Mind, Body & Soul

Keeping the Faith: Faith-Based Programs

Keeping the Faith: Faith-Based Programs

Amanda Dauzat wasn’t always a cheerleader who prayed. The founder of Denver, CO-based Youth Alive Cheer didn’t discover a spiritual connection with cheerleading until she attended a small Christian college. There, through the guidance of her cheer coach, she developed a relationship with the divine. Now Dauzat offers other youth the opportunity to combine athleticism with faith. “The way I view faith-based programs is like any other,” said Dauzat. “We are a cheer program that wants to teach [our students] life lessons. We choose the Bible to be our guide.”

Youth Alive Cheer is one of many programs where cheer and faith collide. In the last year, nearly 100 faith-based teams (comprised of 1,500 athletes total) came together to compete at the Fellowship of Christian Cheerleaders (FCC) national competition in Orlando, marking a significant increase from the 12 teams and 150 cheerleaders that participated in the event when it began in 1989.

Like all cheer organizations, size and structure varies. Youth Alive Cheer is a dual for-profit/non-profit organization that currently serves 45 students ranging from three to 14 years of age. At Carolina Elite (near Greensboro, NC), Rocky Harmon leads a for-profit organization that is nearly triple that size with 120 students from ages 4 to 18. And Texas-based Be of Good Cheer is a strictly not-for-profit organization whose fees are paid entirely by the fundraising efforts of the team. “I’ve even had the kids earn all their money early, and I tell them, ‘You don’t need to go fundraising anymore, and they still go and [then] donate their [additional] money to the kids who can’t go [out and fundraise] and need it,” says owner Stacy Brumley.

All three programs keep fee structures at the bare minimum to ensure that classes remain open and affordable to all. “I like to joke that we’re a ‘not for much profit program,’” said Harmon.

Finances aside, Harmon, Dauzat and Brumley don’t see their incorporation of faith into cheer practice as a intentional deviation from secular organizations but rather the natural inclusion of a powerful, spiritual connection that fuels their daily lives. “There was never a moment when I made a conscious decision to include my faith in our cheer program,” said Harmon. “Faith is a part of everything in one’s life, so when you start something that faith is already there.”

Still, there are notable differences. “Fun dance moves” are favored over “provocative” ones. Uniforms mimic popular style but lengths are often more conservative and midriffs rarely bared. Like other cheer programs, positive mentorship is a high priority, but for the faith-based programs, this also includes mentorship of the spirit in the form of frequent group prayer and encouragement to seek guidance from above. “[The kids] will come to you with their problems and it’s just natural for any adult to give a faith-based answer,” said Brumley.

According to Dauzat, highlighting a Christian approach to problem solving will enable students to be successful decision makers in the future. “My hope is that through Youth Alive they have been given enough information so that when they are mature they are able to form their own belief and value system,” said Dauzat. “I believe this is just one more tool to add to their tool bag that will help them maneuver through life.”

Recently Harmon received an email from such a student who credits Carolina Elite with saving the “better parts” of her. “I found comfort in coming to CEA and learned respect, responsibility and leadership, and that no matter where we come from, something great can always come from us if we are pushed,” the student testified.

Winning and losing are also given a broader context. At Carolina Elite, competition jitters are calmed with a prayer of surrender. “In pre-performance prayers, I always ask that the girls stay safe, perform their best, and we’ll leave the results up to [God].” At Be of Good Cheer, competition results are received with a bigger picture in mind. “You have to teach them that no matter what happens God has a lesson in it for us, win or lose,” said Brumley.

All agree that while their Christian faith is ever present, everyone is welcome to join. “We strive to make it clear that faith is important in our program; we just don’t try to force it on anyone,” said Harmon, adding, “The goal isn’t to point out that we include our faith every day, it’s simply to include it.”

-Carmen Rodriguez

Avoiding the Lazy Coaching Trap

Avoiding the Lazy Coaching Trap

It’s Friday night at the Cheer Pride All-Stars gym in Whippany, NJ. Coach Erin Shane signals The Summit-bound Junior Level 1 team to enter the gym. Clad in fire-colored practice gear with bows neatly placed on their crowns, 15 female athletes quietly line up in four rows, hit a “T” and prepare to perform a timing drill for jumps.

Shane begins to clap to the rhythm of her counting to keep the team’s unified left kicks timed to her beat. The team doesn’t flinch as she pauses to hit a strong, poised “T” to demonstrate proper motion technique. The squad reaches 20 kicks smoothly and quickly, then Shane continues the process again on the opposite side.

No matter what activity her athletes participate in, Shane is highly engaged. She spots tumbling, fills in for missing stunters and works out with the team at the end of practice—all after an eight-hour workday as a special education teacher at a North Jersey high school.

Not all coaches are able to master the juggling act as easily as Shane; after all, all-star cheer coaches are faced with the challenge of managing a winning squad all while balancing multiple jobs, families and personal time. In the face of overwhelm, it can be difficult for coaches to avoid falling into a “lazy funk”—an attitude that affects both the team and the gym as a whole.

“It is important that people learn hard work gets results,” said Jodi Gerhartz, co-owner of East Brunswick, NJ-based All Star Athletic Center.

She adds that irresponsible habits, such as sitting down or answering phone calls during practice, also play a role in lazy coaching behaviors. “I had a coach who was always sitting down, talking on her cellphone and yelling at the athletes,” Gerhartz shares. “I have zero tolerance for that type of coaching. I explained to her that the athletes did not respect her because she was not respecting what they are doing.”

Shane also believes lazy coaches “inevitably hurt the team, and the business will suffer. Athletes will have poor technique and skills, resulting in an inability to grow or be successful at competition. [Eventually,] athletes will leave the program to go where their coaches are an active part of the experience.”

Lazy coaching behaviors can also lead to financial loss, poor reputation and lack of indispensable leadership skills cheerleaders can learn from experienced instructors to become successful athletes, students and professionals in the future.

So how can coaches avoid the lazy funk? Start off right by energetically implementing the following tips in their routine at practices:

Stand up. Coaches must lead by active example. Gerhartz believes that on the “first day of practice [and beyond], coaches need to set the precedent. Stand up to coach, and work as hard as the athletes do.”

Plan ahead. Making a blueprint for practice ahead of time can truly pay off, says Shane, who suggests creating practice plans that change in activity every 30 minutes. Pre-planning helps coaches become more aware of what needs to be accomplished in practice—keeping their focus narrowed.

Cater to individual training needs. Every athlete learns differently, whether it be visual, auditory or kinesthetically. Taking the time to teach skills in different ways can help coaches maximize effectiveness—and avoid lazy tendencies in their effort to meet each athlete’s needs.

Ditch the digital world. Coaches must put the cellphones down during the practice to effectively observe their cheerleaders. Consider practice an opportune time to evaluate their strengths and weaknesses rather than respond to parent emails or gym gossip.

-Christina Hernandez is the founder of Rah Rah Routines, a consulting firm specializing in choreography, tumble lessons and routine consultations for cheerleading organizations. She is a cheerleading and tumbling aficionado who has led senior-level All Star teams to multiple local, regional, and national titles. She has more than 23 years of experience as a Pop Warner, high school and all star cheerleader and is contracted to work as a tumble instructor at several cheer and dance organizations in New Jersey. She is a longstanding choreographer for reputable recreation, high school and all–star competitive teams throughout the Northeast region and is a member of the American Association of Cheerleading Coaches and Administrators (A.A.C.C.A.), USASF and NFHS. She believes perfecting the fundamentals of cheerleading and tumbling are the key to achieving excellence. To find out more about Christina and her business, visit rahrahroutines.com

Mission: Fulfillment

Mission: Fulfillment

It may sound like just another trendy buzzword, but “volun-tourism” is a very real trend. A 2008 study by Tourism & Research Marketing found that an estimated 1.6 million volunteer tourists take “ethical” holidays where they have an opportunity to experience another culture while performing philanthropic actions. Yet another 2008 survey by University of California-San Diego researchers found that 45 percent of Americans said they’ve considered taking volunteer vacations, and 72 percent knew someone who had been a global volunteer. If you’re thinking about joining their ranks, get inspired by these three inspiring stories from cheer professionals who’ve been there and done that: 

Bringing Cheer to Belize: Virginia Baldwin

In 2013, Virginia Baldwin, owner of All-American All Star Cheerleading and coach at Mechanicsville, VA-based Hanover High School, traveled with her two daughters and several athletes to Belize, where they conducted youth cheer camps and engaged in community service projects. In a country that places little value on females, Baldwin was gratified to help to raise self-esteem and put smiles on young faces through individualized attention—and some cheer bows. “To see the joy in these little girls’ faces is a beautiful thing. We think we are changing someone else’s life, but our lives are the ones that are changed,” she says. “A little piece of my heart is in Belize.”

Baldwin’s life-changing experience inspired her high school cheerleaders to climb aboard. Last year five of them accompanied her; this year, 10 will make the trip. “To take kids from upper middle-class families to a third world country is eye-opening for them. They see what these kids eat and how they live—but they bond like you can’t imagine,” she says. “I hope the lesson is something that will carry through to adulthood. It’s all about loving one another. There’s no better way to do this than to spend time with someone in need.”

Back home, the experiences in Belize have restored Baldwin’s love for cheer. “It’s given me a new vision for the way I coach. It’s not just about winning. It’s about self-worth. I love having the privilege to coach and want to mentor young girls, to let them know someone believes in them,” she says. “It brings us back to center and makes us realize what’s truly important in life.”

Getting Schooled in Bolivia: Sydney Cottle

The spirit of giving comes naturally to Sydney Cottle. A cheerleader and senior at Portland, OR-based Lake Oswego High School, she participates in the Susan G. Komen Cheer for a Cure event, ties fleece blankets and donates them to the Portland Rescue Mission and volunteers every Sunday with Team Shine (Oregon’s first cheer team for athletes with special needs). But she sought something more. That “something” became a three-week trip with Humanitarian Experience for Youth (HEFY) to Bolivia, where she helped construct a school and worked at an elderly care facility.

During her stay, she and 20 other teens from across the country engaged in some heavy-duty construction work. “Things were very prehistoric there. We didn’t have any big machines to mix cement; everything was done by hand,” says Sydney’s mom, Michelle Cottle, who accompanied the group as a parent helper.

In addition to intense labor, the group played with the Bolivian children and attempted to teach them the English alphabet. Even though Spanish is the country’s native language, the language barrier proved to be only a minor challenge.

