At Navarro Junior College, every single day leading up to NCA College Nationals, Coach Monica Aldama would have the entire team warm up in the exact same order and manner. After warm up we would take the speaker and walk to the campus clock tower. The reason we walked to the clock tower was to prepare us; soon it would be the day of competition when we would walk to the band shell and take the floor. We were being conditioned. Nothing about the day of the competition in Daytona Beach would be different than the consistency of our countless practice days. We would warm up the same way, walk the same way, do our routine the same way and there was no reason to be nervous because we had already lived and practiced this day over and over again in Corsicana, TX.
“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” – Aristotle
There is a human element in cheerleading. The routine may be predictable but the athletes themselves aren’t always predictable. Cheerleaders are expected to not only demonstrate superior athletic ability but also to be entertaining during their performance. They are rewarded for making the most difficult of skills look easy. The score sheet combines grades in both difficulty and execution, so if a team can increase their difficulty and manage to execute it all, that’s when they win. Routine by definition would be a sequence of actions that never varies. We all have routines in our day to day life waking up and letting the dog out or brushing our teeth before bed. But what happens when a routine calls for multiple people to perform the exact same series of actions at the same time in the same fashion? The success of a cheerleading routine is based entirely on consistency.
Consistency: acting or doing the same thing in the same way over an extended period of time.
Every competitive cheerleader has experienced doing a routine at practice without the entire group present. We’ve all had to stand there and mark certain sections because someone in our stunt group was sick and missing that day. Running through a routine should be an exercise in consistency. The sequence of actions, the spacing, the timing… every section of the routine is dependent on everyone being present. Consistency is what leads to a routine “hit”. A cheerleader that has been consistent at practice can enjoy their performance without internal worries. If there’s been inconsistency at practice it’s natural to have a fear that the skill might fall during competition.
The need for consistency creates accountability. Athletes have to not only trust their coaches and one another, they also have to be someone who can be trusted by others in return. They have to be reliable. They have to be present to practice the routine the same way every time and to catch their teammate if they fall.
Consistency allows for more accurate measurement. In cheerleading those measurements come in the form of consistently hitting a routine. If a team can consistently hit a routine, then judges will give more accurate measures of the routine’s true score. The score will not reflect a poorly executed routine, but rather the full potential of that routine. Unless athletes are consistent, it is hard to know if the routine is bad or rather just the performance.
Reputation and Relevancy
Consistency establishes reputation and creates relevancy. Think about cheerleading gyms that are consistently good in a specific category. Spirit of Texas and The Stingray Allstars will consistently have good jumps no matter what age or division. Top Gun Allstars will consistently have creative tumbling and pyramiding. Cheer Extreme Allstars will consistently have stunts and pyramids that are new and innovative. World Cup Allstars consistently has performance value that forces the audience to watch without blinking an eye. Every program that’s been able to develop a reputation as being relevant has done so through consistency.
Consistency = Good Preparation + Confident Mindset
There are two major factors that contribute to inconsistency: poor preparation and stress suffocation (choking under pressure). Good preparation and a confident mindset — seems pretty simple, right? However it takes a great understanding of these two ideas to actually create consistency.
Good preparation requires both persistent effort and a persistent lifestyle. This doesn’t come in the days just before competition, in fact the champions of 2018 are being decided right now. Too many times athletes decide that they want to be dedicated to the cause too late in the year, but 2018 Worlds is being won at this very moment by the athletes who are choosing to put the extra work in now to ensure they are consistent in mastering their skills they will perform at competitions later. This time of year athletes are focused on increasing skill level as rapidly as possible only to make a team, but understand that having skills and competing with those skills are two completely different things. Anyone can throw a skill when they are fresh, but who can still throw the skill two minutes into a routine while fatigued and out of breath? Only a consistent athlete can. You have to train consistently with the same amount of energy and motivation each day. You cannot have good and bad days, only good days and great days. Cheerleaders, like any athlete, need to have consistent lifestyles as well. A consistent lifestyle encompasses everything from your diet to your sleeping habits and exercise routines. A competition day should be no different than any other day for a cheerleader. When we fall into a routine of living crazy inconsistent lives that include travel and frequent late night practices, the lifestyle can be taxing on the body. Athletes can reduce competition day anxiety by putting an effort towards lifestyle consistency to help ease the physical effects of stress that affect performance when it counts.
Cheerleading is not a sport that most pick up and are outstanding at within a few weeks. Cheerleading is a marathon with about a million different sprints in between. The mind and body are connected. When you’re relaxed, your body is able to work more efficiently and you have more fun and perform better. There are both physical and mental aspects to consistency that lead to confidence in athletes. There is a process involved with becoming an elite level athlete and a big part of that is having trust in your coaches. A coach’s job is to instill confidence in their athletes and create an environment where their cheerleaders believe that they are capable of all things through hard work and preparation.
I had a coach once who talked about “fox hole” people. Fox hole people are the type of people you want in your fox hole when the bullets start flying. These are the people who will show up when the weather is bad or fight back when the bullets start flying. As athletes we owe it to our teammates to be the person we all want in our fox hole. Be consistent. Be there for one another.
As coaches you owe it to your athletes to demand consistency and accountability. Teach your athletes to be predictable and consistent in everything that they do.
As an industry we owe it to the future of our sport to be consistent. There should never be any surprises; everyone should be viewed through the same scope and lens.
The more we practice consistency and the more confident we feel about our ability to be consistent when we take the floor, the better the result. Routines may be predictable but cheerleading never is. So as long as the human element exists in this exciting performance sport, fans will continue to hold their breath for the two and a half minutes and only exhale after every skill hits.