Thursday, June 17, 2010

Your most valuable piece of equipment

Your most valuable piece of equipment as a cheerleader is... your voice, of course. I recently took a class for teachers and school professionals on crisis intervention and they taught us about using our voices to defuse potentially volatile situations with our voices. They explained that "non-verbals" doesn't just refer to facial expression and body language- some of the most powerful part of communication is not what you say, but how you say it. In other words, it's not the words, but the non-verbal vocal qualities that can calm, intimidate, or in the case of a cheerleader- invigorate.

The instructors, both school psychologists explained to us how important 3 aspects of our voices are.

  1. Tone
  2. Volume
  3. Cadence
Tone- if a student is anxious, defensive, or acting-out, adults need to avoid sounding impatient, condescending or inattentive. People can HEAR if you care and if you're calm. When an adult tells you that they "don't like your tone of voice," it probably means that no matter what your words said, you sounded ironic, sarcastic, patronizing, or disrespectful. 

In the same way, the crowd can hear if you're confident and poised, but more importantly, they can hear if you're intneted, invested, and enthusiastic. Invested- you care that the team do well. Enthusiastic- you're having fun and you're positive and you want the crowd to have fun and stay positive- even if the team's down. Intented- that means you're purposeful, your purpose is to raise the energy level and your objective is to get the crowd to cheer WITH you. (Intentedness, enthusiasm, confidence and poise are all blocks in John Wooden's famous Pyramid of Success).

Another word for tone is expression. Practice reading things with different types of expression and you'll realize how much how you say something can change how the meaning may be interpreted. This will make you a better reader, a decent actor, a great cheerleader and a very effective communicator. This is a skill that will help you all through your life, no matter what your job is, with just about anybody and in almost any situation.

Volume- Teachers need to use an appropriate volume taking into consideration distance and situation... Inside voice? Outside voice? Classroom lecture voice? Polite conversation voice? Private conversation voice? Library/Movie theater/Church/Funeral Home voice? Factory assembly line floor voice? You see what I'm getting at? How many kids don't go out for sports because they complain that the coach is always yelling at them? Hello- They're outdoors with 20-40 noisy kids and they have to make sure that everyone can hear them- they're yelling TO you not necessarily AT you.

This goes without saying. Any cheerleader needs to be heard from at least 50 feet away. There are plenty of things you can do to work on this. Ask me if you'd like some exercises. Don't be surprised if I post some here on the blog or on facebook whether you ask for them or not. Posture and pitch have a lot of effect on volume. Using your diaphragm is key. Strong core muscles and respiratory endurance all help too. No smoking either.

Finally Cadence- If a teacher wants you to understand and follow directions, they need to deliver their instructions using an even rate and rhythm. Readers and actors have to consider their flow or fluency. For cheerleaders, you have to be two things- even (AKA consistent) and deliberate (not too slow, but definitely not out of control- too fast). The analogy I use with  my squads is a locomotive. You're the engineers for the "Spirit Train," and the fans in the stands are all hobos. Only unlike the Union Pacific, you WANT all the hobos to get on board with you. Travel too slow and they'll feel like you'll never get them anywhere. Travel as fast as a magnetic bullet-train and they'll have no hope of ever climbing on. You have to keep it even and steady, so they can match you and understand you, beat for beat, syllable for syllable.

Obviously pitch and inflection are really important too, but for now, try working on your tone, volume, and cadence. If you can skillfully master your most important piece of equipment, you'll quickly become powerfully effective at leading cheers.

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