Experience the best two minutes and thirty seconds of the season.

Two Sides

Wrap the Year Up Right

Wrap the Year Up Right

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

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

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

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

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

Moving Forward

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-Lisa Beebe

Choreography: To Hire or Not to Hire?

Choreography: To Hire or Not to Hire?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-Lisa Beebe

 

Spotlight: Debbie Love

Spotlight: Debbie Love

International cheer consultant and coach Debbie Love is famous in the industry for emphasizing the importance of psychology in sports, but she admits that while competing as a college gymnast she wasn’t always a perfect picture of focus and concentration. In fact, she can pinpoint a specific instance when she realized she was relying mentally on magical thinking: “I wouldn’t tumble until I did a little ritual before my pass,” she says. “I had to stand there and close my eyes and say, ‘Okay, Debbie, you can do this. Now go.’ And if I didn’t say it, I wouldn’t go.”

Love trained herself to execute her routine without the mantra and trust the mechanics of her routine by repeatedly assuring herself, “You’re confident; you can do this.” Now, more than 50 gyms per year—including teams in South America, New Zealand and Scotland, along with Louisville-based GymTyme (which she’s affiliated with)—seek out Love’s expertise on mental block, injury prevention and technique. Not only are they the three most common issues squads ask her for help on, but they’re also the subjects 58-year-old Love is most messianic about.

“I’m more concerned with athletes doing things right,” she says. “I don’t ever talk about winning. We talk about doing things right [and] hitting our routine, because eventually winning will take care of itself.”

During her days as a student at Memphis State University, Love cheered, did gymnastics and ran track before graduating with a bachelor’s degree in math and a minor in English language and psychology. Afterward, she landed in the computer world, working as a systems analyst for four years. Though she enjoyed her time in tech, Love eventually returned to her passion for coaching gymnastics and cheer and stuck with it—including a decade-long stint as a Level 10 gymnastics judge.

Known in cheer as the “Tumbling Queen” (a moniker derived from her uncanny ability to quickly assess biomechanics while watching tumbling runs), Love recalls the a-ha moment when she decided to focus exclusively on coaching cheer. “In 2005, I went to a competition, and I saw these people doing what I thought was going to be a round-off back-handspring, and [instead they did] fulls and ended up on their faces, and I thought, ‘Oh, my gosh. This industry needs help,’” recalls Love. “And then I went 100 percent into the cheerleading industry and never looked back.”

Since that turning point, Love has focused on touting perfection before progression. “We need to consider the bodies of our athletes first before our own desires,” she says. “I’m afraid a lot of times that doesn’t happen.”

After heeding Love’s advice on safety and teaching mental alertness, individual gyms’ results have ranged from implementing better flexibility training and conditioning programs to better squad cohesion, but one of Love’s favorite success stories takes place on a much smaller scale. A coach contacted her for help with a little boy who had once been an agile tumbler but lost his skills. She helped the coach sharpen his coaching style and alleviate pressure on the child, including instructing him in her “Breaking Free: 9 Steps for Getting Rid of Mind Block” plan. Now, Love says, “[the athlete] has got all his tumbling back, and the coach kept thanking me for changing his life.”

Love’s industry notoriety stems not only from her much-coveted expertise, but also from the fact that her family name is a household one in cheer circles. Her daughters Whitney and Britni, two of six children whom Love home-schooled through high school, have achieved fame as popular “cheerlebrities,” a word Love says she dislikes due to its focus on the individual rather than the team.

“It’s something that we did as a family that turned out to be a really good thing,” Love says. “Between gymnastics and cheerleading, all those things are family activities.”

As seasoned as her daughters are, though, they aren’t exempt from Love’s safety-first instructions. The Loves have their own rule of three that they follow to make sure they grasp new moves. “I have a deal that when I’m teaching a new tumbling skill, they can only try it three times on the floor; if they miss it three times, then they have to go back to a drill or another skill to build themselves up to get that skill,” Love says. “I pretty much do that with every child that I teach. Because I think we keep on trying skills, hoping we’ll get it one time, when what we really need to do is break it down as a drill.”

Even when she’s not on the clock, Love makes suggestions designed to improve conditions for athletes. Case in point: At competitions, including the most recent Worlds, she has noticed athletes sometimes wait a full hour between warming up and performing, creating conditions ripe for injury. As a preventive measure, she has encouraged event producers to put a mat halfway between the warm-up room and the competition floor to re-warm athletes’ quick-twitch muscles. At Worlds, the producers listened—they slowed down warm-ups to reduce backup time.

Love attributes her business success to a certain degree of humility, which she advises anyone interested in becoming a consultant to follow.

“I would just keep your priorities straight,” she says. “It’s not ever about you; you’re a service to the industry. When people see that you want to serve them and that you’re not there for selfish means, they’re more willing to listen. Just make sure that what you have to say is true, current and relevant.”

The approach has worked out for Love. A significant part of her business consists of repeat clients who ask her to return year after year to learn new skills and build on old lessons. (She’s worked with some gyms, like All-Star Elite, World Cup, PowerCheer Athletics, CheerGyms.com and others, for almost 10 years.) Another of Love’s hints? Maintain an open mind when it comes to industry trends.

“Over my lifetime of 59 years, almost everything has changed a whole lot,” Love says. “I think you have to have an attitude of, ‘I don’t have all the answers, and if I don’t know the answer to something, I’m going to find it out.’ So it’s just [having] the desire to just keep learning. I think my favorite saying would be: The day you stop learning is the day you fail.”

-Jamie Beckman

Candid Coach Q&A: Amy Faulkner

Candid Coach Q&A: Amy Faulkner

Got your blinders handy? Amy Faulkner’s dedication to the Northstar Studios community shines bright. As founder, owner and coach, she has grown the cheerleading studio to become a welcoming beacon in Sunbury, Ohio. Along with being a wife, mom of three and mother hen to all of the Northstar athletes, her tireless devotion to family is evident in the fact that Northstar welcomes cheerleaders from unfortunate backgrounds to cheer for free.

Faulkner first started Northstar Studios in 2008 shortly after her husband returned from a military tour in Iraq. Since then, the business has outgrown two studios to become what it is today: an 8,000 sq.-ft. space that plays home to five teams, 80 competitive athletes, 150 recreational athletes and a lot of community spirit. That spirit has been kicked up a notch lately, thanks to Faulkner’s latest accomplishment: being named “2014 Coach of the Year” by AmeriCheer and CheerProfessional.

As the 2014 Coach of the Year, you received some stellar nominations from Northstar Studio students, parents and staff members. How would you describe your coaching style?

Faulkner: Let me start by saying we have a pretty amazing staff—one thing that I really want to stress is that I could never have been successful without them. My role is more of the emotional aspect of cheerleading: to focus on the individual, to help those kiddos out there having a mental block. [If they’re] not secure or confident in what they’re doing, I strive to build them up and teach them about working together, overcoming obstacles and being their best. I play the more motherly role; I can tell when a kid had a bad day at school. I also hold my athletes to a high standard. Sometimes you have to yell at them and push them even though they don’t want to be pushed, but at the end of the day, I think they always realize it was worth it.

Why are you willing to sacrifice gym income to help athletes have the opportunity to cheer?

Faulkner: I [started NorthStar] as a way to get out of the house and never looked at it as a way to make a living. I wanted to share my passion of cheerleading with those around me and give my experience to girls who weren’t as fortunate. We have surrounding all-star cheerleading gyms that are probably hard for parents to afford, so my original mindset was to build something local where everybody has the opportunity to cheer. I try not to lose focus of that—I have a weak heart for the less fortunate. Several kids do come for free, and not everyone knows who they are. I love anyone who loves cheerleading, and I will do anything to help her or him be a part of it.

What is your advice for effectively connecting with and inspiring your clientele?

