les stella

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.


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.

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.”