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Spotlight: Randy Dickey

Spotlight: Randy Dickey

Professionalism, the importance of checks and balances and family are three of the moral tenets that ACX Cheer owner Randy Dickey lives by. Actually, if it were up to him to reorder those terms, family would come first, specifically Dickey’s wife Amie (whom he met in college at an Atlanta honky-tonk) and his 9-year-old daughter Macie.

“I honestly think that, in cheerleading, the way you treat your family will show through in your character in the industry,” he says. “[When] people treat their family bad, disrespect their marriages or do things like that, [that behavior] says a lot about who they are in the industry. I believe that your family comes first.”

A proponent of honesty and accountability in cheer, Dickey started the All-Star Gym Owners Association in 2008 as a free resource group for gym owners to share knowledge and obtain group discounts through volume buying. However, it soon turned into a respected outlet to vent concerns about the industry and, eventually, somewhat of a renegade watchdog group.

Specifically, in 2012, after new rules were handed down two weeks before Worlds—including one limiting the tumbling skills allowed (thereby reducing a revenue stream for gyms)—owners took to the ASGA Facebook page in droves. The complaints culminated in a giant conference call beyond anything Dickey could have imagined: “We anticipated having 50 people on the phone call, and we had over 1,000 show up,” he says. “Everyone was listening, and people were taking turns talking. It was refreshing to see that much interest and passion in the sport and our rules.”

As the number of ASGA members grew, the grassroots group began to sway the industry’s governing bodies and apparel companies. “If something is not right for the industry, truly just not right or not fair, they’re going to listen to 1,500 people a lot more than they would just one gym…so it’s kind of like checks and balances,” Dickey says.

Despite the organization’s efforts to influence rules, vendors and event producers, Dickey still considers the knowledge shared among gym owners the group’s biggest achievement. At retreats and on the ASGA Facebook page, they discuss everything from how to deal with irate parents to how help athletes push past tumbling plateaus to how to organize fundraisers.

The collective goal? Longevity. “[Fellow ASGA leader] Courtney [Smith-Pope] and I want to make sure the industry is still around when our kids take over the gym,” Dickey says. “There’s an astounding rate of gyms going out of business, and we like to think we’re reducing that.”

Dickey’s own road to cheerleading was an unconventional one—he was on both the football and the wrestling teams at his high school until he injured his arm during junior year right before state championships. (He still competed, with his arm taped to his body.) The next year, everything changed for Dickey. He intended to play football as planned, but an athletic director dissuaded him because he wasn’t getting a scholarship in the sport. “Well, what am I supposed to do to stay in shape?” Dickey remembers asking him. As far as Dickey was concerned, cross-country was definitely out. “[I considered] running a punishment,” Dickey says. “I just figured that something similar to wrestling would be gymnastics.”

After he saw a VCR tape of a UCA summer camp, where the guys were stunting with women, Dickey was sold on cheerleading. He joined the squad his senior year of high school and scored both a wrestling and cheer scholarship to Georgia State. Post-college, he worked at Pro Cheer and later opened locations for industry veteran Tate Chalk.

Now Dickey not only owns ACX Cheer Gyms with two locations, but also produces his own cheer music—taking inspiration from his saxophonist father (who played with acts such as Aretha Franklin and The Drifters) and sometimes using his daughter’s voice on tracks. Next up: he’s planning to franchise ACX, a brand he’s worked hard to perfect.

“I don’t want to own any more facilities, per se,” he says. “However, if people want to take the business model that I have, use our name and have weekly meetings via Skype, [I’m willing to] just have my own private kind of gang, so to speak, of ACX gyms. They would own them and do their thing and just pay a monthly fee to run it like we do, and they can reap the benefits. I think that [approach] is a good, safe place to go for me, one that will help secure my future and basically help me enable gyms to stay successful that may have struggled.”

That hard-won reputation in the industry and desire to help other gyms grow is especially important to Dickey for personal reasons. “The reason I’m so passionate about cheerleading is because of everything that it’s given my family,” he says. “I’ve really never had any other job, so…without cheerleading, I wouldn’t be where I am right now, with the family that I have or the home [that we own]. That’s why I’m so passionate about giving back—because of what it’s done for me.”

-Jamie Beckman

Money Talks: Explaining Fees to Parents

Money Talks: Explaining Fees to Parents

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

The Transparency Dilemma

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

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

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

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

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

Smart Strategies

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

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

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

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

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

An EP’s Perspective

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

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

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

Pinterest & Instagram: A Crash Course

Pinterest & Instagram: A Crash Course

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pinterest: Pin your way to community connections.

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

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

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

Getting Started

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

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

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

-Lisa Beebe



Stretch Into Success: Yoga in the Gym

Stretch Into Success: Yoga in the Gym

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

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

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

Eacret gained two new flyers—all thanks to yoga.

Yoga for Cheerleaders

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What’s in it for me?

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

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

-Dinsa Sachan



Get With the Program: Starting a Loyalty Program

Get With the Program: Starting a Loyalty Program

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

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

Let’s Get It Started

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

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

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

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

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

Striking the Right Balance

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

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

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

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

-Dinsa Sachan

Candid Coach: Alisha Dunlap

Candid Coach: Alisha Dunlap

Fresh off Season Two of TLC’s “Cheer Perfection,” Alisha Dunlap’s gym and life have taken the spotlight once again. Find out what challenges and opportunities the exposure has brought this spirited coach and owner of Cheer Time Revolution, and learn what advice she has for other coaches hoping to follow in her footsteps.

“Cheer Perfection” just finished its second season. How has exposure from the show positively and/or negatively impacted Cheer Time Revolution?

Dunlap: At first the “cheer world” was not behind the show, so [my husband] RD and I took a lot of flack over it, but I knew, with time, it would show us as we truly are. For the gym, it has been so positive. It has put our name out there and also shown everyday kids that anyone can learn to cheer.

Since the show premiered, has it changed the way you interact with parents in your gym? Have their expectations shifted at all?

Dunlap: The show hasn’t changed the way I do things at the gym, but it has made me deal with the parents a little differently. I really have too much of an open line of communication with them; this “open door policy” may have given them a bit too much accessibility to me, but I still wouldn’t change this [approach]—as it has made Cheer Time Revolution the family that it is. As for expectations, I am not sure those have changed; our gym parents have always liked to win and want their kids to be the best they can be.

What tips do you have for gym owners who would like to gain more exposure for their gym? 

Dunlap: Just put yourself out there by becoming more involved in your community, city and state functions. I never realized how getting your name out there could draw so many new clients. Our athletes do halftime performances at various collegiate basketball games, and we’ve been very involved in events such as Race for a Cure; we also work hand-in-hand with the City of Little Rock Tourism Bureau as city ambassadors. We believe it’s important to give back to the city and communities that have supported us.

What advice would you give to those who take part in a reality show?

Dunlap: Enjoy it. Have fun with it, but stand your ground and be you. Don’t let anyone tell you who they want you to be. My family and I have been so lucky to have a crew that has let us be “us.”  You can’t let the spotlight get to you. Always remember that when the cameras and fame go away, life goes just right back to how it was before.

What has been the biggest challenge that “Cheer Perfection” has presented in your off-camera life—at the gym or otherwise?

Dunlap: The biggest challenge is trying to please all the fans at competitions. I am there for a reason, and that reason is to get my teams on the floor so they are able to do their best. I have to give my team my attention. It can be really hard to try to do it all! It gets to the kids, too.  When hundreds of kids want their photos and autographs, I have to keep their focus on why they are there as well. But we love everyone that supports us and wish we had the time to see and visit with all of them!

Besides increased exposure and clientele, what opportunities has “Cheer Perfection” presented that you may not have anticipated?

Dunlap: We have had lots of great things come our way.  We are doing lots of traveling to other gyms in other states for consulting, clinics and meet-and-greets. The supporters of Cheer Time Revolution are amazing, so we always embrace opportunities to meet them. We are also looking forward to our European tour and summer camps in 2014. Seeing other gyms and how they do things is a ton of fun; we love learning as much as we love teaching.

Are there any themes that “Cheer Perfection” has not yet addressed that you’d like to see highlighted in a future show?

Dunlap: I would really like “Cheer Perfection” to show more teams and how children of all ages and skill levels do it.

What are your short and long-term goals for the gym? How does “Cheer Perfection” fit into those plans?

Dunlap: The short-term goal is to have a great season at CTR and have our teams do their very best and learn a lot this year.  The long-term goal is that I want CTR to be the place to be; I want to teach athletes to be their best. “Cheer Perfection” will always have a place at CTR—the experience has been so much fun for these kids and families.

-Sara Schapmann

Share-ables and Wearables: Fun Ways to Reward Athletes

Share-ables and Wearables: Fun Ways to Reward Athletes

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

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

Give Share-able, Social Rewards

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

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

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

Give Wearable Rewards

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

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

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

What Doesn’t Work?

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

-Lisa Beebe

Meet the first 10 Americheer/Ameridance/CheerProfessional Coach of the Year Finalists!

Meet the first 10 Americheer/Ameridance/CheerProfessional Coach of the Year Finalists!

What is a coach? Is a coach a leader, teacher, mentor or friend? If you ask the individuals who nominated their coaches, they’d say a coach is all of these traits and more. AmeriCheer and AmeriDance are partnering with CheerProfessional to award the Coach of the Year award at the AmeriCheer & AmeriDance InterNational Championship, held at Walt Disney World Resort®, on March 22-23, 2014.

