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All Eyes on the Floor

Another unconventional idea is to crowdsource bobbles, falls, and legalities to the other teams competing at the event, basically turning in your opponents. This would put more eyes on the floor looking for deductions, reducing the likelihood of one being missed and if one is missed it is at least partially the responsibility of those most impacted by it. I believe to accomplish this programs would assign someone to watch their competition.

The side effect of teams watching each other is it gives them more insight into what placements should be. It may even incentivize programs to have their staff judge some or more often, which could lead to more people who spend a significant amount of time in the gym being on the judges’ stand, something I’ve heard coaches requesting for years.

On the legality side this I could see this leading to more programs having a rules expert because each program would need to know the rules in order to call someone else on them. On top of that I imagine the programs that have an in house rules expert would be able to ensure their own routines are legality free which is part of the end goal.

There are several logistics that need to be worked out to make this work and I’ve thought about a couple. First the events would no longer have deduction judges on the stand, they would instead be in a score review type area to verify the deductions turned in by the other teams. Next there would need to be a way to limit programs from turning in meritless deductions. For this I envision something like NFL uses. Each team starts with X challenges and when they submit a deduction they use one. If the deduction is accurate they get the challenge back and if it is incorrect they lose it. I know there are many more logistics that would need to be worked out, but I think it would interesting to give something like this a shot.

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Certifiably Challenged

I’ve worked scoring and deduction challenges at several events in the past, usually on the deductions side, but occasionally on the scoring side. In doing this I’ve been part of and have overheard many discussions related to scoring and rules in our industry and it has left me with an idea for an experiment.

I’d like to see what would happen if a major event required the coach to be certified in that category to be able to challenge a score. Using legality deductions as an example, only USASF certified judges would be able to challenge a legality issue. The exception I would add for legality concerns is if the skill was sent in via the USASF Coach App. If you aren’t certified and didn’t send it in there is no opportunity to get a legality deduction reviewed. Similarly on the scoring side, you’d need to be a certified building judge to challenge your stunt score, etc.

I believe this would accomplish a couple things. First, I think it would incentivize coaches to better educate themselves regarding the scoring system or rules. Some coaches are already doing a great job of this on their own, others have shown up to challenge scores and as I was showing where what was performed fell on the scoring rubric, they asked where I got it (the rubric) and asked if they could get a copy.

Second, I believe this would reduce the number of baseless challenges giving the challenge representatives more time to work with coaches on the legitimate challenges. And to help keep the number of baseless challenges minimal I would also have a method for revoking a certification a lack of knowledge is demonstrated in a coaching role just as it is if a lack of knowledge is shown in a judging role.

On top of that to keep the interactions professional I’d reserve the right to revoke the certifications of those not being professions, removing their ability to challenge for the remainder of the season. There are several logistics that would need to be worked out to make this a reality, but I think it would be worth trying.

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Success is Everything

I’ve been involved in several cheer programs over the years and each of them was significantly different from the others. Each set their goal and definition of success uniquely and to each of them achieving that goal was paramount.

The first’s goal was to perform the greatest routine ever performed. The program had already won several championships making that was the expectation so the goal had to be something beyond. The second’s was to compete at Nationals. No one involved in this program remembered the last time the program got their act together and made it to Nationals and wanted to be the year that changed.

The next’s goal was to hit in finals. The program had gone about a decade without hitting in finals and the squad was determined to be the group that ended the streak. The final program’s goal was to win National. They had won in the past and had a couple near misses and wanted to return the big trophy to the trophy case.

All of these goals were very different and specific to each program. All were realistic goals for each group with their difference. Goals vary by team and by circumstance. Regardless of what the goal is achieving success toward and truly achieving that goal is everything.

PS – 3 of the 4 accomplished their goal.

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Tip: Stunt with Different People

Stunting with different people will make the athletes better as individuals and the team more alike. The individual athletes will become better because they’ll learn to make a wider variety of adjustments and corrections based on the tendencies of their new partners. Stunting is so much about being able to make to correct adjustment quickly that being exposed to more scenarios that require adjustments will better prepare athletes for the competition mat. For example if Amber heels, but Betsy toes, the people that stunt with both Amber and Betsy will be used to make adjustments for either position and more likely be able to hold Cathy regardless of where she is on the heel to toe spectrum.

