By: Pamela Headridge, Oak Harbor High School, Oak Harbor, Washington
Cheerleaders are multifaceted athletes. They need to stunt, jump, cheer, tumble, make posters, encourage the teams, lead the crowd, generate school-wide spirit and pride, and perform community service. This is quite an undertaking for them. Cheerleading is very demanding because it is a combination of leadership activities and athletic skills. It’s no wonder that cheerleaders sometimes get overwhelmed with all the responsibilities causing morale to drop. Maintaining a team’s enthusiasm should be one of the coach’s top priorities. How, you ask? Before answering that, first, take a hard look at your program. Ask yourself the following questions
- Do you have a demerit system to maintain discipline?
- At games or at a practices, do you correct what the cheerleaders do wrong?
- Do you feel you spend more time disciplining cheerleaders then anything else?
- Do you expend most of your energy on the “problem” cheerleaders versus the rest of the squad?
- If a cheerleader does things right, what do you do?
Often coaches concentrate on what the cheerleaders do wrong and spend little time on reinforcing the positive accomplishments. Now you are probably saying to yourself, that is my job .... to teach the cheerleaders how to do things correctly. Yes, you are right but..... It takes a special person to be a cheerleader and as the coach you must reinforce that concept of importance. They are the primary motivators of the school and you must be their motivator to sustain that enthusiasm.
How do you teach, inspire, motivate and develop well-rounded cheerleaders with positive attitudes???? You, as the coach, need to focus your attention on what you WANT not on what you do not want.
- Concentrate on the good things that the cheerleaders do.
- Reward them individually and as a team every day.
- Redirect a negative behavior versus reprimanding the negative behavior. Immediately compliment any change that leads to a positive behavior.
- Praise progress.
- Sandwich a change that you want with 2 positive statements.
- Concentrate on the cheerleaders that do the necessary work and training versus focusing on the ones that mess up.
- Make your cheerleaders feel as though they are the most important people you know.
- Expect a lot and you will get a lot. They will rise to the challenge.
You are thinking; sounds good in theory but how do you apply these concepts to cheerleading?
- Have a tangible reward to give. It does not have to be big or expensive. It is a symbol that shows them
(1) that you recognize what they’ve done
(2) that they are important
In return, you reinforced the positive behavior.
Examples are paper hand cut outs - “High 5s” for a job well done or “Above and Beyond” notes.
- Start every practice with what they have done right, be it at last night’s game or the last practice they had. Be careful not to say “You did great last night but you need to not talk so much while in your chant lines”. They will only remember “don’t talk in chant lines”.
- Have a Wall of Fame and highlight the cheerleaders who master certain skills within preset guidelines
- Make a web site about your cheerleaders.
- If you have a web site, feature a “Cheerleader of the Week”. I have the girls select a person each week.
- Practice outside in front of the school so others can see how hard they work
- Send articles and photos to local and school newspapers about your squad.
- Set a rule “You only can complain if you have a solution to the problem”.
- Make special treats with sayings attached to them.
- Show them the correlation between the values they are learning from the work they are doing.
Now you are thinking, how do I change a negative behavior?
- Redirect the behavior.
- Praise the new behavior as soon as possible
Example - a cheerleader is always talking while in chant lines at a game. Tell the cheerleader that you know she has lots of energy and sometimes that causes her to get a little chatty during the game. Ask her to focus that energy shouting encouragements to the team. Finish your statement by confirming your confidence in her ability. Next, “catch” her, as soon as you can, doing what you ask her and reconfirm that is what you wanted!
We ask our cheerleaders to conduct themselves responsibly by showing respect, courtesy, kindness, encouragement, humility, good sportsmanship and a positive attitude. You are their role model. If you want them to be encouraging and positive, as their coach, you need to demonstrate these same behaviors towards them.
As said by Bruce Brown
“The power of messages often comes in a few well-chosen words. Words initiate thoughts. Thoughts provide motivation. Motivation produces action. A few words can speak volumes. Words coming from the right person at the right moment, can go directly to the heart”.