“To celebrate 20 wonderful years of memories and magic at Disney, we wanted to do something special to commemorate this landmark event. We chose to honor 20 coaches, nominated by their peers, athletes, friends and family, with VIP treatment at our InterNational Championship,” said Elizabeth Rossetti, AmeriCheer & AmeriDance President and Founder.

At InterNationals, the 20 finalists will enjoy a luxurious limo ride to a private reception within the InterNational Victory Party at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. There, they will gain access to the exclusive VIP Coaches Club tent and will receive custom jackets, a champagne toast and a bag full of goodies. One of the 20 finalists will be awarded Coach of the Year at the awards ceremony, held on March 23rd, and will be featured in an issue of CheerProfessional. The winner will also receive a custom Coach of the Year jacket, designer tote and invited back to InterNationals as a VIP guest in 2015.

“Each year we are proud to announce the Coach of the Year winner at our awards ceremony because at AmeriCheer & AmeriDance, we know how important coaches are to their teams,” explained Missy Richard, AmeriCheer & AmeriDance Brand Manager and National Event Coordinator. “Many of us have been coaches and we know how much time, effort and dedication it takes to be a coach; we want to celebrate the efforts these coaches haven given to their teams.”

10 of the 20 finalists have been selected, but 10 spots still remain. Do you know a coach who deserves to be on this list?  Download a nomination form by visiting AmeriCheer.com or AmeriDanceInc.com and submit it by March 1, 2014. In order for coaches to win, they and their team(s) must compete at the 2014 InterNational Championship. Register by calling 1-800-966-JUMP or download a registration form at any AmeriCheer family of brands websites. Show your coach how much they mean to you by nominating them for Coach of the Year.

10 of the 20 Finalists:

1. Cookie Jamison McGowan

School/Gym: Maximum Cheer All Stars

City/State: East Greenville, PA

Years Coaching: 25 years in Pop Warner, High School, College, and All Star

Quote From Nomination Submission: “Cookie made our first trip to America and attending the AmeriCheer InterNationals unforgettable with her constant support of the our team, the BCA Allstars.”

2. Amy Faulkner

School/Gym: North Star Studio

City/State: Sunbury, OH

Years Coaching: 20 years

Quote From Nomination Submission: “Amy’s leadership for all of her teams not only exemplifies her dedication to the sport and spirit of cheerleading, but also to the molding and shaping of young people into productive good citizens.”

 3. Kelli Marin

School/Gym: Spirit Enhancers

City/State: Portsmouth, VA

Quote From Nomination Submission: “Kelli’s vision and dedication have allowed her to transform inexperience young squads into confident, award-winning teams.”

4. Erica Brunow

School/Gym: Findlay High School Dance Team

City/State: Findlay, OH

Years Coaching: 10 years coaching Findlay High School Dance Team

Quote From Nomination Submission: “Erica demonstrates amazing coaching through her devotion to our team, her encouragement during our competitions and her ability to push our team to be our best not only in dance, but in our everyday lives.”

5. Brandy Horn

School/Gym: Pazazz All Star Cheer

City/State: Marion, IN

Years Coaching: 6 years

Quote From Nomination Submission: “Brandy is fair and impartial; she always does what’s best for the entire squad. She teaches them to respect one another and is a positive role model.”

6. Shannon Callen

School/Gym: Kalaheo High School Cheerleading

City/State: Kailua, HI

Years Coaching: 13 years

Quote From Nomination Submission: “From practices turning into late-night tutoring sessions, Shannon is our teacher, our strength, our confidant, and she never stops believing in our abilities, pushing us to achieve goals beyond our own expectations.”

7. Tammy Strouse

School/Gym: Rangeview High School Dance Team

City/State: Aurora, CO

Quote From Nomination Submission: “Tammy is an extraordinary coach; she always puts her team first and encourages them to be their best.”

8. Elsa Gomez

School/Gym: Notre Dame High School

City/State: Lawrenceville, NJ

Quote From Nomination Submission: “Elsa strives to make her team the best at every practice and every event.”

9. Jennifer Pulizzano

School/Gym: Wayne Valley High School

City/State: Wayne, NJ

Years Coaching:

Quote From Nomination Submission: “Jennifer is a great coach.  Her team knows how much time and dedication she gives to them and they work hard to make her proud.”

10. Julie Hallam

School/Gym: Titanium Athletics

City/State: New Freedom, PA

Quote From Nomination Submission: “Through thick and thin, good and bad, injuries, tears, excitement. . . Julie always has a positive attitude and is always there for her Bionic cheerleaders.”

Game Changers: Midwest Cheer Elite

Game Changers: Midwest Cheer Elite

You may know Tanya Roesel as the determined entrepreneur behind the Midwest Cheer Elite empire, but long before her all-star cheer days, she first made a name for herself as a deejay—spinning at Cincinnati nightclubs and eventually opening for major acts like Prince back in the 80s. The road to notability, however, wasn’t exactly smooth: as the only female DJ in town, she was often told she couldn’t succeed because she was a woman. “I love when people tell me I can’t do something because it just makes me want to do it more,” she says.

Roesel took the adversity and spun it into a specialized personal business, finding out what her clients were trying to sell and nailing the kind of demographic they wanted to bring in at large parties. “I loved the challenge of ‘How big can we make this event?’” she says.

Roesel came away from those early gigs with a finely tuned business sense and insider knowledge of the effect music has on human psychology. After spending three years commanding the turntables, she went on to coach high school color guard and rifle teams; in 2000, she was coaxed into coaching her first competitive cheerleading squad—despite never having cheered a day in her life.

Flash forward 14 years, and her gym Midwest Cheer Elite has nearly 500 all-stars, three gyms in Ohio and a brand-new location in Fort Myers, Florida, which went from zero to 300 athletes in four months. Back in Ohio, she is planning to build a bigger gym in Westchester (which has outgrown its original facility) and open three more gyms: a fourth in Ohio, and two more outside the state.

Roesel attributes the rapid growth of Midwest Cheer Elite to an empowered staff that helps each other, attends weekly meetings and is required to know the name of every single child in the gym within 30 days. She strongly believes that personal touch translates to repeat business. “I know my customers, treat them right and, because of that, all I hear is, ‘It’s different, it’s like a family,’” she says.

That said, marketing is also a key part of Roesel’s success strategy. To make Midwest Cheer Elite a household name, she blankets her towns with fliers, posting them everywhere from Kroger’s supermarkets to malls or handing them out the old-fashioned way. One of her tongue-in-cheek mottos: “If it breathes and walks, it gets a flier.”

At the new Florida location, the marketing strategy went beyond paper. The staff built a “haunted” maze out of hay in the gym as part of a fall festival, which created excitement among both the parents and the kids. “When people take a Friday night off and they want to be at the gym, then you know it’s a good thing,” Roesel says.

Roesel’s expertise has become so coveted that she has forged a new career as a consultant, traveling to gyms across the continent to help them course-correct if they’re having difficulty staying in the black. Recently, she met with Panther Cheer Athletics in Canada, where she troubleshot their problems with both their facility and their niche—encouraging them to move into a smaller space that felt more intimate compared to their current tiny slice of a giant stadium and to adopt hip-hop, which no other gym in the area was offering.

Though the advice Roesel doles out to her clients is highly tailored, she has encountered a few common mistakes that many gym owners make. Her top tips on how to avoid them:

Offer plenty of options for parents. Midwest Cheer Elite offers everything from $1 tumbling for an hour on Thursday nights to $175 summer season passes to pricy full-travel packages. If a parent questions how expensive a product is, Roesel offers them a half-season or a single class to bring in customers on all ends of the spectrum. According to Roesel, this approach mitigates unpaid bills and brings in referrals.

Think with your head, not your heart. Don’t let parents avoid paying their bills, Roesel advises. One ways she keeps payments coming in is averaging the services for the entire year and sending monthly bills for the same amount. “You’ve got to keep it simple for the parents, and [your services] have to be budget-able,” she says.

Empower your employees to speak up. Make your office a safe space for staff to feel comfortable talking to you about what’s working and what’s not working in your area. Bottom line: hearing their candid feedback and ideas will increase business and profits.

Embrace competition. If another gym opens up on your turf, look at it as an opportunity rather than a stressor. “I love competition. I love other gyms opening up, because it makes me stop and reevaluate my product,” Roesel says. “What are they doing that we’re not doing?”

Choose music the judges will love. Millennials may dig Miley Cyrus, but nostalgia could work in your favor with 30-something judges, Roesel says. One of her senior co-ed squads recently used “Take Your Time (Do It Right)” by the S.O.S. Band, a tune that topped the charts in 1980. “I always tell my coaches, ‘Get in the heads of your judges,’” she says.

For cheer professionals looking to carve their own niche in the industry, Roesel’s advice is straightforward: “Find out the need and how you can sell that need.” That’s exactly what Roesel herself did, first in her DJ days and now as an all-star cheer expert. “Before I was doing the consulting, I saw that people didn’t know how to run their business,” she shares. “They got into it for the right reasons, but at the end of the day, gyms were shutting down because no one knew how to be a business person.”

