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Building Blocks

In recent days I listened to a podcast that led me to the idea of treating each thing I learned as a building block, like a Lego. Each is a piece that isn’t that impressive on its own but can be combined with other blocks to make something impressive.

I imagine the most blocks came from my past coaches. Coaches are there to teach skills and lessons through sport and I’ve had several great ones that I appreciate. I’ve also had some experiences in which coaches showed me what not to do, but those were still lesson that could be used in the future. If blocks came in different sizes the blocks from coaches would probably be the largest ones and used as the foundation of whatever is built on top of them.

Several blocks also came from teammates. I cannot count the number of times a teammate gave me a tip, many of which I later shared with someone.

Teaching summer camps gave me a different perspective of the blocks. I was now switching from getting tips on how to do things to how to get others to do things. I don’t think I could over value the things learned during my staff years. First, learning every part of so many stunts instead of only learning my part. Next, being taught how to teach instead of just do. Doing and teaching are not the same skillset and learning both has been very useful. Third is actually talking skills. In watching coaches work and when I’ve given the USASF credentialing test in the past I’ve seen many coaches struggle with articulating how to perform skills. They can mark is exceptionally well, but using their words to say what’s being done wasn’t easy for them and I feel like this is a key part of coaching.

Now most of the blocks I add come from random interactions with coaches, judges, and athletes. They are harder to come by now that I have so much industry experience, aka being old, but I think I appreciate each block as I get it now more than even.

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Perfection Before Progression?

When I started cheering, at least once I moved to the summer camp instructor and coaching side, “Perfection before progression” was a phrase I consistently heard. Although I heard it I don’t remember seeing it consistently on the competition floor.

Fast forward about 20 years and I still hear coaches preaching it. I also feel like I see more teams exhibiting it, but most of the teams actually practicing it had a negative reputation and are called “Sandbaggers”. How did we get from adamantly preaching something to criticizing those doing what was preached?

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Hit or Miss

It’s time for another random idea. I’d like to see an event that already eliminates teams each round, like college nationals, which advances about half the teams, or Worlds, which advances 10 teams, give priority to teams that don’t drop.

First guarantee advancement to any team without a fall. This means you and your fans could know that you are moving on as soon as you walk off the floor. If you drop you’d have to wait and see if all the advancing spots get filled by teams that hit or if not and you have a high enough score to take one of the remaining advancing slots.

Second, only make teams without a drop eligible for 1st place. Some details would need to be worked out to ensure teams still performed something that resembled a legitimate routine, like set a minimum score requirement, but the general thought behind this is you must hit to win.

This puts an emphasis on execution over difficulty and competitions would become an execution contest with difficulty as a tie breaker. This method won’t be everyone’s favorite, but is smartest in the long run. Pushing execution means more skills should hit and athletes generally don’t get hurt as often when skills hit. Trying the opposite and pushing difficulty over execution, would have a higher rate of drops, increasing the risk of injury.

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Why Winning Doesn’t Always Equal Success by Valorie Kondos Field

Valorie Kondos Field presented Why Winning Doesn’t Always Equal Success as a TED Talk.

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Happy New Year

Happy New Year! As one year ends and another begins many of us think of the changes we’re going to make to our lives. Sometimes it’s adding something and other times it’s removing something. For those of you in the cheer and dance community I’d like to suggest changing points of view. For the next year as you watch teams try to identify something they do extremely well. This could range from the things directly reflected on the score sheet to intangibles like lots of positive floor talk. I think this change of perspective, to looking for the good, will make us more positive as a whole.

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Know Your Role

As a coach do you realize how significant your role can be in a child’s life? If you name the adults a child spends the most time with in a year the list will probably start with Mom & Dad, then move to their teacher. The person after that may very well be a coach. I figure Mom & Dad get a couple hours with a child per week day and a little more on the weekend.  A teacher probably gets a little over an hour a day, maybe 7.5 hours per week. A coach gets a couple hours per practice a couple days a week, maybe 4 hours. School doesn’t go year round while our sports typically do so that pulls the teacher and coach closer over the span of a year. Once you factor in children rarely having the same teacher for multiple years, but often having the same coach for multiple years it becomes very possible the coach could be a clear third.

Do you appreciate your role as one of the most consistent adults in a child’s life and do you use that role and time to help shape the child into a better person. I hope you answer with a resounding Yes!

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Long Live Loyalty

I spoke with some parents that were disappointed their daughter was removed from a team mid season. The team was the type of marquee team that could win any event they attended, including Worlds. Their daughter had been a member of the program for several years, finally making her dream team and deservedly so.

The mom admitted the daughter was no longer tumbling as well or sharp as she when was placed on the team and early in the season. The mom also said she thought the stress of tumbling not remaining as easy was causing her daughter’s stunts to struggle. Still the mom was upset the daughter was removed from the team leading up to major event season, citing the loyalty the coaches should have shown to them given their past together. The mom let me know one of the team coaches was also a coach of her daughter’s last team and another was her main tumbling coach for years and who they were doing privates with to work through the current tumbling frustrations.

The mom reiterated her frustration and couldn’t get over her coaches being so disloyal to remove their daughter from the team when they had been so loyal to the program.

I understood where the mom was coming from. I asked her if I could try to explain where the coaches may be coming from. I wasn’t part of the program and didn’t talk to these coaches about the situation, just spoke from experiences I’ve had and spoken to other coaches about. I pointed out the mom said their daughter wasn’t keeping up with what the team was doing. I then asked if she thought it was possible the coach was really showing loyalty to the team and more specifically the to other athletes on the team. This family’s daughter wasn’t the only one that had been with the program for several years before making the dream team and the coaches could be showing loyalty to the majority of them by only keeping people on the team that were pulling their weight. I don’t think the mom saw it that way, but it seemed like the dad was thinking about it.

