While the summer is officially behind us (I know, I’m sad too) the one thing we can look forward to is the start of a brand new season. I’m excited to check out all the new routines, choreography and competitions that the upcoming season will bring.
Soon, everyone will get to see all the new skills you’ve learned over the summer.
Wait… you do have new skills, don’t you?
If not, you just made the number one mistake I see cheerleaders make all too often. But fear not, I’ll show you the exact training steps you can take immediately to make up for lost time.
On top of that, I will reveal a couple of other mistakes you should avoid so you can have an amazing season. In fact, I want this to be your best season ever. I want you to make memories that will last a lifetime – after all, great memories are all you’ll be left with once you age out, or become to old to compete.
So let’s get started.
Mistake #1: Wasting Your Summer
I know that as soon as school finishes and the summer begins, the only thing you want to do is lay outside in the sunshine and relax. And sleep. And party. And eat.
That’s all well and good, you definitely deserve a mental break. But not for a whole two months (or however long your summer break happens to last).
Taking a week off after school finishes to just “chill” is understandable, but regardless of how stressful you think life is, you’re simply not under the same types of pressure than comes from being an adult. Trust me, it wasn’t that long ago that I was in high school and college, so I’m very well aware. So use this to your advantage!
And let’s be real for a second – if you’re an allstar cheerleader then you are a competitive athlete. By definition, this means you play to win. Therefore, you should be using the extra time in the summer to become a more valuable team player.
Take clinics, hit up workshops, ramp up your conditioning and stretch daily. There simply is no excuse as to why any cheerleader cannot start the new season with at least one new skill.
If you didn’t train as hard in the past few months, then here is your game plan going forward. I cannot stress enough that you need to start this immediately.
- Focus: Pick one skill that can actually be used in an upcoming routine. For example, if you’re a level 3 athlete and only have a round-off back tuck, then it’s very likely that a punch front tuck will come in handy. Talk with your coaches and see if there’s anything they’d like you to get, and double down on practicing the hell outta it.
- One on One Attention: Schedule one hour private lesson per week with the appropriate coach, squarely aimed at getting that one skill we talked about above… assuming you meet all the prerequisites, of course. DO NOT attempt progression before perfection, since that can end up hurting your more than helping you. Click here to read about why perfection before progression is actually a faster way to learn new tumbling skills.
“If you’re an allstar cheerleader then you’re competitive athlete. By definition, this means you play to win” (Tweet This)
- Break It Down: Separate the skill you want to work on into chunks with the help of your coaches. For example, a standing back handspring can be disassembled into 3 chunks: the jump back, the handstand, the snap-down. Then, pick 3 drills for each chunk, and practice them as often as possible. I recommend 3-4 times per week outside of your private class. If you want good example of chunking or ideas for drills, check out my complete guide for back tucks and whips.
- Put In The Time: Your job is to spend a total of 30 hours practicing this skill (15 hours on privates, and another 15 hours on the drills and chunks). If you start today and spend 2 hours per week, you’ll be done all 15 in under 8 weeks. Then once it lands, spend the rest of your time on perfecting it so that it’s competition ready.
Mistake #2: Eating Too Close To Practice
Being someone who’s primary job is to make fitness and nutrition plans for athletes, I can assure you that it’s not always athletes that fall victim to this. Parents and even some of my older, experienced clients end up filling their belly right before training.
And then they suffer.
I remember one time I had a private lesson with a kid who was usually a pretty hard worker. He almost never complained, even during times when I pushed him to the limit. In fact, he liked the hard work because he saw it pay off by attaining new skills.
However, on one Wednesday evening I knew something was just off. He’d give up half way through drills, sit down and take breaks between attempts that were just too long. So I asked him if he’s alright and needed a break. After all, everyone has off days and I figured today was his.
It turns out his mom had him eat a 2 course dinner half an hour before coming to a private tumbling lesson. A fact I’d soon realize when, mid conversation, he suddenly grabbed his stomach while his face went pale. I knew what was coming so I rushed him aside, but not soon enough. He soon revealed to everyone in the gym exactly what he had for dinner.
Not a pretty sight, but fortunately he missed most of the floor. This made clean up a bit easier… I guess. The take home lesson? DO NOT eat right before practice.
First, you need to understand what happens when you eat. After food is taken in, it needs to be digested before it’s released into your bloodstream as usable fuel for the muscles to uptake. The digestion time depends on what you’re eating. Here’s quick list.
- Meats: 4-6 hours
- Nutrient Dense Carbohydrates: 2-3 hours
- Dairy: 60-90 minutes
- Vegetables & Fruits: 45-60 minutes
- Juices & Other Carbohydrate Liquids: 20-30 minutes
- Water & Other Light Beverages: Basically instantaneous
Obviously these are rough estimates, as it would take up this entire article to give you accurate digestion times for every single food source. However, this should give you an eye-opening insight on how, why and when you should (and shouldn’t) eat.
If you happen to be a cheerleader, and your mom or dad urge you to eat a meal right before practice, drag them over and make them read this article. Or force them to read The Cheer Diet, where all of this is explained in even greater detail.
