Letting Them Go
Every year, our cheer season starts over in May. And, every year I have to say goodbye to some of my athletes. Sometimes, I have known for a while that they wouldn’t be returning. Other times I am completely stunned. Every time though, I am sad. But I can’t allow myself to be bitter. I don’t allow that to happen because long ago, in my rookie coaching days, I used to let it consume me and it was toxic for me, for my family and for the kids that were still cheering with me.
I would take an athlete leaving so personally! Once, after losing one of the best coed partner stunters I had ever coached to a team that promised him a free trip to Disney, I was so depressed that I stayed in bed for three days. How could he do that to ME?! I had coached him from nothing to toss full ups more.
Other times, I lashed out and said things that were immature and I later regretted behaving that way. Every time I let it bother me so much, it would take me forever to get over it and I was negative and grumpy to everyone and they wouldn’t even know why. It was so constricting and distracting. I would let it affect everything including my family life.
For the athletes that stayed, they would feed off of my negativity and start bashing those that left. To the point that they couldn’t distinguish between those that left on good terms and those that were “traitors”. The Terrible Traitors were the ones that went to new gyms. They were not to be talked to and they were no longer worthy of our friendship. But I had no problem with kids that just decided not to cheer anymore. They weren’t taking those gorgeous tumbling skills for anyone else to benefit from so I was ok with that…but the other kids didn’t realize there was a difference.
All of this negativity was creating a culture in my program that didn’t look like a positive thing that anyone would want to join or be a part of. And it made my family hate cheerleading. None of these things were the results I wanted!
And then I found my way to Leaps & Bounds Sports Center. Our gym owner, Michelle Lavergne, encouraged me to realize that not everyone would be a good fit for the program and vice versa. It was like someone flipped a switch in my brain! That was when I realized that all kids would eventually leave, for whatever reason. Some kids leave because they age out, some leave because they aren’t having fun anymore, some want to try something else, some want to go cheer with their friends at another gym, some want to do school cheer only, some families can’t afford it (and may be too embarrassed to say so), some kids want to be on a team that travels more, some kids get injured and can’t continue, some have a short shelf life at every gym they attend, some just realize it is more work than they anticipated…the list goes on and on. But they all eventually leave.
Having several kids that have stayed with us since they were very young has been a blessing. However, every year, I brace myself for the fact they even those kids, the ones that have been with me forever, the ones that I never imagined leaving for anything, will be gone too. My biggest hope is to keep a few of them on as coaches. That’s the most ideal situation I can imagine with athlete retention. We should celebrate those athletes instead of mourning the ones who left. Who deserves more of my attention and time: the athlete that says “peace out” or the one who stays and is an integral part of our gyms culture and future? For me, that answer is clear.
Every year, I prepare myself and my coaching staff to start the season with zero athletes. What a concept! If we had to “rebuild” every year how discouraging would that feel? Honestly, the kids commit to one year so technically, we are rebuilding every season. After tryouts, when I have more than zero kids show up, I am happy but I prepare myself to lose at least half of those kids because I have heard stories of this happening. And after that, I just stay ready for anything. Because anything can, and will, happen. Have you ever had a season when you didn’t lose even one athlete? I bet that is a very rare occurrence and I would love to hear from anyone that was lucky enough to have that experience.
When kids do leave, I hug the kids and tell their parents that I can’t wait for them to return. One day, they might come back if I make sure they leave on a positive note and keep the door open. But truthfully, I don’t miss everyone, so sometimes I am happy they left before things got sour for both of us.
The families that pass through our doors deserve to have a good experience at every turn. As coaches we should embrace the principle of Servant Style Leadership. We are the representatives of good sportsmanship and athletic maturity. This means that from the moment these kids walk through our gym doors, to the moment they wave their last goodbye, we want them to remember the fun times they had and to leave us better people, not just better athletes. So be the change you truly want to see, brace yourself for the inevitable, be ready for that last goodbye and let it go!
Andrea McBride is the department leader and head coach of Cheer Energy at Leaps & Bounds Sports Center in Denham Springs, LA. And, believe it or not she has never seen “Frozen.”