Faulkner: My advice for other coaches would be to stick to your core values and beliefs and standards that you hold for the athletes in your gym. Don’t stray from who you are and what you want the program to become. The right people will surround you and, with that, you’re bound to be successful. I constantly surround myself with the people who lift me higher; as a business owner, I don’t get caught up in the drama of the cheer world. I have times where I have to be both owner and coach. I coach every team at the gym. I run the business aspect of it during the day: meet with parents, do finances, keep in touch with office manager. At 4:30/5 pm, I am on the mat for the rest of the evening. The key is to continue doing what you love. For me, that was coaching. My mission is to touch the lives of those in my community and move on—after being named Coach of the Year, I smiled at myself and said, “That’s part of the mission.”

-Amanda Kennedy

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

Two Sides: Too Many Nationals?

Two Sides: Too Many Nationals?

Should event producers be permitted to hire judges who are currently (or were once) affiliated with a gym competing at that event? CheerProfessional looks at both sides of the issue.

It’s a question of objectivity—can judges “turn it off” when they take the stand? Some gym owners and coaches say “no,” taking issue with event producers who allow judges that have some form of past or current affiliation with programs on the competition roster. Others say that because of the prevalence of cheer gyms, it’s almost impossible to find a whole panel of judges that don’t have some sort of knowledge or background with at least one of the gyms involved; they also argue that judges should be trusted to be professional and impartial. So who’s right? We spoke with Ron Swanson of Kansas Gymnastics & Cheer and Becky Woodson of Daytona Xtreme to explore the issue.

Editor’s Note: Please note that the views expressed in this article are expressly those of our sources and not those of CheerProfessional.

 Ron Swanson, Program Director, KGDC’s 360 Allstars

Swanson’s take:  I’ve seen some bias on the judges’ stand every year, but this season, I was able to find some pretty significant facts. At a regional competition, two of the judges were high school coaches in the area, and I’ve discovered that they have a strong affiliation with one of the local gyms. That gym won just about everything with their 12 teams—they’re a quality gym with a few really good teams, but they’ve never dominated a competition. At another competition, I found out two of the tabulators worked at a local gym that was competing there; also, one of the people working the competition was wearing a jacket from that gym, so it was obvious the gym had strong ties to that event. I’ve noticed this type of issue across the board with a few different brands.

Swanson on objectivity: Many judges may think they can be unbiased, but when you work in a gym, you become strongly passionate about that gym’s style and stunting techniques. Regardless of how professional anyone tries to be, they’ll always have a personal bias to that gym. I judged for about five years in Texas, and I understand the relationship on the judges’ stand. You spend the entire weekend with that group, and you’ll have casual conversations that could possibly sway opinion.

Swanson on where the line should be drawn: It’s not acceptable for anyone who is currently (or was once) affiliated with a competing gym to judge that event. I know a lot of judges who are very professional and pulled themselves out of events for that reason; they make it a point not to judge in the areas where those teams compete.

Swanson on possible solutions: I believe strongly that there needs to be a federation or association for judges—and that they all need to belong to it. There should be a system in place to rank judges, and their names should be attached to that. As judges become more qualified, they should be known not only to the event producers, but also to the gyms who are getting judged by them. Right now, judges are completely hidden from the process; no one knows who they are or what their level of experience is. If they make a bad call, their name and credentials should be on the line, just like an NFL ref.

Also, I see companies giving out too many trophies and banners—I don’t need a third place banner or sixth place trophy. That’s a few thousand they could be using to pay judges better or fly in impartial judges. I’d rather see that money invested in judging than unnecessary paraphernalia.

Becky Woodson, Program Director, Daytona Xtreme

Woodson’s take:  On most judging panels I’ve been on, there has been someone who has some sort of background or affiliation with one of the programs involved—whether through choreography, coaching or another capacity. I’ve actually been in that position myself multiple times at smaller competitions. For instance, I was the head coach of Bristol University for two years, and one year after I’d resigned from the position, I found myself judging their team (with athletes I’d coached) at the ICC University Nationals. I believe it is definitely possible to be objective when judging; the key is to look at things from an unbiased point of view and assume the mindset of someone who doesn’t know what that team is capable of doing.

Woodson on objectivity: I focus on how the routine plays to the scoresheet for that specific event producer. As a coach, I expect objectivity from the judges, so I conduct myself the same way when judging. I think most experienced people are able to do that. You have to stay strong and have strong morals to make it work.

Woodson on where the line should be drawn: Choreography or past affiliation may be one thing, but having someone judge who currently coaches in a competing gym is pushing the boundaries a little much. There are enough qualified judges out there where event producers shouldn’t have to pull from the same pool [of registrants]. Event producers should definitely make an effort not to hire judges who are involved with a program at that competition. If event producers want to grow their business, it makes a lot of sense to show that there is a sense of fairness and impartiality. Not everyone will always like the results, but if you provide the most professional experience for a client, they’ll keep returning to your event.

Woodson on possible solutions: Having a substitute judge for the division [where the team is competing] could be one idea—but if you’re going to hire a substitute judge anyway, you might as well just have that person judge the whole event [to ensure impartiality].

Looking at the big picture, judges need to be more qualified and a universal scoresheet should be implemented by USASF. At most of the competitions I’ve judged around the world as well as here in the U.S., the scoresheets have been completely different. This has caused some of the issues—coaches may blame their undesirable results on the fact that a judge used to work with a certain program, when that may not have been the case.

Make the Connection: Why Mentoring & Networking Matter

Make the Connection: Why Mentoring & Networking Matter

Love the new USASF junior coaches’ training curriculum? Thank Courtney Kania-Young of Ohio Extreme All-Stars, whose idea sparked the initiative—with a little help from her mentor, Orson Sykes of Twist & Shout. 

Hungry for better safety/emergency initiatives? You’ll be appreciative of the work being done by Houston Elite’s Joshua Johnson (mentored by Ann Lehrman) and Karrie Tumelson (mentored by Debbie Love). Johnson’s proposal for Standardized Emergency Action Plans and Tumelson’s recommendations for Universal Safety Standards for the warm-up room will soon be implemented at USASF events during the 2014-2015 season.

These efforts are part of “Leadership USASF: Mentoring Leaders” program, which started in 2011 under Courtney Smith-Pope and continues under Karen Wilson. Each “class” of 12 finalists is selected by the National Advisory Board to participate in this yearlong program and implement new initiatives that they feel are needed in the industry—with the guidance of a high-profile mentor.

It’s all part of an increasing spirit of collaboration and networking permeating the industry, both online and off. For instance, more than 1800 gym owners and cheer professionals are connecting and sharing inside intel and advice on the All-Star Gym Association (ASGA) private Facebook page. No topic is off-limits—from pesky parents to legality questions to questionable vendors. Platinum Athletics coach Kyle Gadke is one of its many active members and testifies it’s been his gym’s “strongest year to date,” thanks in large part to ideas gleaned from the group.

For instance, at last year’s ASGA meeting in Chicago, he was inspired by Ultimate Athletics’ “team shifts” two weeks after tryouts—an approach they’ve implemented at Platinum with great results. The long-time Level 2/Level 5 coach has also used ASGA advice to improve his own Level 1 coaching skills. “I’d never coached Level 1 and didn’t know the rules; thanks to ASGA, I learned how to coach a back walkover,” he laughs. Gadke also relies on his virtual contacts for feedback on competition routines: “If I’m gearing up for a Varsity event, I can talk to ASGA friends and have them evaluate a video to see what we need to improve on.”

Fellow ASGA member Stephanie Kennedy agrees. Since her gym, Panther Cheer Athletics, is based in Richmond (a suburb of Vancouver, BC), she says it can be easy to feel isolated and out of touch with the rest of the industry. The ASGA group helps her stay plugged in. “I’m overwhelmed by the amount of support I’ve received by other gym owners and their willingness to share information—everything from lesson plans and videos to business forms,” says Kennedy. “Gym owners need to know the knowledge is out there, and making those connections is the key to growing your business.”