Originally intended as a way to initiate change outside of her immediate community, the trip fostered a transformation in Sydney. “I’m a lot more grateful for what I have. These people have so little, but they always manage,” she explains. “I’m happier and more outgoing. Just to see what others go through on a daily basis is eye-opening.”

From Reluctant to Rewarded: Melanie Randolph

Unlike Cottle, Melanie Randolph was not initially sold on the idea of an overseas mission trip. “I thought staying at a Holiday Inn was roughing it,” says Randolph, who owns Danville, CA-based Spirit Force Cheer & Dance. But she changed her mind when she and her husband were recruited by a missionary in 2007 to travel to Pazardzhik, Bulgaria. There they taught Christian drama stories in several gypsy villages and also helped feed the citizens; the trip was so impactful that they made it an annual endeavor from 2007 to 2011.

In retrospect, Randolph emphasizes that she received ten-fold back what she gave to the Bulgarian people. “God’s given me so much. All I can give them is me,” says Randolph, who is a member of the Christian Cheerleaders of America (CCA) advisory board. “I’ve gotten more out of it than they did.”

Randolph also points out that the experience for the children who also made the trip with Macedonian Outreach was life-changing. “To get the kids to experience this is very important. It took me almost 50 years to do something like this. Imagine what I could have done if I started earlier,” she says. “When you step outside your comfort zone, it changes your heart.”

The Wide World of Supplements

The Wide World of Supplements

In Morgantown, W. Va., all-star gym Champion Training Academy sells USANA nutritional supplements and weight loss products as part of its adult weight loss/group fitness program. Over in Katy, Texas, Xcel Athletics All-Stars hosted a Valentine’s Day shopping event earlier this year at which one of the vendors was Advocare (a company that markets energy, weight loss, nutrition and sports performance products). Some gyms are also selling Advocare on-site, such as Green Bay-based Tri County Gymnastics & Cheer, and many cheer professionals moonlight as Advocare reps in addition to their work at the gym, including Tori and Jason Cuevas (Legacy All-Star Cheer & Dance), Sherry Gomez (Ultimate Cheer & Dance) and James Whitaker (Cheer Time Revolution).

According to Whitaker, it’s not surprising that many in the cheer industry are embracing supplements. “Both coaches and athletes put a lot of stress on their bodies—heavy lifting, multiple repetitions, fatigue, muscle breakdown, dehydration,” says Whitaker. “And not only that, but our time is very limited. When you supplement, it allows you to overcome those obstacles.”

Whitaker isn’t alone in his penchant for supplements—in 2012, the nutritional supplement category hit $32 billion in revenue, and by 2021 it will be almost double that at $60 billion (according to the Nutrition Business Journal). While these numbers signal blockbuster business for the supplement industry, the surge also means consumers will need to work harder in order to sift through the barrage of advertising, studies and claims that are sure to follow.

So how can cheer professionals begin the tedious process of navigating the supplements market? Understanding supplements and what they do will assist in deciphering which ones make sensible, safe choices for you—and your athletes.

What are supplements? The definition of a supplement “is simple,” explains Dr. Jenny Abercrombie, an El Segundo, CA-based naturopathic doctor. She describes supplements as an “adjunct to nutrition,” meaning that supplements are not meant to replace the foods we eat, but rather “to fill in the gaps.”

Whitaker believes supplements also help him set a good health example. “I use Brad Habermel and Cheer Athletics as an analogy,” he shares. “He is in great shape, [so] his teams are in great shape. He coaches with high energy, [so] his teams perform with tons of energy. They are a direct reflection of him. His healthy lifestyle helps him not only coach at a high level but gives him credibility when he demands that same healthy lifestyle from his athletes.”

How powerful are they? Supplements support and even enhance body function, including offering remedies when certain issues arise (such as fatigue caused by stress, lack of sleep or over-training). “They help prevent burnout and improve recovery and performance,” says Dr. Abercrombie. The magic happens at the cellular level by improving the muscle’s utilization of sugar, “which is where we get energy from.”

But Dr. Abercrombie cautions that too often people—especially active adults and athletes—rely solely on supplements for nutrition. “It’s much easier to take a supplement,” she says, “and much harder to identify and eliminate poor food choices that cause poor performance, anxiety, mood swings and depression.”

Chris White, the Georgia-based owner of Spirit Supplements Nutrition, LLC, says he witnesses the effects of poor food choices on a daily basis. “All too often, I see kids show up for competition with empty fast food wrappers and an energy drink, and they wonder why they don’t feel good or perform well,” he says. Though White commiserates with families and the busy lives they lead, he believes there are alternatives to mainstream unhealthful grab-n-go foods—supplements that can be both fast and nutritious. “A protein shake is quick and easy, too,” he adds.

Which ones are worth it? Stephanie Beveridge, FDN, agrees. “I always recommend a whole, nutrient-dense lifestyle of food for everyone (including athletes), but supplements can assist in wellness,” says Beveridge, who is the executive director of programs for Copperas Cove, TX-based GymKix. Two supplements Beveridge often recommends for overall health: vitamins A and D. According to Beveridge, Vitamin A is essential because it supports healing, while Vitamin D reduces internal inflammation—both effects that can serve to cut an athlete’s downtime between a hard practice and a competition.

What to watch out for? Beveridge is quick to point out that quality varies between brands; she also makes the broad claim that almost all mainstream and heavily advertised supplements likely contain toxins. “Most have artificial food colorings and sweeteners,” explains Beveridge. “[These] have been linked to negatively impact the brain and the central nervous system.” Beveridge recommends reading labels and avoiding brands that list aspartame, sucralose or saccharin as ingredients. Instead, she advocates buying supplements that use natural sweeteners like stevia, honey and maple syrup.

Are there alternatives to relying on supplements that will get the same results? The answer is “yes,” says White. Before turning to taking supplements, White recommends getting back to nutrition basics with what he calls “clean eating.” He believes athletes and active adults can meet their dietary needs by consuming adequate amounts of hormone-free meat proteins, fruits and vegetables, as well as fats from foods like avocados.

“If kids still aren’t performing well, I give parents a checklist,” says White. The checklist includes questions regarding a child’s overall well-being, such as hydration, stress level, sleep patterns, social challenges and medications. The answers help White educate parents and develop a strategy to remedy issues with performance through a combination of good nutrition and supplementation.

-Cathleen Calkins

Visit our blog for a rundown of suggested supplements for you and your athletes!

 

Vision Boards: Your Success GPS

Vision Boards: Your Success GPS

Walking into Cheer Fusion in Fredericksburg, Virginia, it’s hard to miss the colorful posters lined up above the mirrors. Filled with platitudes like “Practice Like a Champion” and goals like “I would like to cheer for college and get a scholarship,” these homemade vision boards provide a creative source of motivation for the gym’s teams—as well as a much-needed means of focus and direction.

Ever since Mandi Spina, program director at Cheer Fusion, first implemented the practice of making vision boards two years ago, she says they’ve had a big impact on her gym. “We ask the teams what they see in their future and [how they envision] the epitome of cheer,” says Spina. “We give them a month to work on the vision boards and then showcase them [in the gym]. The kids explain why they used the photos they did and talk about what’s special to them.”

Spina notes that the finished boards feature a variety of photos, many depicting complex moves or memories with fellow teammates. Many of the athletes get creative, making door hangers or even video recordings. Age often determines the content; for instance, the 5- to 8-year olds focus on big bows and trophies, but the older girls emphasize goals.

The practice effectively enhances performance, especially for youth cheerleaders. “A lot of the younger athletes amaze me with their visions. They post pictures of stunts they want to do,” she asserts. “They want to become those pictures on the boards. It pushes them toward their goals and provides a constant reminder.”

A Powerful Roadmap

Joyce Schwarz, founder of The Vision Board Institute and author of The Vision Board Book, defines vision boards as visual maps comprised of pictures, power words and affirmations depicting changes you’d like to make in your life. “They represent the best of what’s to come. It’s really about living and appreciating what we bring to others,” says Schwarz.

Schwarz utilizes an acronym, GRABS (Gratitude, Receive, Acknowledge, Share), when teaching others about vision boards. “[Creating vision boards] should be coming from your heart, not your head. Work with the senses, do word association with colors,” she advises. For instance, an athlete who wants to go to Worlds might picture the experience of traveling to Disney World—and all the sights, sounds and emotions that would entail—while creating his or her vision board. Adds Schwarz,

“Envision what you want to accomplish and act as if it’s already happening.”

At Diamond Springs, CA-based All Star Elite Cheer, vision boards are an integral part of the gym’s annual Team Bonding Night. Each member of the team contributes to the creation of a group board, using supplies from its Vision Box. “The process itself was great because it led to some great conversations about the things that were important to them as a team,” says gym owner Karen Wilson. “We now have the boards in the gym, and at every practice, we go over to them and remind ourselves of the things we put on there. It has been a great tool.”

What’s Your Vision?

Manifestation isn’t just for athletes—many business owners swear by the practice as well, even in corporate America. Three years ago, Kim Lawton, COO/Partner at the Inspira Marketing Group, heard about the concept at a leadership seminar and introduced the idea to her staff. “Every year, we incorporate the vision boards to kickstart discussions about our mission, core values, what clients we want and our revenue goals,” says Lawton. “It is a cultural thing and turns into a bonding moment.”

Lawton finds employees will depict personal dreams and goals, as well as professional aspirations. “People are creative. They start with a blank canvas and are totally open to making the vision board more impactful. It has meaning and purpose,” she says.

Vision Board Book author Schwarz points out that many people continually update their vision boards as a living work-in-progress, keeping the focus positive and productive. “This is more than creating a collage. It’s a GPS system that guides you to immediately take steps toward your vision every day,” she says.

Want a step-by-step guide to creating your vision board? Check back on our blog this Thursday for some trusty tips!

Stretch Into Success: Yoga in the Gym

Stretch Into Success: Yoga in the Gym

When Megan Eacret’s business partner left Cheer San Diego to start her own program—taking some of their clients with her—Eacret was faced with a dilemma: shortage of flyers. Rather than feeling discouraged, Eacret embraced it as a welcome challenge. “Some of our athletes who had only flown a prep or two as needed in pyramids were given an awesome opportunity to develop their skills and become full-time flyers,” shares Eacret.

But there was a catch. “Two of our potential flyers were very strong and muscular athletes, but with little flexibility—a huge challenge for cheerleaders in general, but especially for a flyer,” she recounts. To pump up the athletes’ pliability, Eacret decided to offer them flexibility classes comprised primarily of vinyasa yoga.

