Thursday, March 03, 2005

Loud and proud

Loud and proud
By Coach Ted Mallory Charter Oak-Ute NEWSpaper Thurs. March 10, 2005

March 7-13, 2005 is National Cheerleading Week. According to USA Today. There are about 3 million cheerleaders in the US today. Varsity Spirit, largest of about 50 cheerleading companies, made almost $150 million last year. American Cheerleader magazine debuted in 1994 and now has a circulation over 200,000.

Tommy Lee Jones recently stared in “Man of the House,” a movie where he plays a Texas Ranger charged with protecting members of the University of Texas cheer squad who had witnessed a murder. Its cheesy, contrived and predictable, but still cute. Of course, I may appreciate it more than most. I’ve been coaching Cheer since 1993. I know what its like to be trapped in a van with six giggling teenage girls for hours at a time.

The first organized cheers were chanted at Princeton football games in the 1880’s. The first official Yell squad was at the University of Minnesota in the 1990’s. In the roaring 20’s squads started adding pyramids and tumbling. Cheerleading was a predominantly male sport until all the men went off to war in the 1940’s.

Cheerleading is purely American. Think about it. Baseball evolved from Cricket, Football evolved from Rugby. Only Basketball and Cheerleading are purely American originals.

In High School, cheerleading is about school spirit. College cheerleading is all about stunts and athletics. Unfortunately, the cheerleaders for professional football and basketball seem to be more about glamor and swimsuit calendars. Kind of like how respectable high school and college wrestling are as sports, but Pro-Wrestling is pretty much a corny, violent soap opera.
Club squads, which are not affiliated with schools have become very popular recently.

Performing and competing against other cheer squads has become more important to these “all-star” squads as a sport in their own right then raising the spirit at football or basketball games.

The National Federation of State High School Spirit Associations’ official rules book states the first duty of Cheerleading is to “boost school spirit, promote good sportsmanship, and develop good positive crowd involvement Cheerleaders are in a position of great influence, therefore” …"high standards of conduct are essential. Cheerleaders can become the schools most effective student leaders.”

As a coach, I tend to agree with this philosophy. I take it even further. Cheerleading can be a tremendous opportunity to develop important qualities in yourself, your squad-mates and your classmates that will help you throughout your life and in every aspect of your life. The most obvious one might be fitness and fitness habits. I personally think that the most important ones are service, confidence, and positivity.

Service is vital to Cheer and to leadership. You would be amazed as a football or basketball player at the difference that a good cheer squad and crowd noise can make. We are there for them. Cheerleaders shouldn’t be self-focused, we should be focused on others. The ball-team athletes will tell you, there’s something powerful about playing with a lot of noise.

Cheerleaders can make a lot of noise, but their job is to get the crowd to make noise, to lead them in cheers. When the stands are packed and chanting in unison, its electric. It really can help the players, it literally can help determine the outcome of the game. If you’ve been to any of the Lady Bobcat basketball tournaments, you know its true.

Cheerleaders would also be amazed at how much young children watch them, imitate them, and want to be like them. Service could be small thing like picking up trash in the stands after a game, being quiet in the team bus, letting players get on and off the bus before you, or big things, like donating lots of time or money to some charity, church or community activities.

Either way, you can have a lot more influence by helping others than by ordering people around. If you take the focus off yourself and focus on helping others. You’ll be surprised and how good you feel, and how important you become. Perhaps, most importantly, you’ll have a lot less conflict with others if you’re not always trying to get your own way.

Standing in front of hundreds of people, jumping, shouting, and chanting aren’t things that come easy. Leading a pep-rally, speaking your opinion, standing up for what’s right, making new friends, engaging a stranger in conversation, holding up under peer-pressure, saying no, knowing that you have strengths and abilities to handle any situation- these are all things that you can develop by being a cheerleader. Trust in others and trust in yourself. What could Cheering offer that is more valuable than confidence?

Positivity is the next thing that Cheer offers. Think about that old saying “If you’re not part of the solution, then you’re part of the problem.” People who look for the good in any situation and any individual can usually find it. Once found, it can be used to make things better for everybody. Too often, too many of us tend to be critical of one another and ourselves. That kind of negativity is unproductive.

Optimism is more effective, progressive and productive. Certainly life isn’t always easy, cheerleaders don’t have to be in denial about real life, but if you’re going to encourage others, you can’t focus on what’s discouraging. Like the old saying says; “When life hands you lemons, make lemonade!” Knowing that no matter how bad it gets, you can still get through it, move on, and learn, even gain from the pain- how awesome is that?

Some people think that they could never be cheerleaders, they’re not “perky” enough. Don’t think of it as being saccharine or Pollyanna, think of it as being positive. That’s part of the American character, that’s looking forward instead of feeling sorry for your self or criticizing and blaming the people around you. That’s leadership.

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