Her other guiding motto? When you’ve come up with that big idea, act on it—fast. Otherwise, it’ll become stale and you’ll be seen as a follower, not a leader. “Sometimes you just have to take the risk and execute it as fast as you can, and then figure out what to fix,” she says. And if Roesel’s success is any indication, being a risk-taker pays off in spades.

Spotlight: Kyle Wright of ACX

Spotlight: Kyle Wright of ACX

Randy Dickey of Columbia, SC-based ACX Cheer thought so highly of Kyle Wright that after his stint cheering for ACX, Dickey asked Wright to run his gym in Charleston. “Athlete, coach, gym manager, Kyle does it all,” says Dickey of Wright’s work today.

Like many other cheer professionals, Wright was initially a gymnast. When asked to cheer in high school, he was hesitant at first but finally gave in because, “I figured there would be girls there.” Once Wright began training at ACX, he got hooked. He had always been interested in coaching even while competing and started bugging Dickey to let him give it a try. To gain experience, Wright started teaching tumbling classes at summer camps and eventually landed a coaching position at the gym, going full-time after graduating from college.

Wright says he learned much of his coaching techniques from watching his own teachers—having insight into team dynamics is what he sees as one of his greatest strengths. Having been in his athletes’ shoes, Wright knows that resolving team issues is a large part of a coach’s job description. As such, he relies heavily on team-building exercises and uses them to help make the program more successful. ACX Charleston is a relatively new gym, and Wright’s goal is to have their first team ready for Worlds in 2015. However, day-to-day goals are just as important: “At the end of the day, I want my customers to feel good about themselves. And sometimes that may mean that even though they couldn’t get a certain skill that day that they go home with a goal for tomorrow and feel positive.”

Spotlight: Megan Carmean of Elite Cheer

Spotlight: Megan Carmean of Elite Cheer

This December, we’re running a series of spotlights on athletes-turned-cheer professionals. Meet Megan Carmean of Elite Cheer!

26-year-old Megan Carmean, aka “Carmeano,” considers herself an “in-betweener” because she was able to experience the evolution of the all-star world from the time she first began her cheer career at age 10 at Omaha, NE-based Elite Cheer to now. While competing as an athlete, Carmean also played the role of assistant coach in many of the national championships the team won. Since 2006, Carmean has been Elite Cheer’s Head Coach, Safety Coordinator and Youth Program Director (all while holding down a full-time job as a nurse).

“Having the experience of previously being an all-star cheerleader helps significantly in my day-to-day coaching,” says Carmean. “I feel it helps me relate to the current athletes in a unique manner. I understand the parts of practice they dread and the parts they love.”

Carmean uses her own experience to explain why the “boring” stuff is just as necessary as the “fun” parts of practice. She can also relate to the kids when it comes to time management: “I missed many school activities and birthday parties for practices and competitions, but when I can explain to the girls that it was worth it, it helps them cope.”

As a veteran who still remembers competing on a college cheer blue floor instead of the standard spring floor of today, Carmean looks forward to the day that the athleticism of all-star cheerleading is fully recognized as a sport and receives the respect it deserves.

-Vicky Choy

Expert Q&A: Tara Wieland of Michigan Storm Cheer & Dance

Expert Q&A: Tara Wieland of Michigan Storm Cheer & Dance

We received the following email in our inbox from a 13-year-old aspiring all-star cheerleader and enlisted program director/coach Tara Wieland of Michigan Storm Cheer & Dance to share her insights and advice:

Q: Hi, I am a 13-year-old and I love the concept of cheerleading and would love to cheer myself. So can I still be on an all-star team even though I am not be able to tumble and be super flexible? I am super-strong and spirited—and I was wondering if that is enough. Can you please help me? Cheerleading is my dream and passion, and I don’t want to give it all up for not being “extreme enough.”

Tara Wieland: From someone who has been coaching a very long time, I wish kids like you grew on trees! Physical talent can be taught, but the drive, inner passion and self commitment cannot. I’d have to say you’re already much further ahead than some elite level athletes in our industry. If cheer is what you love, go for it! Keep that drive alive in every practice to push yourself further than you ever thought was possible. The cheer world in general needs more kids like you. Good luck and dream big!

Spotlight: Ambrel Brannon of Cheer Athletics

Spotlight: Ambrel Brannon of Cheer Athletics

This December, we’re running a series of spotlights on athletes-turned-cheer professionals. Meet Ambrel Mitchell of Cheer Athletics!

Most people don’t equate cheerleading with computer science, but global systems engineer and former all-star athlete Ambrel Mitchell Brannon has successfully been able to juggle all the above. Currently a coach at the famed Cheer Athletics gym in Dallas, Brannon completed a Masters degree in computer science at Southern Methodist University while coaching several teams and competing on an open coed team. Now retired, she works her day job as an engineer and spends her nights and weekends coaching at Cheer Athletics. (It’s a good thing that Brannon’s husband also coaches at the gym—otherwise, they might never see each other!)

“You choose what you spend your time on,” says Brannon. “To me, coaching isn’t a job, it’s a passion, so I love being at the gym.”

Brannon credits her time management skills to her background as a competitive cheerleader. She started gymnastics at the age of six and, after moving into cheerleading, has never looked back. Brannon also has the distinction of being the only athlete that has competed at all 10 Worlds championships (when she started, cross-competing was still allowed). Having medaled every year she competed, Brannon cites one of her best memories as winning two gold medals at Worlds when she was 18. “I had to skip prom but it was worth it,” she shares.

These are the kinds of experiences Brannon now shares with her CA athletes. Since she can relate to most of the feelings the kids have, she knows how to advise them—consoling them when they feel defeat and teaching them what true winning can be. “Defeat is always a learning moment and every athlete should experience it to really appreciate success. I tell my students to not focus on winning but to aim for hitting routines you can be proud of. To me, that’s true winning.”

-Vicky Choy

Moving On Up

Moving On Up

Angela Havard Patton with athlete-coaches

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

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

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

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

Angie Caldwell and Elaina Bertoli

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-Vicky Choy

Implementing Your Gym’s Social Media Policy

Implementing Your Gym’s Social Media Policy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


GTM Spotlight: Scott “Crasher” Braasch

GTM Spotlight: Scott “Crasher” Braasch

Scott “Crasher” Braasch’s nickname is hard to ignore—especially in cheerleading, a sport that tends to frown on crashes of any kind. Braasch is quick to mention that the nickname doesn’t reflect how he drives or stunts, but the Cheer Tyme titan still remembers the moment he got the moniker, when his wild-eyed, excitable high school football coach congratulated him after a game-winning play.

“He grabbed me by the face mask and said, ‘You’re the Crasher, Braascher! You crashed ’em!’” Braasch recalls.

The nickname started off as a joke, but “Crasher” as a concept has informed the way Braasch coaches—by viewing his back spots, bases and flyers as individual athletes with unique skills, just as a football team would its quarterbacks, running backs or offensive linemen. That also means requiring his athletes to train with drills, conditioning exercises and sport psychology.

“I’ve always had sort of a very authoritative way of coaching, and it’s been something that my athletes responded to,” he says. “I got into cheerleading in its very early stage, when cheerleading was trying to fight for its sport identity, [and] it really was a blessing for people to see somebody like myself who approached it truly like it was a sport.”

A series of career-ending injuries cut his football career at the California University of Pennsylvania short, but a former football buddy of his (the first male cheerleader at the school) and Braasch’s girlfriend (also a cheerleader) encouraged him to come to the games and, later, join in on stunting. The prospect of being surrounded by females—and tossing them in the air with the ease of flipping a coin—certainly helped convince him.

“I remember the first time I did a walk-up chair and thinking that was the coolest thing ever in the world: ‘I can’t believe I just picked this girl up and held her up,’” he says. “It was probably a year later that I was going full-up awesomes and rewinds.”

He was instantly hooked on the sport. He watched TV competitions and VHS tapes of top squads to study up on new stunts and gain inspiration for creating his own. Now, in the YouTube age where VCRs aren’t necessary, he owns three Cheer Tyme locations in Pennsylvania and Virginia. He even invented the Full Up Machine, a four-inch-tall rotating contraption that looks like the cushy top of a barstool, to help flyers learn and stick their full ups, half ups and double ups. Braasch says the machine enables mobile repetition, which is key to nailing stunts safely—but without beating up back spots and bases, a nearly unavoidable casualty of the learning process.

Braasch says the response to the Full Up Machine was very positive, but the machine is no longer being manufactured by Core Athletix, the company that helped develop it. He hopes to see it rise again in the future, he says, but until then he has several other top-secret inventions in his back pocket.

Safety in the industry has long been one of Braasch’s top priorities. He says he wants to emphasize simple cheerleading basics like “step, lock, tighten” and “perfection before progression” to increase safety in stunting, which has become more complicated—and, thus, potentially more dangerous—in recent years. Next up for Braasch is his newly won national at-large seat for NACCC, where his top goals are to 1) unite cheer coaches, 2) increase communication among gyms of all sizes and locations and 3) make it easier for parents of potential cheerleaders to see that the sport is a safe one.

“We have to be more and more safety-conscious. When we put pro athletes in jeopardy, then we put our sport in jeopardy,” he says. “Those things can’t happen if we want to have longevity as a legitimate sport and a respectable sport. Otherwise we’ll create things so crazy that they’ll look at us like the early days of the UFC, which was just unsafe, and was frowned upon. It’s already tough in the media as it is.”