Like Gadke, Kennedy has also made invaluable contacts at cheer conferences. It was at the Varsity Gym Owners Conference in Las Vegas that she and PCA co-owner Dawn Silver first connected with Midwest Cheer Elite’s Tanya Roesel, whom later became an invaluable resource as a business/marketing consultant—helping their gym boost revenue via a hip-hop program along with providing technique and safety training.

Working with Roesel was highly inspiring for the her, Silver and the PCA staff, says Kennedy: “Sharing ideas and connecting with other gym owners give you a sense of validation that you are doing it right, just like the big gyms.”

-Vicky Choy and Jen Jones Donatelli

Visit our blog Thursday for testimonials from cheer pros who strongly believe in the powering of mentoring and networking.

 

 

Two Sides: Stay to Play

Two Sides: Stay to Play

Stay-to-play requirements have become a hot button topic for competitive gyms and the event producers who serve them. CheerProfessional looks at both sides of the debate.

Many gym owners—and parents—have long appreciated the autonomy of making their own travel arrangements for competition, due to the flexibility and options afforded by this approach. However, more event producers are now requiring “stay to play” (requiring that teams stay in a designated room block set up by a third-party company in order to compete). The practice has sparked debate inside the industry: some gym owners are boycotting these types of events, on the grounds that rooms are being egregiously marked up and that it creates less choice for budget-conscious families. However, event producers maintain that stay-to-play is necessary in order to maintain ongoing relationships with the venues and cities their customers have come to love. See what Cheer Zone owner Tamara Reed and Cheer Power’s Regina Symons have to say on the topic.

Editor’s Note: Please note that the views expressed in this article are expressly those of our sources and not those of CheerProfessional.

Tamara Reed, Owner, Cheer Zone Cheerleading

Tamara’s take: We are a small gym with four full-year teams, as well as a few mid-season teams that don’t travel as much. Every year, we do at least a few travel competitions. We are big enough for [booking travel] to be a pain and small enough where event producers don’t care about us. This year, we’re doing the American Championship in Chicago and JamFest Super Nationals, both of which require stay to play—as it seems almost every single major competition does now.

On why she opposes it: For us, our parents aren’t willing to just throw down money. Our travel competitions are very well thought-out and we try to give lots of notice [with the details]. With stay to play, you have to go through these companies and don’t have a choice as to where you’re going to stay.

Two years ago, we went to the American Classic, and our parents loved it and begged to go back. Now that they follow stay-to-play policies, we’re running into problem after problem—our group can’t stay connected, we’re far away from the venue and now families have to rent a car since we’re not staying nearby. It seems like stay-to-play just comes with the territory now—and if you want to compete on a national level, you have to put up with these hassles.

On housing company issues: Right now for Super Nationals, we are about 15 miles away from the venue; when we inquired about NCA in Dallas last year, we were told we’d stay 20 miles away. For American this year, we still don’t have a hotel at this point. We were told they didn’t have any hotels available—and that we have to wait until they find more partner hotels and can locate a block with enough room. We never came across any issues like this until event producers started doing stay-to-play.

On issues with parents: We’ve had problems with parents going online and finding a room at the exact same hotel for cheaper. Initially for SuperNationals, they put us at a Jameson Inn near the venue for $95/night, but if you went online, the Jameson Inn website was offering rooms for $50/night. Our parents wanted to know why they couldn’t get it at that rate, and we’re the ones dealing with the upset, angry phone calls. The parents assumed we were upcharging them and trying to get our coaches’ rooms free—but it didn’t include any kickbacks for us. We had to pay the same prices parents were paying.

In the end, we called the hotel company and asked for somewhere further away that was better. Now we’re paying $110/night for a room that is about 20 minutes away from the venue. Our parents are already paying thousands in competition fees, travel, uniforms and everything else—we’re constantly asking them to shell out, and it makes it so much harder when they don’t have choices. Stay-to-play has taken away some of the options as far as parents feeling like they had a say in where their money was going, and the gym owners look like the bad guys.

On possible solutions: I think “Inform To Perform” is great; obviously, we would much prefer to just ask parents where they’re staying and make a list, as it would be much easier. I understand the event producers need to know exactly how many rooms, but it seems like there are other ways to do it, whether it be Inform To Perform or something else. I don’t think they need to be the ones that dictate where we’re going and what we’re paying.

I’m not saying competition travel should be a free-for-all, but it should be very easy for event producers to say, “We’ve got 20,000 kids performing and this is how many parents are here.” Most cities should consider it pretty reasonable to look at your competition numbers and estimate the total from those.

The bottom line: Our industry has gone this long without needing stay-to-play, and I’m not sure why all of a sudden it’s so necessary. I think it benefits event producers and has taken away from gym owners and parents. We have parents who can’t afford to stay at a $200/night hotel and others who can—and I’d like for them to be able to make that choice.

It’s basically become a “Deal with it if you want to compete” type of attitude. Other coaches have said, “Just don’t go [to competitions that require stay-to-play],” but if you want to compete at big competitions outside your local area, that’s not an option anymore. It is what it is, but I’d like to see it change.

 

Regina Symons, CEO, American Cheer Power

Regina’s take: Until a few years ago, Cheer Power did not participate in “Stay to Play.” I believe in staying where you want for the price you want to pay, so I resisted all housing companies’ requests for stay-to-play. However, I had to change that way of thinking.

A few years ago, Cheer Power had 500 teams in the Alamodome—but the city showed only 200 rooms for this event. They had a nice, long chat with me and indicated I may lose the facility if I was ever challenged by another group bringing more rooms to the city! I also could not get my dates years in advance. That was a real wake-up call for me.

On why it’s necessary: That meeting was definitely the motivation for Cheer Power to get correct room counts in order to keep the venue—this season, we have three large national events where this is needed. For instance, in the Midwest, we use the Columbus Convention Center; so does every other cheer company that holds competitions in Columbus. This is our World Bid event, and I cannot even think about the possibility of losing the convention hall due to not showing enough rooms. We use the Alamodome for our Southern Nationals with the same possibility.  There are no other venues large enough to house these competitions.

At our Cash Bash in Galveston, the city promises $20,000 to Cheer Power, but we have to satisfy their requirement for rooms for the weekend. Cheer Power gives the $20,000 back to the athletes!  We have to have an accurate room count and satisfy the city’s requirement or risk losing $20,000.

On housing company issues: We have held meetings with our housing company and made it very clear that our parents need to have rooms within their budget. If parents want the River Walk, great, but if they need a more reasonably priced hotel, our housing company has promised to find it for them. If gym owners experience any problems with a housing company, you should contact the event producer directly. When we receive complaints, we contact the owner and get an immediate response.

On issues with parents: Many gyms send a link to parents and they all get their own rooms, which is the easiest thing for the gyms to do. (Our housing company provides the link to send out.)  Certainly, we want to make this easy for our coaches and gym owners.  We also want to offer rooms in every budget.

We never require booking a room if a hotel is not necessary. Some gyms are close to the competition, some stay in RV’s, some stay with friends.

On incentives/rewards: I have instructed our housing company to give coaches free rooms when requested.  Normally you get 1 for every 50 rooms booked.

On gym owners boycotting Stay to Play: Refusing to compete where there is a stay-to-play event doesn’t make sense if the hotel price is reasonable and housing company is handling the event professionally. Price gouging is completely unacceptable! Anyone having any issues with a housing company should get in touch with the event producer and let them know. The housing company works for them and their customers, and they should remember that at all times. Coaches, owners, and parents have too much going on to deal with unprofessional people.

