As with any competitive sport, all-star cheerleading creates passion and excitement that sometimes errs on the side of negativity. We were all taught the basics of etiquette and sportsmanship when we were kids…”Don’t heckle another team”…”Congratulate the winner”…”Do onto others as you would have them do to you”. However, is there more expected from today’s athletes and fans? Specifically, what can we do in the all-star world to discourage poor sportsmanship and etiquette that has often been associated with cheerleaders of the past?
As a cheerleader, you are the front person for your gym. What you say or do will represent the gym as a whole whether that is at the gym, at a competition, or on online public places like Facebook, MySpace, or cheerleading forums. At your gym, be sure to encourage all athletes on your team and other teams. There will always be someone on your team that isn’t meeting expectations or maybe doesn’t even care as much about the sport, or the team, as you. However it is your job to keep encouraging this person to be the best they can be. Maybe you feel this person should not be on the team at all, however this is not your decision to make. Only your coach can make this decision and they know what is best for the team. Your positive support and attitude is the only thing you can control.
During competitions it is imperative to remember you are a representative of your gym at all times, even when not on the competition floor. If given the chance during warm-ups, clap or offer praise for another team that just hit an amazing skill. After seeing an impressive routine, make a point of going up to one of the athletes and telling them “Good job” or praise a specific part. How you look during the competition is important as well. After you perform make sure you are still in appropriate attire or wearing your uniform as it is meant to be worn. It only takes one person walking around a competition in curlers, a sports bra, and spanks to negatively label a gym.
Awards can often be the hardest time to keep your composure but is definitely the time when it is most needed. Clap and praise each time a team name is called. When the second place team is called, hold your enthusiasm for your first place win until your name is announced. Getting second place is a great accomplishment for many; let them enjoy that moment too! Afterwards congratulate the winning teams and hold any negative comments you may have to later vent with friends in a private setting. Please remember that awards are often recorded and all eyes are on you. Do not let a few careless comments diminish the reputation your gym has worked hard to build. Lastly, always remember that even after you leave the competition you are still representing your gym at hotels, restaurants, and attractions. The last thing you want is people saying “XYZ Gym was running around the hallways at the hotel and kept us up all night!”
Online places are some of the worst displays of bad sportsmanship and etiquette. There seems to be a feeling of power when a person can post something from relative anonymity and often these comments are unsportsmanlike. First, it is rare that anyone is truly anonymous on any online place. Most people can figure out gym affiliations between usernames, pictures, comments, or tracked IP addresses. You can’t take those comments back once they have been made public even if you edit/delete afterwards. Usually someone has seen the comments within minutes of you posting it. If you aren’t worried about how you personally are perceived then at least worry about the reputation you are creating for your gym. One comment made while angry may have just ruined the name of hundreds of other cheerleaders at your gym.
Parents can unfortunately be some of the worst sportsmanship and etiquette offenders. For some there is a feeling that because we pay lots of money for our children to compete we can do whatever we want. Most of us know that bad behavior is not okay in any situation regardless of the costs of the sport. Many of the issues addressed above also apply to parents; however there are some specific ones that we encounter as parents of all-star cheerleaders.
Some gyms allow parents to sit in a viewing area during practices. This can be a great place to see how your child is doing and a good time to catch up with friends. It also is a place that can lead to some of the worst comments by parents. Try to limit your comments to the positives of the team. There are always going to be struggles on a team but this is not the place to vent them. Also please see the viewing area as a completely closed and separate area from the practice floor. This is not a time to give instruction to your child, talk to the coach, or make suggestions. The cheerleaders and coaches need complete attention to make the best use of the time.
During competitions there are several areas that parents fail to represent themselves or their child’s gym well. First, we all want a good seat in the arena. Saving a seat or two for a short time is okay; saving 30 seats all day when they are barely used is disrespectful and rude. Also, when a team is performing make sure you stay seated or wait until the routine is finished to find your seat. There is plenty of time between performances for any moving around. Lastly, during competitions, priority seating is provided for friends and family of the team competing. There is an unwritten rule that front row seats in priority go to parents and close friends. If you are there to support the team but are not as closely related then choose the 2nd, 3rd, or 4th rows. Signs, banners, and flags are a fun addition to the priority area but make sure they are lowered once the routine begins. Not only does it impede other spectator’s views but can distract the judges. There is a place for all to support the team; just be aware of others while there!
Awards can also be as stressful for parents as they are for the cheerleaders themselves. This is a parent’s time to show the kids what true sportsmanship is all about. Clap for every team called in addition to the winner. This can be especially hard when you have been beaten by a huge rival. In addition, absolutely DO NOT cheer, clap, jump up and down, yell, scream, high five, or otherwise celebrate when a team is called second and yours is therefore first. This is probably the hardest thing to do as a parent but one of the most crucial. Let the team enjoy this time because second place can be quite an accomplishment for many teams. You will have plenty of time afterwards to celebrate your win!
Everything listed above for cheerleaders and parents can and should be asked of the coaches as well. The main point we want to convey to coaches is that you are the hallmark for sportsmanship and etiquette in your gym. If the kids see a Facebook comment bashing another gym they will post one as well and it will most likely be even worse than the one you posted. If they hear you say your team was robbed or “the judges got it wrong” they will repeat this as well two-fold. You are the one that the kids will look to for the appropriate reaction and this will stay in their minds for years to come. That’s a lot to ask of coaches but is a responsibility that must be stepped up to in a positive light. It does not matter how many times we parents have preached sportsmanship and etiquette; if the coach does not practice it then we have lost.
As all-star cheerleading becomes more accepted as a sport in the world’s eyes we need to realize that our practices are being watched as well. Not just by spectators or outsiders to the sport but by our children as well. All-star cheerleaders have to battle the stereotype of the bad cheerleading attitude from the beginning. Let’s not give the public or our fellow fans any reason to believe these stereotypes are true!
By Bill Presson