As a coach you have an opportunity to give a limited number of athletes a chance to reach their goal. If someone isn’t doing their part removing that 1 may be the best way to be able to give the rest of the athletes the best chance. It may not be disloyalty to the 1, it may be loyalty to the rest.

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More Random Ideas

Here are some more random ideas I’ve had. I don’t anticipate any getting implemented, but think they’d be interesting to try.

Benefit of the Doubt

I’d like to try not giving teams the benefit of the doubt about what skills were performed. Instead of a team with 5 groups performing 2 true double ups, 2 1-3/4 ups, and having a 5th group falling while attempting a twisting stunt getting scored as if 5 true double ups were performed only giving that credit to a team that clearly performs 5 true double ups. I think this would lead to the truly elite teams separating themself from the pack.

 

Coaches Decide

Sometimes following events we hear about how the judges got it wrong and it was super clear the placements should have been ___. This gave me another random idea. How about before results are known giving the coaches from the programs in a division an opportunity to agree on the results? If the results really are super clear the coaches should be able to agree, right?. If not we’ll assume the results aren’t super clear and it goes to the scores. I think it would be interesting to see how often the programs agree and even more entertaining to hear the conversations about who should place where.

 

Non Tumbling

Instead of teams in the Non-Tumbling divisions getting a penalty for tumbling why not try just leaving tumbling off the score sheet. That way tumbling skills that are being used for overall effect could still be done, but not given credit specifically for being tumbling.

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Beautiful or Invisible

Everything in your routine should either be beautiful or Invisible. Many apply the beautiful part to the major skills in their routine, stunts, pyramids, tumbling, etc., but sometime skip the details, motions in the air, landing the tumbling, and timing of skills.

There are a few options for making something invisible, taking it out, hiding it, or distractions. For taking something out think about whether or not it’s really necessary, does it add points to your routine. The first thing coming to mind in this regard is motions. You are scored on the motions you do, not what you could have done, so if a motion isn’t being performed beautifully take it out. Who says tops need to hit a motion or do choreography in the air? If it can be done well, great, but it not take it out so it doesn’t leave a bad impression.

For hiding skills, tumbling comes to mind, specifically landings. If you have an athlete that can perform a tumbling pass, but does it with their legs apart or lands a little funky, put them in a group and in a position within the group where those won’t be as noticeable.

For distractions, formation changes come to mind. If you can’t make the change beautiful try doing something to draw my attention away from the formation change. Put up a quick stunt so my attention shifts there instead seeing the athletes scurry across the floor.

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You Can’t Do Everything

What do you focus on when trying to make your team elite? You can’t do everything, at least not all at once, so you need to decide where to spend your time first. There are 15-16 scores on the major scoring systems I looked at. Some scores separated difficulty from execution, stunts and tumbling for example, and others are combined into a single score, like dance.

If the score sheet categories were the menu items at a southern bbq joint, where you could get a plate with 3 meats and 2 sides, what would you order for your ideal routine? Would spectators and judges be able to identify those items based on your team’s routine and performance? Does your practice regimen reflect that order?

Mine would be stunt execution, pyramid execution, and stunt difficulty with a side of building creativity and running tumbling execution.

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Past Ideas

Several of my past ideas centered around trying to increase the average number of teams within a division.

First is making the standard team size 24. Forget XS, Small, Medium, and Large divisions and make a single sized-based division with a maximum of 24 athletes. Second is reducing the number of mainstream levels from 5 (last season) or 6 (next season) to 3, excluding Level 6/7. Tumbling wise  the first would require hand support (walkover and handsprings), second would be flips without twisting (tucks, layouts, whips), and third would be flipping and twisting (fulls and double fulls). Building wise we could start with next season’s Level 2, 4, and 6 rules.

Third is changing from the 5 age groups (Tiny, Mini, Youth, Junior, and Senior) we currently have to 4, Tiny (6 & Under), Youth (4-10), Junior (8-14), and Senior (12-18). Fourth is defaulting to every team within the same level and age group competing against each other until there are enough teams to split them. This puts every Senior 4 team, coed, all girl, small, and large, in 1 division until there are enough teams to warrant a split. Fifth is raising the number of teams remaining on each side before a split is made from 2 to 8.

The intent of each of these changes is to increase the average number of teams per divisions at competitions. Implementing any of these changes would have a small impact on increasing the number of teams competing against each other and all of them should have a significant increase.

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Connect the Kids

A long time ago, when I first started coaching Tiny and Mini aged kids, I was told kids won’t do anything for you until they think you care about them. This was quickly proven true. At that age some of the kids instantly decide you are best friends and you are good from the first moment. Others are a little more suspicious of new people and it takes more effort to build trust and rapport with them, so step 1 was getting the kids to like you.

A recent conversation with a coach reminded me that sometimes competitiveness in this area isn’t the best thing. The conversation was about a coach who was so determined to be every child’s favorite that he was in some ways cutting down the other coaches to improve his position. Even though I think wanting to be the favorite can be a good thing I don’t think doing it at the expense of others is good. I hope coaches are putting in effort to ensure each kid connects with someone on staff without getting too caught up on being the one each kid connects with. It is great to be the coach every kid loves, but much more important that every kid feels loved.

 

 

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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.