On gym owners’ obligation: I do believe that every gym should abide by stay to play if it is required. Certainly, it’s not fair for only some to do so! We have been a lot stricter this year because we feel like we can find a hotel for every budget. If I feel we are being fair and the prices of rooms are right, then it’s easier for me to enforce.

The bottom line: Pressure from City Chambers of Commerce in order to keep venues is our main concern. They are going to put the group that brings the most rooms to their city in the more desirable venues that they own. It is my wish that gyms could understand the importance of getting these room numbers! We want to give them a great location for their National Championship and keep it from year to year—and accurate room counts are necessary to continue doing so.

In saying all of that, we need to make this easy on the gyms and reasonable for parents. If we can do this, then I feel like all of the gyms will be supportive.  

Two Sides: Universal Scoresheet

Two Sides: Universal Scoresheet

The buzz around adopting a universal scoresheet has reached an all-time high—will one finally be adopted next year? CheerProfessional explores the pros and cons of going forward with this initiative. 

One of the hottest topics at this year’s NACCC conference in Doral? The idea of a universal scoresheet. Cheer professionals Kristen Rosario and John Metz are among the industry’s outspoken advocates for this development, and the 22 member companies of IEP announced their collective endorsement of having a universal scoresheet back in 2010. However, respondents to a CheerProfessional survey in June were evenly split, with half for and half against (and one stipulating that she would support a universal rubric rather than scoresheet).

Many believe a universal scoresheet will help introduce more consistency among competitions, improve consistency and eliminate headaches for event producers. However, others think that a universal scoresheet will create less event choices/competitive advantages for cheer programs and make choreography more homogenous.

So who’s right? To dig deeper into what’s behind the universal scoresheet debate, we talked with Shea Crawford of Brandon All-Stars and Mikey Hobson of Top Notch All-Stars to get their take on this hot-button issue.

Editor’s Note: Please note that the views expressed in this article are expressly those of our sources and not those of CheerProfessional.

Shea Crawford, Tumbling Director & Coach at Brandon All-Stars

Shea’s take on the universal scoresheet: This is something that’s been discussed for at least five years, and the time has finally arrived to make it happen. I first realized the need for a universal scoresheet several years ago when we got the lowest score the first day at a Cheersport competition, then made a very minor change to the routine and got the highest score on day two. We also finished first at a different event two weeks later with the same routine.

So many teams throw amazing routines, but when you have no idea how it will be rewarded, it’s very frustrating. My job should be to read one scoresheet, not five of them. I feel like it’s asking a lot of kids to work on these skills and train and synchronize—something as simple as changing one count is difficult for a lot of these kids. I just want to be able to prepare the same routine for wherever we go—if it was up to me, it’d be the same routine day 1 through day 365.

On how it will affect judging: I think the universal scoresheet will push for [the formation of] a judges’ association. A universal scoresheet will force judges to be better, and when that happens, it will produce more consistency. The importance of deductions will increase and it will serve to clean up routines. It will also allow event producers to focus on the event a lot more and have a lot less scoring discrepancies.  Everywhere you go, you’ll be accountable for the same stuff.

On how it would impact choreography:  One of the biggest arguments against a universal scoresheet is that people don’t want to see cookie-cutter routines. My argument against that is that every single team who goes to any one competition is competing on the same scoresheet [that day]. There are 900 teams that go to Dallas [for NCA], and I have yet to see one cookie-cutter routine there. For me, that nullifies that argument.

On how it will produce more consistency: Gone are the days where you can go to a competition and really predict who won. I have been to so many competitions that I watch as a knowledgeable coach—but when I think I’ve pinpointed first through fourth place I’ve never been more wrong in my life. Right now, our industry sorely lacks consistency, and a universal scoresheet will provide that.

On how it will affect event producers: My opinion is that not having a universal scoresheet works against the event producers. There are a lot more Varsity events than other brands, and I personally would rather go on a similar scoresheet more often than not. It hurts [other EPs] more than it helps by having a different scoresheet.

What’s every EP’s biggest headache? Judging and scores. 99 percent of the problem at any competition stems from judging—wouldn’t they rather concentrate on maintaining the schedule and setting up warm-ups? I don’t understand why event producers don’t embrace it so that all they have to do is worry about hosting the event.

A universal scoresheet wouldn’t be that hard to implement—when I look at Jam Brands and Varsity, the scoresheets are different, but not so different that it’s game-changing. With a universal scoresheet, coaches will no longer say things like, ‘Last week, when I was at another competition, it was legal,’ or ‘I’m going to go to Jam Brands because I can score well there.’”

The bottom line: I think a universal scoresheet will help the industry and that is what is important to me. It doesn’t matter so much which scoresheet it is—good coaches will adapt. The industry needs something; I know entire programs that have folded because they lost competitions they shouldn’t have and the gym down the street beat them. A universal scoresheet will help grow the industry through more consistency and a way for coaches to train better.

Kyle Gadke, Owner/Choreographer at Spirit FX and Coach at Platinum Athletics

Kyle’s take on the universal scoresheet: I come at this topic from both a choreographer and coach perspective, and as I see it, the biggest negative against a universal scoresheet would be the elimination of options for playing different scoresheets.

When working with various gyms as a choreographer, we talk at length about ways to hit the scoresheet. Based on my experience, I feel personally that more people are against a universal scoresheet than for it. I believe that it has become a hot topic because more people are doing research on ways to hit the scoresheets and understand the difference between rubrics.

On how it would affect small gyms: My question is: what’s the ratio of small gym owners that want a universal scoresheet versus medium or large gyms? Most smaller gyms want and need more options, so I’m curious if that plays a role in the discussion. It’s no secret that the Midwest isn’t a game-changer yet—we’re holding our own, but we’re not North Carolina or Texas or Kentucky. We’re always trying to stay ahead, and we like to have choices.

Also, on a broader level, it could take people a long time to get used to a new universal scoresheet, and teams may not win as much—which could directly affect new people coming to our gyms.

On why consistency across the board isn’t necessarily a good thing: We’ve gone back and forth between Varsity and JAMfest—our gym is very stunt-oriented, and we don’t typically score as well at Varsity as we do with JAM Brands. Having various scoresheets gives you options if your style doesn’t hit [at one specific event producer]. Competition wins help you be recognized in your area—having options where we feel confident that we’ll score well helps our success in the long run.

On how it will affect judging:  I can actually see how a universal scoresheet could have a pretty positive impact from the judges’ standpoint. It would make everyone more knowledgeable and efficient knowing one scoresheet instead of five.

On how it would impact choreography: I feel like choreography has already become somewhat cookie-cutter. As for how a universal scoresheet would further that issue, it depends. If it does happen, I would like to see it mirror the Worlds scoresheet approach, where there isn’t really a rubric and they’re just judging the routine you put out on the floor. There aren’t all of these numbers to hit—it’s more about the performance element.

On how it will affect event producers:  From a coaching standpoint, I love the option of picking what style suits us best. Each event producer also has their own niche they like to go for: for example, JAM Brands is fun and game-oriented, while Varsity is more competitive and awards-oriented. It also translates to each EP’s focus: the JAM scoresheet is more about counting skills while Varsity awards creativity. If you take our options away and put everyone on the same scoresheet, you might have more people going to competitions they don’t enjoy. The more options in the market, the better.

The bottom line: If this is going to move forward, then we need more clarity on what exactly the universal scoresheet will be. Will people still be able to add more style? Have choices from an event producer standpoint? All the talk is great, but what specifically will it be? There needs to be more specifics before we can form opinions and move the conversation forward.

 

Two Sides: At-Large Bids

Two Sides: At-Large Bids

Are too many at-large bids being given to The Cheerleading Worlds? CheerProfessional looks at both sides of the debate.