In fact, with his new position, you could say that he’ll be the Crasher all over again.

“I don’t think that will ever go away,” he says. “For whatever reason, it has stuck, and I guess it was meant to stick. It’s who I am.”

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.


All in the Family: Coaching Your Own Kids

All in the Family: Coaching Your Own Kids

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

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

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

Not Being “That” Parent

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

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

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

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

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

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

Moving Forward After Mistakes

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

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

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


Keeping It Classy (On Social Media)

Keeping It Classy (On Social Media)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-Dinsa Sachan

5 Surprising Mood-Boosters

5 Surprising Mood-Boosters

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-Joe Donatelli



Using the Force: Vancouver All-Stars

Using the Force: Vancouver All-Stars

Liz Gigante Ulrich awakes every day with a mission in mind. As the owner of G Force Gym, home to the Vancouver All Stars, she walks the talk she preaches to her athletes and coaches about the importance of a purpose-driven life.

Based in British Columbia’s Port Coquitiam, the gym’s cheer program consists of 20 teams Levels 1 through 5 made up of 400 athletes in uniform, with an additional 150 on half-year prep teams or taking classes. All the teams fall under the guise of Gigante Ulrich and more than 20 credentialed and certified coaches. The program’s IO5 Ice Queens, coached by Gigante Ulrich, took home the silver in April in the international open category at this year’s Worlds competition.

The elite crew’s complicated walk-in paper dolls, Shushanova-inspired basket tosses with half-twists and full-around pyramid—combined with eye-catching sass—helped the Ice Queens drive home the message that Canada is a force to be reckoned with on the international cheer scene. Their style, a reflection of Gigante Ulrich herself, is trending, too. The trademark Ice Queen Stomp has been sighted stateside in routines, and some teams have taken their style cue, sporting tiaras à la the royal crew.

Such achievements aren’t what Gigante Ulrich envisioned as a high school cheerleader, or while cheering at university, taking six classes and working three jobs. Goal-setting helped her earn her bachelor’s in kinesiology and a master’s in education, opening the door for her teaching career starting in 1995. That gig offered the chance to create a cheer program at Port Moody Secondary School.

Not long after starting the school’s cheer squad, Gigante Ulrich coached an all-star team through a camp with students from surrounding high schools. That experience motivated her to open G Force Gym. The 8,340-sq. ft., state-of-the-art training facility opened in 1999, becoming the first cheer gym in Western Canada and the first in Canada to offer two full-sized mats.

Gigante Ulrich still strives for more. She is in the process of relocating G Force Gym to a much larger location with a $3 million price tag. To help make that happen, she joined the Entrepreneur Organization in Canada in 2011 to become more business-savvy by learning from successful business owners from industries outside the cheer world. “I was able to learn a lot more from looking at them than by looking at other all-star gyms,” she shares. “Looking at CEOs and owners of successful businesses, you notice that they all have very similar characteristics and traits about them and the way they deal with issues. That inspires me.”

The organization taught her the importance of investing in her staff and crunching numbers. “I figured out which numbers mean something in my industry to make sure that I am on target,” says Gigante Ulrich. To work toward the expansion, she runs a tighter ship and built a more comprehensive pro shop. She also tweaked G Force’s core values and mission statement, while shifting her own focus: “I am now focusing more on big picture while empowering staff in managerial and choreographer/head coach roles.”

To stay in the mindset, Gigante Ulrich begins her day researching motivational quotes to stay aligned. The gym’s walls and social media outlets are covered with the sayings lest someone forgets to wake up feeling excited to be alive. But at G Force Gym, that rarely happens.

“I get feedback from parents about how much the kids love it, how they breathe it and it is their passion,” Gigante Ulrich says. Families report increased confidence, optimism and ambition in their cheerleaders. “When I hear those things, I feel like I am living what I am meant to do, like that’s my legacy.”

The staff helps members strategize their goals by setting short-term and long-term goals. They also make sure to celebrate the milestones so they feel a sense of accomplishment. “Dream big, don’t give up and go for it,” Gigante Ulrich says, repeating one of her mantras. “We can achieve goals if we set out on a path and stick to the plan.”

-Arrissia Owen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

As always…we’re cheering you on,

Aly & Andrea


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Social Media Must-Haves for Cheer Gyms

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

As always…we’re cheering you on,

Aly & Andrea

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

GTM Sportswear Spotlight: Top Gun

GTM Sportswear Spotlight: Top Gun

As love stories go, gym owners and power couple Kristen and Victor Rosario have one that’s straight out of a Nicholas Sparks movie. (No wonder they’ve been referred to as the “Brangelina” of the cheer world.) A simple ride home from high school was the catalyst for their relationship—and, a few years later, ended up being the foundation of Miami-based gym Top Gun All-Stars, well-known for its reputation as an industry innovator.

The plot at a glance: Kristen was a 10th grade ballet dancer and Victor a senior cheerleader when they first struck up a friendship. She would often watch after-school cheer practices while waiting for a ride home from her friend (who was also a cheerleader). Normally quiet and reserved, Victor found himself chatting easily with Kristen about gymnastics and cheer. He still gets a little gushy about those early days. “It’s easy to open up and talk to her when she looks like she does,” says Victor.

When Victor later floated the idea of starting an all-star cheerleading program, Kristen hopped on board, melding her knack for organization and book balancing with his cheer experience. They began slowly, with one team that practiced in a park, and built that into what is now Top Gun—a nationally respected gym known for creativity, flow, and trend-setting routines. But the path to prominence hasn’t been a total cakewalk: Victor says accepting the gym’s strengths and weaknesses and viewing itself as something of an underdog has been key to its success.

“We’ve never been a super-powerhouse gym with 700-plus kids and a 30,000 sq.-ft. facility and 40 staff members,” he says. “We came from humble beginnings, and we’re still considered a smaller-scale gym. Our talent is great, but it’s not the most amazing out there, so we’ve had to learn how to be creative and find the things we’re good at.”

That spirit of scrappiness and innovation has led to the gym pioneering stunts that are now prerequisites at high levels of competition (like the pike open basket)—and taking chances on out-of-the-ordinary, memorable routines that often tell a story. After one of their squad members, Omar Moreno, died in a car accident last year, the gym dedicated their 2012 Worlds routine to Omar and other “Fallen Jags,” complete with uniforms studded with angel wings and carefully chosen music ranging from Swedish House Mafia to Bette Midler.

According to Victor, the tragedy ended up making the team stronger than ever. “A lot of our athletes were close with Omar personally. It just kind of inspired them and made them realize that life is really short, and we’ve got to…live every day like it was our last and try to make the most of it,” Victor says. “We just kept them on track and said, ‘We’re going to put the best routine on the floor, and we’re not going to go out there with our fingers crossed that they’re going to hit. We’re going to capitalize on our creativity.’”

Another pioneering move is Kristen’s push for a universal scoresheet, which has been a hot topic amongst widespread complaints about competition results. To further the cause, Kristen led a discussion recently about the topic at the NACCC coaches’ conference.

“It’s hard for the average parent to be able to even look at our sport legitimately, because today, 9.0 was the best routine out there on the floor, and tomorrow, [you get] a 365, you just lost, and you’re in second place,” Kristen says. “They don’t seem to understand it, and our thing was, ‘How do we make it better?’ When we started looking at it, we realized that most of the scoresheets all say the same thing. They’re all judging the same thing, but with a different point scale or rubric.”

She’s hoping that the new scoresheet she’s helped propose will be set into motion by the end of this year.

Kristen and Victor credit their mutual love for cheer and that hard-won thing known as balance—his strong but silent demeanor balancing out her talkative pragmatism—with the success of the gym and their own marriage. Sometimes the two intertwine: Kristen cites one example of traveling to Spain on cheer business when a person she was working with stiffed her $5,000. She still remembers what Victor said to calm her when she called in tears: “Baby, it’s okay; these things happen. I will pick up another camp; I will do what I have to do. I just don’t want to hear you cry.”

The pair has two daughters now, ages 10 and 12. It shouldn’t come as much of a surprise to learn they love cheerleading as much as their parents do.

-Jamie Beckman

To Comp or Not to Comp?

To Comp or Not to Comp?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-Cathleen Calkins

Secondhand News: Buying Used Equipment

Secondhand News: Buying Used Equipment

As a new gym owner, it can be a challenge to make ends meet with a small budget. One surefire way to save cash when just starting out is to buy used equipment. Be warned, though: this route can be fraught with thorns, and it’s important to keep several caveats in mind during purchase. When in the market for used equipment, consider these need-to-know tips from top equipment experts:

Do your homework. Be curious. Know what you want—and then ask intelligent questions. Stacy Finnerty, vice-president of Tumbl Trak, a Michigan-based provider of cheerleading, dance and gymnastics equipment, has a list of some helpful basic questions to ask the original manufacturer: What was the original retail price of the item? Were there any product recalls of this particular item? What value would the manufacturer place on the used item? What is the life expectancy of the item? Is the manufacturer able or willing to look up the original bill of sale to confirm the age of the item? Contacting the original manufacturer may seem like extra work, but it can go a long way in helping you determine whether a piece fits your needs or not. 

