by Lisa Aucoin, Spring CDT
Oh tryout season! That magical time of year where every athlete seems to be gaining new skills, gym owners seem a little more on edge and parents are wracked with stress hoping “little precious” makes her dream team for the upcoming season. It’s at this time of the year that I probably love my job most. No stress, no tough decisions, no heartbreaking conversations. That having been said, it is the time of year where we do field questions from parents (some thoughtful, others within inches of sanity) and always end up comforting poor gym owners/coaches who are left feeling attacked, pressured or let down by the tryout process despite their best efforts. As you head into tryouts for the 2018/19 season I thought I’d share some of my best advice on setting realistic expectations, truly gaging the level of your athlete, preparing for tryouts, when cross-competing is justified and coping with the decision to leave/switch programs.
1. Trust your coaches.
Just as you would not tell your doctor how to treat your ailment or your teacher how to educate your child you need to allow your coaches to coach your child. Especially in the case of all-star gyms whose ultimate reason for existing is to win. Coaches want the most qualified athletes to make up each of their teams and despite your disbelief, this may mean that your child might not make the team of their choice. It could be due to limited availability, age restriction or your coach may simply feel that your athlete needs more experience or another year on another team to focus on their skills.
This is never done with malicious intent or ulterior motives. If your child could help them win they would have made the team. If you don’t feel you can trust your coaches, then you are in the wrong program or an unreasonable person.
2. Be a cheerleader for your cheerleader, but also be realistic.
As a parent you will always over estimate the talent, abilities, emotional fortitude & contribution of your child. This is not a bad thing! Every child needs their own cheerleader to help them believe in themselves, support and encourage their aspirations & love them. Just be mindful that your assessment of your child’s abilities may not sync up with the coaching staff. Try to be realistic about where your kids really stand and manage their expectations accordingly.
3. Build toward goals that instill healthy habits, continual progress & avoid unrealistic expectations.
We always joke that if gyms hosted a “show up to the team you think you should be on practice” teams would gain true insight on athletes and their perception of their talent. That being said, in cheerleading, there is physical preparedness for being on a certain level and mental preparedness for being at a certain level. Is your cheerleader both physically & mentally “at level”? At this time of year? And all year?!
As a parent, you should encourage proper progression, advancement of skills & safety first. Throwing skills is not enough! A backhand spring with bent arms and legs will not help a team and does not necessarily make your athlete level 2! Quality is always better and as parents, this should be important to you. When your child first throws a new skill, don’t celebrate the skill until its PERFECT!! Celebrate them throwing the skill, but make them earn the praise for perfect execution. This is called STANDARD OF EXCELLENCE and it’s a fantastic lesson for kids to learn early as it applies to all aspects of life.
4. Tryout level vs. season level.
If your child ONLY THROWS A SKILLS AT TRYOUTS IT MEANS THAT THEY ARE BARELY QUALIFIED FOR THE TEAM IN WHICH THAT SKILL IS REQUIRED. There is nothing wrong with being placed on a lower level team to allow your athlete time to improve technique and develop confidence in a skill.
5. It’s not just about your kid.
Remember, gym owners and coaches must balance the interests of ALL athletes, not just yours. Sometimes your cheerleader may have the qualifications of being on a certain team but is “better suited elsewhere” you may not understand why… but this goes back to rule #1—trust your coaches
6. If your athlete is placed on a team that he/she is grossly under qualified for you should immediately question the professionalism and caliber of your program.
RO backhand spring on a level 5 team? No tumbling on a level 3 team? Going 4.2 because athletes who can barely stunt level 2 want a “challenge”. All of these instances should flash a major “danger! danger!” sign to you and you should evaluate whether the gym is a good fit for you and your cheerleader. Unrealistic, delusional coaches are dangerous to us all & have no business being in our sport.
REFUSE. REMOVE. RESTART… At another program!
7. Allow your athlete to progress at their own pace.
Cheerleading is not like school. You don’t have to change teams or levels every year. It’s okay to stay where you are and it doesn’t mean you are not improving. There are so many skills within a level and so much room for you to grow. Embrace the opportunity to fully max out at each level and take pride in the quality of your skills.
8. Don’t be difficult.
If someone came to your job and told you how to do it without any formal training, experience or education you would be insulted and probably left amazed by the arrogance. This is probably the most sensitive point of my post because as parents it’s your responsibility to fight for your child. The difference with cheerleading is that it can be dangerous. This is a sport where athletes are performing a number of skills—both individually and in groups. While your advocacy for your child may seem justified, you could be endangering others who will be left to deal with a teammate who is not emotionally or physically prepared for a particular team or level.
Coaches and gym owners will tell you that they don’t mind your feedback and they are open to meet. They will listen to your concerns & do their best to help you understand their choice. But, regardless of how that goes you must understand that you have hampered your relationship with them from the start by undermining their authority, questioning their expertise & making demands.
By choosing a competitive sport like cheer you are subjecting yourself to a competitive selection process. If this type of scrutiny or lack of control bothers you there are many inclusive, recreational opportunities that will save you grief & coaches frustration. Join those.
9. Failure is awesome!
If your athlete does not make the team of their choice use it as an opportunity to talk about goals, hard work, skill progression & competition. This is the upside of competitive sports as they help kids gain experience in situations & offer perspectives on lessons that they can use throughout their life! Overcoming adversity builds character & commitment to a goal teaches kids the importance of hard work & doing whatever it takes! Lessons in winning AND losing are important in life.
10. Athletes that compete with, or train on, teams that are above their level never end the season as happy as they start.
While the idea of making a team at a certain level may seem appealing at the beginning of the year, the reality is that no one wants to be the worst athlete on a team & experience the pressures that go along with that. At the same time, no one also wants to be on a team that is badly levelled. In cheerleading today it is impossible to succeed if you are not qualified to compete at a certain level. I’ve never had an athlete complain about winning at a lower level; they seem to forget pretty quickly the number on their trophy when they are posing for their championship picture. Success comes at AL LEVELS.
Overall tryouts should be fun, challenging & exciting!!! It is the start of a new season & an opportunity for a fresh start. Encourage your cheerleader, support your coaches, set realistic goals, look at each situation as a learning opportunity & emphasize the importance of proper skill development and training. If you do all of this, I promise you the 2018/19 season will be a memorable one.