More teams than ever are making the annual pilgrimage to compete at the Cheerleading Worlds in Orlando, and the packed stands this year were a testament to its soaring popularity. Yet some cheer professionals are questioning whether too many at-large bids are being given out to the event—resulting in scheduling issues, overcrowded venues and a perceived loss of prestige. We spoke with Capital Elite’s Debbie Sprague and New Jersey Spirit Explosion’s Theapia Best to learn more about their opposing perspectives.

Editor’s Note: Please note that the views expressed in this article are expressly those of our sources and not those of CheerProfessional.

Debbie Sprague, Owner, Capital Elite All-Stars

Debbie’s take: In my opinion, the number of at-large bids given shouldn’t be restricted. I think at-large bids reward the small gym teams and athletes who work hard to get to level 5. Most small gyms like mine aren’t trying to go to Worlds to win or even place top 10 (at least for right now). We just want our athletes to be exposed to the best of the best—it inspires them and gives them goals.  I’ve heard that some people think that all the Level 5 teams out there are going, and I know they’re not.

Her program’s Worlds background: My team was Senior Restricted for most of the year, and we gave a Worlds bid one shot in March at One UP. We got an at-large bid, and it was our first time going Senior 5. At Worlds, we were very happy to hit our routine on the floor, and it was an incredible experience for these kids and myself.

[Once we got back], our teams were like rock stars, and it really helped grow the industry here in Springfield. We had our local TV station do a 30-minute segment and there was also newspaper coverage. We got a lot of athletes from outside our area—I was shocked at the number of kids that turned out for tryouts.

On the ripple effect the amount of at-large bids has on the industry: USASF has to have the income from the small gyms to hold such an amazing event. If the small gyms couldn’t get bids, then there wouldn’t be as many paid and partial paid bids for the bigger gyms. That’s the trickle-down effect.

Also, the audience for Worlds grows because of small gyms like ours. My aunts and uncles now want the ESPN airdates—these are people over 60 who would never be interested if I hadn’t taken my team to Worlds! And the list goes on and on. That helps our sport grow; you have to have a viewing audience to be successful.

On how it affects the prestige level: I think [having more bids] has made Worlds even more prestigious. The top teams we all thrive to watch are getting better and better every year, and all of the small gyms help feed the excitement for the big gyms.

I even buy Cheer Extreme, Top Gun and World Cup apparel to use as training incentives in my gym. I have given away T-shirts that they can earn for skills like standing full, double full, etc. It’s amazing how hard kids will work for them.

If Worlds was just the top three teams in the country, I wouldn’t pay to travel and attend. The whole excitement is in trying to get the bid, be on the floor and be in the atmosphere of so many great teams. If our teams weren’t going to Worlds, what would we be working for? There always has to be an angle. Gymnasts work toward the Olympics, and this is our far-reaching goal. It keeps us going.

On perceived schedule/overcrowding issues: I think that Worlds definitely needs more seating or a bigger venue. However, with a packed arena, it’s really nice for those upper-level teams who come out to a screaming crowd. It’s just awesome and makes them feel good for all the work that they do.

On possible solutions: I disagree with co-ed and all-girl teams having to compete against each other for bids, since we don’t compete against each other on the floor. If you want to get the best of the best there, limit the bids to a certain amount of both all-girl and co-ed teams.

The bottom line: Cutting at-large bids means less revenue and we all know USASF needs money. Who cares if there are lower Level 5 teams there as long as kids aren’t getting hurt? Not everyone will be as good as CEA, Top Gun and Cali. We love those teams and that’s who we look up to and learn from.

Again, we didn’t go to win or even place top 10—we went for the experience. My kids loved the chance to walk on that same floor as the best. It inspired them, it changed the way we practice, it changed the way my younger teams work at practice. It changed the way I coached and the way we look at our athletes before placing them on any team! We’ve learned so much.

Theapia Best, Owner, New Jersey Spirit Explosion

Theapia’s take: As Worlds has evolved and more companies have gotten bids [to give out] in the last three to four years, I think that all level 5 teams just assume they will compete at Worlds at this point. There are so many bids that, by the end of the season, even last place teams are awarded at-large bids. I can’t even think of a Level 5 team in NJ that didn’t get to go to Worlds last year—it seemed like every team in the state got to go. The issue this creates is that it makes attending the event more of a level 5 right than a privilege.

Her program’s Worlds background: We have three Worlds teams, and we’ve attended the event at least seven or eight times. I think we only missed it the first two years, and we’ve gone on full paid bids every year. Last year was the first time we ever sent a team without a paid bid (our international team); this year, all three teams got paid bids.

On the ripple effect the amount of at-large bids has on the industry: Worlds has definitely increased the event size of all competitions that give out bids. Teams travel for World bids, not just for trophies anymore. When you plan your schedule [as a coach or gym owner], you plan it around competitions that are giving Worlds bids; before, it was determined more by what was convenient date-wise. Now when there are events that don’t give bids, many teams don’t even go because there is no opportunity to secure a bid. What’s the point? They’re saving their money to try to secure a Worlds bid.

On perceived schedule/overcrowding issues: The biggest issue this creates is overcrowding at the event. So many of the parents stress out about getting up early to go get in line. I think [USASF] thought that decreasing the number of teams that make it to finals would also decrease seating/capacity issues, but it actually made it worse. All of the kids at Worlds love cheerleading, so if they’re not competing, they’re getting up and going to watch—whereas if they were able to compete, they wouldn’t be able to do that.

On whether Worlds still holds the same prestige: The first few years of the Cheerleading Worlds, the bids were so exclusive that only the best of the best were invited. Now that things are different, I can actually see it both ways. There are some smaller gyms that are not going to Worlds to win, and I can see them getting more customers who are interested in being on Worlds teams. If it became so exclusive that everyone wouldn’t have an opportunity to go, then those gyms wouldn’t exist and our sport wouldn’t be growing.

On the other hand, I do feel it could be a bit more exclusive, so that teams that are Senior Restricted or Senior Level 4 but going Level 5 for just one competition aren’t getting bids.

On possible solutions: I can’t come up with a solution without knowing the true intent of the Worlds competition. Ultimately, it needs to be decided: what is the goal of Worlds? Is it the right of  every Level 5 team to be represented?

If so, it needs to not be so difficult to make finals. Teams spend so much money to go, and they only take 10 teams to finals when there are twice that amount of great teams. The divisions go on for so long—do the judges get it right the first day? The division starts at 10 am and goes until 4 pm, and they’re only taking 10 teams to finals. What are the chances those teams are ranked correctly for a division that’s been going on for six hours?

Some [cheer professionals] have proposed the idea of regionalizing the bids, but the regions all have different divisions, so it would be hard to do that. Also, some regions have great teams, and some regions have very weak teams. You wouldn’t get a good representation of what the true best programs are, which is what Worlds is supposed to be.

The bottom line: Is the intent for all Level 5 teams to be represented? If so, then they need increase the number of teams by percentage that make finals. If the intent is to make the teams feel like being invited is a privilege, then they need to decrease the number of at large-bids given so earning a bid becomes a big deal in itself.

  

Two Sides: STUNT

Two Sides: STUNT

Will the growing popularity of STUNT have detrimental effects on all-star? CheerProfessional looks at both sides of the debate.

Has the quest to make cheerleading a sport finally hit its stride? With the formation of College STUNT Association and STUNT, USA Cheer’s answer is an emphatic “yes.” Designed to meet Title IX requirements, the sport of STUNT follows a four-quarter format focused strictly on athletic and technical skills including partner STUNTs, pyramids, basket tosses, group jumps and tumbling. All teams must perform the same choreography and technical sequences, and there is no crowd-leading element—differentiating STUNT from both school-based and all-star cheer.

