Monthly Archives: May 2013

Cheerleading All Stars – How to Choose an All Star Cheer Gym

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?“)

What are your goals?

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?

American Twisters, Clarksville, TN

American Twisters, Clarksville, TN

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.

choosing the right cheer gym

Pittsburgh Pride, gym main floor

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!

cheer national cheerleaders assocMore resources:

USASF Cheer Parents 101

How to choose the right All Star gym

How we selected a cheer gym

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!

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So you wanna be a cheerleader? Types of cheerleading

Cheerleading is one of America’s fastest growing sports.  And it’s no wonder – Cheerleading combines the athleticism of gymnastics, performance of dance and competitiveness of team sports.  Cheerleading has a fun history too, and as a sport in its infancy it’s constantly changing, keeping things fresh and exciting.  My original purpose was to write an article to help people choose a cheer team or gym, but in doing the research, I realized that there is so much to consider that it will take two parts.

Types of Cheerleading - Scholastic/Collegiate

Most high schools and colleges have cheerleaders for football and basketball, but cheerleaders also bring spirit to baseball, hockey and cricket games too.

First:  What kind of cheerleader do you want to be?  The question of your ultimate goal will guide all your other considerations.  Most things written on the internet start from the assumption that the child wants to be a national-trophy-winning All Star Cheerleader.  Maybe s/he does.  But maybe he or she just wants to get good at tumbling and do a few performances, maybe a local competition.  Maybe the kid has great school spirit and wants to share it by pumping up the crowd at games.  Maybe she just wants to wear glittery skirts and big bows.  For those folks, the demanding rigors of competition cheerleading may not be appropriate.  So:  What kind of cheerleader are you?

There are four basic types of cheerleaders:  scholastic, recreational, all-star and professional.

Scholastic  Scholastic cheerleaders are what people usually think of when they think of cheerleading.  These traditional squads are affiliated with a school (usually Jr. High, High School or College) and they focus on team/school spirit and cheer for school sporting events and pep rallies.  Some teams compete, but most do not.  Members must attend the school they represent, and usually must adhere to a code of conduct including good grades and behavior, as they are representatives of the school in uniform.  Generally scholastic cheerleaders (also called “sideline cheerleaders”) try out in the spring for the following year and may cheer all year or only for one season, traditionally football (fall) or basketball (winter).  Varsity and Junior Varsity (JV) squads are determined by either grade or skill, and the coach is usually a faculty member.  Try-outs are judged by a panel or the student body, and skill, spirit, personality, grades and conduct may factor in.  Try-outs for college cheerleading teams are highly competitive, and collegiate cheerleaders perform at a higher level of athleticism.  Collegiate cheerleaders are also ambassadors of their schools, cheering at sporting events but also representing their school at community and charity events and competitions.  Scholastic cheer is great for kids who have lots of spirit and want to share it in performance.

Fun Fact:  While cheerleaders across the board are nearly all female, collegiate cheerleaders are 50% men.  It’s a great college tradition – in fact, originally all cheerleaders were men.  Women didn’t start cheering until the ’20s, and didn’t do so in great numbers until WWII.

Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders

The Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders made their debut in 1972 and are the most famous professional cheerleaders in the world.

Recreational  Recreational cheer teams are usually associated with a sports club, such as Pop Warner or American Youth Football & Cheer League, or other public or community groups such as the YMCA, a church or city.  Usually on a recreational team, all members participate and there are no try-outs.  There is minimal cost to join such a team, though some sports club teams can be more expensive.  These teams cheer for sporting events in their league or at competitions.  The recreational programs often have volunteer or parent coaches.  Recreational cheer is great for kids who want to try cheerleading or for families who do not want to commit the time and money required for All Star Cheer.

Professional  Wanna go pro?  You can be a professional cheerleader.  Pro cheer teams offer low pay but have many social and career benefits such as travel, meeting people and exposure for a future career in entertainment.  Professional cheerleaders are more like dancers or songleaders.  They cheer and perform at sporting events, but also do lots of philanthropy and charity work, model and/or act and rarely compete (although that is changing).  Often professional cheerleaders are representatives of the community where their team is located.  The competition is very high and pay is low and many pro cheerleaders also have other jobs.  But they will tell you it is a very rewarding experience.  Professional cheerleading is great for young people seeking exposure for entertainment careers and those looking for fun and adventure during or after college.

UCA/UDA All Star Champs from Austin, TX

UCA/UDA All Star Champions from Austin, TX

All Star Cheer  All Star Cheerleading is one of the fastest growing sports in America.  These athletes have a competition focus and practice dance, stunting and tumbling for contests on local, regional and national levels.  All Stars concentrate on practice and performance and do not cheer for a sport, city or charity.  They have a high level of skill and athleticism, with certified coaches and demanding practice schedules.  These teams have competitive try-outs and All Star teams usually have their own gyms where team members take classes and attend practices.  All Star Cheer is an expensive sport and requires a large time commitment on the part of the athlete and family.  In addition to fees, many teams also have mandatory fundraisers.  All Stars cheer nearly year-round and compete regularly.  This is a great sport for kids who are results-driven and want to develop their skills over time in a competitive environment.  For more on All Star Cheer, read our post, Cheerleading All Stars – How to Choose an All Star Cheer Gym.”

For a great FAQ about cheerleading, including how to do various cheer moves and advice for try outs, about.com has a great list here.