Currently Cheer is the target of a lot of negative press, some of it deserved. As you may know, we “had” a cheer program at Gymfinity for about 5 years and though it often conflicted with our program philosophy we enjoyed the team and the girls who participated. It was wonderful to have an activity that anyone could do, there is not much skill needed to start in cheer, but there is a lot required to advance. We no longer offer cheer as a program, but find many cheerleaders who come to us to learn tumbling from qualified coaches.
I had several difficulties with our program, increasingly, as I attended competitions there were a few things that gave me doubts. 1. was the lack of preparation of these athletes. Many teams presented kids who had no business doing the skills they are required to do. As a cheer squad is required to sync their skills in a performance; a cheerleader may have to perform a skill to stay with her team, but she may not be adequately prepared. The alternative is competing at a lower skill level. Not too much of a negative but an option that is often cast aside to advance the team and stroke the egos of coaches and parents. As stated in a previous posting, the risk to young cheerleaders is often overlooked. The qualifications of cheer coaches are often below par for teaching tumbling skills. They may “get” the choreographing and the stunting, but a particularly risky aspect of the sport is tumbling and many coaches find themselves learning as they teach. That is a very risky. The statistics as compared to gymnastics, basketball and soccer are real eye openers. 2. Also I was made aware of the sexualization of young girls in cheer and that made me uncomfortable having a program trending that way in my gym. Granted, we did it right, and we had standards for uniforms, choreography and behavior but our coaches were often pressured to follow trends and that didn’t bode well when I wouldn’t allow them to accept this trend as a Gymfinity practice.
In the past Trampoline Sports were a media target. At other times, elite Women’s Artistic Gymnastics. I have had to challenge journalists when they make misstatements or just downright fabricate news for the sake of sensationalism. I even one time took 60 Minutes to task for writing about gymnastics from the perspective that all coaches behave like a few of the old dinosaurs of the past. Needless to say, they didn’t air my letter. Though it’s hard to dispute much in the ABC video – When the Cheering Stops there are still a few good coaches and athletes out there who will take cheer into it’s evolutionary step.
Gymnastics learned from the accusations of “disordered eating” being the norm for elite gymnasts. We learned to teach our athletes about the importance of nutrition and it’s impact on performance. We learned that despite the rumors of abusive coaches not being true, that we needed to train professionals in being, well, professional. Lastly, in terms of safety USA-Gymnastics has developed the program that other sport governing bodies have strived to duplicate. Gymnastics has evolved and that’s a good thing. Cheer has its shortcomings but it also has some benefits and the potential to be better. Let’s hope that they will be open to learning from their liabilities and make them assets.