Currently, USA Cheer is taking steps to secure STUNT as an NCAA emerging sport, but not everyone in the cheer industry believes that STUNT is a step forward. We spoke with Randy Dickey of ACX Cheer and Kim Gaskin, high school cheer coach and president of New Jersey State Coaches Association, to find out their perspectives.

Editor’s Note: Please note that the views expressed in this article are expressly those of our sources and not those of CheerProfessional.

Randy Dickey
Owner, ACX Cheer

Randy’s take on STUNT: I’m not a big fan. If this becomes an Olympic sport and/or NCAA starts riding the train, there will then be scholarship opportunities, as well as possible Olympic hopefuls—all of which outshines the benefits of all-star cheerleading. If STUNT is suddenly the way to get scholarships and cheerleading as we know it goes away at the college level, what’s the next step after a kid graduates high school? High school cheerleading will follow what the NCAA does. The minute that STUNT gets mainstream NCAA [status], high schools will segue over to [that format]. I really believe as soon as that happens, it will open the door for gym owners to take a backseat.

On dual participation: As a gym owner, I personally think that STUNT definitely could pull kids from all-star. Depending on when the STUNT season takes place and how it interlaces itself with the existing cheer season, it could greatly affect dual participation. If a child cheers on their school team, that’s an 11-month commitment in many cases. Many schools already have a stigma about letting kids do all-stars in the same season; this opens the door for more coaches who don’t understand the value of all-star cheer.

On its impact on all-star: I know a lot of choreographers are very concerned about the whole STUNT idea because it could become compulsory over time, and if the competitive aspect of the 2:30 routine goes away, then there is no longer a need for choreographers. I know there is also concern on the music mixer side because they could also give out compulsory music, which would negate the need for original music. I know there are people on different sides that are nervous about it. Whether or not those are legitimate concerns or just people being worried, I’m not sure, but I do know that there are people who are scared of those types of things going on.

About STUNT’s relationship to the Olympics: I believe that there is a push from somewhere trying to get cheerleading in the Olympics, and I believe that it’s a race to see who will the biggest and baddest. Gymnastics and cheer have been going head-to-head for many, many years. If cheer were to become an Olympic sport, there are powers that be [in the cheer industry] that want it to be in their control and not gymnastics’ control.

However, gymnastics has more clout than cheerleading, and they are only going to allow cheer in the Olympics if it doesn’t compete with its sports. Therefore [the Olympic version of cheer] has to look completely different than gymnastics—hence the motivation for STUNT.

To me, the tumbling [in all-star cheer] is already very diminished. There is a huge drive even in international competitions to dumb down the values for tumbling. There has been talk of eliminating the tumbling skills for safety reasons, but sometimes you wonder if it is to help fall in line with the demands of what would create a conflict for gymnastics.

99.9% of our income is off tumbling classes, and when you make rules that dumb down tumbling, you’re affecting my income. When you do that to high school, it’s not affecting their income. Your rules can greatly affect someone’s paycheck. I always look at things from a business aspect and make sure the future is bright enough to keep the lights on.

The bottom line: I don’t believe that the all-star/competitive cheer [industry] for high schools has finished evolving yet. I’m a big fan of it and I don’t want to see anything take away from that. All-star cheer is my life, it’s kept me in business for [xx] years and I don’t think it needs something to take away from it.

Just like gymnastics would be nervous about cheer overpowering it in the Olympics or taking away participation in the lower levels, I believe STUNT could take away from all-stars. We already have to share our kids with football, basketball, school cheerleading—now there is one more thing to pull them in a different direction.

I love all-star cheerleading the way it is, so these are my concerns. Anything that could change that in any way, shape or form would make any business owner nervous about the unknown.  However, I do support all types of cheer, and I will support STUNT—I’m just not excited about having sport to compete with the all-star world.

Kim Gaskin, President of New Jersey State Coaches Association and Head Coach for Burlington Township High School

Kim’s take on STUNT: The value of STUNT as it continues to grow will show that there are requirements that every great cheer team should know how to master. Those requirements are then benchmarked and put in a routine where each team has to do the same skills. In a normal [all-star] competition, every team has an opportunity to be as creative as they wish. [In contrast], STUNT allows teams to be matched up on the same skill; it does have a little creativity, but not as much complexity as a choreographed routine. It goes to the baseline of what makes great athleticism in cheerleading. I think judging our athletes on their tumbling skills, basket tosses, pyramids and partner stunts really is kind of fun for participants because they are measured on the same routine. STUNT is new, it’s evolving and it will find its place.

On dual participation: All coaches have an opportunity to determine whether they want to participate and make it part of their curriculum, as they would with any competition they choose to attend. I don’t see lines of division yet as opposed to an appreciation for the value of what STUNT can do both on college and high school level. Some of the elements of STUNT are basic skills that will get you to the more elite skills that will put you in national competition. The same cheerleaders who are on your cheer team can participate in a STUNT event. Coaches have to look at their program and decide what’s best as far as how STUNT fits into their overall competition [plan].

About STUNT’s impact on all-star: When you look at high school, all-star and college cheer, not only do you see the element of competition, but also a lot of creativity as well. STUNT was developed for a different purpose than to hurt any of those functions. Title IX is a positive way of recognizing athletes, and we need to find ways that we can align ourselves with any regulations that can benefit our athletes. This kind of venture doesn’t really take away [from other types of cheerleading], but continues to create value. Anyone who is a coach or cheerleader knows that our athletes are hard-working, dedicated and great leaders in the schools they represent; being able to allow them to get some of the financial benefits or recognition [that other sports enjoy] would be amazing progress.

About STUNT’s relationship to the Olympics: Right now, Worlds is really the hub of cheerleading around the world. The beautiful part of Worlds is that you see teams not only show great athleticism, but also bring a part of their country to the mat. Whether the team is from Mexico or Thailand or Jamaica, you see the diversity of the athlete. Because STUNT is so new, it could evolve to [that level], but you’re still talking about two different buckets—due to the technical aspects of what makes a great Worlds champion versus what makes a great STUNT champion. As cheer evolves, we have to be open to allowing these organizations and companies to get it right. Sometimes things aren’t perfect, but at the end of the day, the athletes are the ones who benefit. These are big platforms that allow cheerleaders to go out there and prove to the world that we are taking cheerleading to a whole new level.

The bottom line: I am an advocate of great cheerleading. Whether it’s high school, all-star or college, our job as an industry is to represent cheer in a way that’s positive and helpful for every athlete. The choice of which way an athlete decides to endure cheerleading is up to that person. There are so many kids out there—just look at the feeder and rec programs around the country trying to get kids interested in cheer and get them on that journey. For those that stick to it, we all need to encourage the kids filtering into our sport, rather than debating who is taking athletes away from whom. I’m not really one to take sides, but I’m all for anything we do as an industry that elevates our kids from both athletic and Title IX requirements, and I think everyone should think of it that way.

Two Sides: Athlete ID

Two Sides: Athlete ID

CheerProfessional explores both sides of the debate on the USASF’s Athlete ID verification and membership system.

With the USASF’s implementation of Athlete ID, this year marks the first season that gym owners can print and present a verified roster at USASF-sanctioned events rather than having to show birth certificates as proof of age. Along with the aim of deterring cheating and falsification of athletes’ ages, the new system is also geared at simplifying the registration process.

Yet not all gym owners are on board with Athlete ID—for reasons ranging from logistical issues to privacy concerns. We spoke with USASF’s Karen Wilson and Prime Tyme Athletics’ Sarah Smith to explore both sides of the issue.

Editor’s Note: Please note that the views expressed in this article are expressly those of our sources and not those of CheerProfessional.