Changing partners also gives athletes a chance to learn from more people. Having a base work with a new partner provides an opportunity for some detail of the stunt to be performed a little different and turn into a teaching/learning moment.

I also believe having people stunt with different people on a regular basis will make the stunts more similar to each other. If one group was consistently fast and another consistently slow, swapping some of the parts will push them toward meeting someplace that works for everyone.

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Tip: If You Ain’t Cheatin’…

Cheating is generally considered a bad thing, but when it comes to cheat grips and tricks for stunts it can be a good thing. Finding a way to get the same look of a skill, a full up for example, using a grip that makes it easier or less risky is a great training tool and helps the athletes build confidence.

Figuring out cheat tricks and grips isn’t always easy. I usually get ideas from watching stunt videos in reverse or watching live stunts fall. Finding them takes time, a different point of view, and a little creativity, but when you find them it makes it worthwhile.

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Reference Check

As our industry has grown the knowledge has greatly expanded and so has the number of experts. People that have probably forgotten more than most will ever know, like James Speed and Debbie Love, have passed on what they know to so many and that next generation has expanded on the knowledge base and passed it on again. It’s been a great way to share knowledge with those that want it and make the industry better.

The concern is knowing who the new experts are or aren’t, and therefore knowing who to take advice from. Many people that portray themselves as experts aren’t and it seems like they are more likely to present themselves as experts than the people that truly are. Combine that with the ease of self-promotion via social media and suddenly every “expert” has a platform to spread their lack of knowledge. The takeaway from this should be to take advice with a grain of salt until you are sure the person giving the advice is credible.

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Tip: Play Add On

When working stunts add an extra element to the end. Instead of doing only your 4 elements to hit the high range, practice with a 5th or 6th, even if it’s a repeat of one of the first 4. This will help build stunt endurance and increase control of the stunt sequence, since they’ll need to maintain control of the stunt to be able to add additional elements.

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Tip: Jam On It

This one also could have been named practice to music because as much as possible your teams should practice to music. This will get the athletes used to counting music and more importantly, counting to music while performing skills. This can only help a team when performing to music.

At a minimum use an 8 count track, like this one by Bowd Beal with Go! Fight! Win! Music:

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Tip: Keep Your Elbows to Yourself

I should probably say keep your elbows in, but that title isn’t as catchy. When stunting as a base, cradles excluded, elbows should stay inside of the shoulders. Power is lost when the elbows get wider than the shoulders. I see this being a problem most often on twisting up to group stunts, such as full ups, and the toss of coed style stunts. Focusing on keeping the elbows as close to the center of the body as possible during stunts will keep the top person’s body better aligned, making the stunts easier to hit.

I’ve heard several coaches emphasize the need to keep elbows in, but probably none more than Tony Crump, current coach at the University of Memphis, and Saleem Habash, former coach of the University of Kentucky and Dunbar High School.

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Tip: Dynamic Warmup

Debbie Love has been preaching the Dynamic Warmup for as long as I can remember. It’s the idea of moving through positions to stretch and warmup muscles instead of static stretching, which is hitting a position and holding it. Men’s Fitness said a Dynamic Warmup is:

a series of movements designed to increase body temperature, activate the nervous system, increase range of motion, and correct limitations.

A Dynamic Warmup should do a better job of preparing the athletes for practice than a static warmup. It will warmup the muscles without breaking them down, allowing an athlete to perform at a higher level. Here’s an example of one of Debbie’s Dynamic Warmups:

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First Look in the Mirror

I recently had a couple conversations about the reasons given for things not going as well as expected at a gym, such as lower than expected placements and athletes leaving a program. One coach talked about their program’s team placements being low, but as a program they didn’t have a great understanding of the scoring system. They looked at the judges as the problem, saying the judges needed more and better training, but didn’t have anyone on staff attend training on the scoring system, didn’t have anyone that judged, overall didn’t do anything specific to gain a better understanding of the scoring system, and left easy points on the table due to their lack of understanding of the scoring system. The judges may not have been ideal at their events, but this program wasn’t either by not excelling at the things under their control.

Another coach talked about the owner saying rising costs were the main reason athletes leave the program despite the owner being a large influence on the total cost by being the one picking expensive uniforms, competitions, choreography, music and clothes. Yes there are expensive options for each of the products and services, and some vendors are raising their prices year after year, but there are also less expensive options available that would allow costs to remain the same.

