So you’ve decided you’d like to try All Star Cheer. Great! Now then…you’ll need a team. With a growing sport that’s relatively new, there are new gyms popping up all over the place. How’s a parent to help a kid choose their new athletic home? We’ve compiled a list of questions to ask yourself and ask at the gym when you visit, plus some links to help you on your way. (Still not sure All Stars is for you? Check out our recent article, “So you wanna be a cheerleader?“)
1. What are your goals? What’s your level of commitment? First it’s important to decide if you would like to compete locally or if you are ready to go all the way. When choosing a gym and/or team, find out what the gym’s goal is for their students. Is it in line with yours? Be ready to ask if the team’s goals include only local contests or regional or even national competitions. Athletes should be challenged at a level of competition that also allows them to enjoy success and confidence while building skills. You don’t want to be expected to do more than you are prepared to do, yet if you have a young athlete that’s really competitive (and you are willing to put in the time and money), you will want them to be challenged at the highest levels possible. How serious is this gym about competition and is that in line with your expectations? What kinds of competitions are then entering, and what kind of awards are they winning? Have they listed all the competitions they have entered, or just the ones they won? Are there significant gaps where competitions are not entered or no awards won recently? Don’t just look for first place trophies – if they have been recognized for sportsmanship, choreography, stunting or other mentions, that is a good sign of a quality program. Maybe your child (or your family) doesn’t want to travel outside your region – is this team competing on a higher level that will require farther travel? While that may be a great indicator of a quality program, it may not fit in well with your family’s needs.
2. Are coaches and trainers certified? Staff should be listed in the gym and/or online with bios explaining their experience and certification. Because cheerleading can be dangerous and accidents can cause injuries, cheer coaches are certified by the USASF (United States All Star Federation). The USASF was formed by cheerleading companies as a governing body to create and maintain a standard set of rules and judging criteria as well as safety guidelines. (AACCA governs and certifies high school and college coaches.) These people are going to spend a lot of time with your child – they should be professional, competent and likable. If they’ve been employed at the same gym for a long time, they are probably stable and popular. How accessible is the coach? Does s/he make him/herself available for questions and advice? Is s/he knowledgeable and friendly? Does s/he have a good rapport with kids? Does the gym have adequate support staff that the coach can spend his/her time coaching and not answering the phone or doing paperwork?
3. Teaching method & curriculum. As with dance or gymnastics, cheerleaders learn skills with gradually increasing levels of difficulty, building on skills already learned. Check out what kinds of classes and teams are offered. What are your child’s interests? Will she be placed with children of similar age and ability? Mixed age/ability teams may be a good fit, but mixed ability may also be frustrating or mixed ages may be inappropriate. Sometimes small teams may not have enough members to fully staff a team of similar age or ability and may need to mix. Does she like the other kids on the team? This is a team sport, and they depend on each other, in practice and in competition.
4. Is the gym clean and inviting? Does the equipment seem adequate and in good repair? Is there enough space and equipment for everyone, or is it crowded? Are parents welcome to watch classes? Do you feel invited and welcome or a nuisance or intrusion? Be wary of any gym that does not want you around. They should be happy to have parents present any time. They should professionally return your calls and emails in a reasonable amount of time, if not they may be understaffed. They should welcome you to tour the gym and even try out a class to see if your child likes it before you commit.
5. Does the gym focus on cheerleading only, or offer a variety of classes and sports? Dance, gymnastics, martial arts might be offered as well. Is that in line with your expectations? A variety of classes can be interesting and convenient, especially if you have other children that aren’t into cheer. On the other hand, a lack of focus may mean that cheerleading isn’t a priority here.
6. Is this gym popular? Are the classes well attended and the teams full? That’s an indication that athletes and families are happy there. On the other hand, bigger isn’t necessarily better, particularly if they are understaffed. And all the top notch gyms started somewhere, right? Word of mouth is always the best advertising. Do you know others who have attended classes or joined the team? Their advice is invaluable. When you visit, chat with the other parents there. Do they seem inviting? Gossipy? Helpful? You’re going to be seeing a lot of them.
7. Ah, yes. Cost. How much does it really cost, and do you get what you pay for? That can be difficult to know at first glance. What’s included? Some places may make it sound like a bargain, but then everything costs extra. Cheerleading is expensive – costs shouldn’t be hidden. A good team should be paying competitive salaries to coaches and staff and providing good equipment, and that all costs. Additional camps, classes and gear can add up too, but it can also really improve your experience as a result. Don’t be afraid to shell out, but be mindful of what exactly you are paying for. Are you paying for equipment or fees but don’t seem to be getting anything for it? Are the team’s finances organized and fee structure easy to understand? Some teams require mandatory participation in fundraisers. Will you have time to participate fully?
8. What kinds of uniforms and workout wear are required? It may seem silly, but this is very important to many people. Uniforms should be modern and practical. Skimpy outfits are current, but they should also be attractive. Nothing too trashy, nothing too old-fashioned. Will she need just one uniform, or a variety or workout clothing, uniforms, shoes and gear? Do you have the time and skills for potentially elaborate hair and makeup?
9. If you are looking for the very best gym, you may have to drive a little way, especially if you are in a rural area. Convenience is very important, but just because it’s close doesn’t mean it’s right for you. That said, you’re going to be driving there a lot – 3-5 days a week – so it must be a manageable distance. Maybe the team isn’t going to nationals, but it’s close and your other kids can take a class while you’re there. Decide what is most important to you.
All in all, it seems like people are happiest when their expectations meet their experience. Know what you want and know what you’re getting, and you will likely have a really great experience and make lifelong friends!
Cheerleading Fun Fact: All Star cheerleading began in the 80s, with stunts and tumbling incorporated into more traditional routines. It’s the fastest growing type of cheerleading in America!