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

The 411 on Credentialing: 5 Things You Need to Know

The 411 on Credentialing: 5 Things You Need to Know

The road to coaching all-star teams involves a regulated process. Before anyone can coach all-stars, they must be credentialed through USASF.

How it works: The current credentialing process focuses on three subjects: tumbling, tosses and stunts. To be certified, all first-time coaches must complete a written test, a practical field experience form and a hands-on test that Amy Clark, USASF’s national director of membership, describes as a “one-on-one kind of verbal assessment of the coach’s ability to teach skills.”

Three years after receiving credentials, coaches must be re-credentialed—a process that consists of a different written test and another verbal assessment focusing more on safety, progression and troubleshooting. “The verbal test tells us much more about a coach then the written test,” Clark says. “When you ask probing questions, it really examines their coaching to the core.”

How it started: The USASF was actually created to help provide structure to the certification process. “For all intents and purposes, most people say the all-star industry started around 1986 or 1987—very small, regionally,” Clark says. “It started to grow nationwide in the early 90s. [At the time], it was a developing sport that had no governance. It had no guidelines and no certification or credentialing specifically for all-star. So when we started 10 years ago, our goal was to create this umbrella of an organization that could actually get everybody credentialed and get the stamp of approval on people that basically possess life experience.”

What it costs: The process currently costs around $15 per category and level for first-time coaches and $35 for those being re-credentialed. For coaches that work at gyms that are not members of the USASF, they must also pay a $40 annual membership fee.

Why it matters: The goal of the credentialing process is to help ensure the safety of the athletes. “It basically is the assurance to their customers that they possess the skill and knowledge to be working with their children,” Clark says. “The only place that is currently required to have credentials are those coaches of Level 5 or Level 6 teams, and they’re going to take their teams to Worlds.”

Where we’re headed: The USASF credentialing process is expected to change in the summer of 2014. Coaches will face required instruction, more comprehensive classes and more resources including online training videos, according to Clark. Credentialing will take place primarily at summer regional meetings.

“There are new gyms starting where people have little experience, and there are new coaches coming in that were athletes and not coaches and don’t have the coaching experience,” Clark says. “That’s why we have this need to change.”

Debbie Love, who assists with the University of Louisville’s cheerleading program, wants to see even more stringent requirements. “I feel that there needs to be required hands-on training for tumbling instructors, and that coaches should have required injury prevention training either online or in person,” says Love who is also a tumbling expert. “We are taught to spend a good deal of time with each person we credential, so it is a very thorough process.”

Love says other safety courses should also be a requirement for coaches. “I also feel AACCA should be required by all,” Love says. “It is a great general safety course. I don’t feel you can have too much education. The minute we stop learning, we fail.”