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Web Exclusive: The Parent Trap

Web Exclusive: The Parent Trap

You’re a passionate coach and cheer business owner. You work hard to train your athletes and place each one on the best team for his or her ability and the team’s needs. It’s natural to assume everyone will recognize your expertise and respect your decisions.

Unfortunately, there’s always someone who doesn’t see it that way. That someone is usually a parent—a stage mom or stage dad—who seems to want more spotlight shining on their little Ashley. Or perhaps they just don’t understand how progression through the skill levels works. Either way, a parent is second-guessing your decisions. Their tactics can range from gentle suggestions to accusations of favoritism or racism. If you don’t do what they want, some may threaten to quit—and take as many others with them as they can.

Scott Foster, owner of Rockstar Cheer Gym in Greenville, South Carolina, is all too familiar with this conflict. “I have the same things over and over, every year,” he says. “Usually parents want [their children] to move to a different level than the team they’re on. They have a hard time accepting that even if an athlete has Level 4 tumbling skills, they shouldn’t necessarily be on a Level 4 team. There’s more to cheer than tumbling.”

As an example, Foster cites one particular athlete who came into the program with no tumbling experience and progressed to Level 4 tumbling within a year. “The athlete was still too small to be used in Level 4 stunts,” shares Foster. “When it came to flying, the athlete wasn’t experienced enough; since she couldn’t outfly the other athletes, she had to stay in Level 3.”

At Naugatuck, CT-based USA Wildcats, it’s the gym layout that sometimes leads to misunderstandings with parents. The waiting room is blocked off—leaving coach Amanda Daniels and her colleagues open to potentially unfounded criticism. “If something goes wrong on the floor, parents will ask why we were mean to their child or why we picked out their child on this [skill],” says Daniels. “A lot of it is overexaggerated because they’re not on the floor and don’t necessarily know what happened.”

Coaches aren’t the only ones who have to deal with parental drama. Other cheer parents are often acutely aware of conflict and other parents trying to influence gym decisions. “I think there is a disconnect sometimes,” says Nikki Delude, who runs the Cheer Parents Central website. As a parent and parent advocate, Delude sees it from both sides. “You need to understand that if a parent is being demanding, [it’s because] we are trusting you with our children,” she says. “Does that give every parent the right to scream and yell? No.”

As with most relationships, the primary key to managing parental expectations is communication. Lisa Kretschman, owner and coach of Whippany, NJ-based Cheer Pride All-Stars uses several avenues of communication from flyers to motivational texts to regular emails. “I send a major email every two weeks about fundraisers, how the kids are doing, and so on,” says Kretschman. “They know the lines of communication are open.”

To that end, Kretschman says it’s important that gym owners be willing to hold up their end of the bargain; communication must be ongoing and responsive: “If I get an email at 7 in the morning, I’m going to reply immediately. I make sure they know that if they have a problem I will respond. It is a business. You want to make sure that everyone is happy with the services we are providing.”

A big part of successful parent relations is making your program’s expectations crystal clear so that there is no room for interpretation. “We communicate very clearly what we expect from the parents and the kids,” says Kretschman. “We lay out what they can expect from us and make it clear that we’re not going to put athletes out on the floor before they’re ready—and that everyone will be treated fairly.”

Though emails and texts make it easy to keep contact flowing consistently, face-to-face communication is beneficial—especially in the face of conflict or misunderstandings. When problems arise at USA Wildcats, Daniels has a one-on-one conversation with the parent to squash the issue at the outset. “We do our best to make sure that the parent is aware of exactly what happened from step one to step 10,” says Daniels. “There has never been a point where a parent left our gym really upset and less understanding of what really went on. 100 percent of the time, the parent feels better after having a conversation with the coach.”

Group sessions are also effective, especially when it comes to relaying policies and procedures. Foster prefers to discuss levels and progression with large groups of parents. “If you have a parent that is a little more demanding, what better audience than to answer in front of everybody?” he says. “That way, you don’t have to answer it 200 times.”

Holding regular meetings and social gatherings can also play a role in keeping parental competitiveness—the root of many issues—at bay. By fostering a sense of community, gym owners can ensure that everyone feels valued and connected. “I try to really discourage people from comparing their kids to other kids. We try to make everyone feel important, whether they are at Level 1 or Level 4. That’s all part of making sure we don’t have any issues,” says Kretschman.

