AACCA Recertification

Yesterday went through my second AACCA certification class. This time my instructor was Mike Burgess, my last instructor was Lisa Moscow (former regional director for UCA in the northeast). Lisa was great, she was very experienced in the sport, and made sure to get the key points across. Mike had a lot to live up to, but I can say with assurance that he thrashed my expectations. I’m not sure what factor contributed most to my learning this time around:

  • The fact that I’m nearly 4 years older than the last time I took the test
  • The fact that I now run my own team, and have increased responsability
  • The fact that the money for the certification came out of my pocket this time around

Whatever the reason I was able to learn a ton more in this session than I had before. My favorite part of the course was when Mike turns around to the class and says “Those two chapters are the chapters that make us never want to be cheerleading coaches!” (referring to the chapters on our legal liabilities and medical conditions we have to deal with). It was my favorite because he read my mind. I keep asking myself why I continue to coach. There are so many ways to fail, fall apart, and end up in trouble, why do it? The simple answer is that I love the sport, I love making sure people are safe and educated and teaching people what it is really about, not what you see on TV or in movies.

There were many other aspects of the program that I think are valuable, and worth being published. It is my intention to go over some of the topics in the manual here so that we can increase knowledge, education and publicity (though I’m pretty sure very few people actually read my site with hopes of cheerleading expertise). If it does nothing else, it will keep me focused on growing in that knowledge.

The last note that I’m sure I’ll mention again is AACCA’s take on competing in high school programs. Basically, the fundamental purpose of a high school team is support the school and sporting programs, not competition. This is something I’ve been trying to hint at with my kids, but haven’t done an explicit job of explaining it to my program.

Okay, so baring the fact that I got more than 30 questions out of 100 wrong, I have four more years of AACCA certification before I take the test again!

What’s So Special About Cheerleading?

I was driving my friend Mike home from a bike ride, when he asked me if I thought that I had learned anything unique from cheerleading. Whether that sport in and of itself was unique enough that I felt I had learned things that I might not have learned from a different sport. This is a really great question. Now, I chose cheerleading because it captured my interest with the gymnastics and throwing people around, not to mention the great seats for football and basketball games, but I do feel I have taken some unique things from the sport that might be hard to find in total in any other sport. I think some of the things I’m about to mention can be achieved in other sports, but I don’t think the combination of all of them really exist.

Here’s a brief list of what I intend to cover:

  • Basic History
  • Co-Ed in nature
  • Not Position Based
  • The Community
  • Strong Diversity

Basic History

Not all cheerleading programs are co-ed, but the sport has really started to grow to the point where seeing a co-ed team is not that unheard of. It’s funny, but cheerleading was actually started by men in the 1880s. There is a large reference to this in the book Cheer! and on Wikipedia. Women started taking over the sport during the first World War.

Modern cheerleading, which I could take an entire post to explain started more in the 1970s and 1980s. During its formation, the rules were very fluid and there were a lot of stunts and tricks that have now become illegal. Men and women worked together to produce tall pyramids and perform interesting acrobatics. It is during this time that competitions began to really become popular. Cheerleading had previously been only to support other sporting programs.

Cheerleading in its nature can be a very dangerous sport. Over the decades it has become the number one reason for high school girls to visit emergency rooms. Please note, that even though it is the number one reason for visiting ER rooms, some argue (and I agree), that it is still not as dangerous as other contact sports like Football. Due to some of the dangers, several organizations have stepped in to provide training for coaches and set up insurances for institutions conducting cheerleading. I am a certified AACCA (American Association of Cheerleading Coaches and Administrators) coach. These organizations also somewhat restrict some of the skills that should be taught or performed. The benefit is that we reduce the number of injuries, but sometimes at the cost of some of the original excitement that was once possible.

Cheerleading consists of several different types of actions, just like baseball players have to bat and field, there are several different areas for cheerleaders.

  • Cheering or attempting to lead the crowd to create more excitement for the current sporting event
  • Stunting putting each other up in the air to better attract the attention of the crowd.
  • Tumbling and Jumping throwing oneself into the air to attract attention
  • Dancing moving the body to music to get the crowd more energized.

Each cheerleader will have stronger or weaker points in the list above, and they can change throughout the life-cycle of a cheerleader. For example, when I started out, I was a very strong Tumbler/Jumper. As I went off to college, I developed my stunting and cheering somewhat to the determent of my tumbling. I have never been a strong dancer.