“Our Flexibility for Flyers class was an incredible tool for these athletes to gain the flexibility they needed to be in the air and help their teams be successful,” she says. “They are now better able to stick to their stunts because of the increased flexibility and are also more confident as flyers because they can pull their body lines in the air.”

Eacret gained two new flyers—all thanks to yoga.

Yoga for Cheerleaders

The health benefits of yoga for all people are no secret, but for athletes, yoga can be even more important. According to Sage Rountree, author of The Athlete’s Guide to Yoga, yoga improves strength and flexibility in tandem, while also enhancing focus. “The balance is critical for cheerleaders, who need an abundance of both strength and flexibility, [as well as] razor-sharp concentration and self-control skills,” says Rountree.

Eacret’s cheerleaders are living proof: those who’ve participated in the gym’s yoga program report improvement in body awareness and control. “The relaxation and breathing exercises have benefited our cheerleaders by helping them learn new ways to cope with stress and control emotions,” she adds.

Like Cheer San Diego, more and more gyms are discovering the joys and benefits of this ancient Indian art of exercise. However, before putting a yoga program in place, it’s important to note a few key considerations:

Offer cheer-specific yoga: Not just any yoga instructor will do for teaching cheerleaders. “Hire an experienced teacher who will focus more on sport-specific exercises, integration (keeping from the far edges of flexibility work; less is more in this population), recovery practices and mindfulness,” advises Rountree. She also recommends keeping the intensity of the yoga practice in inverse proportion to that of other training. “Bodies need stress to adapt, but too much yoga practice combined with rigorous training can be overkill and lead to injury,” she adds.

Find the right coach: Much like hiring a cheer coach, it’s vital to hire a trained instructor with the proper certifications and knowledge, so make sure any instructors you hire have at least a Registered Yoga Teacher certification. Eacret found her instructors through Craigslist and word of mouth. “It’s amazing how many connections we find from just asking our families at the gym, and we always do background checks on our fitness instructors since we work with kids,” she says.

Know the going rates: Offering competitive pay can help attract a quality yoga instructor. Pay should be determined based on the person’s level of experience, along with the duration and frequency of classes. Geographic regions may also differ due to cost of living—for instance, Wendy Riley of Altus, OK-based Whitaker’s Extreme Gymnastics, paid her two instructors $10/hour for the yoga sessions last season, while at Cheer San Diego, instructors get around $30/hour.

Go for coaches who can do double-duty: When hiring a new dance or tumbling coach, consider giving preference to those who are also yoga-certified. Fort Mill, SC-based Charlotte All Stars offers yoga classes twice a week to cheerleaders and moms by a dance instructor who is also yoga-certified. “We actually hired a dance instructor, and we were contemplating yoga classes for increasing core strength and flexibility. Since she was yoga-certified, we got her to teach yoga as well,” says gym director Jamey Harlow.

Owners can go that route, too: Riley of Whitaker’s Extreme Gymnastics also procured a National Exercise Trainers Association certification recently and now teaches yoga at her gym.

Set up a swap: If you don’t have enough space for a yoga program, consider an exchange program. Take Griffin-GA based Legion of All Stars, which has partnered with Club Fitness of Griffin. They offer discounts to the gym members for signing up with them for cheer/ tumbling classes, and vice versa.

What’s in it for me?

Many gym owners are in a constant state of high stress and could definitely use some yoga Zen. Tarisa Parrish, owner of The YogaSoul Center in Eagan, MN, says, “Running a gym is a demanding career. Keeping up at the necessary pace without losing your sanity requires self-care and calm. You need a grounded approach to life and business,” she says. “Many gym owners find that when they have a daily yoga practice, they make fewer mistakes and seem to get more done in less time.”

Eacret couldn’t agree more. “As far as a gym owner’s personal well-being is considered, it’s awesome to have yoga offered in-house so that if I end up having an hour free unexpectedly, I can head up stairs and get some ‘Om’ time,” she says.

-Dinsa Sachan

 

 

5 Surprising Mood-Boosters

5 Surprising Mood-Boosters

Julie Johnson’s secret to sanity? Instant smoothie gratification. The Extreme Allstars coach brings her Nutri Bullet blender everywhere she goes for that quick fix she craves—and needs. After all, Johnson is often working in the Melbourne, FL-based gym past midnight.

“I know it sounds funny, but it’s true,” Johnson says. “It gets fruit into my system really quickly. I add a little peanut butter. That gets me going for a few hours.”

Desert Elite Mavericks program director Amy Grey splits her days between the gym and Rancho Mirage High School, where she coaches cheer and teaches English. She gets one hour to herself every day, which she fills with The Beatles and the rest of her favorite musicians. “I use my prep during the school day to listen to music and decompress and not have to deal with stresses,” says Grey.

Most coaches and gym owners have their own Nutri Bullets and Beatles—life hacks that boost their moods. They know what a slew of published research has confirmed in recent years: happy people work smarter.

Not surprisingly, a positive mood has positive side effects. It encourages broader, flexible and more creative thinking; increases openness to new information; affects the manner in which professionals interact with customers; and has been linked on a broad scale to economic success.

Here are five ways to add some pep to your step.

Reach out and touch someone. Those heartfelt hugs after a tough routine hits might be more meaningful than you know. Touch has been shown to lower blood pressure and heart rate, relieve pain and anxiety, and increase happiness. And, of course, the benefits continue at home—when we hug or kiss a loved one, we release oxytocin, which is a powerful hormone. No loved ones nearby? Grab Fido, as petting animals lowers blood pressure.

Retrain your brain. While no one is happy 100 percent of the time, thinking positive thoughts can actually get you one step closer to genuine bliss. Researchers urge the cultivation of positive emotions, which can help people—women especially—through a rough patch. Focusing on things that make you happy such as loved ones, trips to Worlds, pets, favorite activities or funny memories just might improve your mood for real. (One caveat: don’t fake it. Fake smiles are proven to actually worsen your mood.)

Lose the ‘blue’ jeans. What a woman wears is heavily dependent on her mood. (Yes, someone researched this.) The wardrobe choice de jour among the sad: blue jeans. Psychologists suggest wearing clothes that express happiness if you’re feeling down. Happy clothes were defined as “ones that made women feel good,” such as anything well-cut or figure-enhancing or made from bright and beautiful fabrics. (A great excuse to shop at Lululemon or splurge on Juicy Couture for gym wear!) Twice as many women wear a hat when happy and five times as many are more likely to wear their favorite shoes.

Let there be light. Make more excuses to get outside—whether it means holding practice outdoors or planning a team bonding picnic. Sunlight improves mood, thanks to the release of serotonin, a natural mood-booster inside your body. Humans evolved outdoors, and it’s unnatural for us to spend so much time inside. Another natural activity for humans: exercise. Getting in a good workout boosts serotonin levels. Exercising outside? Now you’re in serotonin city.

Let the music play. You’ve probably heard the old saying, “Music has charms to soothe the savage beast.” Let’s face it: everyone has days when they’re the savage beast. Listening to happy music not only improves mood, but also changes the way we perceive the world. And it’s not just listening that helps: singing alone or in a group also induces positive physiological reactions. So crank up the “Glee” music or another favorite for a sing-along stretch—and watch your practice go that much better.

Check our blog Thursday for more great tips on “mood food” that can give you a much-needed boost!

-Joe Donatelli

 

 

Head Games: Overcoming Performance Anxiety

Head Games: Overcoming Performance Anxiety

Minutes before taking the floor, an athlete crumbles: her heart rate spikes and her breath comes in quick, shallow gulps. While backstage is chaotic, her panic is centered on something else: what will happen next, performing in front of the crowd. As her coach, you’re not sure what to do before she walks onstage—calm her, convince her it’s just like practice or remind her to have fun. Sound familiar?

The hard fact is that helping young athletes overcome performance anxiety or move beyond mental blocks may be two of the most difficult tasks coaches face. The good news: both can be overcome. However, there are no quick fixes, notes sports psychologist Dr. Caroline Silby, Ph.D.

Anxiety can arise from any number of sources, whether it is a negative outlook about success, concern about injury or a fear of failing. The feeling is most potent when increased expectations collide with decreased confidence, explains Dr. Silby: “Another way to think about it: an athlete’s physical capability is ahead of her confidence.”

Aly Mantell, director of San Luis Obispo, CA-based Central Coast Elite Cheer, agrees with Dr. Silby, but takes it a step further. She’s encountered numerous athletes that were “afraid to move up,” even though they were more than capable. For one child, Mantell found that the solution was to have her attend one extra tumbling class each week. The difference: the athlete was more dedicated. Not only must athletes be capable, “they must want to get that new skill,” advises Mantell. “If they are committed, we can get creative and help them.”

Here are four ways you can help your athletes move past performance anxiety:

See it to believe it via visualization. Mantell accomplishes this by giving her athletes homework. “I ask them to visualize skill progressions at home, away from the gym,” she says, “and write down what they see, like where the arms are during a back handspring.” Mantell then reviews the written record of the image and redirects stressed kids to realize what they are good at and what they need to work on.

Karen Lundgren, a professional adventure racer and youth coach, also believes that visualization is highly effective—when done correctly. As a child athlete, Lundgren found visualization helpful, but not at first. “When I watched myself [during visualization], I made the same mistakes,” she says. “I had to teach myself to picture doing it [the skill] right.” Lundgren thinks this is an error coaches often make: asking a child to visualize without teaching them how to do it properly. She urges coaches to consider the consequences of flawed visualization, sharing that it can often “support self-sabotage.”

Lundgren also puts emphasis on how kids visualize, whether they see themselves as if they were “on television” or “through their own eyes.” While Lundgren concedes neither is wrong or right, she will ask athletes to switch it around. “As they become more aware of the differences, watching versus doing, they gain a better understanding of the power of visualization,” explains Lundgren.

While visualization is easier for older kids, it is often challenging for younger children. “It’s about sitting still,” Lundgren says. “That’s difficult; it’s new to them and you need to talk them through it.” But introducing the concept of “what is going on inside my head” is valuable at an early age. “It helps young athletes grow,” she adds, “because the mental aspect [of performance] is one of the hardest things to notice.”

Put a lock-step system in place to deal with apprehension. Dr. Silby advocates creating a “contract” of sorts with athletes. Her theory is that having an agreed-upon method for execution will prevent the escalation of emotions—both by athlete and coach.