Network like mad. You can visit a dozen equipment stores or spend hours digging out deals on Ebay, but nothing works like networking when trying to get good deals on used equipment. When Josh Kennedy, owner at Horseheads, NY-based Intensity Cheer Elite, was looking for a used tumble track and a portable mat, he posted profusely on social media about his requirements. He conveyed his requirements to other gym owner friends and even personal friends. Through networking, he stumbled upon a golden lead—a woman who was shutting her business down and looking to sell items quickly. Kennedy got a tumble track and a mat at throwaway prices.

Consider age and depreciation. A question you’ll be asking a lot when in the market for equipment: “How old is this piece?” Yet old is not always bad. “The number of years someone has owned a piece of equipment is not necessarily a factor,” says Matthew Miller of Gateway Sports Source, a St. Louis-based supplier of cheer and gymnastics equipment. “If it is a small club, an item could still be in great shape after eight years. But, if it is a big gym with lots of athletes using that item every day, it could be ready for the dumpster.”

Moreover, some items like balance beams can be robust enough for use even after 25 years, says Ross Athletic Supply owner Ross Morreale—but he adds that you wouldn’t want to buy a mat that’s been used that long.

Seek credible sources. Though there’s nothing like personally checking a piece of equipment out, most gym owners don’t have the time to actually visit a supplier. Your best bet is to ensure that you’re buying from a credible source. “The longer someone has been in business, the easier it should be for you to trust them,” says Morreale. “Ask people in your gym and other gyms for references; that’s one of the best ways to find credible vendors.”

Carefully vet any online purchases. Sites like Ebay and Craigslist can sometimes yield great deals, but exert caution right from the word “go” when dealing with online vendors. “We’ve heard horror stories from customers who purchased stuff off eBay only to find three out of four parts of a piece not working,” says Finnerty. He adds it’s usually okay to buy mats and other foam products from these sites as long as you’ve seen pictures and are aware of the item’s condition.

Morreale says once someone on a site sells you something, you’re probably not going to hear from them again. “You don’t know the person you’re dealing with on the other end, so it’s always a bit risky,” he says. If and when you do buy online, consider using PayPal, as they offer buyer protections such as a dispute resolution center where you can request a refund for items that don’t match the description.

Capitalize on event attendance. Cheerleading events can be a great avenue for scoping cheap equipment for your gym. “Generally, such pieces—called demo pieces—have been used once or twice and are as good as new,” says Morreale. While demo pieces are more expensive than your standard used equipment, you can get anywhere from six to 15 percent off, and they typically have a longer shelf life.

Check our blog tomorrow for tips on how to inspect prospective purchases before you buy!

-Dinsa Sachan

Head Games: Overcoming Performance Anxiety

Head Games: Overcoming Performance Anxiety

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Starting a Gym 101: Getting Financing

Starting a Gym 101: Getting Financing

Business experts and Gym Kix owners Carrie Harris and Stephanie Beveridge

Number eight on our “Starting a Gym 101″ list: Decide on any financing you will need and how you will get it. In other words…show me the money!

For startup businesses, this can be one of the biggest obstacles in getting off the ground. Funding is a challenge for almost every small business, and this especially includes cheer/gymnastics facilities. The space and ceiling height requirements for a gym make the start-up cost even more than a regular new business.

A few ideas for financing your start-up:

1.    Work a second job to fund business (check CheerProfessional’s upcoming winter issue for more on this!)

2.    Major in business, as some business schools can provide connections to help a business get started

3.    Ask a friend or relative

4.    Dip into personal savings

5.    Apply for and secure a bank loan

6.    Approach individual investors

7.    Go for a government-guaranteed loan

8.   Try websites like www.gofundme.com (or similar sites)

9.   Work with venture capital firms (angel investors, etc…)

Using personal funds is the most common, and few banks will loan to people who are not risking some of their own personal funds too. While it may feel as if it’s impossible to start a business without having your own deep pockets or knowing someone who does, loans do exist and—with good preparation—are even relatively easy to get.

When seeking external funding, being prepared is essential. Write a business plan, have your financial statements ready to go, line up your references, develop a clear definition of what your business is and look at your credit rating, financial history and business planning; these are all things lenders consider in awarding loans.

Visit http://www.sba.gov for more information on Small Business Loans.

-Stephanie Beveridge and Carrie Harris

Past posts:

Starting a Gym 101: Pricing Your Services

Starting a Gym 101: Licenses, Permits & Insurance

Starting a Gym 101: All Things Legal

Starting a Gym 101: Making the Big Decisions

Starting a Gym 101: Writing a Business Plan

Starting a Gym 101: Legal Forms of Business Ownership

Starting a Gym 101 



Showcase Spotlight: JuST Cheer!

Showcase Spotlight: JuST Cheer!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-Cathleen Calkins


Candid Coach: Samiha Alexander of Georgia Heat

Candid Coach: Samiha Alexander of Georgia Heat

Ever since the Georgia Heat opened its doors six years ago, Samiha Alexander has been at its nucleus—coaching winning teams in almost every level. As one of this year’s USASF Coach of the Year nominees, she knows the importance of coaching safely in tandem with grooming top-notch teams. We asked Samiha to share her hard-earned insights on safety and success:

How has your USASF Coach of the Year nomination impacted your career?

Alexander: I think [I was nominated because] I love my kids and I set high expectations for them. I believe that they’re athletes, and I train them that way. I was very humbled by the experience and the fact that someone thought enough of me to nominate me. Now I want to make those people that believed in me proud and continue to build our gym and build those athletes to be the very best they can be.

Have you ever experienced an athlete injury or safety issue that taught you the importance of safety?

Alexander: Absolutely. Last year we had some concussions, so we had to retrain our athletes and rethink what we needed to do to keep that from happening. We worked with the bases to teach them how to cradle and catch correctly, and the flyers on various ways to fall more safely. It was important that they learn to fall tightly with their arms by their sides—the natural reaction is to put your arms out to brace the fall, but that can make a base take an elbow to the temple.

We also had a girl break her femur, and her doctor said that there was a previous injury in her case. [In light of that], we try to teach our kids that if there’s an injury, we need to know about it. We also try to explain that after injury, athletes won’t be able to walk back into the gym and be where they were three months ago. We remind them that they will get back to where they were, but we have to do it slowly.

I also talk to my girls about getting too comfortable in their skills, or not always being as focused as they need to be. Something really careless can happen and it causes an issue. When you lose focus, that’s when an injury occurs. This was not happening with new skills, but instead skills they’d already done and mastered. The coaching staff had to come together and discuss we needed to do to help the kids stay safe.

What are some of the biggest safety issues in the industry, and do you have any suggestions for solutions?

Alexander: One of the worst is athletes doing skills they’re not ready for. I think athletes need to master certain things before they’re allowed to do them, especially in competition. I believe that the industry is moving in the right direction as far as getting coaches and athletes to go through training. I also think coaches have to be honest with themselves, as well as with the athletes and their parents. We need to tell them that we’re going to put them where it’s safe and where they will become stronger athletes.

Tell us three things you wish other coaches would do more.

Alexander: I would like to see more coaches teach their kids the importance of sportsmanship. It bothers me when it comes down to the last two [teams], and when second place is called, first place is jumping up and down and screaming. I think it’s rude. Another thing I would like to see coaches stop doing is down-talking other teams. Coaches are role models for the kids they coach and shouldn’t demean other professionals. Also, coaches should teach a clean routine. Usually a clean routine means the kids can do the skills safely, not just to get points.

-Mandi Hefflinger

The Big Reveal

The Big Reveal

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

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

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

Five top tips for a successful team reveal:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-Lisa Beebe

Judges Speak Out: Survey Results

Judges Speak Out: Survey Results

In July, the findings of the United States Cheer Officials Survey were released.  Get a snapshot of the judges’ responses in this recap, or click here to download a PDF of the entire survey.

Just the Facts

  • The current number of judges estimated to be working in the all-star cheer industry is 250; 106 participated in this survey.
  • 36% of respondents have judged 6-10 years, while 29% of respondents have judged 11-15 years.
  • The companies most strongly represented in the survey include Varsity All-Star (70% of respondents), Jam Brands (62%) and Spirit Sports (45%).
  • Not all respondents answered every question, and participants were guaranteed anonymity.


Conditions & Compensation for Judges

Hours worked: 73% of respondents work a 8- to 12-hour day, while 26% responded that they work more than 12 hours at an event.

Lunch breaks: The majority of respondents (55%) said they receive between 20-40 minutes for a lunch break, while 29% of respondents said they receive less than 20 minutes.

Compensation: 54% of respondents receive between $100-$199 for a one-day competition, and 42% said they receive $300-$399 for a two-day competition.

Reimbursement: When asked about reimbursement, 72% answered negatively about travel time; 51% answered negatively about baggage fees; and 44% answered negatively about dining expenses.

Number of Judges: Only 6% of respondents felt that competition companies hire the appropriate number of judges for the amount of teams competing.



45% of respondents felt they had been properly trained on the scoresheet, while 38% felt they had been properly trained on the skills rubric.

26% of respondents felt that competition companies select judges based on their level of expertise for high-stakes divisions.

Only 11% of respondents “strongly agreed” that competition companies select judges based on strength of knowledge.


