There is a physically and emotionally draining time in everyone’s life when everything begins to change. Mere mention of these changes is awkward and uncomfortable. Some experience these changes earlier than others, and in rare cases, some need assistance from doctors to “change.” Girls and boys alike go through this time period; once it hits, there’s no going back. So, what are these awful-sounding changes? You guessed it – puberty.
The body’s transformation is a fascinating thing, and the changes that occur are necessary for the procreation of mankind; however, everything from skin complexion to physical stature shifts. All of a sudden, girls begin to take on a more mature figure and boys start developing more muscle tone and height. This can begin to occur anywhere from late elementary school to early high school.
In cheerleading years, consider your entire junior-level team!
It’s important that parents, coaches, and athletes understand the effects of puberty specifically on cheerleading performance. Cheerleading skills are highly dependent on body composition (the percentage of the body that is muscle, fat, and bone), strength, flexibility, and fast-twitch muscle fibers. When your body changes during puberty, you are forced to transform the way you train and perform cheerleading skills. Since puberty affects everyone differently, there is always a chance of rapid physical changes such as a growth spurt in height and weight. Just like tumbling and jumping efforts change during and after puberty, many flyers have to learn new positions on the team like basing or backspotting!
It is very common for post-pubescent flyers to be replaced by their smaller, younger teammates. Often, those athletes feel “too fat” and their body image deteriorates. Although young flyers are so common in all-star cheerleading, the transition from a flyer to a base is a very difficult one for many girls.
In an already-critical world, it is imperative that coaches, parents and teammates create an emotionally safe and uplifting environment within the cheerleading industry.
While these years are trying, there are many positive ways to improve health, wellness, and physical abilities! This is a time of growing and changing, and reestablishing self-image and body awareness is the key to maturing appropriately. There are a few ways in which athletes can thrive during these years, and coaches and parents can play a vital role in empowering young girls (and boys) to embrace the changes and excel in their new, improved bodies!
- Maintain health and wellness for every stage of life. As the body matures, it requires different types of maintenance. Metabolism changes, sleep becomes more necessary, and new aches and pains begin to surface. In order to stay in optimum cheerleading shape, athletes must take diet, exercise and rest much more seriously. Drinking more water, eating more fresh vegetables and lean protein, and avoiding processed foods like cookies and cakes are vital to staying healthy as an older athlete. Although a girl may outgrow a flyer position, staying healthy and strong is extremely important. Also, setting new goals will encourage athletes to always work toward being in-shape and healthy at any age and or body-type. Athletes should be encouraged to become the strongest base on the team or strive to be point jumper. Regardless of the role on the team, staying healthy and understanding the body’s needs are one of the most important parts of growing and maturing as a cheerleader.
- Flyers make incredible bases. Believe it or not, bases who have flying experience are some of the best in the industry. Many bases assume flying is easy, and any flyer will definitely disagree. Having been in the air, bases understand what adjustments need to be made in order for stunts to hit cleanly. These girls have a different empathy for flyers, and they tend to be more objective when things aren’t going well. What better place to receive constructive help than from someone who has flying experience? Stunt groups comprised of bases and backspots with flying experience can work on being less critical and more helpful to all members of the group. Coaches should capitalize on these former flyers! Their experience is priceless to the younger, less-experienced girls and they should flourish as the best-rounded bases on the team!
Flying isn’t always a thing of the past.
Remember that flyers on high school and college teams cannot be ten years old! Maintaining flexibility and core strength is a great way to keep flying as an option in the future. Many gyms offer private stunting lessons, and these may be a great way for athletes to work on flying skills as their bodies change. It’s also important to remember that not everyone is genetically appropriate to fly throughout high school and college. Many colleges have strict weight and height limits for coed and all-girl flyers; however, many do not. While maintaining a realistic outlook, athletes can continue to work on flexibility, core strength, and the most up-to-date flying skills even if they’re basing on their all-star teams.
Never stop exploring options to promote emotional (and cheerleading) success.
Coaches and parents must be mindful of the emotional grievances athletes endure as their bodies do uncontrollable things! If a girl is pulled from the air because she is “too heavy,” coaches should address the issue with care. In the all-star industry, score sheets require fast stunt transitions and unique pyramids that are more easily achieved with tiny flyers. Cheerleaders should be given constant encouragement so they know how vital their role on the team is. They should be offered other options to continue working flying skills while being empowered to excel in other areas. Open stunt practices with older girls or college teams are great ways for them to learn how to stunt with people their own age all while learning ways to help their flyer be as successful as possible.
LOVE YOURSELF (This is where things get personal).
Regardless of what happens in a cheerleader’s career, self-love is imperative. No flyer can be in the air without her bases. No base is really a base without a flyer. A tumbler without a team is just that – a random person tumbling. There is no greater feeling than being a part of a team, and whether you’re a base or a flyer, you are important! Remind yourself daily that you are beautiful, talented and hardworking. Take care of your body both physically and emotionally, and never let the social pressure to be or look a certain way hinder your success. Bases and backspots are literally the foundation of a successful routine, and transitioning from a flyer to one of those positions means that you are a trusted part of the firm foundation on which your team’s success is built!
Contributed by Kayla Wygal