Opinion: Extreme Competition Times
I understand this topic has been addressed, but it obviously has not been corrected. I feel that it is extremely important to do so immediately at the risk of losing more all star kids and supportive parents. While many coaches are very concerned about competitive advantages, rules, scoring, ages, and many other things that are integral to the success of our sport, I am concerned about the parents’ investment in the activity.
I wish to keep parents and kids happy by providing them a safe and valuable experience to brighten their future. This is how our sport will expand. As I have proclaimed many times, this should be every responsible industry member’s number one priority! Forcing kids to compete from before 7:00 AM to after 11:00 PM does not accomplish this task and is not appropriate. Let us explore some of the many reasons why.
Young kids work on schedules. They are already thrown off by hotel rooms and foreign sleeping conditions, and now we expect them to warm up at 6:00 AM? That means waking at 5:00 AM or before to get dressed, properly fed, and ready. Many of these kids are very young and new to the sport. The preparation for an event should be fun and exciting, but being forced to complete these preparations before the sun comes up zaps the excitement right out of the process. Most hotels and restaurants don’t even serve breakfast at this time!
Now with a sleep and nutrition deprived young athlete we expect them not only to perform but to complete athletic skills involving extreme acrobatic and partner lifting skills. This is not a safe or an effective way to provide for our young athletes or their parents. They do not and cannot practice at this time normally. Why would we expect them to compete at this time?
The American Academy of Pediatrics has done research on safe and effective start times for schools and recommends start times no earlier than 8:30 AM. (PEDIATRICS Vol. 134 No. 3 September 1, 2014 pp. 642 -649) Other scholarly articles state that lack of sleep in adolescences can result in poor performance and foul moods. That does not seem healthy for a successful cheerleading competition! While I am generally the first person that says we need to push our kids and raise our expectations for their successes, I also see the evidence clearly on early start times, but none of my thoughts even matter. The only people that matter are the parents that are investing in our sport and the kids we are trying to keep active for years in all stars. They have spoken and they want change.
Parents that have made an investment hate these extreme competition times. They get particularly perturbed when they find out about it only 5 days prior to the event. I recently had a pediatrician friend and mother tell me that an early morning start time was too extreme for the young participants. She would not have agreed to go if she knew the start time was that early when they registered. Also, many dedicated all star parents have 2 or more kids in the gym, and most of them host multiple children households. With multiple competitors, parents may now be there from 5:45 AM to 11:00 PM. It’s a little hard to find quality sitters in a hotel if the little ones cannot make it that long as most children do not function well on 18 hour days.
As I have worn many hats from gym owner and coach to event producer and parent, I want something to change! I understand that these event companies must make money at these events to stay in business, as do I, but should we do it at the risk of losing aggravated clients to our sport permanently? And do not say that won’t happen because it already has, and I have witnessed it firsthand.
The USASF, event producers, and spirit industry leaders need to realize that we serve these gyms, coaches, parents, and athletes. Without them, we do not exist! We should take more time and use more thought to make sure that our events cater to the parents’ investment.
I have questioned a few friends in the medical profession, education, and professional sports. They seemed to like my recommendation of never starting an event before a child would normally be expected to practice or learn and ending them in the same fashion. From my experience that would be 8:00 AM to 10:00 PM (depending on age). Can we not make this a rule even if it means event producers will have to limit attendance or invest in more judging panels or floors at events? I have been and will continue to follow this guideline for my company regardless of a rule because it is my obligation to provide a safe and positive experience for the participants and parents that these gyms work so hard to recruit and keep in their programs.
I will do the industry a favor. I am going to poll every parent I see this weekend before 7:00 AM and get their thoughts. Anyone else want to do the same at events across the country? I would imagine most will agree with these suggestions. If I am right, I hope we can come together to make this positive change as it is the parents’ hard earned money that the industry must rely on to keep our gym and competition doors open.