Survey Recommendations Based On Input

  • Standardize judge selection across brands
  • Implement a judge appraisal process
  • Develop more meaningful communication of rule changes/clarifications
  • Develop a judging organization that is separate and distinct from competition brands
  • Provide for a Head Official at each event
  • Implement a consistent travel reimbursement policy
  • Develop an online voucher system
  • Develop a travel arrangement site that gives judges’ control over flight selection
  • Develop a pay negotiation process
  • Provide Judges’ Break rooms at all competitions
  • Implement a judging hour maximum
  • Close registration the week before scheduled competitions
  • Provide a pay amount consistent with industry standard


Sound Bytes

“I hate the rubrics. I feel that it has taken away all creativity and that the sport of cheerleading has become boring. I hope they will give this sport the freedom it deserves and give more opinion back to the judges—otherwise, they should just calculate what teams are doing by computer and not even have judges.”

“I feel that there should be a ‘rule’ put in place that any competitions with over eight hours of judging involved should use a two-panel, division-rotating panel.”

“I believe that judges need to be compensated more and have more of a say in travel times, etc. Respect for time and appropriate compensation both need to improve in order to increase the quality of judging panels.”

“There definitely needs to be a more universal training and qualification for judging. [I’m] tired of sitting next to judges who are judging just because they know so-and-so.”



We asked Cheer Industry Insights expert Jeff Watkins for his thoughts on the survey’s validity:

“This appears to be a sound study and well-reported. Any time a study can get half of their population to participate, it is definitely representative [of the collective opinion]. It is good for the judges to be able to make an anonymous statement without consequence. The only issue I see is that it was conducted, written, and edited by cheer judges—I believe the study would carry a lot more weight if done by a non-judge.”


Give to Live: The Benefits of Volunteering

Give to Live: The Benefits of Volunteering

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

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

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

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

Amazing! Efforts

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

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

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

Going Global

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

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

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

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

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

-Phyllis Hanlon


Meet Our Young Entrepreneur Competition Winners!

Meet Our Young Entrepreneur Competition Winners!

Thanks so much to all who entered our Young Entrepreneur contest sponsored by Nfinity, and congratulations to our winner Madelyn Mize and finalists Cheer 360 and Muddy Cheer Challenge! Get to know these enterprising young cheer professionals and find out what’s coming down the pike.

Meet Our Winner: Madelyn Mize

I’m a 17-year-old, current competitive Level 5 cheerleader with aspirations of cheering in college. As I learned about the process of cheering in college, I quickly realized how inefficient the process is. Colleges do not have the budgets to promote their programs.  Often aspiring collegiate cheerleaders lack the time and money to participate in more than one or two camps. I told myself that there has to be a better way! That’s where Traelo Sports comes in. It exists to link not only the cheerleading and dance world with each other, but with colleges and their programs.

Meet Our Finalists: Cheer 360 and Muddy Cheer Challenge

Cheer 360

Cheer360 is a sport specific strength training, nutrition and mental fitness program developed and run by certified, accomplished and enthusiastic fitness, nutrition and cheer professionals. Cheer360’s goal is to build better cheer athletes by empowering them to achieve, maintain and perform at their highest personal, physical, nutritional and mental level possible. Cheer360 understands that cheerleading is in fact, 100% a sport. Cheer athletes must be as strong as a football player, as coordinated as a dancer and as flexible as a gymnast. Located in Long Island, NY, the Cheer360 program teaches skills that transcend sport and enrich one’s personal life.

Cheer strong! Cheer Smart!

Morgan Fairley: Muddy Cheer Challenge

I created the Muddy Cheer Challenge fundraising company to put the fun back into fundraising and remove all the work and worry.  As a former cheerleader and coach, I know how important it is to find NEW team bonding activities and teaching the athletes how important giving back is.  I also know how important fundraising is to teams and gyms. Selling cookie dough and tumbling clinics are good, but this is so much more fun, different and unique and what more perfect way than to combine all of these things that cheerleaders need into one company? These runs will have something for everyone and will be a family event everyone can enjoy. I want to encourage this to become an annual event for gyms and schools nationwide.

Q&A: “Cheer Perfection” star Alisha Dunlap

Q&A: “Cheer Perfection” star Alisha Dunlap

If you love TLC’s “Cheer Perfection,” get ready for more of fiery Alisha Dunlap and her cast of characters at Cheer Time Revolution. Season Two has hit the airwaves! Get to know this opinionated gym owner and find out how “Cheer Perfection” has changed her life:

CP: Share a bit about your cheerleading background.

Alisha: We opened Cheer Time Revolution in 1999, and then I sold the gym in 2004. I had already started a family and wanted more babies. But as time went on, I absolutely missed it—couldn’t stand it. Also, my oldest daughter was awfully talented, and I couldn’t find a gym anywhere in the state that I liked. We were driving 2.5 hours to take her to cheer. In 2007, we re-opened, and today we have 16 teams ranging from Tiny Tots to an open Level 6 team.

As for my own cheer experience, I was on the very first all-star co-ed team in the state of Arkansas, the Cheer Central Braves. I cheered for six years.

 CP: How did the opportunity with TLC come about?

Alisha: My daughter used to do pageants, and they had been asking me for several years to do Toddlers and Tiaras. They wanted to show just the pageant life, but I told them, “Our life is truly cheer, so come into the gym for a few days.” They came in and saw what we had to offer. After T and T aired, we got great hits, and they said, “We want to do this cheer thing selling you guys.”

At the time, I was so busy running two businesses (Pageant Perfection Studios and Cheer Time Revolution), plus a family with three kids. I wasn’t sure what more I could take on my plate. But all of the kids had so much fun on Toddlers and Tiaras; they thought they were superstars. They had a blast! I talked with the parents and kids at the gym, and they said, “Give it a try.” I thought to myself, “I’m going to do this more for the kids than anything.” Since when does a little itty-bitty gym in Arkansas and these kinds of kids get an opportunity like this? So I went for it.

CP: What are the benefits and drawbacks of such large-scale exposure? Have you seen a demonstrable change in interest or prestige since the pilot aired in July?

Alisha: The show isn’t just about cheer—it’s about our lives and interactions. The gym is a “set” for us; it shows how we all work together and get our kids to this point. We have not had any drawbacks. I haven’t lost one kid. In fact, we have doubled in size. When the show aired in July, we went from having small teams to large teams. Our junior team now has 32 [athletes]; we’ve probably gained 60 kids total since the show aired. Our tumbling classes are full, and new kids are coming out of the woodwork wanting to be cheerleaders. It’s generated a ton of hits on our website and Facebook pages.

CP: What advice would you give to cheer professionals who have the opp to put their gym in the spotlight?

Alisha: Pray about it. Go with the flow. Reality shows are reality shows, and editors are editors. Just do what you do best, and hope for the best.

CP: Parental expectations are a big part of the show. How do you strike a balance between keeping parents satisfied and doing what’s best for your gym?

Alisha: We have to set a line. It has to be our way, and that applies to both parents and athletes. We’re always open to suggestions, but our staff as a whole decides on what’s best for the gym. We’re okay with the fact that we might not always be the best fit for all parents or how they want to see a program run. We still have to do what’s best for our gym.

CP: You co-own the gym with your husband RD—any advice on running a business with your spouse?

Alisha: Without the two of us, it wouldn’t work. We love to disagree, but we always have to meet in the middle. We are night and day: I’m very firm, and my coaching style is very different than his. I want to see the overall routine hit and overall athlete to excel. I want their skills to improve and advance quickly, whereas my husband wants to see perfection before progression.

[As a compromise], we start our routines early in June. We have a lot of kids, so it’s about muscle memory. My husband helps them learn the early stunts before we advance. This approach gives us more lead time to accommodate both of our coaching styles. By the end, our kids can do the whole routine backward and forward, with or without music. Then he comes back in before competition season to get the skills absolutely perfect.

CP: The show emphasizes a heavy focus on winning. What’s your philosophy as a coach?

Alisha: Winning is important, but it’s not always about actually winning the trophy. They’re winners if they hit what they’re supposed to hit and do their absolute best. And 99 percent of the time, when the kids give all their effort and execute like they should, they’re going to win. It goes hand-in-hand.

CP: Any response to criticisms that you’re too hard on the cheerleaders?

Alisha: That’s from the outside world. [On TV], I come across as a hard coach, but what they don’t see is that, behind closed doors, I am very rewarding. I expect my kids to be a certain way in practice and I will push them until they get the skill they want to learn. In return, they are rewarded for everything they do. If they go out and have an awesome performance, we have sleepovers and ice cream parties, so it makes them want to work and give 100 percent. It’s all about working toward the skills they want to achieve.

CP: How do you think reality shows about cheer can further the sport as a whole?

Alisha: If all the cheerleading shows can show a positive side of cheer, I think it will be great and can only pick up the numbers. The new show on CMT [“Cheer”] shows a very high-level of kids. My feeling is that maybe the newer kids watching will say, “I couldn’t ever do that,” but with our show, they’ll see that everyone starts form the bottom and has to learn Level One first, so they have a chance. It’s great to have a wide representation across the spectrum.

Can’t get enough Alisha Dunlap? Check out our new “Candid Coach” Q&A with the Cheer Perfection star!

A Day in the Life: Les Stella

A Day in the Life: Les Stella

Get a glimpse into the day-to-day life of USASF’s Les Stella (when he’s not on the road, that is).

5:00 am: Up and at ‘em! I usually start my day with prayer and quiet time, and then it’s off for a barefoot run.

7:00 am: Time for a breakfast—usually eggs and fruit, or sometimes a smoothie. We use a Vitamix blender for all types of great smoothies. We also try to eat breakfast as a family and can pull this off pretty often.

