New Cheer Building At ESPN

My first time competing in UCA College nationals we competed at the Indiana Jones Amphitheater. Over the years Varsity has moved its competition location. It has moved to holding all finals in the Milk House which is called something else at this point. This year they are opening a new venue, the Arena. While it will he used for other sports as well, cheerleading was a major consideration in the design of the facility. Here is a picture of the ribbon cutting ceremony.

Cheer Signs

The first time I made cheer signs was a bit of an adventure. I remember calling my old college coach for help and getting all the details. If you search google, you’ll find a ton of places trying to sell you signs. Some of these products are good and some of them aren’t as good. I’ve always made my signs through a sign shop, though one of my co-coaches ordered them form a website and I can say they were no where near the quality I expect from my signs.

Signs are a tool cheerleaders use to engage the crowd. They are usually designed to get the crowd to shout with you. How to use signs is a whole different post but let’s just say that legibility and durability are major factors. To that end I’ve found that signs called “coroplast” signs are the best for both of these.

Coroplast signs are short for Corrugated Plastic signs. The signs are made out of a rigid plastic and usually they use vinyl lettering. These signs are robust. Rain will drop off them, they handle being dropped from stunts and while they might gain a crease, they can even handle a light step. I’ve seen these signs last years if they are well taken care of. So that is the type of sign.

Next let’s talk about lettering and size. These are connected. You want your signs to be readable from a distance. You want fans to say what is on them. So firstly the words need to be large. Long words are hard. For example, the word Francisco in San Francisco is probably to hard to fit on a sign. In the past I’ve done 2 foot by 3 foot signs with the words “PURPLE” and “STATE” and they have both been on the edge of what I’d consider readable. The problem is that when you have a long word you want the height to width ratio of the word needs to be reasonable. If you have very tall letters it is hard to read the individual letters. There are other options than spelling out long words. Many words can be abbreviated or represented with symbols.

To explain this a bit, here is purple in the correct size for font where there is unused white space around it. NormalPurple

As you can see, purple is readable, but it is small. There is a lot of missed space. If you back up a bit, the purple becomes less readable. One solution people have is to stretch the letters to fill the full height and width of the sign. This is good in theory, but in practice, it makes the text less readable: StretchedPurple

This might look better, but as you drop back from this, the lines tend to join together and it becomes hard to distinguish between characters. If your word is larger than “PURPLE”, like say “FRANCISCO” as in San Francisco, you run into some serious readability concerns.

This year we solved the problem using symbols for our involved cheer. Our cheer was S-F-State, Purple-And-Gold. S and F were simple enough. State is right on the edge or readable, we decided to use a purple cutout of the state of California. Purple was just too long to be readable at a distance so we solved the problem by just coloring that side of the sign all purple. We then used an ampersand for “And” (make sure you get it facing the right direction, ours was backwards until I got it fixed), and then used a Gold side for the color gold.

Some cheers are very simple and only require one side, but our cheer required our athletes to flip their signs. This is another challenge. Turning a sign isn’t super easy. The easiest way to flip a sign seems to be flipping it from top down. The hands don’t have to move, but this means you need to have your letters upside down. Most sign makers aren’t used to this, I have found it helps to over what you want with the sign makers in person. A simple notecard is a great tool to fully explain what you want. Also, if you end up doing coroplast signs, most sign makers can easily change a misplaced word.

Lastly, you need to consider the size of your signs. A common size is two feet by three feet, or 24″ x 36″, but I have issues with some of our smaller flyers being able to flip signs this large. This year we did 24″ x 24″. Because of the sign design, we were able to get away with squares. It made it much easier for our team to flip the signs, and they were still readable from a distance. If your words are to large, you might need to stick with the 24″ x 36″. Make sure you account for enough time to practice the sign flipping with your team, larger signs require more practice.

If you have any interesting sign tips, please leave a comment.

UCA and NCA, college edition

Recently returned from Daytona Beach, FL for the NCA college nationals. It was a great trip, but as college cheerleader I had a unique experience or competing at both. Post my college career, I’ve visited UCA and coached a team at NCA. Each competition has it’s own experience and deciding where to go can be difficult. While both NCA and UCA are owned by varsity the events has it’s own character. Here are some of the factors that are relevent for my team when deciding between the two:

Category NCA UCA
Date Early April MLK Weekend January
Tryouts April April
Summer Starts early August Usually Weekend a month, Full outs in February
Taping December October (+crowd tape)
Thanksgiving Break Full Week Break Five Days
Winter Break Starts Before Finals, come back mid January ~5 days for Xmas, 24 hours for NYE
Spring Schedule 5+ days a week Light practices
Spring Break Doubles Off
Missing school Miss days of school (usually Wed through Friday) Miss days of winter break
Cost $600+airfare, due in spring $600+airfare, due much earlier
Post Comp Event Stunt Fest Block Party, Disney World Access
Grades First semester grades counted First semester grades not counted
Location Daytona Band Shell Disney, Orlando
Number of participants 20 Coed (max 11 men) 16 Coed (max 9 men)
Format 45 second cheer, 2:15 music section 2:30 with cheer included
Dance Full Team Dance section (5+ 8-counts) Small number of participants, only a couple 8-counts
Jumps Own Category on score sheet Not scored in coed

The factors listed above are specific to my team which is currently a large coed program. All girl teams have different score sheets and number of participants.

Do you have preference on nationals? If so, which one do you prefer and why?

The Science of Cheerleading

The Science of Cheerleading produced by Science Cheerleader.

