“How do you get your teams to be so clean?!” šŸ¤”šŸ˜²šŸ˜

The question mentioned above is one we receive quite often. So today, I wanted to share how my staff and I at CheerCore help our athletes perform sharp, crisp and energetic routines out on the competition floor. For us, there are 4Ā major thingsĀ we focus on:

  1. Adequate Preparation with attention to detail
  2. Teaching counts at the RIGHT speed
  3. Enforcing quality repetitions
  4. Setting high standards

Before we dive into more detail on each of these areas, check out the video below for an example of how I go through cleaning up a stunt section. šŸ”ŠTurn Sound ON to get a better idea of what’s happening in the video.

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I just want to point something out: all but three of the girls on this team are brand new to level 2, which means the skills they are performing are not very familiar to them.

So if this is how they look during choreography camp (i.e. just learning the skills), I’m quite confident that they’re going to be incredible once they’ve had a chance to really practice, and practice right!

With that said, let’s dive a little further into the 4 tips.

Tip #1: Preparation & Attention to Detail are ESSENTIAL

cheer routine strategy

Before you can expect your athletes to bring your awesome vision to life, you need to do your homework.

Every move, motion, stunt etc., should be to a count. Because if it’s not, how can we expect our athletes to know what to do?

Or worse, how can we expect our younger/junior coaches to teach it in our absence?

I like to start by figuring out who I want to base/fly/back in our elite stunt sequence. I’ll map those people out on paper (yes, I’m an old school pen-and-paper kind of gal!), and then work backwards through the opening so that the transition is as efficient as possible.

So to get a clean routine, I have basically mapped out every major formation and stunt count strategically on paper before I even give my athletes their first motion! The only thing I’m doing “on the fly” at choreography camp is working to figure out realistic counts for stunt sequences, pyramid structures, and formation changes that have already been planned well in advance.

Another aspect you need to remember is fighting the urge to create a routine for the team you want instead of teaching a routine that highlights the team you have. Remember; you can always upgrade routine elements throughout the season, but starting off too fast/too difficult/too ambitious is extremely hard to come back from. Everyone at our gym is always excited about upgrades, but no one leaves practice feeling like a champ if we have to ‘dumb it down’ because they can’t hit confidently or safely… So help them be the best they can be, and trust that in doing so, you will slowly build the team of your dreams!

Tip #2: Teach Your Athletes Every Count… But Slowly At First

As mentioned earlier, most of the girls you saw in the video are new to level 2. So we knew that they would be far more successful going through their stunt slowly and with precise instructions for each “hit count.”

Another bonus of going count-by-count in this fashion is that it allows our athletes to increase their comfort and confidence – or, as Coach Sahil likes to call it, “C&C” – in a safe and efficient way.

I like to teach the whole routine the way many coaches approach learning a new dance section… When you teach a dance – or bring a choreographer in to do it for you – you don’t start presenting that dance at the break-neck pace of 146 BPM! You begin slowly, working motion-by-motion and gradually increasing the pace once athletes have demonstrated proficiency in their movements.

If we’re being honest here… I usually make my athletes do their dance at a pace that is way beyond their ability level, shortly after learning it… But that’s just so that we can all enjoy the entertaining train wreck that inevitably ensues šŸ˜‚ (something like what you see below)

Once we’ve all had a good laugh, we go back to the slow-and-steady method until they’re actually ready to slay at full speed.

We know that doing the dance at full-speed, mere minutes after learning it is absolutely preposterous and is bound to end badly, so we don’t expect it to be pretty… But the fact of the matter is that the same is true for every other transition and technical section in the routine! Slow and steady wins the race when it comes to mastering skills, and when it comes to learning a beautifully clean routine.

Once the counts have been taught, it’s just a matter of reinforcing it into their brains. And the only way to accomplish that is…

Tip #3: Quality Over Quantity

When it comes to learning a new skill, it doesn’t matter whether its related to stunting, jumping, tumbling etc., every child (and eventually the entire team) will go through 4 phases of mastery. These phases are listed below (in order):

  • Phase 1: Unconscious Incompetence
  • Phase 2: Conscious Incompetence
  • Phase 3: Conscious Competence
  • Phase 4: Unconscious Competence

Most athletes (and new teams) generally start in Phase 2… this is when everyone’s fully aware that they’re learning something new, and aren’t too great at it.

Think about how many times a brand new stunt or tumbling skill “fails” or “busts”… this is normal (as long as it’s safe).

To transition the athletes into Phase 3, all you need is sheer volume of repetitions.

If you can do that, then least 80% of the time the stunts should be hitting. But just remember that they’ll really be thinking about what they’re doing in order to succeed. Even a slight deviation in concentration can throw everything off. And unfortunately, most coaches stop their teams at this phase and simply move on.

However, at CheerCore, our goal with every routine is to ensure that the entire team reaches Phase 4 — which basically means they are so good at what they’re doing, they don’t really have to think about it. When the music starts, their bodies just hit “GO MODE”. Take a look at the video below to see what I mean…

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To achieve this goal, volume is not enough. You can’t tell a group whose stunt has fallen 10 times to simply “try again” or tell a team that they’re “not going home until it hits”… At this point, all that’s being reinforced is a set of bad habits which will lead to a total destruction of team morale.

