Levelling Up

Moving up to a new level can be exciting time for a team and the coaches, it’s like exploring new territory that was once restricted to you. Athletes get to learn new skills and become better overall cheerleaders and coaches get to expand on their knowledge and ability to create a high quality team. However as a coach how are you to know when it is the right time to level up?

It’s a common issue in Australia where teams move up a level before both the athletes and coaches are ready. They may have some basic stunts that fit their level (e.g. level 3) but majority of their skills fit the level below. The reasons for doing this can vary, maybe it’s because there’s a stigma that athletes should go up a level each year or perhaps gym owners simple want the glory of having a high level team. What ever it may be the team will ultimately not hit the score card and will achieve less than desired results. So what is better? a lower level team that can hit all level stunts, jumps and tumbling or a higher level that under performs and aren’t a true reflection of what that higher level should be.

I think I am safe to say most athletes and coaches would rather their teams perform well at competitions, so as coaches we must not feel bad about making athletes repeat a level. We are only hindering their ability by trying to progress to quickly. By slowing down and learning each skill in every level properly you will produce much better athletes that will be able to eventually compete in those higher level teams. It is also worth making note that by pushing athletes into a level they are not ready for you are also increasing the risk of injury in your facility which doesn’t look good to parents.

So what are some ways to tell if your ready to move up and how can you prepare?

In-house Grading

Periodically hold in-house level grading. Fairly common in gymnastics, this is probably by far one of the best ways to keep track of your athletes skills. First get a notebook and write down all athletes names grouped in their levels and teams. Next to names rule out some columns and write a skill name at the top of each column. It’s best to group the skills by type to keep things simple or have a different book for stunts, tumbling, jumps etc. Perform the level grading a few times a year and as athletes demonstrate a listed skill correctly, it is then ticked off. Once all the skills are ticked for that level, that athlete is ready to start learning higher level skills. This style of testing can show coaches many things such as who needs more help with particular skills but more importantly when the team is ready to start training up a level.

Coaches Education

Coaches have just as important role when progressing their skills. Your athletes might be ready to progress but as a coach if you have no experience in that higher level you are not giving your athletes the best possible start. They have been training hard to progress so it is important for coaches to do the same. At the very least you must be accredited to coach the higher level. Credentialing is the most basic level of education a coach can undergo, it lasts a day and there is only so much information that can be passed on during that time. The good news is coaches are not alone and there are plenty of us now that have decent experience and willing to help. If you are entering a level you have no experience in contact another gym who has experienced coaches and arrange a time to meet and learn from others. Sit in on training sessions and attend workshops provided by the cheer associations. Having limited or no exposure to a new level just makes your job as a coach that much more difficult and eventually could have a negative effect on your athletes.

Train and Plan Ahead

The Australian cheer off-season is about 7 months and even shorter by the time you include the holidays. If your team is moving into a new level this is a very short time to get new stunts, jumps, tumbling and a routine. The best teams have their athletes trained up for the higher level before the new year even begins, so when they hit the floor they are rocking a maxed out routine. The longer you have to prepare for progress the better results the team will achieve, so have your athletes learn new skills while in their current level and take advantage of the previous year of training. There is no reason why a level 3 team can’t already be training level 4 skills if their coach is qualified and allocated time for skill progression. With the standard of cheerleading constantly increasing in Australia, preparation is everything.

Coaches can also make the most of their time by planning lessons well in advance and organizing choreography as soon as the year starts. It’s common for teams to be rushed in the weeks leading up to comp so try and have those new stunt sequences mapped before the Christmas break. Athletes may forgot bits and pieces by the time training resumes but even that is still better than starting form scratch. In a perfect world you could have your routine completely built before the end of the year and have music ready for January. Imagine having a full 6 months to run full outs! Not only would your athletes be fit, it would give them more than enough time to polish a maxed out routine.

Summing Up

Like most things, there is no easy quick fix for success and it doesn’t happen by accident. It takes a lot of hard work all year round and I’m going to share some advice a coach once said to me.

You must train twice as hard in the off-season to build the foundations to be amazing for the comp season.

There are no shortcuts, don’t try and progress to quickly and if you follow these 3 points;

  1. In-house Grading
  2. Coaches Education
  3. Train and Plan Ahead

You will produce a high caliber athletes, and routines that will hit the score card and produce results. These are just some ideas that will help you be ready when it’s time to move up but I would love to hear your thoughts on what works in your gym.

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Nick Coupland

Nick has been involved in the cheer community for over 10 years and has competed nationally and internationally in a level 5 team. He now coaches in Brisbane and specialises in tumbling and helps run tumbleclinics.com.

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