Jen recently recommended the book “The Science of Cheerleading” to me. I’ve been known to pull out crazy terms like center of gravity and deceleration zone when coaching my teams. This book seemed right up my ally.

This book was interesting enough for me to finish it. You have to really want to, and I’m not sure how much it will help your cheerleading.

While the book does cover some cheerleading and science, the connection between the topics is mostly stretched. It doesn’t feel like cheerleading is the main point of the book. The main point of the book is to talk about science and there is a little bit of cheerleading thrown in at certain points.

There are nice videos from cheerleaders who are in the science field, but most of them talk very little about how cheerleading has helped them with science or how science has helped them with cheerleading.

Still, if you are a cheerleader and have never taken a physics class, this book might be helpful for you. If you haven’t taken physics and are in a program I’m teaching, this book will make a lot of the things I say make more sense.

Also, if you are cheerleader who is interested in science, this is a great book for that. It is a great basic intro into physics, but you will be left in a place where you need to do further research into certain topics like moment of inertia.

Cool, Cool, Sweet, Sweet

This is not one that I came up with. Right before my senior year of high school (yes, that is me going into my senior year on the left) we had camp counselors come in from Cheerleaders Of America (COA) to run our summer camp. It was a great experience and they taught me a couple of techniques that I still use to to this day, one of which I hope to share with you today.

We had two counselors, Brian and Natasha. I know Brian was with Ohio State, but I’m not sure about Natasha. They brought the team together and said very simply, when we say “Cool, Cool”, you say “Sweet, Sweet”. They tried a couple of times, encouraging us to be louder and louder with it. I didn’t fully appreciate it at the time I use loved saying “Sweet.”

Flash forward to my coaching career, and it is one of my keys to grabbing the attention the team I’m working with. It’s I call an attention grabber. The notion is that give the team a cue to know to listen to you. You can tell who is paying attention and it shows the rest of the team at least some people are paying attention and they probably should to.

You don’t have to use “Cool, Cool, Sweet, Sweet” as your attention grabber. You can come up with one for your school or gym that better relates to your team, but having one is helpful. Start out by getting the team together to practice it a couple of times and then use at least a couple of times in the first practice you introduce it. You don’t want to over use it, but you don’t want to use it enough to keep it fresh in your students minds.

If you have an attention grabber already, what do you use? If you made one up because of this post, please share it.

4 Steps To A Better Handstand

Wait, didn’t I learn handstands in the second grade? Aren’t they a bit too elementary for a coaching cheerleading blog?

Well, you may have learned a handstand, and it may be one of the most basic moves, but that is all the more reason to make your handstand as good as possible. In this post we outline how we teach a handstand, but first lets talk about why we care.

Handstands are a great indicator of strength in a cheerleader. A good handstand demonstrates good balance, a strong core, and strength. While it isn’t the only indicator of a quality cheerleader, using a handstand as a metric for judging someone at tryouts has helped us in the past. Aside from being included in almost every gymnastics skill, handstands are also representative of strength and technique required to hold extended stunts.

This is how we teach handstands.

Step 1: The Stand

Step 1: Head on

Step 1: from the side

Start with your feet together, and stand straight up. Extend your hands over your head so your arms are straight and they are going straight up from your shoulders. ELBOWS SHOULD NEVER BEND IN A HANDSTAND, don’t start here! Flatten your palms on the imaginary roof above you so that your fingers are facing behind you and your thumbs are pointing towards each other.

Step 2: The Lunge Step

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From the standing position, take a big step forward with your lunge foot. If you aren’t sure which foot you are supposed to lunge with, try both, pick one that feels natural. If they still both feel the same, step forward with the left.1

During your lunge step you want to put the weight over the forward leg such that there is a straight line from your palms all the way down to your back heal. It is very common for people to arch their back. Resist this urge! Your arms stay where they were, stacked on your shoulders with the palms facing away from your head.

Step 3: Hands Down

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Now that you are in a great lunge step, pivot forward on your front foot and reach out to place your hands on the ground in front of you. You want to try to reach out the same distance as your lunge. This isn’t always possible, but a good long reach will help you get your balance in the handstand.

When you are done with this step, your hands will be down and you back leg will be up in the air. This is a tough position to hold, but a good strengthening position to work on.

Step 4: Kick Up

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Once you can get to the third position, hold it for a couple of seconds. It is hard, but the goal is to get stronger and better. This pause makes the fourth step a challenge. From the position at the end of Step 3, push off the floor with your lunge leg and bring both feet over your hands.

To break this down a bit further, don’t kick the lunge leg straight up, try and kick your weight over your hands. Getting your hips slightly past the vertical position will help you pull your feet over your head.

Hold the top of the handstand for several seconds before kicking down. At the top of the handstand the feet should be over the hands and the toes should be pointed.

Drilling the Technique

Once you have the basics of the four steps down you can you start drilling them. Hit Step 1, hold for ten seconds, hit Step 2 hold for 10 seconds, hit step three hold for 10 seconds, hit step 4 and hold for as long as you can.

Another drill is to start with a count and try to hit each piece on it’s correct count. Start slow and speed up over time.

One way to make it fun is to ask your cheerleaders to hold the top of the hands stand long enough to say the phrase “Mickey Mouse has really big ears”, and if that becomes to easy, add “and really nice whiskers”.

Do you have any fun handstand drills that you work on with your cheerleaders?

  1. In the chance that you move on to a full someday, most cheerleaders twist to the left from full downs. Starting with your left foot makes twisting to the left out of your roundoff easier. If you have no idea what I’m talking about, just trust me and worry about it later.