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.