For example, the arrangement could allow an athlete three attempts to do a skill. If an athlete does not perform a skill successfully, he or she must stop and perform an agreed upon action or set of actions (such as attempting another skill or performing any number of measures that serve to clear the head, such as tensing and releasing).

“Allowing an athlete to work through fear in a systematic way begins to produce momentum to move the athlete closer to making up her mind to work through the situation that is making her anxious,” says Dr. Silby. Athletes can concentrate on what they are willing to do as opposed to drawing attention to what they are not willing to do. “The pattern of ‘not going’ is interrupted with a moment to refocus,” she adds.

Mastery over anxiety is achieved by acknowledging mental strengths. “We all possess mental strengths,” Dr. Silby says, “but children very often are completely unaware of these strengths or how they contribute to performance success.” Dr. Silby explains that identifying these assets is essential, as it helps athletes recognize how they control their own performance levels and teaches them to make use of their strong points.

To do this, Dr. Silby recommends what she calls “accomplishment exercises.” For one week after each practice, coaches ask athletes to write down three accomplishments and one action that contributed to that success. This provides an athlete with evidence there is a connection between actions and outcomes, notes Dr. Silby. It also gives adults an opportunity to mention what they noticed. “I saw you take a deep breath and refocus before completing that skill,” Dr. Silby offers as illustration.

Coaches must remain engaged. Dr. Silby calls this “being in it,” saying that coaches can often get frustrated by athletes’ mental blocks and withdraw from the process.

However, engagement doesn’t necessarily mean talking about the issues, she cautions; rather, dialogue should be kept to a minimum. Instead, staying “in it” means helping an athlete “navigate the emotions he or she is experiencing in that moment.” This could be as simple as moving them past frustration to calm down or encouraging the use of breathing exercises to relax. The effect: athletes again make that connection between their own actions and execution of positive results.

No matter your preferred method, arming kids early on with the power to overcome anxiety is as important as proper technique and, as Lundgren shares, “teaching them to enjoy all the steps to get there is invaluable.”

 

Give to Live: The Benefits of Volunteering

Give to Live: The Benefits of Volunteering

Six years ago, Jon and Tammy Estes, co-owners of Miss Tammy’s All-Star Company in Cleburne, Texas, sought a way to make a difference in their community. As satisfying as it was for them to work with local youth in the gym environment, the couple wanted to do more. When a local boy developed neuroblastoma (the most common form of cancer in children), they knew they’d found their cause.

Research has shown that volunteering can provide a number of physical and emotional benefits. Estes and his wife discovered this firsthand when they designed T-shirts bearing a “Children’s Cancer Arm Bands” logo to help fight pediatric cancer.

One dollar from the sale of each shirt was designated toward pediatric cancer research, and so far, their efforts have garnered $3,000 to date. Their excitement and passion for the cause spread to their athletes, who enthusiastically got involved in the campaign.

“The kids love the [giving aspect] and their parents are so proud of them,” says Estes. “This has such a positive effect on them. They are not just concerned with winning on the mat, but winning in life.”

Amazing! Efforts

While some individual gyms are promoting charitable causes, Spirit Celebration owner Billy Smith realized that the cheer community as a whole could be doing much more. He decided the industry needed a platform on which “cheer celebrities could enhance cheer charities.” To achieve that goal, he created “Amazing! Champions,” high-profile competitions that bring awareness to the importance of philanthropy and promote greater participation.

Smith explains that each team selects a charity or cause and then competes for prize money, which is awarded to those charities. “We interview every kid about the charity before the competition, and some gyms submit videos of what they are doing with these charities. Many of them have personal stories to tell,” he says. “It’s very emotional. We are trying to make winning about someone else. The whole concept stems from passion.”

This year “Amazing Champions” expects to give away $10,000. “In five years, I’d like to give away $100,000,” states Smith.

Going Global

Julie Bolton of Orlando, Florida, was aiming for an even wider audience when she launched Cheer for a Cause in 2010. Designed to bring together all-star gyms and athletic facilities from around the world, the organization fosters volunteerism. “Our core goal is to unify giving from the heart within the community,” she says. “We are developing leaders in giving back.”

What initially started as a Facebook group/social media effort has morphed into people taking initiative all over the world. Teams now spearhead their own charity efforts and can partner with Bolton to use the Cheer for a Cause logo to get more awareness and support. More than 20 different charities have benefited so far, including Habitat for Humanity projects, breast cancer awareness campaigns, epilepsy fundraisers and specific events for individuals touched by illness or tragedy. “We have teams in Europe, ambassadors in France, the United Kingdom, Colombia, Canada and New Zealand,” Bolton notes. “It makes the kids feel we are all connected.”

18-year old Kayley Cabalero, an ambassador for Cheer for a Cause in Carl Junction, Missouri, took the lead on relief efforts for victims of the 2011 tornado in Joplin. With a built-in philosophy of giving—her family has routinely shared its good fortune with others at Christmas—Kayley felt compelled to help after witnessing the destruction so close to her hometown. To date, she has amassed 100 pounds of clothing as well as many gift cards. “I wanted to do something geared toward teens, so I collected sports supplies, cheer bows, soccer equipment,” she says. “Every time I receive a box of donations, it’s like Christmas. I get so excited being able to help others, especially after seeing the devastation firsthand.”

Not only are these cheerleaders offering much-needed assistance to those with critical medical, financial or social needs, they are also nurturing compassion for others and dedication to service. Kayley noted, “We’re more than just individual members working on separate projects. When one of us needs the other, we act as a support system. We really are one big family.”

Stay tuned to our blog on Thursday for a rundown of all the ways volunteering can benefit your body!

-Phyllis Hanlon

 

Carbs: Sorting Fat from Fiction

Carbs: Sorting Fat from Fiction

When the Chico Cheer All-Stars travel to UCA Nationals in Orlando, team owner Tiffany Hayes schedules team meals at restaurants such as Planet Hollywood, where her athletes eat chicken sandwiches, pasta and Caesar salads. “While all of the options might not be as nutritionally valuable as what we would choose to make at home, they are much better than having the athletes grab ice cream and churros for dinner while running around Disney World,” says Hayes.

Hayes’ strategy is a familiar one to many coaches: keep out cheap, sugary, processed carbs—essentially everything they sell at event concession stands—and let healthier foods in.

“I encourage carbohydrates in the forms of fruits, vegetables, beans and whole grains,” said Hayes, who is also a registered dietitian. “I joke with the athletes because they all love carbs. I tell them it’s okay to eat carbohydrates, [but] just try to choose the healthy carbohydrates and create a good balance with protein as well.”

How can a coach tell the difference between healthy and unhealthy carbohydrates? Nutritionist Jonny Bowden says that if you can pull it out of the ground and eat it, it’s a food that contains healthy carbs (such as broccoli, spinach or bell peppers). Everything else is suspect. Once you identify healthy carbs for your athletes, here are some other tips to keep in mind:

Set an example. Team meals are teachable moments. “Whenever I eat around my athletes, I eat complete meals with a variety of nutrients,” says Tiana Beich, a Chico All-Stars coach and dietetics student. “I also bring healthy snacks to competitions and practices.”

Optimize your snack bar. Another way athletes absorb proper diet principles is at the gym snack bar. According to Stephanie Beveridge, the executive director of programs at Copperas Cove, TX-based GymKix, the snack bar at her gym sells fresh foods, cheese sticks, organic yogurt squeezers, Orgain protein shakes, Zevia all-natural diet soda, Switch sparkling juice, CLIF bars, Terra chips, Rip Slush, Sensible dried fruit, mixed nuts, all-natural applesauce, Umpqua oatmeal and natural beef jerky.

Head off the parent problem. Parents often bring cupcakes, cake and cookies—the types of processed carbs coaches don’t want kids eating—to the gym for celebrations. Hayes says her gym encourages parents to portion treats in individual servings to take home. “We no longer see large cakes and brownies being brought in before practice,” Hayes says. “Our staff focuses on the birthday song and having an entertaining practice more than the food associated with the event.”

Read the labels. Beveridge encourages athletes to read labels. Since many labels can be confusing, she breaks it down in a way that’s easy to understand—basically, anything with more than five ingredients or anything not easily recognized or pronounced likely isn’t a good food option.

“We try to keep it simple,” says Beveridge. “It’s hard enough to teach stunting and tumbling, but to try to explain why medium chain triglyceride fats are good and hydrogenated oils are bad would literally make their head spin.  We tell them to try to shop on the outside aisles of the grocery store because that is where the meat, dairy and fresh foods are located.”

Say “no” to carb-loading. Should athletes alter their diets and “carb-load” (i.e. “stuff themselves with pasta”) before an event? Sports nutritionist Nancy Clark, RD, author of the Sports Nutrition Guidebook, says unless an athlete is going to physically exert himself or herself for more than 90 minutes the next day, the answer is no. Clark encourages athletes to always fuel up and refuel with a healthy carb-based diet that includes pasta, potatoes, rice, fruits and vegetables while taking a rest day before competition. The rest day gives muscles time to store carbs for competition.

 

Journaling: More Than Words?

Journaling: More Than Words?

When Alexandra Allred made the first U.S. Olympic women’s bobsled team in 1994, she expected to train hard, eat healthy food and get plenty of sleep. What she didn’t expect was that she’d become an enthusiastic journal keeper. 

While living at the Olympic training center in Lake Placid, Allred’s coaches encouraged her to write down descriptions of her workouts, including any injuries and “off days,” as well as dietary intake. “I was recording everything and it became a daily habit,” she says. “I was writing if my workout was good or bad, how I felt about that and why. After a while, I could see patterns emerge.”

Now a writer and teacher at Navarro Community College just south of Dallas, Allred points out that journaling isn’t just beneficial for individuals but can also help the team at large. “Some of the entries could identify a cause and date of an injury. If your back is tight, your ankles are tender, or you can’t stick a landing, write it down. As a competitive athlete, you’ll be able to see patterns and reference dates. 

Journal writing also served as a motivating factor for Roisin McGettigan, a 2003 track and field Olympian for Ireland. She credits the practice of keeping a journal with helping her take ownership of her athletic pursuits. “When you record your training, it crosses the line between being casual or serious about the sport,” she says. “I was able to track my progress, learn what worked and what didn’t. I could figure out why I was tired and see if I over- or under-estimated my training.”

Roisin McGettigan

Additionally, keeping a journal helped McGettigan move toward her Olympic dream. “When you’re ready for a competition, you can look back and see all the work you’ve done. It makes you confident and prepared when you see the improvement. It encourages momentum. You can anchor your mind, dispel self-doubt, motivate and excite,” says McGettigan, who now resides in Providence, Rhode Island.