Sarah Smith,
Prime Tyme Athletics,
Owner

On her initial reaction: I like the idea of athlete membership in theory much better than in practice, at least at this point. Many years ago, when the USASF was brand-new, they had a form of athlete membership which involved credentialing. We flew a USASF rep to the gym to watch our kids perform various skills and they would get these little Chevron patches. It took forever—we didn’t even get through half of our Worlds team that year. We didn’t get the Chevrons until halfway through the next season, and we had to harass people even for that.

Since we had a bad experience with the original version, I’m very wary [of Athlete ID]. We as a program have chosen not to register our athletes this year, even though it’s free and highly encouraged. (Only for Worlds, because it’s required.) Time is money, and I don’t want to spend my or others’ time entering all this information to register athletes when the people I’m going to compete against don’t have to do it either.

On privacy concerns: One of our biggest concerns is for the safety of the athletes. The parents are wary to give out birth certificates—it seems really extreme, especially without knowing who is privy to the information.

Also, I don’t believe that USASF is a separate, independent governing body, which spills over into the athlete membership issue. Since we are located near Nashville, most of our competitor gyms are owned by Varsity, so turning over our confidential client information adds another layer of personal concern. Who says they can’t use that information to turn around and directly market for the competitor gyms? I’m not saying they’re going to do that, but it’s a very valid concern. Varsity owns gyms in many other states, so there are gym owners around the country dealing with this exact problem. [EDITOR’S NOTE: Varsity owns 11 Premier Athletics locations in six states.] I’m pro-Varsity competitions, but I’m anti-conflict of interest.

Lots of youth sports use third-party organizations that are stored in a secure database that wouldn’t be accessible by vendors and direct competitors. It might also help the parents feel safer when sharing their athlete’s information. Overall, this is proprietary information that should be safeguarded. [EDITOR’S NOTE: USASF’s Lynn Singer says that the Athlete ID information is stored by a third party.]

On enforceability: Even if registering athletes was mandatory, who will enforce it? There isn’t a USASF rep at every competition checking IDs. What if a 3-year-old on Tiny doesn’t have her Athlete ID—will they tell her she can’t participate? The problem is that it spirals back to the fact that USASF is controlled by some of the people who profit off our industry. The event producers actually hold the power. If they were to choose to enforce the athlete membership, they would have to turn away some of their own customers.

On logistics: What happens if you’re at CheerSport nationals with your all-star teams and someone gets hurt in the warm-up room Friday night? If you need to replace and register a new athlete, will USASF be open 24/7 for you to be able to do so? How can we prove every athlete is registered? We don’t have a bench full of athletes waiting to hop in should someone get injured; we have to rearrange, and that sometimes means using one of your own athletes from a school team.

If we ever got to a system where a Level 5 athlete isn’t also allowed to be on Level 1 or 2 team, it would be great to track such things and athlete membership would be a way to do that. But does that cross the lines of what a governing body should do in a free market economy? It’s a lot to consider.

On cost: If they do decide to charge, it will be another barrier to entry in our sport. Before athletes even pay a month of tuition to me, they will have to pay $25 [or another set amount] to a governing body that’s not really doing anything other than stating standards? If athlete membership is truly the most pressing issue for USASF, all resources should be allocated to making sure it’s done effectively and affordably.

On whether it will deter cheating: I do believe it could deter cheating, but cheating is something that never goes away. If people cheat in the Olympics with all of their safeguards, people who are going to cheat [in all-star cheerleading] will find a way. But [Athlete ID] is another hoop to jump through, which could help prevent cheating on some level.

On the silver lining: I’ve heard many people say we need a way to track things like injuries, participation and cheating. I do believe some form of athlete membership could legitimize our sport in those aspects; most youth sports do have some sort of membership. It would be great to have actual numbers of participants in our sport, so that when someone comes up with injury reports and way underestimates the total amount of cheerleaders, we’d have our own document to counter some of those things for the positive PR of our sport. But in practice, I don’t think that we’re ready for that yet. I don’t think the system is ready to achieve the goals it is set up for.

The bottom line: I can see how some people would like to have rules in place that are tracked by athlete membership, but I’m not sure more governing power is what we really need. Until it is enforceable, affordable and an independent third party stores the membership information, I think there are lots of other ways to legitimize our sport other than athlete membership.

Karen Wilson,
USASF West Coast Regional Director

On the introduction of Athlete ID: The idea was brought forward through the NACCC as a way of bringing about legitimacy. We’ve done a great job of creating and implementing the rules at USASF events, but there was still quite a bit of uncertainty as to whether athletes were truly of age and matching up with the age grid. Every event producer had their own process, so it was very confusing to parents and athletes and gym owners. We obviously have had this system in place for Level 5 for Worlds; it’s just now been strengthened [for all athletes].

On the response: We have more than 70,000 athletes in the system, which is a testament to how much coaches want this. The one roadblock has been that, like anything new, it’s time-consuming. [Gym owners and coaches] have to gather the information and educate parents and athletes about the system. It’s a lot of work on behalf of the gym owners, and for them to be doing this much is again a testament to the demand.

On privacy and confidentiality: Storing information securely through our system is much safer than bringing birth certificates to events. For a long time, it has been required that every gym owner has proof of age at a USASF event. They were literally carrying them around at events, which was what drove coaches to say that we need a system [like Athlete ID]. Once the information is uploaded and verified by a small handful of USASF staff, it is digitally destroyed and shredded; these documents are not housed anywhere. Also, we don’t ask for social security numbers, and birth certificates are a matter of public record.

On whether it will deter cheating: As a Regional Director, I get more calls about age issues than anything else. When an athlete leaves a gym owner’s program and that owner sees them on another team, they have the birth certificate so they know if they’re not eligible. What is the process for verifying beyond that? Regardless of how many people are cheating, we have an obligation as the governing body to minimize [cheating] even further. We have to make sure it’s a level playing field and everyone is playing by the same rules.

On enforcement: Enforcement is not the objective this year; education and communication is. We’ve been working with event producers on getting the word out. When gyms and athletes go to a USASF-sanctioned event, they don’t necessarily have to be members. The problem is that if there is a violation they can’t be held accountable because they’re not members—that’s problematic. By having the Athlete ID required, it brings us back to a level playing field.

I can communicate to and educate my members, but I have no resources to educate those non-members. The only one who does is the event producer through registration; they have the opportunity to provide that education, and that’s what we’re encouraging event producers to do. That drives people to find out more about membership and join—they want to be part of doing things right. This year, the Regional Directors are working very closely with event producers to provide any resources or assistance that we can.

Enforcement is not on the agenda for event producers at this point; it’s not a case of people not enforcing Athlete ID. We’re finding that when the event producers do provide education beforehand, we have a huge rate of compliance. [Gym owners] are thrilled when they can print the roster and manage their program through the USASF profile. The ones who are doing it are loving it. It’s a collaborative effort between the Regional Directors and the event producers, and we’re seeing big successes.

On logistics: If there is a challenge, it would go through that event’s protocol; the event producer would look at it and see. Ultimately we’ll have cards with their photos and the matching ID and birth certificate—we’re just not there yet. It’s got a long timeline. In the meantime, I think we’ll be able to minimize a huge majority of issues.

On cost:  Currently there is no cost for Athlete ID. Our research shows almost every youth organization has an entry fee. We are a not for profit organization, and Athlete ID is not a profit-making endeavor at this point. Our objective is to ensure that the kids are safe and that we can provide a level playing field for our members. If and when there is a cost, it won’t be exorbitant.

The bottom line: This is the springboard for many great things to come. We want accountability measures. We want sportsmanship. We want trust and legitimacy in our system. We’re putting lots of checks and balances in place, and two years from now, I believe it’s going to be standard operating procedure. It won’t be as time-consuming. Athletes’ numbers will follow them in their cheer or dance career regardless of what gym they are associated with, so they’ll never have to prove it again.

People want to know they can go to competition and that it will be fair across the board. I’m encouraged by the voice of the coaches; having them do this without seeing a tangible benefit is a clear indicator of its importance. We’re working day and night to make sure this is successful because we believe it is the right thing to do.