What you have to do instead is pin-point the mistake: Is it the flyer’s body position? The base’s grip? The backspot not doing enough stabilizing? etc., then go back to a previous progression or drill which will address this error before trying again.

We call this process Perfection Before Progressionā„¢, and it applies to far more than just tumbling.

In other words, when it comes to churning out beautiful routines… It’s not about how many times you force your athletes to go “FULL OUT” at every practice; it’s about preparing them, step-by-step, to combine each section flawlessly when it comes time to string them all together.

Fun Fact: as soon as our athletes progress beyond level 1, we have a policy of performing a maximum of 3-4 full outs per practice… Typically, we stop at 3 unless the team votes to do one more. We spend the vast majority of our practices perfecting and repeating picture-perfect sections and partial routine runs in quick succession.

Does Your Team’s Current Routine Need An Upgrade? We Can Help! Click Here For More Info!

Tip #4: Set your Standard of Excellence

cheer arabesque barrieI can’t tell you how many times I’ve personally been at a gym, or watched a post on a gym’s social media account, where coaches are going wild about barely-hit, borderline-dangerous skills… And it drives me absolutely crazy!

In order to put clean routines and confident athletes on the floor, everyone who steps foot on your team must agree to abide by a certain standard of excellence. It’s not enough to just “land” the skill or keep the stunt in the air; you and your athletes must strive for more than that if you really want to shine on the competition floor!

Here are some examples that I’ve seen on a regular basis…

Did your athlete’s face almost hit the floor when they landed their tumbling pass? That’s not a routine-ready skill, so don’t whip out your camera or give them their checkmark/sticker/pin/whatever for their “new skill”! Tell them you’re proud of them for having the courage to do something new, but encourage them to keep working drills until it looks so solid that you can see their beautiful, proud, confident smile after they land. If you reward kids for skills that greatly increase their risk of concussion or, you know… A major rhinoplasty in the not-too-distant future… You need to increase your standards and put your athletes’ safety first.

Did your back left flyer flail madly at the top of the stunt while her bases danced around like maniacs under her, pulling it together just in time to make the dismount? Instead of telling the team that they just “hit zero” by keeping all of their stunts in the air, why not praise them for fighting for their skills, but then create an action plan to help them hit a picture-perfect stunt section on their next attempt. For example, you could have your flyers rep out their air positions and motions 3-5x on a stunt stand while helping your bases to mark their stunt with proper dips, footwork, and body proximity. They’ll feel so much more accomplished and proud of their hard work when they are taught how to hit with precision!

At CheerCore, a competition run might earn them a big ‘ol “HIT ZERO” stamp on the scoresheet, but that doesn’t mean anything to us if the performance doesn’t match our own internal standards of excellence.

Understand that this is not about being “mean” or stomping on an athlete’s sense of pride and accomplishment for less-than-perfect skills… It’s about knowing and believing that your kids are capable of being better than achieving bare-minimum expectations.

Encouraging them to strive for excellence is actually empowering because it shows them that you believe they’re capable of being more than “the team that the spectators wait for so that they can get up and take a washroom break”. (Yes – I have actually heard horror stories of coaches saying this to their kids, and I have to say that I could never imagine feeling this way about any of my teams… Because it is our job to set them up for excellence, and if they aren’t able to achieve that goal, the blame usually lies with the coaches!)

You know who explains this concept far more succinctly and eloquently than I ever could? Renowned American football coach, Vince Lombardi… He said, “Perfection is not attainable, but if we chase perfection, we can catch excellence.” 

Some Final Thoughts…

I’ll admit — cleaning routines can be tedious. If all you want to do is coach skills and enjoy the thrill of competitions, then I fully understand if you feel like you want to throw in the towel when your athletes just “aren’t getting it”.

But if you really want to see your athletes hitting a truly clean routine… Hang in there, because the work is so worth it!

When all is said and done, we want our cheer families to have the ability to show off routines and skills that look SAFE, CONFIDENT, and PERFECTED. It doesn’t matter where our teams place, because at the end of the day, that aspect of competition is completely out of our control… All we can do is ensure that we’re doing everything in our power to coach well and encourage a championship mindset, which usually creates championship results. šŸ†

Need Help With Routine Clean Up?

Cheerleading Flyer Barrie CollingwoodDo you have teams that need a hand in cleaning up their routines so that you can feel confident about putting them out on the comp floor?

Or maybe you have stunt groups that aren’t hitting level appropriate skills no matter what you try?

Well fear not, because we’re here to help!

The highly trained staff at CheerCore is happy to travel World-Wide and offer a helping hand to help your program shine. We would love to come and implement our Perfection Before Progressionā„¢ first hand, so you can see the difference in just one day!

Copyright Ā© 2018 CheerCore Inc., All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, including photocopying, recording, or other electronic or mechanical methods, without the prior written permission from the author(s).

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