7:30 am: I bring my two sons to school and head into traffic for the 45-minute commute. This is another good time to listen to some podcasts on ministries. It keeps me from getting frustrated with other drivers (most of the time) and helps start the day on a good foot.

8:15 am: I usually start by preparing for the day. I know when I open up my emails that I usually get stuck there, so I review my calendar, meetings, video reviews and other important priorities for the day. My day can consist of everything from conference calls on scoring or rules, to Board or Committee meetings, to answering questions from lawyers or parents, to updating the rules website or handling any “drama” that may have occurred overnight! I try to also check the major social media outlets for any news that I should know about. THEN IT’S EMAIL TIME!!!

12:30 pm: Off to lunch. I try to get my mind out of “cheer” at this time and focus on coaching my boys at soccer, talk to my parents or just read local and national news websites. Then, back to work!

1:30 pm: More emails, meetings and conference calls. After lunch is when I usually do a calendar check to see if I need to book any upcoming flights, hotel rooms or rental cars.

5:00 pm: Traffic is a nightmare! I rush to pick up my boys from after school care, get changed, have a quick snack and run out the door to coach a soccer practice (soon to be football for my youngest son).

5:45 pm: I have learned to love coaching soccer. People always ask if I miss the coaching side of things. The answer is “ABSOLUTELY!” Now I get my coaching “fix” by coaching my sons. When you can train a group of individuals to lean on each other and trust one another to make a cohesive unit, the sky is the limit. I enjoy challenging them mentally and physically, and they are a great group of athletes. I usually get two to four rules phone calls while running practice (and games). I don’t mind as long as the cheer coach on the other end is patient while I call out instructions to my soccer athletes. My soccer parents think I’m a lunatic as I’m on the phone marking cheer stunts or watching stunt videos sent via text while coaching a game.

7:30 pm: This is my favorite time of day. We have a family dinner every night and take turns talking about the highlights of the day. We laugh, play and just enjoy our family time. If we have time after dinner, we may go for a family walk or bike ride. When my wife, Katie, travels to judge at cheer competitions, she is often asked about the latest USASF drama. People are always amazed that she has no idea what they are talking about. We never talk about cheerleading at home, especially in front of the boys. If my sons wanted to cheer, I would let them. However, I don’t want them to feel like they “have” to cheer because that’s what Mom and Dad are involved in all of the time.

9:00 pm: Time to put the boys to bed (if they have finished their homework) and relax with my wife for a bit before bed (and check emails one more time which usually gets me in trouble with Katie).

10:00 pm: Lights out! See you in the morning.

Owner’s Manual: Joshua Kennedy

Owner’s Manual: Joshua Kennedy

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

Vital Stats:

Name: Joshua Kennedy, founder, owner and coach

Gym: Intensity Cheer Elite

Location: Horseheads, New York

Size: Six cheer teams and three dance teams

Gym size: 16,500 square feet

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



Starting a Gym 101: Pricing Your Services

Starting a Gym 101: Pricing Your Services

Business experts and Gym Kix owners Carrie Harris and Stephanie Beveridge

Number seven on our list is pricing your services! Pricing your service (tuition) is extremely important. “How much is it?” is usually the first question a customer will ask and—while you don’t want them to gasp for air at your answer—you want to be profitable and competitive with your market.

Your tuition cannot out-price your target market, yet a profit for your company must be made in order to keep your lights on. There are several approaches to pricing; ours is just one version for making pricing decisions that take into account your costs, the effects of competition and the customer’s perception of value.


  • Cost is the total of the fixed and variable expenses (costs to you) to provide your service. (Rent, payroll, utilities, etc…)
  • Price is the selling price per unit (monthly, 6-week session, a year etc…) customers pay for your service.

Price has to be set higher than the cost in order to turn a profit. How the customer perceives the value of your service determines the maximum price customers will pay.

Perceived value is created by an established reputation, marketing messages and your facility’s environment/personality. What do parents want for their children? What do parents value? Students learn life lessons, goal setting, courage, the humbleness of defeat and the glory of winning, etc. Parents know that these traits are valuable to their children and will more likely pay for those skills in addition to their child learning a back handspring. How are you different and what does your gym do better than your competitor? This will play into perceived value as well because your customer will compare you to other gyms.

Use cost-based pricing along with value-based pricing to come up with a price that is fair to your customer and profitable for you!

-Carrie Harris & Stephanie Beveridge


Past posts:

Starting a Gym 101: Licenses, Permits & Insurance

Starting a Gym 101: All Things Legal

Starting a Gym 101: Making the Big Decisions

Starting a Gym 101: Writing a Business Plan

Starting a Gym 101: Legal Forms of Business Ownership

Starting a Gym 101 


And Now For a Word About Sponsorship

And Now For a Word About Sponsorship

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Carbs: Sorting Fat from Fiction

Carbs: Sorting Fat from Fiction

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


More Than Business

More Than Business

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

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

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

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

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

Setting Boundaries

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

GTM Sportswear Spotlight: Les Stella

GTM Sportswear Spotlight: Les Stella

Ahh, the holidays—the perfect time to get away from work and relax, right? Not the case for Les Stella. From Easter to Christmas Eve to Thanksgiving, no day is too sacred for the hundreds of coaches worldwide who call Stella day in and day out to clarify USASF rules. “The only day I haven’t gotten a call is Christmas,” shares Stella. “Calls come in at all hours, since we do this for the world, not just the U.S. It’ll be the middle of the night, and I’ll get a call from Australia. It’s all over the map.”

Most would probably draw the line at giving out their personal cell phone numbers to an entire industry of cheer professionals, but Stella considers it all in a day’s work as USASF’s Executive Director of Rules. He keeps his iPad on him at all times for easy reference and to double-check for accuracy.

“My role is basically the keeper/enforcer of the rules,” says Stella, who is currently developing a database that will make it much easier to reference rules and their interpretations. “A lot of people assume that it’s the world according to Les Stella, but I’m just a part of the committee. However, at the end of the day, there has to be a ‘bottom line’ person—and that’s me.”

So how did Stella amass such an encyclopedic knowledge of all-star cheerleading and its intricacies? Attribute his passion and penchant for cheer to 30 years spent in the sport. Stella first started cheering in 1983 as a De La Salle High School student in New Orleans after his karate troupe was approached by a group of cheerleaders: “I was outside with a few buddies working on our [karate] form, when three attractive females came up to us and said, ‘You have really sharp motions—want to try a stunt?’ I was hooked ever since.”

After high school, Stella went on to cheer for three different colleges and become a UCA camp instructor. From there, his cheer career included coaching positions at Germantown High School and The Ultimate Cheer School (TUCS), as well as at a large gymnastics gym in Georgia. While taking his teams to competition, Stella was keenly aware of the fact that routines had to be altered constantly to fit the rules for each different event. This observation caused a light bulb moment for him in 2003: what if there was a governing body that could help regulate and create more consistency?

Stella quickly set up a meeting, asking for two hours of Bill Seely’s time and two hours of Jeff Webb’s time. “All the years I’d worked for UCA, I’d never asked for a favor, so I called one in,” he remembers. “[They said], ‘The good news is: you have great ideas and we like everything you have to say. The bad news is we just started a governing body. The ham sandwich is that we want to make an offer to you to move to Memphis and help start the USASF.’”

Les Stella with Morton Bergue, Elaine Pascale and Dan Kessler at NACCC

In his decade with the USASF, Stella has become one of its most recognizable faces and figures. He is known as the “Rules Guy,” running the committee and traveling to regional meetings to train safety judges on interpreting the rules. Though his job can often be tension-filled and stressful, Stella says he understands when coaches hotly debate a penalty. “When I was a coach, I needed someone to turn to for answers, so I can have empathy for coaches in those situations,” says Stella. “I don’t take it personally—they’re just defending their business, their kids, the way they pay their mortgage.”

That isn’t the only way Stella supports other cheer professionals. He soon plans to revive the “Les Stella Coaches’ Challenge,” a motivational Facebook group dedicated to fitness, and “Good for Cheer,” an initiative Stella is spearheading to create more media awareness around the positive side of cheerleading. “I get so sick and tired of mainstream media only talking about cheerleading when something bad happens,” shares Stella. “I’m collecting stories that provide a counterpoint to those negative ones.”

It’s all part of a deep passion for cheer that drives Stella every single day. “I’ve seen what cheer does for kids—thousands and thousands who come out of their shells and develop skills that follow them for life,” he says. “It’s such a cliché, but that’s what I truly believe.”

Game Changers: Maximum Cheer

Game Changers: Maximum Cheer

In an industry driven largely by dollars, Maximum Cheer owners Pat McGowan and Cookie Jamison McGowan walk the talk of truly making it “all about the kids.” Their program is entirely non-profit, yet has managed to become a formidable competition presence—creating not just a unique success story, but also valuable opportunities for athletes who might not otherwise be able to benefit from all-star cheerleading.

Open to all kids, Maximum Cheer began simply back in 1995. “We started with five flat mats at the Philadelphia Boys & Girls Club,” says Jamison McGowan, adding that it was one of the first all-star programs in the state.