Over the course of a season, most parents and athletes will learn to trust you and your decisions. To get there, Delude feels there needs to be give and take between parents and coaches. When a coach has to justify her decisions to each of 25 parents, that takes a significant amount of time, and Delude encourages parents to be cognizant of that. “As parents, we need to give a little bit also,” she says. “You have to develop trust over time.”

If a parent is still not happy with your program or with all-star cheerleading in general, sometimes they may need to look elsewhere. It’s better to let one parent and child go than to make everyone unhappy; both sides should be open and honest about whether this is really a good fit.

The need to communicate and deal with parents is an important part of the cheer business that’s never going to go away. Most parents understand and are willing to let you do your job, but a few parents are more demanding. “Just embrace it,” says Foster. “You have to allocate time to educate them and make them understand. I just refuse to let it bring me down—you have to take the good with the bad.”

-Sally Herigstad

A Cheer Parent Muses: How Far Is Too Far?

A Cheer Parent Muses: How Far Is Too Far?

The right makeup can help a team stand out in a good way.

In the world of competitive cheer, dance and even pageants, the parents and kids are required to put on “stage makeup” and put on a uniform or costume that gives them an edge in the judge’s eyes. The gym owners and/or coaches are always looking for the next best thing in regards to makeup and uniforms that make the team look their very best. I watch “Toddlers and Tiaras” on TV and laugh at the crazy moms and the lengths they go through to make their daughter (sometimes son) perfect in the eyes of the judges. Hair extensions, facials, fake teeth (flippers), fake nails, tans, eyebrows waxed, and then on the day of the pageant, they spend hours making their little girls look older and all dolled up. We have all seen the pictures, we all know the stories, and usually we laugh and think it’s all crazy. However, to me, the world of cheer is becoming the same.

The right makeup can help a team stand out in a good way. It’s one thing to see the older girls with their hair all done perfect, all the bright red lipstick and glitter makeup in midriff-baring uniforms with the tan, but when did it change to having the same for the Tiny and Mini teams? When we first joined a competitive gym, our owner believed in doing “Dallas Curls” with natural-looking eye makeup and clear lip gloss and I loved it. When we moved, our 7-year-old’s new team required bright red lipstick. I affectionately called “Tijuana lips.” When we moved again, I was so looking forward to getting rid of the lipstick but soon found out that our new (and current) gym used the same lipstick color—and now we were going to add glitter eye shadow to the mix. Now my daughter was on a team with older girls and I get that she has to blend in and look the part. I do follow our gym’s policy and put all the makeup required on her and it looks great!

In the spirit of full disclosure, I will tell you that for the past six months, my 10-year-old has been getting her eyebrows waxed, not because I force her to do it but because she doesn’t like the whole uni-brow look. On competition day, our almost 3-year-old asks for makeup; I let her have a little mascara, some glitter and maybe some lippy. It is cute, I agree. But where do you draw the line? I don’t want my kids growing up too fast.

I love that our gym has our Tiny team wearing full length tops that keep them covered; after all, they are little girls who need to be covered. There is no reason to send them out and about trying to look like they are 16 and not 5. With the new rule about cheerleaders being required to put on a shirt or jacket over their crop top uniform when not performing, I thought we were moving in the right direction. Yeah, but that is not really happening or being enforced. At every competition we have been at, I am seeing the majority of the kids still walking around with just their uniform on and not covering up.

I understand the concept of having all the teams look the same, but we have to take a stand somewhere. Where do we draw the line? I will admit, the little girls all dolled up look cute, but it’s not cute when their butts are hanging out of their shorts because they are too short. I have heard that the reasoning behind the bright red lipstick is to “allow the judges to notice their facials”—okay, I get that. What is the reasoning behind the 4-6 year olds wearing crop top uniforms and/or shorts with their body parts exposed and the fake hair pieces? Have we gone too far in pushing our children to grow up too fast?

It’s a hard line to draw. I know my younger daughter wants to be exactly like her older sister. She even wears a sports bra and spanks to tumbling and is so happy when they match. Where do you draw the line? Or do you? Is it okay to allow young kids to dress like teenagers in the spirit of competition, under the assumption that it’s just for the stage? Do you have your child cover up when they aren’t performing? Do you allow the use of hairpieces, spray tans, etc. because you feel it gives your team or child an edge? How far is too far? In our world that is always pushing our children to be the best, will there ever be a line drawn in the sand that we shouldn’t cross?

This post was written by Kristen Roeder and originally appeared on our partner website Cheer Parents Central.