Sports teams thrive on the enthusiasm of their fans in the stands. You know just how powerful home field advantage can be in sports. This refers to the phenomenon of how teams generally do better when they're in their own field, surrounded by their own fans. (However, some evidence suggests that this has more to do with discouraging the visiting team than encouraging the home team -- but whatever works, right?) Cheerleaders play a pivotal part in keeping the fans excited and supportive, and it's developed into a competitive sport in its own right.
Youth cheerleading is a great way to get kids involved in a physical group activity. Whether or not kids stay involved with the sport through high school or college, they still benefit from the exercise, discipline and social activities. And just as cheerleaders lead crowds, the coach has responsibility for leading the cheer squad, ensuring activities are safe, productive and fun.
Coaching a Pop Warner cheer team is one way to help these kids benefit from the activities. Pop Warner Little Scholars, Inc., is the nation's largest and oldest youth football and cheerleading organization. It allows kids age 5 to 16 the opportunity to take part in cheering on the sidelines and competing in national championships.
However, coaching can be harder than it looks. If you're charged with the task of coaching a Pop Warner cheer team, you'll want to take heed of some tips first.
A coach's first and foremost responsibility is to the safety of the cheer squad. Performing stunts can be dangerous if you don't take precautions.
It's a good idea to attain a Red Cross Certificate in Community CPR and First Aid. Pop Warner requires that a coach have this or its equivalent if there aren't any other medically trained adults present.
Some other things you can do as a coach include ensuring proper warm-up, stretching and cool down on days of practices and competitions. Make sure the area is clear of hazards and that no one is wearing baggy, untucked clothes or long hair that hasn't been put up. Don't work the cheer team in severely hot or cold conditions.
You should also make sure to use mats during practices. While your cheerleaders are learning their stunts, there are bound to be a few falls and tumbles. Hopefully, they'll perfect their routines by the time the cheerleaders are cheering on hard ground on the sidelines of a game. And that's a good reason why you'll definitely want to finish perfecting the routines in practice, which leads us to our next tip.
What's perhaps most challenging about coaching youth cheerleading is keeping your practice time focused and productive. Young girls especially love to chat and laugh with each other. But remember that they're there to learn and benefit from organized activity. And, more importantly, remember that parents are spending money so their children can learn cooperation and discipline from cheerleading.
A little chatting is fine, of course, and actually helps teams bond, which is important in performance, but don't let it soak up too much time. The first practice can include an icebreaker game to learn each other's names and help break up pre-existing cliques. You can also organize other activities outside of practice -- like putt-putt or bowling -- to boost team spirit.
To help ensure practices stay productive, manage time by writing a schedule to stick to. A two-hour practice, for instance, may include 15-minute segments of the following: warm-up and stretching, jump skills, pyramid practice, stunt practice, dance, running the routine, and finally cooldown.
And to make sure the squad is making progress in each practice, make realistic goals and write down a weekly schedule that helps the team work toward those goals.
Pop Warner requires that each cheerleading coach get trained in one of the organization's coaching clinics. Here, the trainers will go over pointers on planning, conditioning and equipment. And, of course, the clinic will also cover methods for instruction of techniques, including stunts and pyramids.
Paperwork may not be the most fun part of a cheerleading coach's job, but it's certainly essential. Pop Warner has several forms and sheets that a coach has to stay on top of.
Primarily, coaches need to make sure the cheer team members are registered and certified to be on the squad roster. This will mean securing a form of parental permission and a form from a doctor's office verifying a recent physical exam. You'll also need proof of age and a photo ID, as well as a valid report card verifying that the participant is maintaining a 2.0 or 70 percent average in school.
Finally, a coach needs to complete a background check to qualify to be a coach under Pop Warner's guidelines.
As a cheerleading coach, parents can be your most helpful friends or your worst enemies. If you're able to establish good relationships with the parents, they might be able to help with the team -- anything from organizing fund-raising activities to providing water and snacks for competitions is valuable.
However, parents can have their own ideas about coaching and might not approve of your methods. If you don't try to address the problem of a grumpy parent, it might fester and just get worse. Experienced coach and author Leslie Wilson has dealt with her fair share of unhappy parents and has a few suggestions. She says that, as a coach, you should simply stay confident in the face of complaints and remind the parent that you're qualified and designated to make the decisions for the team [source: Wilson]. She maintains that this should help the parent to respect your confidence.
You can avoid problems by starting things off right. At a parents meeting before the season begins, inform parents of your goals and rules for the kids, as well as safety precautions (and unavoidable risks involved). Keep communicating with the parents throughout the season with updates or even follow-up meetings.
For more advice on parents, including overprotective and competitive parents, take a look at "How to Handle Parents While Coaching."
Coaching for a Pop Warner cheer team means that there's a chance of getting your team into national championships. As exciting as this is for you and your team members, it can be easy to get overly competitive. However, at young age levels, it's especially important to keep everything in perspective and not push kids too much.
Many psychologists believe that it's unhealthy for a child's life to be dominated by extracurricular activities. Although the parents and coaches who want them to achieve have good intentions, some say children miss out on developing strong family relationships and self-awareness when sports become their life [source: Elkins].
So, to help the participants to get the best out of their cheerleading experience, try to strike a balance between competition and just having fun. If they have fond memories of their time on the squad, they might pursue cheerleading in progressively more competitive leagues after their Pop Warner days are over.
This parent's guide to coaching Pop Warner football explains it all. Visit TLC Family to find a parent's guide to coaching Pop Warner football.
- Elkins, David. "Are We Pushing Our Kids Too Hard?" Psychology Today. Jan. 1, 2003. (Oct. 15, 2010)http://www.psychologytoday.com/articles/200303/are-we-pushing-our-kids-too-hard
- Moroski, Lisa. National Cheer & Dance Commissioner. Personal Correspondence. Oct. 15, 2010.
- Pop Warner Little Scholars, Inc. Official Website. (Oct. 15, 2010)http://www.popwarner.com/pop.asp
- Russel, Gordon W. "Sport Science Secrets: From Myth to Facts." Trafford Publishing, 2001. (Oct. 15, 2010)http://books.google.com/books?id=Ln9Je1myIgcC
- Scholl, Trevor. Recruiting and Marketing Coordinator for Pop Warner Little Scholars, Inc. Personal Correspondence. Oct. 15, 2010.
- Wilson, Leslie. "The Ultimate Guide to Cheerleading." Random House, Inc., 2003.