A Note To All Parents
Feeding your kids some chicken and rice half n hour before hitting the gym might seem like a good idea since they won’t complain about being hungry, but the reality of the situation is, they’re going into practice essentially on an empty gas tank (that meal won’t be usable fuel for 3-4 hours).
In fact, you probably just made their practice worse as now they’re carrying around dead weight in their stomach. See, digestion is only optimal when gravity is working with the body, not when it’s flipping around for a few hours.
But what if you’re absolutely short on time and must have something before practice?
My go-to recommendation is a slice of whole wheat bread with PB&J, and a small cup of regular coffee 30 to 40 minutes before training. I call this the CCF stack (caffeine, carbs and fiber). I choose a jam with berries since they are some of the highest fiber containing fruits available. Couple that with the fiber you get from the whole wheat bread and peanut butter, and you are now able to slow down the absorption of caffeine from the coffee, giving you a smooth stream of energy over a longer period of time. You also get access to just the right amount of carbohydrates that digest quickly, which will provide more than enough fuel to smash through a demanding practice session.
Best part about this stack? Almost no crash, and nothing gets stored as fat. Another pro tip: If you’re not yet a teenager, then coffee can be replaced with chocolate milk. To learn more on how to optimize your nutrition, be sure to check out The Cheer Diet – it’s currently being used by some of the top female athletes in cheer, gymnastics and power tumbling to improve their performance.
Mistake #3: Not Managing Your Time
I really should say “not managing yourself,” since you can’t manipulate time. Whether we like it or not, time only moves in one direction – forward.
Maybe some day we might have the ability to pause or rewind time, but I doubt it’ll happen in this lifetime. This means you need to make sure you plan your homework, projects and all other activities in advance as much as possible.
I have not only managed to get through high school and college as a competitive athlete, but my co-coach that I work with also happens to be a teacher. And I know full well that teachers usually give you more than enough time and advance notice on essays and projects. Most are even nice enough to adjust your dates (such as taking your test a day in advance) should you need to travel for a competition.
So please don’t come into the gym using school as an excuse. If you left your project to the last minute, and now your entire stunt group has to suffer because you couldn’t come into practice, you’re in some deep trouble.
Here’s a little step-by-step list you can follow to stay organized and ahead of the game.
- The Power Of Charts: Chart out everything you currently know on a calendar. Comp dates, project due dates, exams and so forth.
- Communication: Talk with your coaches and your teachers to see if there are any dates that you’ve missed or ones they know about, and can tell you early. Most of the time, teachers and coaches usually know dates that are tentative but haven’t told everyone. However, these temporary dates can give you a good rough idea of what to expect.
- Stop Procrastinating: Don’t do tomorrow what you can do today. If a project is due two months from now, create a task list of everything that needs to be done. Break the entire thing down into chunks and complete one or two small tasks every day. Before you know it, the whole thing will come together right before your eyes.
- Stay One Step Ahead: If you find a school date that is clashing with your cheer schedule (such as a competition), your first priority is to talk with your teacher and figure out a solution. I’d highly recommend that instead of asking for an extension, you ask for an earlier date.
First, this shows them that you’re taking your education seriously, and as such they’re more likely to accommodate you.
Second, teachers are used to students asking for extensions (lame), so when you show up with some initiative and ask for an earlier date, they just might recommend the extension themselves, making it their idea not yours.
Third, it puts you into their good graces. They’ll remember you as that one student who’s always organized and ahead of the game. As much as teachers like to say they’re “unbiased”, they can’t help the fact that they are human. And teachers who like their students aren’t much more likely to give them a better grade. Don’t believe me? Try it. Either way you look at it, it’s a win-win.
A Tip For Parents When It Comes To Managing School And Cheer
I know when your kid misses homework or gets bad grades, you want to instill discipline by taking away privileges such as cellphones, computers, late curfews etc. I think that’s all fine and dandy, but do not slot cheer into the same category. A competitive team sport is like a chain, and relies on all its links to not only be strong, but be present. By forcing a child to miss practice you set forth a butterfly effect that you may never truly be able to grasp.
For example, by not bringing Suzy to practice one day, her stunt group couldn’t perfect their ball up 360. And because of that, they had a bobble during competition, which led to a deduction, which you later find out could have made the difference between 1st and 2nd place. And this resulted in the team not getting the bid they needed for finals, and now they can’t go.
If this seems a little far-fetched, ask any coach that’s been around a while – they’ll tell you how accurate (and very real) this example can be.
So instead, I recommend that you work with the coaches. I prefer parents come in and tell me, “Suzy didn’t do her homework yesterday and got a C on her test because of it.”
You can bet your cheer bow Suzy will be getting some extra conditioning to make up for that C, and will make damn sure her homework gets finished on time. This way the team doesn’t suffer, your money spent on cheer as a parent is not wasted, and Suzy knows she can’t get away with taking her education lightly.
I call that a win-win.
Here’s to your best season yet.
Train hard, eat well, stay fierce!
© Sahil Mulla. This article was originally published in the 2015 edition of Cheer! Magazine
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