Co-Ed in Nature

Generally, men tend to be stronger than women of the same build and size. Don’t get me wrong, there are a ton of women out there who can kick my butt, but I’m speaking about the average, not the exceptions. In the same manor, women tend to have greater flexibility than men (again a generalization, but bare with me). This duality leads to men having a strong place in certain aspects of cheerleading and women being generally better in other aspects. This duality has set up a very interesting balance in the sport of cheerleading whereby men and women co-exist in the same activity each of them providing specific benefits to the team.

Many other sports miss this connection. In what other sport do men and women co-exist on the same team, on a equal level, to compete together? I can name only a couple, like sailing, pairs tennis, etc.. These sports miss out on some of the other points I plan on mentioning later.

To name just a few of the benefits of this co-ed nature:

  • Broader respect for the opposite sex.
  • Better conflict resolution skills between genders.

Not Position Based

Many sports are position based. For example, Basketball. There are five players and four positions:

  1. Point Guard (1 player)
  2. Shooting Guard (2 players)
  3. Small Forward (1 player)
  4. Center (1 player)

Each person who makes it onto the court slides into one of these rolls. As you get more professional the roles blend, and responsibilities are diluted between roles, but basically everyone fits into a position. When someone comes off the bench to replace a player, the responsibilities are the same and it is relatively easy for that person to walk in and play. While there is a dynamic of team chemistry, responsibilities are set per position. Each players responsibilities stay relatively consistent even if the other players on the court are substituted.

Basketball isn’t the only sport that is position based. Football, basketball, lacrosse, and soccer are all somewhat position based. Cheerleading is also “somewhat” position based. There are several roles in cheerleading stunting:

  • Base– someone who helps lift another person of the ground and maintains a connection with the person being held up in the air.
  • Flier– someone who is lifted up into the air.
  • Spot– A spot may or may not be required to bear a fair share of the weight of the flier, but is also responsible for watching the flier and directing the other bases in terms of controlling the stunt

At most levels, bases normally work in pairs, with one flier, and one or more spots (normally a back spot and front spot). The problem is that matching up a group together takes into consideration more than just position. Since each person in a stunt group has a different level of skill, each group will normally work at the level of the lowest skilled member, for safety reasons. Another important requirement for a successful stunt group is that members of the same group are matched physically. Bases with different heights will have to use some tricks in order to make a stunt work properly. It is far easier if bases are the same height. Spots will need to be able to reach the arms of the bases or legs of the fliers.

On top of the difficulty of matching a group up, there is the sheer chemistry of a group. People have to get along and respect the other members. Timing needs to be figured out. Changing one member of a group could cause the entire group to need to relearn timing.

Now, as you progress through the sport, you become more adaptable. To the really experienced cheerleaders, changing a member should have minimal effect on the functionality of a group, but it takes many years, and depending on the difficulty of the stunt could still have an effect. At the far elite level, even the people winning national partner stunt competitions work together for years (sometimes even traveling to different schools together).

All in all, I feel that the dynamic nature of stunting groups and the chemistry required to make this all work is something is very unique to cheerleading. Potentially sports like synchronized swimming might have similar problems, but that is not my expertise.

The Community

Cheerleading has a very interesting motto, “cheer for your team, not against everyone else”. The best feeling I ever got was when we placed second in a nationals. It wasn’t a competition I won. I was proud of how my team performed. The team in front of us deserved to beat us, they were better. We did the best routine we could and came out very successful. I spoke with our competition, congratulated them, and wished them much future success.

Now, there are some rivalries, but for the most part we really try to get along. I feel its not as competitive as a community. Yes, most teams want to win, but not every team is going to win every competition, and I might be idealistic, but my goal has always been to leave a floor with nothing left in me.

At games its very similar. Our teams may be fighting on the field or court, but we always try to go over and say hello to the other cheerleaders.

Another aspect to our community is the closeness of the major players. This might not be all that unique, but the despite the fact that there are so many kids involved in the sport, the major players in the community are well known. I cheered for a program called LCI. One of the directors, Lynne Mensack was a former Varsity rep, and so many people (even some out here in California) know of her, or have worked with her. Bottom line, the community might be huge, but the major players are small group of people.