These experiences led McGettigan to develop “Believe I Am” training journal with national track and field champion Lauren Fleshman.  Intended to help track athletic performance, this journal also provides space for personally inspiring quotes, post-competition reflections, freewriting and drawing. It’s not hard to see how journaling might translate to the all-star cheer sphere—after all, an Olympic training journal could just as easily be a Worlds training journal. Along with athletes, coaches and gym owners might also find it useful, keeping track of everything from how stunt groups are performing at practice to monthly revenue numbers.

Journaling can also be a great tool for cheer professionals who want to empower their athletes—simply encouraging athletes to journal might make a world of difference in morale and mindset. Richard Kent, Ph.D., associate professor and director of the Maine Writing Project at the College of Education and Human Development, University of Maine, has used writing techniques with athletes since the early 1980s. He notes that athletes who journal become more engaged, self-aware and mentally sharp, less stressed and better able to cope both on the mat and off.

“It’s wildly interesting that athletes, when given opportunity and guidance, explore their own thinking and gain knowledge of their sport,” says Kent, who is also author of Writing on the Bus. 

While a variety of protocols are useful, Kent finds that taking five minutes after an event to “unpack the competition” enables the individual to look more deeply into his or her performance and identify strengths and weaknesses. “More important, it helps the athlete be more objective and avoid blaming [judges]. You can be more balanced, thoughtful and reflective,” he says.

On a team level, journaling inspires productivity. “It’s a precursor to more thoughtful, engaged conversation. Your thinking is more organized and balanced. You can communicate on a higher level,” Kent says.

Allred nails it when she says, “Journaling defines who you are and who you want to be in this world.” And whether it’s world champion, top cheer coach or owner of a lucrative gym, it can be one step closer to getting you there.

Check out our CP blog for journaling tips from an Artist’s Way expert!

-Phyllis Hanlon

 

A Long & Winding Road for LGBT

A Long & Winding Road for LGBT

Have the industry truly come a long way? CheerProfessional explores the treatment of gay athletes in all-star cheerleading.

For Mike Blaylock, director of Midlothian, VA-based FAME All Stars, all-star cheerleading’s evolving attitude toward gay athletes in sports can be summed up one way: The fact that he can talk openly about his upcoming wedding to his partner of five years, Adam, in the gym.

“What I love is when I have little girls in my gym begging to be flower girls,” he says, fighting back tears. “I have little girls, that the day of the wedding—this makes me emotional talking about it—but they want to be involved. Not because it would be fun or different, just because they recognize that the bond I have with this person with whom I spend my life. They respect that it’s not a mockery, and it’s not fake. They respect it enough to where they would be a part of it if they could.”

When Blaylock talks about his gym’s 6-, 7- and 8-year-olds recognizing his relationship in the same way they recognize “quote-unquote traditional relationships,” he gets choked up. Because according to Blaylock, that positive reception wouldn’t have been the case 15 years ago in all-star cheerleading.

One Step Forward, One Step Back

All-star cheer isn’t the only area that has made some strides—in April, Washington Wizards player Jason Collins made history when he became the first openly gay male athlete playing in a major sport. Professional athletes from sports organizations including the NFL, NHL, pro soccer and ESPN, among others, have also banded together to form the You Can Play organization. Its motto: “Gay athletes. Straight allies. Teaming up for respect.”

Yet some feel we haven’t come far enough. Though most would assume that the last place sexuality would be an issue would be all-star cheerleading, a USASF rule made last spring cast doubt on the industry’s acceptance level. The rule mandated that males “minimize exaggerated or theatrical movements,” and many in the industry viewed it as discrimination against gay cheerleaders. The rule was later retracted, but the spotlight on the issue brought the treatment of gay athletes in competitive cheerleading to the forefront.

The recent controversy begs the question: What’s the climate for gay athletes in cheerleading gyms today?

That Was Then

Blaylock remembers all too well being discriminated against as a high school cheerleader via “harsh statements” to his face and behind his back from fellow students outside of his squad. Since starting his coaching career in 1998, he has slowly experienced a significant difference in the way he is viewed.

“The treatment back then wasn’t that it was negative, as far as in-your-face negative,” says Blaylock. “It was more of the ‘Let’s keep this quiet’ attitude or ‘Let’s not put that out there so much.’ And as time has passed and perspectives have changed, the ability to be who you are as a coach—and discuss those kinds of matters without the fear of ridicule or fear of being included in certain things—has [risen] dramatically.”

This Is Now

Not all gyms have specific policies for inclusion, but some do have unwritten rules about acceptance.

“[At FAME All-Stars], we’ve never had to create a tolerance policy because it’s just a universally known idea that we’re accepting,” Blaylock says. “We’ve never had to address with our parents or our team that one behavior should not be frowned on. I know that that is my own little bubble, but I have to say that I’m proud of that bubble.”

Over at ACE Cheer Company, based in Hattiesburg, Mississippi (a part of the country that skews conservative), co-owner Brandon Roberts says they take a strict anti-bullying stance, going as far as to sit down with parents and athletes if they hear kids making anti-gay comments about other athletes or coaches.

“We now have 11 locations, and it doesn’t matter the location—whether it’s Nashville or as far south as Pensacola. It doesn’t matter where you’re at, or if you fall into the Bible Belt; [we make sure] the entire program and all of the families are loving and accepting of all of our athletes. That’s the one thing that we really push,” Roberts says. “It’s about safety. It’s about sticking with your brothers and sisters no matter what, and [being] there for them.”

But the self-expression and tolerance that ACE and FAME encourage isn’t the case everywhere. Some local gyms, Roberts says, still encourage their athletes to keep their sexual identity a secret or turn athletes away from their program because of their sexuality. He tells the story of one gay athlete who switched from another gym to ACE as a high school senior and finally came out at the end of the season.

“He said the one thing that our program taught him was that it was okay to be himself,” Roberts says. “It wasn’t that our program turned him or changed him; it was just the fact that he felt like he had to be silent or couldn’t say anything because of the [former] program he was at. [He felt] that he would be bullied or kicked off the squad, or that they wouldn’t allow him or they would out him to their entire school. It’s a shame that that still happens.”

Rules of Engagement

Circling back to that controversial USASF rule, depending on whom you talk to, the rule was either a pointed dig at gay athletes or a more broad-based nudge toward how the federation wanted the sport to look.

“I was offended [by the rule], to be quite honest,” says Blaylock. “I felt that in a sport that I think that that is so huge in comparison to other sports, in which we teach and advocate for so much inclusion, I felt that [the rule] was hypocritical and contradictory to one of the most wonderful things about our sport. It was so against what I think event producers and coaches and parents and athletes have worked so hard to create. To get that wording from the USASF board really came across as a slap in the face to not want to carry on that wonderful sense of inclusion that we have in our sport.”

However, Roberts felt the rule could be interpreted differently than merely a slam to gay cheerleaders—and that “flamboyant” performance of any kind, from gay or straight athletes, isn’t necessarily in line with what some gyms, ACE included, preach. He says he has asked individuals to tone down their performance if it takes away from a squad’s “uniform” look. For example, ACE does not include makeup for boys or body glitter when it performs in order to encourage what Roberts describes as an “all-American” style.

“I did think that when [the rule] came out that it was pointed in a certain direction; however, you had to look at it both ways, and I wasn’t going to jump on the side that this is homophobia,” he says. “But we have to look at what are we putting out as an industry. Are we scaring other people away from joining our program? Are we putting the label that every male cheerleader will immediately be [assumed] gay? Or is this a way of telling individuals not to be themselves? I think we as an industry and we as a gym had to look at what exactly they were asking and how we interpret it.”

Despite the rule and its subsequent controversy, Blaylock says he is optimistic about the future of all-star cheerleading’s role in equality for all sexual orientations.

“What I am hoping we achieve is…when you see an athlete walking by who may not have proper gender behavior, you don’t even notice, you don’t even turn your head—that’s when we’ve achieved some serious groundwork, and I believe we’re on that path.”

-Jamie Beckman

 

The Juice on Juicing

The Juice on Juicing

7:30 am: workout. 10 am: marketing strategy meeting. 3 pm: tumbling class. 5 pm: all-star practice. 8 pm: perfectly balanced, high-nutrition meal you lovingly prepared at home. If you found yourself nodding until that very last part, you’re not alone—amidst all the demands of a typical day at the gym, finding time to eat ideal meals is often a tall task. So how do celebrities and star athletes stay energized and fit on their jam-packed schedules? The whispered word on the street is “juicing.”

No, we’re not talking illegal drugs. This juice is the grandma-approved kind: fruits and vegetables, liquefied through a juicer (or blender, if you prefer to retain more fiber). What makes juicing so special is that devotees say the right combos can help them lose weight, power up even more than from caffeine and even improve their looks and body function.

“Juicing has lowered my cholesterol about 90 points, and along with working out, it helped me lose about 18 to 20 pounds,” says Carlos Onofre, co-owner of Chatsworth, CA-based West Coast Rush, who favors green juices like wheatgrass. “I usually have it in the morning at least three times a week; I use it as a meal replacement.” Though Onofre admits that cleaning out the juicer can be “a pain,” he thinks the results are well worth it.

Wondering if juicing is worth your time and effort? Get a sense of what it’s all about:

Small sips, big impact: For those who think juicing can’t replace a big salad, think again. “In a fairly small glass of pressed juice, you’re capturing much of the nutrition found in several handfuls of produce,” says Cynthia Sass, MPH, RD, sports nutritionist to the New York Rangers and Tampa Bay Rays and author of S.A.S.S! Yourself Slim: Conquer Cravings, Drop Pounds and Lose Inches. Vouches Onofre, “It’s incredibly energizing; you instantly feel it.”

Careful about calories: Keep in mind that juicing sugary fruits can be a quick way to swallow more calories than you would if you were chewing. To keep sugars in check, “make sure to include green veggies and that no more than one-half to one-third of the ingredients come from fruit,” recommends Jared Koch, nutritional consultant and founder of the healthy eating site CleanPlates.com. “Spinach or kale are great options, and adding lemon is also a [lean] way to enhance the flavor.”

Not so fast: An increasingly popular trend is the extreme “juice fast,” in which participants replace all their meals with juices for a set number of days. Some say the challenging ritual eliminates toxins and facilitates quick weight loss, but experts say it’s actually smarter to add juice to a healthy diet. “Without protein, you lack the building blocks needed to maintain or heal the muscle mass you have, or build new muscle tissue,” cautions Sass. “Also, if you aren’t taking in enough fuel, your metabolism may slow down in an attempt to become more fuel efficient.”