 

Two Sides: USASF Tumbling Rules

Two Sides: USASF Tumbling Rules

CheerProfessional explores both sides of the debate on the USASF’s new tumbling rules for the 2012-2013 season.

In March, the USASF rocked the industry with an unexpected announcement of new rules for the 2012-2013 competition season—affecting areas ranging from the age grid to appropriate uniform coverage. Among the most controversial changes were those pertaining to standing and running tumbling, particularly new rules prohibiting standing fulls and standing double fulls. The new regulations state that double fulls are only permitted in running tumbling and must follow a back handspring, and that consecutive bounding, twisting skills are no longer allowed.

Though the USASF cited safety concerns as the reason for its decision, the development still sparked a hotbed of debate and an outcry from those opposing the changes. (An April survey of 217 ASGA members found that only 3 of 10 agreed with the new tumbling rules.) To explore both sides of the issue, [ital: CheerProfessional] interviewed two prominent experts reflecting the wide spectrum of opinions throughout the industry. Find out what they had to say in our exclusive interview:

Angela Rogers,
Cheer Athletics,
Co-Owner

Co-Owner, Cheer Athletics

On her initial reaction: The fact that the board of directors exercised their right to issue a mandate surprised me more than the rule change itself. There are discussions every year about what should be legal, but there is also a rules process in place [that wasn’t followed]. While I agree that the board has a right to issue mandates in the face of immediate danger affecting athletes, there were no facts to back that up. [The changes] were a shock and kind of a slap in the face to coaches and owners and athletes alike. It has caused me to be more cautious of putting so much trust and faith in a group to set the rules if they’re going to ignore the process without facts to back it up.

On her athletes’ initial reaction: Disappointment. These are skills they’ve been working on and that have been coached correctly in a safe environment. They were frustrated, especially the older athletes at the international level who’ve been competing for 10-plus years with extensive gymnastics background. They’ve trained hard for these skills, and they want the opportunity to display them. They’re beautiful skills, and they’re impressive—almost like art in motion.

On how the rules will impact the industry: The USASF says their aim is to protect athletes. I believe we’re limiting the coaches who are educated and who do have the experience to properly teach high-level skills, while catering to uneducated coaches. Our industry should always be growing and improving; coaches should constantly strive to improve their knowledge and capabilities to safely teach skills in order to improve the athleticism of the kids. It makes me nervous to cap that off and say, “This is as good as we can ever get.”

My motto has always been, “Don’t wish it was easier—wish you were better.” Sometimes leveling the playing field isn’t always the best option. We’re cheating ourselves if we get into that position.

Here is the analogy I use: say there are three NFL quarterbacks in the country who can throw a 90-yard pass—the NFL isn’t going to issue a mandate and say, “Not everyone can do that, so that’s not fair and those passes will be considered incomplete.”

There is a safe way to progress athleticism and that needs to be kept in mind.

On safety issues: I understand the board has good intentions. I’m all for safety, but I think we need to know what the statistics really are. I don’t believe these are the skills in which athletes are getting hurt. No one can bring up these numbers that supposedly exist about the injury rate.

I believe it is a coach’s responsibility to constantly be learning and improving. At Cheer Athletics, we hosted a coaches’ clinic with incredible gymnastics instructors to refresh our knowledge and to make sure our coaches utilize the safest teaching techniques, instead of just watching on YouTube and trying to guess. Coaches everywhere can put themselves in a position to get the right kind of knowledge. Across the board, I think that could happen more—perhaps with some improvements to the USASF credentialing process.

On the skills in question: Will the skills being restricted affect the vast majority of athletes? Maybe, maybe not. What scares me more is we’re putting limits on skills that can be taught safely. Tumbling is taking a hard hit as far as injuries—there are other factors and other skills that can probably be looked at as well.

The bottom line: We’ll never really know how many injuries these rules might prevent because we have no basis on which to compare them. There were no facts to back up the mandate. I think the USASF board of directors lost a lot of confidence from coaches who’d previously believed things were being done the right way and that processes were being followed.

Debbie Love,
Tumbling Expert and USASF Strength & Conditioning Chair

Tumbling Expert & USASOn my initial reaction: When I first heard of the original tumbling changes, I looked at the little girl who told me and said, “Where did those come from?” After I relaxed, I wrote a long letter to the appropriate people with my observations and some suggestions for compromise. [Regardless], I would have accepted the rules as they were because I feel there must be a governing body such as the USASF; however, I was comfortable with the compromise that came out eventually. I think [cheer professionals] will ultimately be happy with them.

On why the rules changes are needed: My take on the whole thing is I feel the rules changes were necessary to make us all more aware of the issues regarding safety of our athletes. Putting more emphasis on proper technique for each skill, specifically in the area of standing tumbling, will alleviate many of the injuries we have seen in recent years.

Following perfection before progression and conditioning our athletes appropriately will ultimately lead us to a more healthy, fun sport with greater longevity.

On how the rules will impact the industry: If anything, it will stimulate creativity in tumbling again. People are thinking of ways to do new skills while abiding by the rules. It may also increase front tumbling because no parameters were placed on front tumbling. I think the athletes’ initial reaction of ‘We can’t do anything anymore’ is gone. Kids are looking at what’s next and adding skills that have never been done before, which is great for the sport in terms of fostering more creativity.

On safety issues: Like any sport, safety is a concern because we have so many gyms that are not members of the USASF and simply not teaching correct technique for the proper development of the athlete.

This year will be more focused on safety. We’ve had 200 or more coaches at most of our regional meetings—with much of the emphasis on safety training. We need to teach our coaches how to condition the kids’ bodies. They need to be aware of injury prevention techniques for teaching—mentally, environmentally and physically.

On the skills in question: Standing doubles and hand doubles take huge amounts of conditioning and are mainly male skills, because the male’s center of gravity is around the shoulders whereas a female’s is around the hips. It’s hard for females to condition enough in order to really go up on those skills and do them correctly.

That said, I personally don’t think [keeping] those skills would have created a problem. However, it did wake our industry up to the fact that something needs to change—it wouldn’t have mattered what skills they were. I believe the direct result will be teaching the [remaining] skills correctly.

The bottom line: I follow two basic rules: 1) perfection before progression and 2) conditioning your athletes appropriately for the sport that they’re doing. I challenge each coach to start a sports psychology program, condition your athletes—especially in the areas of glutes, core and hamstrings, and get trained on proper technique so we can all enjoy this great sport for years to come.


An Athlete’s Perspective

As both an athlete and employee for Cheer Athletics, Dillon Covington brings a unique point of the view to the proverbial table. Having been part of the gym for more than 15 years, Covington cheers on its Wildcats International Open Level Five team and also coaches four teams. Primarily a tumbler, Covington says he was incredibly concerned upon learning of the new USASF rules. “I don’t think they understood the impact it would have,” says Covington. “It’s like someone coming into your job and saying your position is no longer needed. It’s heartbreaking that we’ve been working on these skills our whole lives and aren’t allowed to do them anymore. It affects the whole industry, especially those of us tumblers who can do them safely.”

 Covington created a petition on Change.org to state his position, and quickly gathered more than 7,000 signatures from coaches and athletes supporting it. “Many athletes felt like they didn’t have a voice or anyone that would listen,” says Covington. “It was our way of joining together to let them know they’re affecting our lives; we felt they were punishing us rather than fixing the problem.”

Looking ahead, Covington feels that the new rules may create a whole new set of safety issues. “The USASF wanted to get those skills out of the way so quick that they didn’t look at the repercussions,” he says. “Athletes are being forced to find more innovative skills that could be even more dangerous; with the higher degree of difficulty, there could be a higher chance of getting hurt.”