Mark’s Cheer Journal – Part 2

With summer in full swing and summer vacation – at least here in Kentucky – half over, our three teams – Graves County HS (Large Coed), Reidland HS (Small Coed), and Boyd County HS (Small Varsity) – find themselves smack dab in the middle of DEAD PERIOD. Each summer from June 25th until July 9th, high school cheer teams here in the Commonwealth have a mandatory period during which they are not allowed to have organized practices. So, despite the fact that a month has passed since I last checked in, not as much progress has been made by each of my teams as one would have hoped. However, I am still very pleased with the work that they did at each of their respective camps this past month. And, as of now, I would say that each is still on a path that could result in their having a serious chance to compete for a national title at the 2011 NHSCC in Orlando, FL.

Each year, I tell my teams that each season is a marathon and not a sprint. Each season is long and that there will be good and bad days. The teams that work the hardest for the longest will be ahead at the end of the race. I also impress upon all of my teams the need for their team to be better than they were last year. I tell them that the best teams always improve and that what it took to win last year more than likely won’t be enough to win this year. The message that I bang over my kids head is that – there is no secret to success, it is just HARD WORK.

The spring and summer are the times when each of my teams makes the most progress. Even though some of the kids work, most still have fewer responsibilities as during the summer and thus are able to spend extra time working on new skills that they will need to master for the coming year’s routine. At the beginning of each season, I set specific goals in regards to tumbling and stunting for each team – and often each individual team member – in order to motivate them during the times during which they can make the most gains. These goals are meant to push each individual but are also designed to be realistic. That way – if the team members work hard enough – they can achieve most or all of their goals and feel accomplished.

Graves County, Reidland, and Boyd County each started putting their routines together over the past month. Each team made different levels of progress with their routines, but all were taught at least some of the “meat and potatoes” of their routine. I also use potential routine elements as motivators. Since none of my teams is fully capable of hitting all parts of ANY portion of their routine at this point, the knowledge of what is expected (or HOPED for) for one part of the routine can be a powerful motivator. Setting goals is very important, but I have found that one of the most powerful motivators at my disposal is to choreograph a certain skill into a routine. Its one thing to talk about, for example, squad standing back handspring tucks, but actually putting the skill into the routine that I teach often seems to carry more weight with today’s athletes. Maybe it makes it more “real.” Maybe it communicates that, “OK, Mark is serious about putting these in the routine.” I also like to believe that the kids trust me and my knowledge. And by me putting something in the routine, they start to believe that it is possible. I have heard some my kids say, “Mark wouldn’t put this in the routine if he didn’t think we could do it.” Whatever the explanation, I intentionally do this every year and choreograph critical parts of the routine as early as possible in order to give sufficient time for mastery. It doesn’t always work in all areas, and certain portions of my routines have to be altered or watered down. But quite often, the kids will rise to meet some of the challenges. And I believe that by challenging them early on in the season we maximize our chances of making some significant breakthroughs.

Like I said earlier, I was very pleased with the progress to date of all three of these teams. Graves County is far more talented than we have ever been. The majority of the team has been working very hard and we return a lot more experience than we had last year. A couple of last years’ alternates have stepped in and are going to be able to contribute. We will have better skills across the board than we have ever had. We will have more team tumbling and more difficult elite tumbling than we have ever had. BUT… we have been here before. In 2008, we had a team similarly talented but who lacked proper leadership and had some team members who were over confident. The end result was that we were not a “team” and we shot ourselves in the foot with mistakes at nationals. So, the biggest challenge of this year’s team is to stay hungry and motivated. Most of the current team were rookies on the mat when we won this past year. So, they now know what it feels like to win. So, there is some concern that they might not want it as bad this year. I have tried to impress upon them how much harder it is to repeat than to win the first time. It’s even harder to win three in a row. It’s so difficult that only one team has won UCA Large Coed three years in a row – Christian Brothers HS. Maybe you have heard of them. CBHS actual won at least three in a row twice. Graves County will never eclipse what CBHS did or what they have meant to UCA Large Coed through the years. But we do try to motivate our kids with the knowledge that if we can win in 2011, we can be the only other team besides CBHS that ever won three in a row. We failed to win our third consecutive title three years ago, so we try to motivate our kids to accomplish in 2011 what we failed to accomplish in 2008.

GCHS also needs to stay healthy. We have only a couple of alternates this year and their experience and skill level is quite a drop from those people that we hope will be on the mat. Our routine would probably have to change drastically if one of our key stunters was injured. We train very hard to help prevent injuries, but sometimes things just happen. Hopefully, we can stay healthy this season, because we do not have a lot of depth beyond our top 20.

Our next team is Reidland HS. I have been working with Reidland since 2005 and started choreographing their routines in 2006. Like all teams, Reidland has challenges unique to that squad. Coming from a very small school (under 500 students), Reidland is constantly battling other sports teams over athletes. There are just not that many guys in the school. And if you are any kind of athlete at Reidland or of decent size, you are constantly recruited to other more traditional sports. Even though the cheerleading is the most successful sport for males at Reidland, we still have to share athletes. Because a few of Reidland’s past guy cheerleaders were strong athletic guys who are now having success at the collegiate level, Reidland’s coed team has had a surplus of guys the past few years.

The good news is that Reidland is starting to attract the best male athletes in the school. The bad news is that the other coaches and sports teams don’t appreciate fighting for the already limited number of athletes – especially when it’s CHEERLEADING. Even so, the coed style of cheerleading that Reidland champions is winning guys over enough to participate but not enough to get them to dedicate themselves solely to cheerleading. I am sure that this is a common theme at almost all high schools that have guy cheerleaders. It, however, is not the case at Graves County. At GCHS, hardly any of the boys play other sports. It is probably one of our greatest assets. Those kids literally live for coed stunting and cheering. Unfortunately, that kind of situation is just not possible at Reidland. Sharing kids with baseball, soccer, and football and trying to coordinate practice schedules is probably one of the greatest challenges that Reidland faces.

I mention all of this because Reidland just had one of their top 4 guys quit yesterday. Fortunately, they have another guy that is almost as good who is ready to step in. The guy who quit did so because he wanted to play basketball. The head coach told him that he could play basketball, but that we would make him an alternate because of the practices he would have to miss late in the season. As the cheerleading world turns…

So, when I go back next week, we will have to spend quite a bit of time re-teaching the pyramids that I taught them last month. However, it’s way better to do that now – in July – than in February like we had to do last year. Reidland’s most talented guy got into a shouting match at a game last year and we had to kick him off the team a month before nationals. Nothing like re-choreographing your routine and putting in a rookie guy who’s never competed a month before nationals! Hopefully, the potential for future drama has eliminated itself and the rest of this season will be relatively smooth. We will see!

Next month I will update you on Boyd County’s summer progress and talk about the biggest obstacles that they are facing this season. The 2011 NHSCC is now only 218 Days away. It will be here before we know it! Until then…

Make the most of each practice!

Mark Coleman