As far as the energized feeling that some claim they get from fasting, that could be your body going into starvation mode. “I’ve seen many people rebound-overeat after ending a juice cleanse because they felt so starved and deprived during it,” says Sass. “That yo-yo pattern can result in losing muscle during the cleanse and gaining body fat afterward.”

You get what you pay for: Kiwis and mangos and beets, oh my! Though it may be tempting to buy non-organic produce in order to save money, Koch is an advocate of playing it safe. “To avoid pesticides, choose organic—especially for fruits that go into the juicer with their skin on,” he recommends.

The type of juicer you choose matters, too. Traditional centrifugal juicers grind produce against a round, spinning blade and tend to be cheaper than “cold press” juicers. However, cold press juicers compress instead of grinding fruits and veggies, yield more juice and do a better job of juicing greens. Also, because cold press juicers don’t heat up, the juices tend to be more nutrient-rich.

An adventure for your taste buds: And the final reason to try juicing? The taste. “Today, I had celery, spinach, orange, carrots and a piece of pineapple,” says Onofre. “It might sound kind of disgusting, but I’ve actually let the kids try it, and they love it. It’s shockingly good.”

Visit the CheerProfessional blog for some awesome juicing recipes from our experts!

-Jamie Kiffel-Alcheh

Operation Thin-spiration: Body Image Issues for Athletes

Operation Thin-spiration: Body Image Issues for Athletes

Lettuce-only salads, one slice of meat per day and strict rules against pasta, soda and bread—these are the staples of a popular “Worlds diet” making the rounds online (where Tweets like “Oops! So much for my Worlds diet” are standard fare). “I often hear my athletes saying, ‘Have you seen that gym’s Worlds diet?’” says Tanya Roesel of Midwest Cheer Elite. “It’s a bad time of year for body image. Everyone’s going to Florida, where they’ll be either in swimsuits or the spotlight.”

Roesel is especially sensitive to the issue of body image, as she’s had two athletes hospitalized due to issues with anorexia. “In one case, it became blatantly obvious as the athlete got thinner and thinner; during snack breaks, the athlete wouldn’t eat at all,” Roesel recalls. “Our coaches were picking up on it, but the parents were in denial.” It was a magazine shoot that finally brought the problem to light for everyone involved. Adds Roesel, “When the magazine came out, we almost fell over—the photo was so shocking. The bones were sticking out in her face and you could count her ribs.” By the time the Level 5 athlete was admitted to the hospital, she weighed 70 pounds.

Of course, not all body image issues are quite as apparent—often presenting in more subtle ways. At Shine Athletics in Orlando, Fla., it’s not unusual for gym owner Sydney McBride to overhear young cheerleaders in the training room talk about having Jamie Andries’ abs or Maddie Gardner’s silky mane. “With the rise of the cheerlebrity trend, I often see pictures of girls in crop tops posting quotes about wanting abs like a certain cheerlebrity or a body like another girl,” says McBride.

The aspirational talk isn’t relegated to just cheerlebrities, as athletes often compare themselves to celebrities, models they see in magazines and even siblings or friends. It’s all part of a deep-seated dichotomy unique to the cheer industry: it’s essential that athletes be fit and healthy, but what’s to prevent them from taking it too far?

The Breaking Point 

Healthy body image is certainly a potent concern for youth across the board, in part due to “unrealistically thin images of females that are so prevalent in visual and print media,” according to expert Ron A. Thompson. Yet cheerleaders may be especially at risk for developing issues—thanks to a perfect storm of unique factors including exposure, scrutiny, self-esteem and pressure (both internal and external). “They are performing in front of spectators, and there is high pressure to look good,” says Thompson, co-author of Helping Athletes with Eating Disorders.

For flyers, the feelings may be even more heightened. “My athlete who got really ill said that every time she went in the air, she felt like she was standing on a scale. All she could think about was whether the bases could tell if she’d gained or lost a pound,” says Roesel. “For that 30 seconds a flyer is in the air, all attention is on her. They’re wondering, ‘Is my stomach hanging out? Do I have love handles on the side of my shorts?’” A September 2012 study by the University of South Carolina corroborated Roesel’s statement, finding that showed flyers had the highest risk of developing eating disorders, and that the risk was directly related to the uniforms they wore.

No matter what role an athlete plays on the team, poor body image can lead to an array of unhealthy behaviors and even put an end to his or her cheer career—affecting performance and general well-being. “If poor body image drives athletes to diet, over-exercise or engage in any form of disordered eating, they will be putting her physical health at great risk,” says Claire Mysko of National Eating Disorders Association.  “They’ll have less energy, strength and focus to devote to their sport.”

The danger of developing eating disorders also looms large. Adds Mysko, “Not every person who struggles with poor body image will go on to develop an eating disorder, but poor body image is certainly a major risk factor.” (See sidebar for a rundown of common eating disorders.)

How You Can Help 

Cheer professionals can make all the difference for athletes who are struggling. “It’s important for coaches to encourage athletes to live their version of a healthy lifestyle and to stop comparing themselves to others,” says McBride. Find out how McBride and others play an important part in warding off issues at their gyms:

Mark what you say: Words can conjure images, and it’s important to make sure you’re not sending a harmful message. “As coaches, we can help encourage a healthy body image by not using words like ‘thin’ or ‘skinny’ and instead using words like ‘fit’ and ‘healthy,’” says McBride. Sean Powers, director of all-star tumbling for Connecticut-based Spirit Zone, agrees. “The word ‘diet’ just screams bad. I use ‘meal plan’ instead,” he says.

Educate yourself, your teams and staff: At Midwest Cheer Elite, Roesel employs a personal trainer who offers free daily strength & conditioning classes and gives frequent nutrition talks; she also makes a strong effort to educate both her athletes and staff on all facets of body image. At Spirit Zone, Powers and his colleagues “try to promote healthy eating, along with appropriate training programs for all athletes.”

Mysko says this type of education is essential for all cheer professionals in the gym environment. “These are complex issues, and knowledgeable coaches are in a much better position to help [athletes] develop a healthy sense of self and intervene when they see problems,” she says.

Instill best practices: Coaches are not infallible and may be partial to cheerleaders who have a certain body type. However, it’s important to be conscious of presenting information in the right way. “Focus on cheerleaders’ abilities rather than weight and appearance when assigning positions because they do notice who gets chosen,” advises Sonya SooHoo, who conducted a study on body image among adolescent cheerleaders at the University of Utah.

Uniforms are another area where coaches can set a positive example. Roesel gives athletes and parents the option of choosing long shells or midriffs, which she says helps set their minds at ease and step out more confidently on the mat. “Allow cheerleaders to choose uniforms that don’t make them feel uncomfortable or self-conscious,” says SooHoo.

Communication is key: Coaches need to convey the message that healthy eating and nutrition are important, and Mysko adds coaches should reach out to the cheerleaders who are likely candidates for body image issues. “A coach can help get her on a healthy path or he/she can reinforce the negative thoughts in that cheerleader’s head,” she says.

Although certain facets of cheerleading do hold high risk for bringing out negative body image, the sport can also be a great platform for instilling positive eating habits, confidence and well-being in athletes. McBride views her role as a way to help develop these essential life skills and encourages other cheer professionals to do the same: “We have the opportunity to create positive role models and teach youngsters to be themselves.”

-Dinsa Sachan

 

Mind and Body Medicine: Meditation!

Mind and Body Medicine: Meditation!

Ozell Williams has always been a man in motion. When not cheering at games or competing with his squad at the University of Colorado – Boulder, Williams is entertaining Denver Broncos fans with his power tumbling team, the Mile High Tumblers. Though stillness doesn’t come naturally for the college junior and Tumblers’ founder/CEO, Williams swears by regular meditation—a habit he says helps to heal his body, recharge his mind and optimally manage his multiple endeavors. 

“To connect with others, you need to learn how to tap into your emotions, but first you need to learn to connect with yourself,” says Williams. “Meditation helps me do that.”

So what is meditation, exactly? Put simply, meditation is the practice of calming the mind in order to achieve a state of deep contentment and/or reflection. (Translated from Sanskrit, the term means “peacefully abiding.”) For nearly half a century, Westerners have known about meditation, but many still don’t fully understand the practice or its benefits. Scientific studies show that meditating can decrease stress and burnout; enhance creativity; promote relaxation and restful sleep; and maximize oxygen efficiency.

“Meditation is one of the best tools we have to go beyond the mind’s noisy chatter and experience the peace of present moment awareness,” says Kyla Stinnett, a certified primordial sound meditation instructor at the Chopra Center in Carlsbad, California. Intrigued? Get a primer on achieving this mystical mindset:

Dispel preconceived ideas. The uninitiated may believe meditation involves sitting cross-legged on a mountaintop for hours on end. Not so, says Michael Miller, who operates meditation centers in New York and London. “Meditation is very much for the modern world,” he says. “People often think meditation is having to adopt a philosophy, belief system or religion—but it’s a simple mental technique.”

Indirectly, meditation can help coaches and gym owners become better role models for athletes—offering a prime example of good self-care, adds Miller.

No incense or candles needed. University of Connecticut alumna Kimberly Daniels had accumulated a laundry list of injuries during her days as a cheerleader and UCA camp instructor. In 2000, she discovered meditation, which not only nourished her mind but also diminished the pain from her cheering-related injuries.

Now a meditation teacher, Daniels indicates that the practice can be done almost anywhere for any length of time. “Try to find a comfortable place, close your eyes and focus on the breath. Listen to the sound of each inhale and exhale, acknowledging thoughts but letting them go,” she says.

While daily practice is ideal, Daniels notes that in today’s overscheduled world, it’s necessary to be flexible. When time poses a challenge, a quiet nature walk is better than nothing. “You could even meditate for five minutes in the car on your way to cheer practice,” she adds. “See what works for you. Once you start making time for meditation and you skip a day or two, you really miss it.”

Carve out some downtime. Williams manages to incorporate meditation at least twice a day, often when relaxing in the steam room. “I listen to music and relax my body, going into my deepest thoughts,” he says. Not only does it help Williams decompress, but meditation is also key in helping him navigate his attention-deficit hypertension disorder—bringing about more focus and patience as he goes about his day.

