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Flipping the Switch on Fundamentals

Flipping the Switch on Fundamentals

By:  Shane Pennington 

You’ve heard it over and over, “Get back to the basics,” or, “It’s all about the fundamentals.”  In the world of cheer today, we have so many people missing it.  Young athletes don’t understand the importance of building a strong foundation.  Parents sometimes get so caught up in what level their all star athlete is competing they don’t stop to think about the dangers of pushing their athlete too hard to progress.  We even have coaches that minimize the importance of fundamentals just so they can put enough athletes on the mat to compete at a certain level.  At some point, most all of us are guilty in some way.  So, let’s take a look at some things that deter us from building fundamentals, some of the associated risks and then see if we can identify some ways to flip the switch and get back to the basics.

The word “fundamental” is defined as: Serving as, or being an essential part of a foundation or basis; basic; underlying.

Nowhere in that definition did you see the words “creativity, personality, level of difficulty.”  That’s because fundamentals are none of these things. These things are, however, highly promoted in our cheer culture…especially in competitive cheer; and this can sometimes encourage our athletes to try to cut corners in development.  Fundamentals can be looked at as the foundation of good habits.  The basics of cheer are much more critical than the single exhilarating moment of a tumble pass at The Cheerleading Worlds.  Everyone wants to win, but teaching fundamentals is much more important.  As a matter of fact, if you don’t master the basics, you may never win the trophy, banner or ring.  Once fundamentals have been taught and have become a norm, then you can add your “creativity, personality and level of difficulty”.

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When most people think about the fundamentals of cheer, they immediately think about pointing their toes, being sharp, tumbling with their feet together, etc.  These are physical fundamentals.  But is there even more to the fundamentals of cheer?  What about social, character and emotional fundamentals? This would include things like sportsmanship, hard work, dedication, self-confidence, team work, etc.  We may not see these things as necessary, but let me ask you this:  If you have a base that’s not a good teammate and he doesn’t like you specifically, how confident are you going to be that he will support you and allow you to do your thing as a flyer?  What about the athlete that has issues with self-confidence?  What happens when she gets so nervous before hitting the mat that she gets sick and can’t perform?  All of these things are critical to your ability to grow as a cheerleader and as a person.  For the purpose of our focus, I’ll refer to these skills as “soft skills”.

Things that could deter fundamentals:

In looking at the development of physical fundamentals, there are a number of things that could come into play:

  1. The athlete’s desire to progress too quickly leads to cutting corners in skill development.
  2. Lack of appropriate training time/focus doesn’t allow for proper development.
  3. Mom wants Molly to move to the next competitive level before mastering skills in her current level.
  4. An inexperienced coach encourages advanced skills without teaching the basic skill builders that should be mastered first.
  5. You’ve heard it all your life, “Practice like you want to ” Because cheer practices can be very challenging physically and mentally, some athletes lose focus and get lazy with all facets of skill development.

These are just a handful of the things that can deter the development of physical fundamentals.  I’m sure you can think of several others.  I challenge you to get rid of these things as they lead to real risks.

In developing soft skills, those areas that prepare us for our future outside of cheer, there are also things that are usually overlooked.  Here are a few things that should be developed.  Can you think of others?

  1. Ignoring Team Dynamics – In order to be a successful cheerleader, it is critical that you understand the dynamics of your team.  It’s a basic fundamental in cheer and in life. We get so caught up in physical skill development that we overlook its importance.
  2. Unrealistic Goals – Self-confidence allows you to grow.  Without it you would have a difficult time moving forward.  Your inability to set realistic goals can hurt your confidence.
  3. Forgetting the “Fun” – Forgetting the fun in fundamentals can make you feel like cheer is a job instead of an exciting opportunity.

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There are obviously several more things that can deter you from building the fundamentals necessary for success.  Hopefully, these will get you thinking about why you cheer and allow you to sidestep things that deter you from learning the basics.  Again…ignoring the fundamentals can lead to several risks.

What bad fundamentals lead to:

If we agree that fundamentals are critical to athlete growth, we must also agree that lack of focus on these skills can create risks.  Here are some things that could happen if you fail to develop physical fundamentals.