Strong Diversity

Cheerleading is a very diverse sport. From the 3 year old minis to the people like Jeff Webb who have been in the sport since the 1970s, there are many different types of cheerleaders. There are people who specializing in tumbling, and those that specialize in stunting. Backgrounds are also very different. My background is martial arts, many come from gymnastics, some from wrestling, some even come from NCAA sports like Football after they have served their four years in their primary sport. Everyone comes to the sport with a different perspective.

Cheerleading is expensive, so you tend to see people who have the financial means more often, but many programs offer scholarships to those who can’t afford it. If it is a college based program, the cheerleading expenses are normally covered by the school.

Because the background is so diverse, and the nature of the community is so friendly, cheerleading offers a unique opportunity for you to interact with many different types of people. This might not be as unique as some of the other points in this article, but it is a large component of what makes cheerelading so special.

Conclusion

I’m not sure if all the factors mentioned above exist for everyone who has been involved with cheerleading, but in the very least, I hope they explain why I love the sport so much. I spend countless hours a week either coaching or cheering myself. I’ve been doing that since I started nearly 12 years ago, and while I’ve played other sports along the way, I always come back to cheerleading as being my favorite.

Woodside Senior Night

For some reason I try to keep myself objective when I coach. I don’t want to play favorites; I want to be fair; I want to have logical reasons for why I do everything I do. This is one way to coach, but the more I think about it, the more I dislike this method. I’m not getting closer to the kids, I’m not learning about them, and I’m keeping them from learning about me. I’m hoping to change this. This post is about the first steps.

Halloween night was also senior night at Woodside. It was our last home game and before the game began, all the football team seniors walked out with their parents. Cheerleaders are honored during basketball season, so we aren’t really a part of the senior night. I have eight seniors on my team of 21. They make up more than a third of the team. While I’m scared about what this may mean for next year, the seniors are all great people and so far I have had a great time working with them.

Being Halloween, we decided to dress up as ‘Wild Kittens’, which basically meant we wore cat ears. The seniors decided to wear the senior jerseys as well. About halfway through the first half it started rain. This meant we were grounded for the most part. No stunts. No tumbling (not that anyone tumbles on the track). The rain also drove out most of the fans. By the second quarter, the stadium was almost completely empty.

Despite the lack of fans, I really felt like the team did extremely well. I saw ZERO falls or bobbles, the motions were all there. They were loud and engaging to what little crowd we did have. I’m sad that this was our best game, as it is our last home game. I just really hope we can bring this type of energy through to our basketball and competition season.

These are the eight seniors I have on the team.
These are the eight seniors I have on the team.

I’m not going to lie, I’m starting to get sad that our football season is ending. These are some great kids, and it is the last time I get to be their coach at a Woodside football game.

Cheerleading Sunday 10/26

This weekend was full of cheerleading related exercises for me. Friday night was our homecoming game. Saturday was the dance, so we had setup, concessions, coat check, and tear down. On top of that, it was our 50th anniversary, so we had a few obligations there as well. Bottom line, I spent the entire day at the school, from just after 9:00 am (I was a few minutes late), to just before 11:00 pm.

So Sunday was my day. It started off as all Sundays do, with my cheerleading team’s practice, this week at the new and improved time of 9:30 am. This meant I should have left my house by 8 am. I was late, left at 8:30, had to drive fast, but I made it just in time.

Practice started out with us warming up some tumbling. I’m doing a very limited amount of tumbling in this routine: two to a tuck and a toe touch tuck, nothing too hard. But I wanted to warm up my running so I hopped in the running line, and threw a few basic passes: a round off handspring tuck, a punch front round off hand spring tuck, and a few roundoff handspring layouts. Then came the moment of truth. I’m old, and haven’t thrown in about 6 months, since tryouts for the team, but out came the full. My timing was on, so I wasn’t too worried about getting over, but I’m getting old, so landing wrong scares me. The roundoff was on, the handspring was long and strong, that’s when I committed to it. I went up, put my arms to the side (I don’t think I remembered to set) and pulled and looked for the ground. It wasn’t pretty, but I did it. Landed it.

You can’t image the adrenalin that was flowing through my blood at that point. I started hugging Chaz every two seconds until she finally said something. Honestly, I don’t remember too much, it was just great to throw it again. I really love that trick, and it makes me feel young again.

Then we got to practicing. All in all it was a good practice, we improved a lot and I think came together more as a team. However, there were a couple of injuries, including some people landing on my head that made me quite dizzy for a while.