Though the results are well worth it, it does take considerable time and dedication to incorporate meditation into everyday life. Like most habits, it takes 21 days for meditation to become ingrained; it’s important to establish routine by practicing at the same time for as many days as possible (even if just for five minutes). Though calming the mind can be challenging at first, stillness often becomes easier over time. The best way to reap the rewards, according to Stinnett? “Stick with it.” 

Peace Be With You: A Quick How-To 

To begin, find a comfortable position either 1) sitting on the floor with legs crossed loosely or 2) in a chair with feet flat and knees bent. Keep your spine erect but not stiff, and place your hands on the thighs, palms up. Relax your fingers, jaw and tongue and tuck in your chin slightly. Close your eyes and listen to the breath. (You may choose to play some soft music or burn incense and/or a candle, but this is optional.) As you turn your awareness inward, notice any thoughts or emotions that come into your mind. Don’t try to force them away, but gently bring your attention back to the breath. Continue breathing in your normal pattern.

 

Healthy Eating: Planting the Seed

Healthy Eating: Planting the Seed

Mo’ meat, mo’ problems? That’s the premise of documentaries like Forks Over Knives, which explore the theory that animal-based and processed foods lead to degenerative disease and other health issues. “Films such as Forks Over Knives, Food Inc. and Fast Food Nation have heightened awareness about our nation’s food system and persuaded viewers of benefits of a plant-based diet,” says Jennifer McDaniel, MS, RD, and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition & Dietetics.

The popularity of such films—coupled with a mass movement toward healthier eating—points to an overall trend: plant-based diets are hot. A 2012 Vegetarian Resource Group survey found that 7.3 million Americans are vegetarian, while 22.8 million others follow a vegetarian-inclined diet. “More people are interested in meatless meals some of the time. They may not be complete vegetarians, but they are interested in moving in that direction,” says Sharon Palmer, author of The Plant-Powered Diet.

Why make the shift? Research has shown that bioactive compounds found in plant foods can reduce inflammation and damage to cells, cutting down the risk of chronic diseases like cancer. Plant-based diets have also been documented to keep you leaner and keep lifestyle diseases like diabetes at bay. And, along with long-term health benefits, it may also boost endurance—a welcome development for any all-star athlete.

Of course, plant-based diets are nothing new among performance-centered athletes. Just ask legends Joe Namath, Martina Navratilova, Billie Jean King, Desmond Howard and Carl Lewis—all of whom don’t eat meat. And while many school-aged athletes might consider fast food to be one of the major food groups, others might be intrigued by the idea of going flexitarian, vegetarian or full vegan. We asked the experts for their tips on making this lifestyle change work for all-star cheerleaders:

Keep the energy flowing: Long practices and intense competitions call for a high energy level, and athletes who rely too much on vegetables might develop an energy lag. To prevent sluggishness, McDaniel suggests incorporating foods like legumes, soy products, grains and healthy fats like nuts, avocados, seeds and olive oil into the daily diet. “[Athletes] need to make sure they are getting adequate calories, and not just veggies and fruits,” advises McDaniel.

Pacify the palate: Transitioning to a plant-based diet can be tough. “Those in transition can try some of the alternative meats or plenty of tofu, all of which are high in protein and fat,” says Jack Norris, RD, and author of Vegan for Life.

Get your fill of nutrients: People on plant-based diets can miss out on some nutrients, such as iron and vitamins. “Because the plant-based form of iron is not absorbed as easily as iron from meat, vegetarians need to eat plenty of iron-rich foods,” says McDaniel. To remedy this issue, McDaniel suggests eating lots of beans, greens and fortified foods every day. Also, Vitamin C helps the body absorb iron, make sure the refrigerator is stocked with strawberries, oranges and tomatoes.

Vitamin B12 and Vitamin D can also present a challenge. The human body can synthesize Vitamin D when exposed to sunlight, but to get enough Vitamin B12, it’s all about eating more fortified foods. As for calcium, those who don’t eat dairy products will have to obtain their necessary calcium quota from calcium-rich soy products and dark leafy greens.

Keep the focus: Hungry athletes will have to avoid snacking on junk food when they don’t have easy access to plant foods. “Snacking on whole foods and snacks made with whole foods is key,” says Kate Geagan, author of Go Green, Get Lean. She suggests keeping Justin’s Nut Butter packs handy for high protein nourishment on the go. Other healthy snacks include peanuts, walnuts, kale chips, fruit smoothies and granola bars.

Most importantly, remember that this diet isn’t for everyone. Put your athletes in touch with a dietician who can chart out a diet program tailoring to their individual needs before they embark on any diet. 

Other Plant-Based Diets

Not ready to go totally vegetarian just yet? Try these diets:

Semi-vegetarian (or Flexitarian): This is mostly a plant-based diet with meat meals thrown in once in a while. Go for Meatless Mondays!

Pescetarian: Fish are the only animal product consumed on this diet. This is a great way to get your protein and omega fatty acid retirements fulfilled—but keep an eye on mercury exposure.

Lacto-ovo vegetarian: People on this diet eat no meat, but consume milk and eggs. (Translation: no calcium and vitamin B12 worries.)

-Dinsa Sachan

De-Stress R/x

De-Stress R/x

Take two deep breaths and call us in the morning? Not quite that simple—but we’ve unearthed a few smart ideas on how to stamp out stress.

Between the constant pressures of coaching, competing and running a business, it’s no secret that being a cheer professional can be a highly stressful endeavor. “Everybody who has ever owned a gym understands that it’s pretty much 24/7,” says Troy Hedgren, co-owner of Laguna Hills, CA-based Pacific Coast Magic. “Especially with a gym our size, with four locations and more than 500 athletes, the days for us are very long.”

Whether you thrive in go-go-go mode or are feeling the burn of burnout, whether your gym is miniscule or massive, it’s imperative to cope properly and decompress—even if you have to “schedule” time to do it. To find out how to turn a breaking point into a turning point, we turned to several busy cheer professionals and expert Zohar Adner for their hard-earned advice on achieving balance.

Schedule breaks.
As a coach and gym owner, your days start early and often don’t end until midnight—and many feel that there is still not enough time in the day. Undoubtedly, creating work-life balance can be tough with such an all-consuming lifestyle, but living without it is ultimately unsustainable.

“Coaches and gym owners need to schedule breaks and time to breathe,” says Zohar Adner, author of The Gift of Stress. “You can’t just run from one activity to the next to the next. You would never treat an athlete like that; you wouldn’t even do that to your car. If it’s not something you would ask of anyone else, it’s time to take a step back and look at what you’re asking of yourself.”

Hedgren finds his rare Zen by taking time to connect with nature and the outdoors in the midst of his jam-packed day. He often spends mornings returning emails and making calls, then heads to the beach for an hour or two before heading to the gym. “You have to have that one little release,” he confides.

If slowing down doesn’t seem like an option, consider the benefits. Research has shown that 90 minutes “is the optimal length of time for a person to concentrate on something—more than that, and you start to get decreased effectiveness,” Adner cautions. “Taking a break lets your brain settle down and gives your body a chance to rest.”

Also, “breaks” don’t have to mean a major time commitment—Adner recommends starting with five minutes a day and working your way up to an hour in the morning, an hour in the evening and (ideally) an hour mid-day. “We used to take a lunch hour,” says Adner. “People were happier and healthier.”

Build a support system.
Creating a supportive community is key to reducing stress, even if you feel like no one understands your unique stressors. “By isolating yourself, you’re only putting more pressure on yourself,” says Adner. Afraid to ask for help? Think of how great it feels when you’re able to help out a friend. “[Give] other people the opportunity to be that person for you,” adds Adner.

The approach works for Hedgren and co-owner Kellie Elliott, who say they lean on each other, their spouses and network of coaches and athletes quite often. “Everybody takes a part in not only working for me, but helping me out as a parent,” says Elliott. “I don’t think I could do what I do if I didn’t have that support system—it’s definitely teamwork. You just have to make sure to get good people that you trust in those positions to make you successful.”

Be prepared.
According to Adner, 90 percent of stress is recurring. “You can pretty much predict the things that are going to come up,” he says. At USA Wildcats in Naugatuck, CT, they deal with all of the typical stressors—athletes getting injured, people running late to competition and other incidents that can cause “coaches [to run] around like chickens with their heads cut off, trying to come up with a backup plan,” says coach Amanda Daniels.

Preparing in advance—much like you would for a competition—ensures that you won’t get taken by surprise. “Don’t try to reinvent the wheel each time,” Adner advises. “Learn from your past experiences.” Having a disaster checklist can keep everyone calm during a crisis, and having set practices in place will ward off confusion and chaos.

“The less thinking you have to do in those moments, the better off you will be,” says Adner. “Go to the plan, as opposed to having to figure it out on the spot.”

-Stephanie Carbone

Squad Bullying: How to Deal

Squad Bullying: How to Deal

Last October, many in the cheer world were left reeling when former Vancouver All-Stars cheerleader Amanda Todd committed suicide as a result of bullying. (“Rest in peace and fly high,” many wrote on their Twitter feeds.) For years, Todd had been the target of widespread bullying—both online and offline—after a stranger tricked her into taking a shirtless photo, then ruthlessly spread that picture around the Internet. A YouTube video the 15-year-old made a month before her death told the story of her anguish via handwritten notes; one of the notes read, “I have nobody. I need someone.”

Just weeks before, 15-year-old cheerleader Peter Blake McCullers ended his life at his home in Tamarac, Florida. Much like Todd, bullying was cited as the cause, and a swell of social media support spawned the phrase, “Love more. Judge less.”

According to data from the 2011 Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System, 20 percent of American students in grades 9-12 have experienced some form of bullying. No doubt about it: bullying has become a major menace in our country’s schools and universities—and cheer teams are far from immune from this behavior. Just ask Katie Sack, head coach at Team Illinois Cheerleading. During the 2010-2011 season, a parent informed Sack that an athlete in her program was constantly berating another athlete during practice. “We had no idea this was going on because the athlete was choosing times when the coaching staff wasn’t around to make those comments,” says Sack, who has coached for nine years.

For cheer professionals, the first step to preventing bullying is to understand why some kids bully and why others fall prey to it. Award-winning researcher Tammy Lowery Zacchilli says a number of reasons could be at play, from natural or learned aggression to attention-seeking to self-protection. “Bullying involves an imbalance of power,” says Zacchilli, who is an assistant professor of psychology at Saint Leo University.

Bullies may also target people who differ from them in some way. “Kids with low self-esteem often end up on the receiving end of bullying. Victims may be physically weak or have a disability or could be socially awkward,” adds Zacchilli.

