by Amber Neal
As athletes and coaches, we know how tiring practice can be. We also know that practice is the most crucial part of cheerleading! Whether it’s preparing for a big rivalry game, nerve-racking competition, or anything in between – practice is a MUST!
But how do we make it enjoyable? This is the question that typically haunts coaches through their entire career. When you have a big pep rally coming up and you have to hit that awesome new pyramid in front of the entire school. When you have regionals coming up and you have to hit a flawless routine to make it on to state. Even when you have new skills you would like to perfect before camp. Stressful situations can cause tension within your team, dull the mood of practice, and potentially ruin your athlete’s love for cheerleading!
So, how do we keep our cool when it seems like the weight of the cheerleading world is on our shoulders? We add a few things into practice to spice it up and keep it fun.
1. Themed Practices – An oldie but goodie. When that stunt keeps falling, tumbling keeps busting, and your athletes can’t remember the first motion of the dance, you can take a break and get a team picture. Silly pictures always cheer everyone up. Keep the themes fun and unique! Themes such as school colors isn’t exactly going to “pump up the spirit”. Try to think of fun, creative themes that will really motivate the athletes to come to practice and participate. Something unique like Going to Battle theme is always a great one. Put blackout under the athletes’ eyes, and suddenly they feels like they can take the cheer world by storm.
2. Keep the Music Going – Playing music during breaks, stretching, and conditioning is one way to keep the athletes pumped up during the ruts of practice. Turn on a catchy, upbeat song, and let the Christina Aguilera of the team belt out a few bars. Your whole team will be singing and dancing along in no time, getting that energy up!
3. Fun Conditioning – What, conditioning and fun in the same sentence? Oh yes, two words – relay races. This turns into conditioning, fun, and team bonding all at the same time! You can do bear crawls down the mat and then sprint back, a competition between levels/grades to see who can be the workout winners. There are so many fun combinations that are going to make your athletes work up a sweat, while trying to hold back laughter.
4. Competitions – Who doesn’t love a friendly competition every once in a while? Quick competitions like: handstand holding competitions, who can hold a hang drill the longest, or even stunt-offs could lighten up the moods of a tough, long practice. In the long run, this will not only aid in lifting the athletes’ spirits, but also strengthen the team and teach them to use good technique.
5. Huddles – Have your athletes come up with something to pump them up as a team. Even if it’s coming up with a silly acronym to spell out before they take the floor. Promote anything that will keep spirits high and pump them up when they are in a slump. Every team has that one leader who always gives a smile or silly remark when a practice isn’t going as well as everyone had hoped. Let them get the team in a huddle and say a few funny and encouraging words to help prepare them for the next routine. When your athletes are pumped up, their routine will look 10x better!
6. Take Breaks – Oh no, we only have 2 weeks until the biggest game of the season, we don’t have time for breaks! I promise, you do. Plan breaks into your schedule. Giving the athletes a chance to unwind and gossip with their teammates, and a moment to take a nice big bite out of that granola bar will give them extra energy for that next full out routine. Happy, not hungry, and hydrated athletes are going to enjoy practice a whole lot more than the rest.
7. Give them Options – Everyone is willing to work a little bit harder when they have the opportunity to help decide what they’re working on, so give the athletes options. Let’s say right now, your cheer could be louder, you don’t have a majority of the tumbling skills you need to get into that next scoring range, and the dance looks more like a free-for-all than a choreographed ensemble; let the athletes choose what they work on first. Chances are, you are going to get a lot more effort out of them when they chose it, instead of you being the “mean coach” and making them work on their least favorite part of the routine.
Take these ideas, run with them, turn them into your own and see your practices go from being a burden on your athletes to an exhilarating activity that your team enjoys.