I spent the rest of the day up at Stockton for a Jamz region competition. It was interesting to see where so many teams were in their routines. Some of the routines were really amazing. I’m consistently impressed with All Star Elite‘s choreography. They have a lot of people on the floor, but they do some very interesting stunts. I remember seeing them at GSSA and being impressed with them there as well.

Got to see Rebels Elite compete for the first time. They are a strong program, and I’m surprised at how many teams they have competing given the size of their facility.

All and all a stacked weekend of cheerleading. Good fun for all.

Sundays are for Cheerleading

Random post about nothing important

For the past 5 years Sundays have been about cheerleading for me. It started when I started working for LCI in October 2003 as a gymnastic coach. We were open on Wednesdays and Sundays. Sundays we would get in around 11 AM and would work until after 9 PM. The reason for this schedule was that we were at a local sports center and it was the only time we could take over one of their rollar hockey rinks.

When I moved to CT, I started working for a gym in Greenwich, CT (Greenwich Tumble and Cheer), and cheering for a team in Woodbridge, CT(CT Spirit). I would go to my practice in Woodbridge and then drive all the way down to Greenwich to coach. Eventually the traveling just became too much for me and I moved to working exclusively at CT Spirit. I would get to the gym by 12 and be there till 9. Long days, but fun days.

Now that I’m out in California, I am on an open team at CheerGyms.com, and we practice on Sundays from 10 to 12 in the morning. It’s early, and about an hour and change away from where I live so that is a large time commitment and I can’t hang out with friends too late on Saturday night, because I have early Sunday commitments.

Yesterday was especially tough, I had my open team practice, followed by a visit to Premier Allstars to meet Coach Morgan, and capped off the evening with a two hour practice and a one hour gymnastics session at Woodside.

What I find so interesting is the connection between Sundays and my passion. I live in a society where religious activities tend to happen mostly on Sundays. Its the day of the week for rest and reflection. What I tend to reflect on is how we are going to do a pyramid, how how to improve my tumbling or where to go to competition. In some ways I’m beginning to wonder whether cheerleading might actually be my religion (instead of Judaism)?

Is Cheerleading Regulated and Safe?

CBS news has recently run a story on the dangers of cheerleading. You can find the story at:

Video
Article

The position offered by this news organization is that cheerleading coaching isn’t regulated and that this part of the major reason why there are so many injuries. This is a very controversial position. There are many organizations out there whose primary responsibility is to manage the safety of cheerleading at various levels [1], like the NFHS which governs public high school teams, AACCA which provides training and coaching to all levels of cheerleading coaches, or USASF which aspires to certify all All Star programs.

These organizations have quickly mobilized against this story. From their response I get two things. Firstly, they are doing their best to educate coaches and work on safety and making this sport a safer environment for students. Secondly, and perhaps more terrifying, they are afraid of what a story like this could do to the sport. Some college teams have already started to ban some aspects of modern cheerleading, like stunting, in order to try to prevent more injuries [2]. Some of these injuries have already had rippling effects on the cheerleading community.

Several years ago AACCA modified their rules to be more protective. They have reduced the level of difficulty allowed in certain tumbling passes, both in competitions and sporting events. College cheerleading has been taken down a notch since the days that I cheered in college, tumbling double fulls are now illegal, even in competition, amongst other changes.

The CBS article has bunch of misquotes and incorrect information. They state that there is little to no regulation on the sport, and that couldn’t be further from the truth (as mentioned above). They stipulate that cheerleading is a catastrophically dangerous sport, causing more than half of the 112 female catastrophic injuries in high school and college related programs in the past 25 years. This factor doesn’t include extracurricular motivated cheerleading like all star programs, so this number is probably even higher.

I’m not saying cheerleading is without risk, and that there weren’t a large number of catastrophic injuries due to cheerleading in the past years, but CBS is wrong. The report which they quote states otherwise. Of the 112 injuries, 80 were directly related to a sport. Cheerleading has 44 of these injuries, which is more than any other sport on this list. Of the indirect injuries (112 – 80 = 32), only seven were related to cheerleading. Okay, so cheerleading still appears to be a very dangerous sport. What this report doesn’t contain is the trend over the 24 years this report has been collected.

There are many questions that come to mind:

  • How many catastrophic injuries occured in cheerleading in 2006 vs. 2004?
  • Are there any trends in the data?
  • Of the schools where the catastrophic injuries occured, how many of the coaches were correctly certified by the terms that the state or the school district requires?

