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.

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.

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.

 

 

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Take the Stairs

Too often when there is a conversation about adjusting what’s allowed in a level I hear someone say it messes up the progressions. I generally disagree with this statement. To me the progressions are the steps taken to get a skill, a backward roll before a back walkover, a back walkover before a back handspring, a back handspring before a back tuck, a tuck before a layout, a layout before a full, a full before a double, etc., along with many steps in between these skills. These would be followed even if there were no levels.

The levels are different. They allow us to group similarly skilled athletes and teams together, largely for the sake of competition, which is great because they allow athletes to successfully compete the skills they have, without being rushed to gain new skills. The levels are progressive, allowing more and harder skills as the levels move up, but not the same as the progressions. I believe you are doing it wrong if you look at the maximum skill allowed in each level as the only steps in the progression because you would be skipping many steps and skills.

I think of the levels as the floors to a building and the progressions as the stairs between each floor. There are many stairs between each level and that’s how I believe we should think about the progressions between each level. I also believe you should take the stairs between each floor. Don’t take the elevator to skip the stairs. Also don’t rush or skip stairs because that is eventually going to cause you to trip.

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