  1. Lack of Consistency – You’ve heard it before: “practice makes perfect”.  Well, this is true to a certain extent.  Practice, however, actually makes permanent.  That is, if you practice poor fundamentals you will create permanent bad habits.
  2. Injuries – Obviously, things happen.  No matter your skill level, you can potentially have an injury.  When you haven’t developed the basics, you increase your risk.
  3. Low Scoring – If you and your team are not fundamentally sound, you will likely score lower than you hope to.  It doesn’t matter if you complete every skill in your routine.  If it’s sloppy, your scores will be low.
  4. Inability to Continue Skill Progression – Your skill progressions can be looked at as building blocks.  If you don’t develop the required fundamentals for one skill, you likely won’t be able to complete another more advanced skill.

What happens if soft skill fundamentals aren’t taught/learned?  Here are some things that could happen.

  1. Unrealistic Goals – By setting unrealistic goals, you will set yourself up for failure, and this will lead to low self-confidence.  The sad thing here is that in many cases the athlete’s goals aren’t good enough, and we as parents begin to push our kids while not realizing the negative effect it is having on them.
  2. Team Cliques – It’s natural to identify with a select few on your team, but cliques can sometimes be damaging to the team as a whole.
  3. Blame – When you don’t learn the basics of team building, you run the risk of blaming others.  This can lead to negative team dynamics.
  4. Poor Sportsmanship – Do you have rivals? Sure you do, and that’s totally fine.  There is a need for you to learn to be a good sportsman.  If not, you will be a poor loser, and that can lead to all kinds of issues.

How to get focused on fundamentals:

Physical fundamentals are critical to your ability to progress your cheer skills.  Here are some things that you can do to increase your focus on them.

  1. Focus on the small things that you hear your coach say over and over and over again…“Point your toes”… “Be sharp”.  If your coach is saying it over and over again, it is likely a fundamental that you need to develop.
  2. Find a program like CheerBandz that serves as a home development program.  Whatever you do, make sure that the program focuses on the basics and developing the athlete with fundamentals in mind.
  3. Practice with a focus on fundamentals.  I challenge you to focus on the basics at every practice.  Don’t get lazy!  Always do the basics, and do them right.
  4. Ask your coach if you’re not sure you are doing something correctly.  I promise they want you to do it right.  If you can complete a skill, but it doesn’t come easy, ask the coach for additional drills you can do to create good skill habits.
  5. Hey mom…Don’t push Corey too much; and if you are going to encourage him, please make sure you know what to say and can say it in a way that won’t hurt him. I have seen the good, bad and ugly of parenting in cheer: The mom who looks at her athlete with disgust when she hasn’t yet perfected a skill; Those who threaten to make him quit if he doesn’t get the skill by next practice.  Come on, mom! Is this really what you want to do?  For the purpose of this article, I’ll just encourage you to create a positive environment for your young athlete.  Encourage her to work hard, listen to her coach and to always perfect the fundamentals.
  6. Coaches,watch for poor fundamentals, and don’t let them slide.  Make fundamentals a norm in your training sessions.

What are some things you can do to create a focus on your soft skill development?

  1. To increase team bonding, spend time with teammates outside of the gym.
  2. Coaches/Owners, find a book or something to guide your newly formed teams through team building and character building skills.  (Example:  Five, Six, Seven, Eight:  Prepare Today Make Your Life Count.)
  3. Develop accountability among your teammates for having positive attitudes and fighting through adversity.  Don’t give up.
  4. Smile, and have fun (while remaining focused)

Getting back to the basics is important.  Hopefully, you better understand why these things are critical.  I challenge athletes, parents and coaches to take a step back and consider what you can do to improve your focus in these areas.  When you identify the things that are deterring you from being fundamentally sound, you will be able to sidestep the associated risks and put together your own plan of action.  Don’t take your soft skill development lightly.  Let’s face it;  you won’t cheer forever.  The development of these skills is what will set you apart later in life.  Smile Big…Cheer Hard!


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