These questions are important because the safety of cheerleading has evolved since the beginning of this injury report. AACCA was founded in 1988. USASF was founded in 2003 [3]. Not all schools or gyms are currently certified by these organizations. As these organizations increase their presence, we begin to see noted improvement in the number of injuries (they are going down). This makes sense, increased education in the dangers allows coaches and administrators to better protect their cheerleaders.

This CBS news article/report is based on mostly conjecture, and poor quoting (based on the comments and the article distributed on Varsity). That being said, I still somewhat agree with their general position that negligence in coaching can cause injury. While it may be true that many schools and districts may, by law, require their cheerleading coaches to obtain certain certifications, not all enforcers of this policy know about this requirement. I see it like this, you wouldn’t take advice about how to sky dive from someone who has never even gone himself. The same holds true for some of the aspects of cheerleading. Yet of my high school cheerleading coaches, at least two of them had no prior cheerleading experience before being placed in charge of my team. I’m sure this occurrence is not unique to my situation.

What we should take away form this is that we need to continue to educate administrators about the dangers of the sport and continue to increase the level of training for coaches. Education won’t prevent all injuries, but it can help reduce the severity and frequency of injuries.

Shoulders, Knees and Ankles

Cheerleading has really taken its toll on me over the years. I can no longer tuck like I used to. My body is getting even older and stuff that was easy just six months ago is getting harder and harder on my joints. So I made an appointment to go see a Sports Medicine doctor. The results:

  • Possible tear in the right rotator cuff, will need to get an MRI to confirm
  • Possible tear in the meniscus on my left knee (though both of them are hurting), will be following up with Physical Therapy on them
  • I need to see another doctor about my ankle

The good news is that the doctor didn’t feel that any of the issues I’m suffering from should prevent me from cheering in the near future, or make me more likely to end up in a wheel chair any earlier than could normally be expected.

New Wii Cheerleading Game

There is a new Wii Cheerleading Game that has been announced. This game features allows the player to assume the roll of a cheerleader and do some basic routines, mostly dance moves, to music. As I understand it, you score points by hitting the motions correctly with the controller.

I’m undecided how I feel about the creation of this game. I’m a very strong advocate of cheerleading. It has been a large portion of my life and I continue to devote countless hours to the sport. I coach, I train, and I work on proliferating the sport. While this game will help in popularizing the sport, it raises several concerns for me:

  1. The Nature of the Game, this game focuses on basic dance moves. There are some screen shots of people doing jumps, but in general the goals are dance related. This is NOT cheerleading. Cheerleading involves aspects of gymnastics and jumping and stunting, all of which are left out of this game.
  2. Potential for Injury, despite the fact the lack of stunting and tumbling exist in this game, I am also afraid that some of the jumping and whatnot required will lead to injuries. Cheerleading is already a dangerous, but what makes it so dangerous is the lack of good coaching, this game cannot possibly provide the required coaching.
  3. Choice of Music, the music for this game is very teeny bopper. Not really what is used in most modern day cheerleading.
  4. Lack of Coed Options, As far as I can see this game is designed specifically for women. There are no men in this game. This game is very female centric. I feel that I already have enough problems trying to convince men to join the sport, by creating a game like this we alienate men even more. This might be irrelevant if the game never reaches a high level of popularity, but if it does, this could actually be a factor.

Some of these factors are a little premature. This game might have no impact, or it might help boost our popularity in areas of the country or world where we are still an emerging sport, but I just wanted to state that I have my reservations.

Photo of the Day: Villanova Cheer

This picture was taken over a year ago at UCA College camp in Scranton, Pa (yes the home of the Office). Here they are competing their cheer. This was the last east coast college I have attended, and quite possibly the last camp I will attend, so this picture is special for me.

In terms of composition, all the kids are facing the crowd, and the hands are all up in the air. The background isn’t really, but this was the best I could do. This brings up the difference between shooting composed shots and event photography. Sometimes you have no choice about your angle and you have to take what you can get, that is what happened here.

Raised Money for Cheerleading Mats

I will be posting more posts about it, but Woodside High School Cheerleading Team will now be the proud owners of a FULL set of cheerleading mats. Seven panels, 2 inch thick, combined 42.5 x 42.5 foot cheerleading floor. Hopefully we will be able to do more tumbling and stunting, in a safer, better environment.

A large part of the funds came directly from the school including student, administration, and parent booster organizations. Thank you to all who helped!