Though some dismiss bullying as “kids will be kids”-style behavior, its risks are serious. The experiences of teens like Todd and McCullers point to a very real issue: a Yale University study found that bullying victims were two to 9 times more likely to report suicidal thoughts than other children.

Tackling Bullying: Tactics That Work

We asked top coaches and cheer professionals to offer suggestions on how to prevent bullying on teams and how to tackle it when it happens:

Stay vigilant: Cheer professionals have to keep their antennae up all the time to sense any trouble. “Some children and teens do a great job of hiding the pain that they experience when being bullied,” explains Zacchilli. When a normally outgoing child becomes socially withdrawn, it is a warning signal. Gerald Ladner of Cheer Athletics says that body language can also provide valuable clues to what’s going on in an athlete’s mind. “A simple gesture of not making eye contact could be a sign that they want to talk to someone,” he says.

Forge alliances between athletes: No doubt the benefits of team bonding are well-documented, but it may be especially instrumental in preventing animosity between teammates. “If the team spends time together, they will come together,” says Ladner, who recommends taking the team out often for dinners after practice. “Bonding doesn’t have to be elaborate—it can be as simple as picking a name out of a hat and having them write a note to each other.”

Take a stand: Implementing a no-tolerance policy towards bullying could be the way forward. Zacchilli suggests sharing the policy with athletes and parents at the beginning of the season, outlining specific disciplinary actions and making team members aware of the consequences. The key is enforcement, says Cheer Extreme Raleigh founder Kelly Alison Smith, who ensures her program strictly adheres to its zero-tolerance policy. “We have kicked children off teams in the past at the first sign of it,” she says.

Be strategic: Understanding each athlete’s unique personality and the way he or she handles stress goes a long way in preventing bullying incidents. “Don’t stick the most competitive kid in your gym with the newest girl if she’s already a nervous kid,” advises Smith of Cheer Extreme Raleigh. “When you have overly anxious kids, consider who will be in their stunt group for the entire year before finalizing groups.”

Hear everyone out: Maryland Twisters coach Matt Green says that what some perceive as bullying is sometimes just tough love or misunderstood behavior, so it’s crucial to hear both sides of the story. “We will listen to the child who is feeling bullied and try to determine the severity of the situation by discussing all the facets of the problem,” says Green. “Sometimes the kids can confuse tough love with malicious intent.”

Create awareness: When Phoenix All-Stars co-owner Amy Bailey learned that one of her 9-year-old male athletes was being bullied, Bailey decided to take action. She discovered AACCA’s “Bullying is Nothing to Cheer About” campaign and planned an anti-bullying event of her own at the cheerleader’s school for parents, community members and students.

“We did a presentation in front of those very kids that were bullying Raven,” shares Bailey. “Some of our all-star cheerleaders also did a small performance, showcasing the very thing that Raven was teased about.” The event received local news and television coverage, and according to Bailey, the bullying stopped afterward.

One thing most cheer professionals can agree on is that open communication is the key to tackling bullying. Athletes will be more willing to talk about it if they trust their coaches. Says Bailey, “We need to promote team work and positivity, and make sure our cheerleaders don’t turn into the ones doing the bullying.”

-Dinsa Sachan

C’mon, Get Happy: Boost Your Happiness Quotient

C’mon, Get Happy: Boost Your Happiness Quotient

Much like a double full or a scorpion, happiness is a learned skill—and good things come to those who practice. If you’re looking to lead a happier life, it’s crucial to learn the right skills and put them into practice. So how do you get from point A to point Be-happy? Here are a few clues.

Commit acts of kindness. Sometimes the fastest way to personal happiness is to make others happy—whether that means planning a philanthropic event, volunteering, or banding together to help another gym in need (like many did earlier this year when a tornado destroyed Cheer Fusion in Fredericksburg, VA).

Contributing positively to others’ well-being can also boost your sense of purposefulness. “I believe wholeheartedly that happiness is tied to purpose,” says motivational speaker and success coach Shawn Anderson. When individuals have a passionate purpose that inspires and drives them, happiness and fulfillment often follow hand-in-hand. At Gym Kix in Copperas Cove, TX, owner Stephanie Beveridge spearheads charity efforts for deployed soldiers and the local Hope Pregnancy Center. “[Our work] allows us to realize that there are other people out there struggling and how a little time, effort, and money on our part can be a great blessing,” she says.

Be optimistic. “Happiness is choice,” says Randy Taran, founder of the non-profit Project Happiness. “We cannot control the situations we’re in, but we can control our attitude towards them.” Beveridge agrees, saying, “We cannot equate our happiness with only the ‘good times’ or we’ll all be searching forever for happiness.”

When something doesn’t go your way, look for the opportunity within the adversity. (Taran calls this your “advertunity.”) Staying optimistic is key during difficult times, since focusing on an emotion tends to attract more of the same. The more you can focus on happiness and laughter, the more chances you’ll attract those into your life.

Know your happiness triggers. Do you know what makes your heart smile? Taran calls these things your “happiness triggers.” Spending time on the things you love is crucial for happiness—and the better you know yourself, the easier it will be to lead a more satisfying life. For Morton Bergue of CheerGyms.com, it’s taking time to indulge in a spa day, while for Beveridge of Gym Kix, happy times are most often spent relaxing with family.

If you’re still scratching your head as to your  own happiness triggers, Taran suggests thinking of happy times and analyzing what made those times special. By pinpointing the situations that elicit happiness, you can then incorporate those triggers into your daily life.

Count your blessings. Expressing gratitude can open your eyes to all that you have and all that you’ve accomplished. “There are a hundred blessings we each have that we tend to ignore, only to wonder instead why we don’t have something else,” points out Anderson. By being grateful for even the smallest things, you’re more apt to be content and appreciative for what you’ve got. For those struggling with anger or dealing with distressing emotions, try keeping a gratitude journal—or simply make a list of 100 things you’re thankful for and watch the anger melt away as the list gets bigger.

Follow your heart. A fulfilled heart is a happy heart. When you’re doing what you love, happiness is easier to find. Don’t wait for the perfect moment to start chasing happiness. Making one small change today can change your whole life.

Happy days are here again.

 

Guest Blog from AmeriCheer: Meal Planner for Cheer Coaches

As college cheerleaders, we had long days of classes on top of tough practices and workouts. People always asked, “Where do you get that kind of energy?” And as a coach, the pace doesn’t slow—practices, games and events take up a lot of time and energy. (Plus, you may have a family and career!) No matter what stage you’re at in your cheer career, eating healthy—and measuring the proper amounts—is the number-one way to keep your energy all day.

My sister realized how stressed I was when it came to meals when I would stand in front of my fridge and pantry trying to come up with something. She suggested a meal plan, but I told her I didn’t have time. She said all it took was five minutes on a Sunday before heading to the grocery store. I decided to try making a meal plan and it’s awesome!

All you need is a dry-erase board and a listing of your favorite foods. It’s fun…and organized! To get started, grab a notebook or type up the following:

× List 10 of your favorite fruits

× List 10 of your favorite veggies (fresh is better!)

× List 10 favorite lunches (such as a sandwich or soup)

× List 5 favorite lunch sides (as simple as a pickle, some crackers or fruit)

× List 10 favorite dinners (Yes, it is okay to choose pizza and takeout once a week.)

× List 10 favorite dinner sides (mainly starches and grains)

× List 5 breakfasts (eggs, toast, muffins, pancakes, waffles—and yes, I do buy the frozen waffles!)

For each day, choose your meals based on your list:

Breakfast Example: Add a fruit and a breakfast item (could be cereal/poptart/muffin/anything)

Lunch Example: Grilled cheese and some tortilla chips. If you pack your kids lunches, add variety every day! They will love it.

Dinner Example: Choose a meat/fish/poultry and 2 sides (veggie and starch)

Once your weekly list is complete, head to the grocery store; this will help save costs and keep your portions reasonable. This is also GREAT for families, as you are not scrambling to decide what to make for dinner. With a meal planner that takes less than five minutes to create, you will be organized, less stressed and have lots of energy for coaching your team!

Fast Blast: Get in Shape on the Go

Fast Blast: Get in Shape on the Go

With the many demands of coaching and running a gym, finding time for your own workouts can often pose a challenge. (Understatement.) Fortunately, the rules of exercise have changed, and “workouts on the go” have become increasingly common. With the right approach, you can get an effective workout in just minutes a day, wherever you are. Get our experts’ four top tips below—and go, go, go!

Join Your Team During Practices.

Your number one job is to coach safely and effectively, but that doesn’t mean you can’t multi-task. While training time with your team shouldn’t count as your only daily workout, burning a few extra calories never hurts. “Be certain to consider this your low intensity time on the clock and use it to help you accumulate activity during the day,” says Shannon Fable, a former cheerleader for the University of Florida and an ACE certified personal trainer. Fable recommends getting a pedometer to monitor your level of activity during the day and running extra laps around the mat once the team goes home.

Make Do With the Minimum.

There are tons of ways to sneak in exercise while on the go and most of them require no equipment whatsoever. For a quick workout with no equipment, Fable recommends doing 10 each of the following:  squats, push ups, squats jumps, triceps push-ups, burpees, crunches, oblique crunches, and a 60-second plank before repeating. Podcasts and phone apps are also great options, according to Jennifer Galardi, a health and fitness expert who works with some of the hottest bodies in Hollywood, including Kim Kardashian and Carmen Electra. She recommends yoga, plyometrics, squats, planks, interval training—all things that can be done solo in a small space.

Take Advantage of Travel Opportunities.

Don’t use travel as an excuse to stop working out. Many hotels have incorporated workout rooms in their facilities, so you can usually exercise without even leaving the building. Fable also recommends trying out the app Nike Training, which offers options for workouts that last anywhere from 15 to 45 minutes. “If you’ve been monitoring how much activity you get in a day when you’re at home, set a goal to reach the same numbers while you’re traveling,” says Fable.

Make the Most of Split Workouts.

Don’t have time to spend an hour running? Don’t despair. It’s possible to get good results by working out in smaller chunks of time several times a day. “I’m a big fan of getting done what you can in the time you have,” says Galardi. Sneak 20 minutes in the morning, 20 minutes in the middle of the day, and 20 minutes later in the evening and you’ll have gotten a full, effective workout all without even realizing it. For this to work, though, you need to give each short workout your all. “The best tip I have on making the most of a brief session? Be present. Execute your workout with the same diligence you teach your students and you’ll be successful,” says Galardi.

-Diana Bocco