An owner of a different program also cited costs as being the reason most athletes left the program, but one of the coaches I know at that program questioned that stating several athletes that left the gym continue to cheer at other programs, including several athletes switching to a program that is a couple hours away and known to be more expensive. The coach said the main problem was more likely the lack of organization and the owners often coming in from vacation sun burnt while a pile of work sits on their desk.

I say all this to remind you that you are the main influence for your results. If athletes are leaving your program and blaming rising costs, you need to look internally to find where you can lower or control costs before blaming outside forces. If you aren’t getting the scores and placements you believe you should, you need to take steps to ensure you properly understand the scoring system before saying the judges need a better understanding of the scoring system. You need to start by evaluating the things you can control before looking to the things out of your control.

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Tip: Stunts in Pieces

In tumbling it’s pretty standard to break each skill down into parts. The instructors at the USASF regional meetings did a great job of this, pointing out the entry, middle, and exit of each skill. We need to start doing the same things for stunts and developing drills that help with the pieces. The only person I’ve seen really taking this approach is Kenny Feeley.

If we start looking at stunts though the entry, middle, and exit lenses, isolating each part and working on them separately, we’ll probably be able to progress in a safer and faster manner. We should take a stunt like a traditional full up prep and work on the entry, loading in and getting the explosive power up, the middle, the twisting of the top and arm/hand/wrist work of the base, and the end, catching high and absorbing through the legs, as separate pieces.

We can also take pieces from one stunt and apply them to another. For example, I had a guy working on back handspring full ups (which I think twist the wrong way, but I seem to be alone with that thought). He was having a hard time with 2 things, turning his left hand over to catch and catching low with his arms bent. My suggestion to him was to do a couple full up left cupies, spinning left, each day to work on turning his hand around. I also suggested doing Kenny’s drop and lock drill to get used to locking out arms if the stunt isn’t caught with locked arms. Breaking the skill into these parts will allow the guy to get better at the parts he’s struggling with without throwing the hard skill over and over again.

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Tip: Stretching Before & After

Most coaches know their athletes should stretch before and after practice. It doesn’t always happen, but we at least know it should. What many don’t realize is the stretching should be different before and after a practice or workout.

Stretching before practice is done with the intent of getting your body and muscles ready to perform. The goal is to let you body know it’s time to put on the hard hat and boots and get to work. Stretching after practice is to let your body know it can put away the hard hat and take off the boots and after practice is when you should work on flexibility. Flexibility is improved by a controlled tearing of the muscles that leads to them repairing themselves in a more flexible state. Doing this before practice will prevent the muscles from operating at peak performance.

In practice, this means before practice you should hold each position for a shorter count, like an 8 count, and be more gentle, hitting each position or stretching each muscle multiple times. After practice you can hold each position for a longer count, like a 24 count, and be less gentle because the muscles will have time to recover before needing to be a peak performance again.

This is based on my interpretation of conversations with Debbie Love and a couple others. Debbie would also emphasize the importance of a Dynamic Warmup, which will be covered in a couple weeks.

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Tip: 2 Down, 1 Up

When stunting your dips should be 2 counts down and 1 count up. Going slower down will help maintain control over the stunt during the dip. Going faster up will provide the power for the upcoming skill. The ratio of coming up in half the time it took to get down emphasizes that coming up needs to be twice as fast and powerful as dipping down.

I believe Saleem Habash, former coach at the University of Kentucky and Dunbar High School, was the first one to tell me to do this, but several of my coaching friends use it. Kenny Feeley would add the depth of the dip should equal the length from the bases’ wrist to elbow.

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Tip: Celebrate Small Victories

Everyone likes a good celebration. As a coach you should celebrate the small victories of your teams and athletes. Everyone celebrates Sally getting her tuck, but why not celebrate Sally progressing from throwing her head back to keeping it in when learning her tuck too? Add celebrating Sally landing that tuck for the first time when running the routine at practice, and again the first time landing that tuck at a competition. The more you celebrate, the more your athletes know they are making progress and you are proud of them, the harder they’ll want to work. I also think it makes the athletes that are around the celebration work harder so they’ll be the ones celebrated next time.