Today the program operates out of the Power and Grace tumbling facility in Quakertown, Penn., where they can take full advantage of the spring floor and other tumbling equipment; they rent the space for three days per week. Neither of the McGowans nor their nine coaches take a salary—rather, they put all the money paid by those athletes who can afford it back into their program, which they keep at about 75 athletes annually. Athletes hail from 12 different school districts and range in age from three to 32 years old.

Thanks to its non-profit status, Maximum Cheer is not beholden to the traditional limits of a for-profit business. For example, the McGowans have a strict policy against bullying and don’t allow parents in the gym during practices. Athletes or parents who violate these policies are released from the team. They also subscribe to the idea of attraction versus promotion—they don’t advertise, yet their program is consistently full and very strong. “We are not a ‘yes’ gym,” says McGowan. “People stay because they really like the system.”

Each year, Maximum Cheer competes at an array of events, including Americheer, InterNationals, JAM!Live and U.S. Finals; last year, its Level 4 team took five grand championships and five division championships. Viewing the experience as a means of building teamwork and character, the McGowans insist that all athletes travel together by bus, instead of individually with parents. (“The kids sit together and bond, which shows during competition,” explains Jamison McGowan.) Maximum Cheer athletes are also taught to root on every team at competition—regardless of ranking or reputation. “Trophies are nice, but good sportsmanship is far more important,” says McGowan.

Service and personal achievement are also emphasized. Maximum Cheer athletes need to maintain a 3.0 grade point average to stay active and must complete two community service projects annually. (Past philanthropic projects have included a Giving Tree, Stockings for Kids and Alex’s Lemonade Stand, among others.) Athletes have also established a peer-tutoring program where they help one another with schoolwork. “We teach the kids the ‘three R’s:’ respect for others, respect for self and responsibility for your actions,” says Jamison McGowan. Adds McGowan, “We attract a different, no-drama breed.”

Of course, keeping Maximum Cheer afloat requires no small amount of sacrifice. Both McGowans are employed full-time in other jobs (McGowan as a computer engineer, Jamison McGowan working with autistic students), and outfitting Maximum Cheer with the proper resources can be a time-consuming endeavor. “Our greatest challenge is finding corporate sponsorship so that all kids can continue to share in our program—with the economy in its current state, businesses are not as eager to give,” shares Jamison McGowan.

But to the McGowans, the end result is worth it. They continue to run Maximum Cheer both for the love of the sport and for what it does for kids’ personal development. 18 years later, their original mission still holds true: to serve all kids—regardless of financial means—and to keep it both fun and positive. Says Jamison McGowan, “Being non-profit and having a volunteer staff has allowed us to reach families from all walks of life.”

-Jenn Kennedy

Recruiting: Shades of Grey

Recruiting: Shades of Grey

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-Janet Jay

Candid Coach: Karrie Tumelson

Candid Coach: Karrie Tumelson

After nearly a decade running the all-star program at St. Peters, MO-based Spirit Elite, Karrie Tumelson is on to a new adventure doing choreography, camps and clinics—with plans to eventually open her own gym. Nominated by The JAM Brands as “Coach of the Year” in 2010 and USASF certified through Level 5, Tumelson has learned a lot in the trenches about inspiring athletes to achieve their best. For our “Athletes” issue, we asked Tumelson to share her hard-earned secrets for coaching success:


What are some coaching flubs you’ve made throughout the years, and how did you learn from them?

Tumelson: [I’ve learned that] skipping steps in the foundation of skills to progress is definitely not a good idea. In stunting, it’s important to make sure kids have solid foundational Level 1 skills before moving on to Level 2 skills. You might have kids that come [onto] a Level 2 team, and you may just start working at the beginning of that season on Level 2 skills instead of going back and reinforcing the foundation of a level lower. Over time, I’ve learned to take time in the summer to reinforce those skills rather than jumping right in.

Do you often encounter parents who think their child should be on a different level team? How do you handle that?

Tumelson: Education is key in getting parents and athletes to understand proper progressions, as well as the different levels and how the scoresheet works. It’s also important to build strong relationships with parents so that they trust your opinion. We’ve had people leave because they wanted to be on a different level, but you have to be consistent and do what you believe is right. A lot of times, they go to another gym and, in time, the concerns I had come to fruition. When you put a young one on a senior team, they’re often burnt out in two years—they’ve already done all there is to do.

What are the issues you most often encounter around athletes?

Tumelson: The biggest obstacle is getting athletes to understand the nature of a team sport and accept all teammates for who they are and tap into everyone’s strengths. Obviously there will be personality clashes on every team, but a team who can’t see the bigger picture will struggle. A team that gets along can do great things.

One of your athletes at Spirit Elite, Janie Pascoe, dedicated the winnings from her America’s Best “Athlete of the Year” award to Sandy Hook Families. How do you encourage athletes to give back?

Tumelson: We always talk about providing for the less fortunate, and every holiday season we adopt a family to provide for kids that are less fortunate [than] they are. We do a lot of volunteer work; we’ve always done the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure every year as a gym. We’ve also done food drives. I think a lot of it, too, is just awareness. Cheerleading is a very expensive sport, and not every child can afford it. So we continually remind them of being appreciative of what they do have, and remind them of those children that don’t have these opportunities because of financial stabilities or whatever the reason may be. [We] try to expose them to that so they do appreciate what they have more, and it also encourages them to get involved and give back.

-Mandi Hefflinger

Emergency R/x: Handling Medical Issues in the Gym

Emergency R/x: Handling Medical Issues in the Gym

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-Dinsa Sachan

Journaling: More Than Words?

Journaling: More Than Words?

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

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

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

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

Roisin McGettigan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-Phyllis Hanlon


A Long & Winding Road for LGBT

A Long & Winding Road for LGBT

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

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

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

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

One Step Forward, One Step Back

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

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

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

That Was Then

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

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

This Is Now

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rules of Engagement

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

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

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

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

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

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

-Jamie Beckman


Spotlight: Cheer Athletics

Spotlight: Cheer Athletics

The co-founders of Cheer Athletics eye the wide expanse of blue mat and white-and-blue Panthers in front of them as the speakers thunder the lyrics, “We don’t know how to fail—Small, Medium, or Large, we’re tougher than nails and we’re gonna leave the other cats chasing their tails.” The lyrics are no empty boast: Cheer Athletics is arguably one of the most successful all-star programs in the nation. To date, the program boasts 33 Worlds medals (14 more than the next winningest team) and more Worlds championship titles than any other program—not to mention a long list of resident “cheerlebrities” and illustrious alumni (such as Justin Carrier and Matt Parkey).

Things used to be different. When Jody Melton and Angela Rogers formed Cheer Athletics in North Dallas almost 20 years ago, they were just a couple of coaches with just a few kids practicing on the greenish-brown grass of a city park. Then the kids told their friends, and their friends told their friends—and a powerhouse was in the making. Cheer Athletics took home its first national title in the NCA Open Division in 1995, and the program more than tripled in growth the following season. (Co-owner Brad Habermel joined the fold in 1996.) The “hugs and high-fives” reinforcement and family atmosphere—along with high standards and high ambitions—also helped to attract greater numbers of motivated athletes from the Dallas area and beyond to their gym home in Plano.

“We didn’t have a formal mission statement, but we knew we wanted a team that would be the biggest and the best,” says Rogers of their initial approach. “As we grew, we learned it’s not just about being a great athlete—it’s about being great people. We obviously want to win, but that’s not the ultimate goal. It’s about growing and teaching our athletes to be respectful of themselves, their teammates and other people.”

For years, the partners have toyed with the idea of expanding, and this year, things have fallen into place: Cheer Athletics is opening a second gym, this time in the heart of Austin, TX. (A former CA Wildcat happens to own the 11,750 sq. ft. gym.) Though Austin doesn’t have the same concentration of cheer gyms as other big cities in Texas, Cheer Athletics Austin co-director Gerald Ladner said that he was looking forward to changing the perception of cheer in the Austin area.

He’ll have plenty of opportunities: so far, the reception has been staggering.  CA Austin—”CLAWstin” to those in the know (or at least the Twitterverse)—went from nonexistent to the biggest gym in town overnight. “We’d been assuming we would start off small, but turnout has been beyond our wildest expectations,” says Melton. On the first day signup for classes were offered, they filled up in three hours, and in its first year, the gym will have seven teams competing.

Amid large-scale changes and growth in all-star cheer over the past two decades, Cheer Athletics has remained one of the industry’s most notable programs. A big part of that success can be attributed to the behind-the-scenes balance: Habermel runs the all-star program, Rogers handles most of the financial duties and oversees retail, and Melton manages the technology and communication side.

“I think all three of us are fortunate that we really complement each other; like the [cheerleaders], we each have individual skills, but I feel like one of us is really strong at nearly every aspect of business, so we’ve always had our bases covered,” says Melton. “We work together but we’re not the same. We all have different strengths and interests and I think that’s led to a really healthy partnership.”

Between the two locations, CA now has 35 all-star teams (28 in Plano and 7 in Austin), and their growth and triumphs don’t look to be stopping anytime soon. So how do those cats stay on the top of their game?

“One little piece of advice: don’t rush to make it easier, make yourself better,” reflected Rogers. “A lot of times it’s very easy, especially in a competitive sport, to look to other variables as to why something might not be successful, when really we should look to ourselves and what our teams are doing.” And with all eyes on Cheer Athletics, she certainly won’t be the only one laser-focused on what Cheer Athletics’ teams will accomplish this year.

-Janet Jay