There’s no question about it – cheerleaders who take flight have to bear a lot of responsibility! Flyers are often the focal point of a routine, and as such, must be performing and executing extremely technical skills with precision.
Don’t get me wrong; bases have a very tough and physically demanding job, but flyers often feel the most pressure during stunt sections both in training and on the big stage.
Throughout my years of competing and coaching, I have developed a strong belief that perfect flying technique often makes the difference between a HIT and a deduction. This is why you’ll often see coaches pair their most experienced flyers with a new base group!
If you take a strong flyer and put her on weak or inexperienced bases, you can usually make the necessary corrections to nail that stunt sequence. However, if you take the best bases out there and pair them with a girl who resembles a wet noodle in the air… Well, it’s pretty much hopeless.
At CheerCore, we always look to ‘fix the flyer first’, and then correct the bases once we know that we can trust the top girl to stay tight and do her job. With that said, it can be difficult for a young athlete to remember their core corrections while also trying to hit their counts, their facials, and sell their motions in the air… So we came up with an acronym called S.E.L.F. to make life a little easier for our fearless flyers!
If a flyer can simply focus on their own “SELF” and less about what’s going on under them, there’s a very high chance that the stunt will stay in the air.
Let’s take a second to go over each letter…
Bonus: Download the S.E.L.F infographic so you can review it before practice! Simply go to: www.cheercore.ca/self (it’s FREE)
S = Square Hips
Why This Is Important: If a stunt starts to bobble, most bases will generally do their best by adjusting the placement of the foot and applying power through the leg. But when the hips are not squared up and aligned, the flyer can tip over. As a general rule, the side of the hip that’s sticking out is the direction the athlete will fall.
How To Fix It: Lie down on your back and bend your knees until your feet are flat on the floor. Now squeeze your glutes (your butt) and raise your hips off the floor (this is known as a glute-bridge). After holding for a solid 2 seconds, straighten out one of your legs and see if you can keep everything tight and aligned. After a 2 second hold, switch legs while still keeping the hips in the air. This concludes one rep. I suggest doing 10-15 reps before and after practice, every week. See animation below for more details.
E = Eyes Ahead
Why This Is Important: One of the scariest things for a flyer to experience (and for a coach to witness) is a forward facing fall. That’s because generally speaking, there’s no one there to catch you! So if you look down, that’s most likely where you’ll end up.
How To Fix It: Choose a focal point directly in front of you and stare at it like your life depends on it! Although it is natural to want to look down if you feel like you are falling, we have to train ourselves to fight against those natural tendencies in order to give our bases a chance to work their magic and save the stunt.
You can even practice this technique on the ground. First, take a piece of paper and draw a medium sized red circle on it. Now tape this piece of paper to the wall. Now grab a block (or better yet, a balance board) and practice transitioning through all of your air positions, on both legs, while maintaining strict eye contact with the red circle. Even when you lose balance or “fall”, do not take your eyes off the circle!
L = Lock Out
Why This Is Important: Imagine you were tasked with balancing a very expensive glass figurine on your finger. Chances are, you could probably do it with relative ease — as long as you focus and move your hand to re-center the figurine any time it begins to sway out of alignment.
Now imagine doing this same task, but the figurine can unexpectedly bend a limb at ANY time, forcing you to completely re-strategize your movement to keep it balanced and upright. If you really used your imagination there, you’ve just had a small glimpse into what it’s like to be a base underneath a flyer that’s locked out VS a flyer that’s not.
When we lock out, we are much easier to manipulate and keep balanced in the air. When we bend — at the waist, at the shoulders, or at the knee — it causes our bases to feel a sudden shift in movement that they often can’t react to quickly enough to keep you safely in the air. Locking out the knee is such an important aspect of being the best flyer you can be!
How To Fix It: There aren’t many sports that require a locking of the knees, as it can actually be pretty dangerous in impact-based activities. For this reason, a lot of flyers — even those who are particularly athletic — don’t really know how to activate and lock out the muscles in the knee! For our purposes, the muscle you want to ‘wake up’ and activate, is your vastus medialis. And TKE’s (Terminal Knee Extensions) are one of my favorite exercises to help you target that muscle, and get your knees locked out for your stunts. Here’s how to do them:
- Tie a resistance band around a sturdy anchor, then slip in your flying leg. Ensure the band wraps around the back of your knee (you should be facing the anchor)
- Take a few steps back until the band is providing some resistance (the more you can manage without losing balance, the better)
- Go into a lib position, with hands on hips. Now bend at the knees without compromising the alignment of the rest of your body. Hold for a second, then straighten your knee and “lock” the leg. Be sure to squeeze every muscle in the supporting leg to the best of your ability.
- Hold this “locked out” position for 1 – 2 seconds, then repeat. If you didn’t feel much resistance after 10-15 reps, or it wasn’t challenging enough, you can step back further or use a thicker resistance band. I suggest doing 10-15 reps before and after practice, every week.
F = Faith In Your Bases
Why This Is Important: As I mentioned earlier in this article, there are quite a few natural instincts that flyers need to fight against in order to stay in the air. The best way I can describe the sensation of a stunt bobble is feeling as though you’re having a rug pulled out from underneath of you… If this were to happen in real life, surely you would instinctively bend your knees, try to create a wider stance, throw out your arms to help you balance, and look down to find out what the heck is happening!
However, as you’ve learned by now, these are exactly the things you shouldn’t do when you feel movement under your stunt! Fighting those natural instincts is going to take a large amount of faith and trust in your bases, which is something that develops over time with great relationships.
How To Fix It: Communication is key when it comes to building a trusting relationship with your bases, or with anyone in your life! One of the great things about all star cheerleading is that it teaches so many valuable life lessons that transcend far beyond the big blue mats, and in this case, you are going to develop your interpersonal skills!
Once you’ve been assigned your stunt group for the season, my advice is to take initiative and plan a special bonding night with your elite stunt group. Just hang out! Chat about what you’re excited about this season, get to know each other, talk about your fears and how you can overcome them… And just generally get to know the people who are going to be throwing you in the air for the next year. Developing strong bonds with your teammates is one of the best ways to create trust and feel safe when trying new skills or perfecting old ones.
Bonus Tip For Coaches
This system can save you a lot of time once all of your flyers have the acronym memorized. Simply yell out the letter you need them to focus on before a stunt goes up, and you should see magic happen!
I hope you found the S.E.L.F acronym useful! If you get a chance to apply it within your program, please shoot me an email and let me know about your experience! You can reach me here: sam [at] cheercore.ca. Also, don’t forget to download the handy S.E.L.F infographic for your phone so you can review it before practice! Simply head over to www.cheercore.ca/self to grab it for free.
About The Author
Sam is the co-owner and original founder of CheerCore Inc. She started the gym at 21-years-old and took it from small and humble beginnings to the championship winning program it is today! Due to her sharp eye for details and expertise in choreography, pyramids and building amazing flyers, she has been invited to coach all around the World. When it comes to helping teams live up to their full potential, Sam’s experience is second to none.
© 2020 CheerCore Inc., All Rights Reserved. The tips and advice mentioned within is for entertainment purposes only. The author or its affiliates do not claim any warranties or responsibility. Before participating in any sport or physical activity, please talk with your doctor, and ensure you’re accompanied by a certified coach.