaches and gym owners to tell kids not to leave their bags unattended,” says Kessler. “It’s important that gyms and schools teach kids to be aware of who’s around them.”

While Sandy Hook has safety on the forefront of many minds, the incident is only the latest reminder of what many cheer professionals already know—that safety is the number one concern when it comes to protecting athletes and youth. Says Pledger-Griffin, “Keeping our kids safe is far more than just stopping someone with a gun.”

 -Dinsa Sachan

Owner’s Manual: Darlene Fanning of ICE All-Stars

Owner’s Manual: Darlene Fanning of ICE All-Stars

In our “Owner’s Manual” column, we ask gym owners to take us “under the hood” and give us their secrets to what keeps their gyms running so smoothly. Find out how Darlene Fanning finds her balance by keeping high schools happy below:

Vital Stats 

Name:             Darlene Fanning

Gym:               ICE

Locations:      Aurora IL, Fort Wayne, IN and Mishawaka, IN

Founded:        1998

Size:                350 athletes; 18 teams (cheer and special needs)

The Dish

I really like to work with the high schools. I encourage [our athletes] to cheer for their high schools because that’s something that others outside our gym can see and say, “Wow, this child has these skills and that’s great.” Sometimes high school coaches are worried that we will try to pull them away from high school cheerleading, but that’s not my intent at all. It’s to make them better so that they can do something for their school. Both of my daughters who cheered all-star also cheered at school and we made it work. There were a few weekends where they missed games for competitions, but there were also times when they missed my practices to cheer at games.

Coaches working together is the key—as long as high school and all-star coaches are willing to do that, I think it can be a win-win situation for both. That’s what I really try to push for. I like to talk to the high school coaches and say, “Is there a camp coming up? Is there something you’ve got that I need to change my practices?” It’s all about letting your ego and everything go and saying, “Okay, what’s best for the kids?”

Sometimes high schools practice right after school, so we start our practices later so that they can get to the other one first. Obviously, as an all-star coach, I have to work around their schedule; however, high school coaches have to understand that they need to do the same in order to allow the kid to do both. Otherwise what can end up happening is that high schools lose their most talented kids—and that’s a shame. Many times when athletes are made to choose between competing and cheering at games, those more talented kids will choose all-star. They understand that’s where they’re challenged cheer-wise. A lot of high schools don’t compete, so [that style of cheer] is more just supporting the team and your school.

As far as recruiting, you don’t want to get a bad reputation as a gym owner who steals athletes or takes them away from high school programs. That’s not good for the kids or for either program. Even when high school cheerleaders are training in my gym and taking classes, no coach is allowed to approach them. Only when a kid comes to us and says, “I think I’m not going to do high school cheerleading next year, I’m going to do all-star,” will we talk to them. High school coaches need to know that their athletes can go to ICE for training and not have to worry about the kids being recruited.

I haven’t had a problem with high school coaches because of that rule. I’m a smart enough business owner to know that you don’t shoot yourself in the foot by trying to recruit a few of those kids and making the high school coach mad. That’s why we’re so diligent about that, and that’s how we strike a happy balance.

Candid Coach: Heather Zidek

Candid Coach: Heather Zidek

Avon, Ohio’s Tumbles & Cheers is on a roll: after being named the USASF’s “Best Small Gym in America” in 2010, the gym recently moved to a brand-new 14,000 sq. ft. facility—replete with inground rod floor, tumble trak, trampoline and 1,300 sq. ft. worth of pits. What’s been their secret to success? According to Heather Zidek, the gym’s founder and coach of the Ohio Extreme All-Stars, it’s all about keeping your gym drama-free and setting high expectations.

What is one thing you wish you’d known when starting out?

Zidek: “Don’t sweat the small stuff” is easy to say, but harder to act on. In the beginning, I tried to please everyone. I’d lose sleep at night, I was stressed and I’d take quality time away from my family. Now, I no longer strive to be everything to everyone, but to be the place for those that have the same philosophies as we do. We are a business. We have a responsibility to our clients, and we don’t treat people differently based on who they are, what skill they have or who they know. Secondly, we treat children as athletes—they’re capable of hard work and sweat. Lastly, we don’t put up with the drama. I’ve come to realize that some people just thrive on drama, so now I focus my efforts on those that have the same philosophies and I don’t get upset with those that don’t.

How would you sum up your coaching approach?

Zidek: The athletes would say I’m pretty tough on them. I hold them accountable, push them to their individual ability levels and give them praise when they earn it. I’m not one of those coaches who constantly praises them for everything they do, so when they do get it from me, they know that they really earned it. Some of them haven’t had to work hard for anything in their lives, and this is the one place where they realize that their parents can’t hand them a winning team or a certain skill. That’s why we really push them—I realized that they crave that feeling of responsibility, so I give them lots of praise for their achievements.

Name something you wouldn’t do again as a coach.

Zidek: One of the toughest thing as a gym owner is trying to find good coaches. When we started out, before I knew many people, I would find a coach who looked good on paper and hire based upon that, figuring that they’d mesh into our philosophies and that it’d all work out. What I’ve learned to do now is wait until the right person comes along. We’re a family here, and the staff is the core. You can teach someone how to spot or teach a skill, but it’s very difficult to teach someone how to be a good role model, to be a team player and to treat others with respect.

What are the unique challenges and rewards of coaching in a small gym environment?

Zidek: The most unique thing is our family environment. We praise their accomplishments in school and other extracurricular activities. The families have responded as well, and I think almost everyone after their first year knows everyone else in the program. The kids are quick to call, text or Facebook to tell us what happened that day in school, and if they’re struggling, we try to help. I think the kids see that we can relate to them, that we’ve all been there and that we’re someone [to whom] they can turn. If we were a larger gym, I don’t think we’d be able to have that unique relationship with them.