CheerProfessional tapped four of the industry’s cheer leaders for a spirited panel discussion on our industry and its future. Following part one, read part two of our interview:
Safety is obviously a hot-button topic in the industry. What do you think will be the impact of the American Academy of Pediatrics report and all of the media attention on safety?
Kessler: Safety and kids’ health is more important than it’s ever been. Five years ago, we never talked about concussions in football—the awareness is much higher. And, as the sport of cheerleading grows, the more kids doing it, the more possibility for injury. Unfortunately, the Pediatrics report include all types of “cheer”—from rec and school to all-star cheer—so until we can define a clear separation between these types of cheer, there will always be that comparison. Going forward, our gym owners have to be [focused on] safety first, using proper progression and keeping kids to the proper level. Event producers rely on the coaches and owners to only put skills on the floor that the athletes can safely execute. The more we make our coaches smarter and more aware of safety issues, the better our industry will be.
Puckett: For the sport’s longevity, I think we have to keep a balance of good safety and good coaching. Some of the current [rule] changes were very necessary to keep the sport safe. In all honesty, if we push the limit too far and increase catastrophic injuries, it will destroy the sport. I’d like to see credentialing taken a step further and made mandatory to more levels.
Newby: [There are] a lot of gyms doing it the right way—take those examples and have certified tumbling instructors. Education and training progressions and proper technique are paramount to the long-term success of our industry. That’s one of the areas of focus in the near future that we need to ramp up and continue to make the sport safer. The more we talk about ways to increase safety measures, the better off the sport will be in all aspects and disciplines.
There’s a lot of talk about cheerleading becoming a sport and even entering the Olympics. What are your predictions on that front?
Kessler: All-star gym owners need to be educated on the pros or advantages to being an Olympic sport and how it will help their business or create more cheerleaders. Will it change what they do in their four walls? A lot of these questions are not being asked of our all-star market, but are being told to our all-star market. The all-star market should demand more input into the growth of cheerleading, both nationally and internationally. Until we have these answers, there is no way to predict if this would be a good or bad thing for our industry.
Fettig: I think it’s a long way off. More countries are getting involved, but I don’t know that they’re at the level of competitiveness that the United States is. To me, there is a lot of work to be done before it’s an interesting enough sport to be attractive to the Olympics. They need to know that the U.S. won’t go out there and dominate every time.
Newby: I think it is an exciting thought, but probably years away from being seriously considered. International development of the sport is crucial and will make a difference of how quickly, if ever, this sport will be considered for Olympic competition. Time will tell.
How can our industry thrive in the future?
Puckett: Coaches are concerned that our routines are so jam-packed that [the sport is] becoming totally skill-based—taking the fun and flash out of routines. I think we might take a turn back toward adding the flair, either by adding time to the routine or cutting back the skills. That will be a tough transition, but it’s possible. Also, I think the types of events will keep evolving with new, fresh ideas like Jam LIVE! and Varsity’s Gameday Championship. It’s important to keep it exciting for kids and parents and keep people wanting more.
Fettig: Gyms are going to need to figure out how to make their programs attractive to more children so they can stay alive. I believe in 10 years, the industry will look different on the gym side. Larger gyms have grown over the last several years because of other small gyms closing. It’s become difficult for gyms to start up and be competitive against very large gyms of 500-600 kids. There will be a big dichotomy between a 700-kid program and 150-kid program. In 10 years, you’ll see a big spread between large and small gyms and not a lot of in-between if people don’t start trying to figure out how to get more kids in their door each and every year. That means focusing on younger, less skilled kids and getting them interested in the sport. I get that Level 4 and 5 is exciting to coach and watch, but you have to get more kids in at Level 1 and Prep in order to keep the sport going.
Kessler: All Star Prep. These divisions are about embracing the simplicity and the fun that got our sport growing to begin with. It’s not the you-have-to-get-your-back-tuck-NOW mentality—it’s more about making it fun, making it exciting and making the kids love what they do. It offers the same athletic appeal but with less commitment and the same performance aspect. That’s kind of what all-stars was at the beginning in the purest sense.
Our industry and the future of all-star cheerleading and dance can thrive if it is a positively regulated sport that is safe, exciting, accessible and competitive for the kids that participate. The kids have to have FUN! The environment must be safe, and the whole purpose of creating an all-star team of any type is to be competitive. In addition, the sport has to be both affordable and wholesome so as to assist parents in raising strong, healthy kids. We have to offer the same (or better) benefits than any other sport out there so that kids and their parents make all-star cheer and dance their sport choice.