Updated: Apr 2, 2019
by Sammie Litten
If you’re reading this I hope you’ve already been preparing for the big weekend of what are the most terrifying, exciting, and nerve wracking few days of your life! Deciding to be a college cheerleader is a big decision and can impact your entire college career. Cheering in college has been one of the best experiences of my life, and my time as a University of Central Florida cheerleader was the best three years of my life. I’ve met friends that I’ll have for forever, I competed at UCA Nationals (and beat my former alma mater may I add) and even traveled across the pond to Ireland! I also got to be a role model and an ambassador to my University which is one of the most gratifying and fulfilling things you can do as a college student!
College cheer has changed SO much in the last couple of years that I went through, and it’s becoming more and more competitive. My first little piece of advice is to decide whether you want to cheer at an NCA school, or a UCA school. I always saw the difference in them as NCA being more “all-star cheer” background and UCA is more “high school cheer” background. Both have a competitive aspect, both normally cheer at some sort of school sporting event, but they way they perform is a bit different. I was more of a high school cheerleader, pumping up a crowd at football games and cheering on the team down the court at basketball games. Hence how I ended up at a UCA school! Then you need to decide if you feel that all-girl is where you want to be or a co-ed team is for you. Both are totally awesome, but you just need to decipher what fits you the best!
Honestly, I knew nothing of how serious cheering was in college, and I ended up making the team at the University of Kentucky! (Okay I was 80 pounds and could kind of stunt and barely tumble so I made it some how!) But here are some tips and tricks you SHOULD think about, unlike I did, when trying out for a college cheer team.
1. First you need to make yourself known to the team. Reach out to coaches and let them know you’re interested! Make videos of your skills and send them out to the schools you really want to get into so the coach knows you on a first name basis. When you show up for clinics, which are kind of practices that a cheer team holds so you can stunt and tumble with the team, you want the current teammates and coaches to like you, I mean duh right. It’s so important to befriend current team members because after all, if you can’t get along with anyone on the team, no matter how good you are, a college coach won’t put you on the team! Speaking of clinics: DO NOT act like you know everything. A clinic is set in place for you to meet the team and coaches, get a feel of what the atmosphere and team are about, and ultimately to LEARN.
I’ve seen so many guys and girls come through our clinics who think they know everything and would try to teach the team, but nobody likes a know-it-all! So I can’t stress enough, be polite, be yourself, be HAPPY to be there, and of course HAVE FUN!
2. My second tip would be to brush up on your tumbling skills because the stunts will come later! This is at least a big co-ed tip. I didn’t realize that tumbling skills could be so advanced until I went to some cheer clinics and was blown away! I was never a good tumbler, I’ll certainly admit that! But I could have prepared way better in that department. My best tip in this area, perfect what you can already do. Have one or two passes set that you KNOW you can land, and practice those every day. Trying to throw crazy passes that you just started learning could A) get you hurt before tryouts, and B) end up in a busted pass during tryouts. Neither of which are promising! Just focus on what you can do and do it the better than anyone else! With that said, in all of my experiences you can learn to stunt when you get to the team. Coaches are prepared to teach you to stunt, they’re really really good at it too! So don’t sweat the stunting part, focus on the tumbling part, and enjoy every moment of this crazy fun sport!
3. To be able to keep up your skills and practice until tryouts come, you need to eat right and drink LOTS of water. Soda and energy drinks will actually make you feel more sluggish and jittery. And as much as I love me some McDonald’s French fries, maybe lay off the fast and greasy foods for a bit! You want to look and feel your best come tryouts and eating crappy foods and drinking sugary drinks won’t help in that department. Be your brightest most vibrant self so the coaches know that you WANT that spot!
4. Do some conditioning! Of course don’t over work yourself before tryouts, you won’t be able to perform at your best. But practicing for a set time and doing some conditioning exercises will really help. In college you will have designated work out days and you will start practice with a conditioning warm up. You don’t need to start lifting weights yet, but doing some ab workouts or short cardio before or after practices really helps!
5. Lastly, practice your hair and game day look. I always think 50% of a college cheer tryout is your skill, and 50% is your look. As harsh as that may sound, it’s the truth girl! Practice smiling and doing your waves in the mirror so you know what you look like. If the team has a chant with arm motions that they always do, practice in the mirror so you know you’re doing it right! It’s also a smart idea to go on some of the team members social media accounts and see what they look like on game day. How do they do their hair? What kind of makeup do they do? Red lipstick or pink lipstick? If you want the job, you need to look the part. Do your research, practice your cheers, chants, hair and makeup and you’ll be ahead of the game!
Had I known some of these things I might have been an even better cheerleader. But once you’re on the team it’s pretty great to have a huge family of people to help teach and guide you along the way. With that said if you do make the team, CONGRATULATIONS to you!!! It’s such an exciting journey and the road ahead of you is filled with the most fun experiences of your life. However, after you make the team doesn’t mean all the hard work stops…it actually only begins!
Before you get back out to your summer practices, and to camp and reporting week, you still need to keep up all those other steps I talked about before! Remember, you’re a rookie to the team so you still need to prove to everyone else that you deserve that spot. Eat the right foods, keep your body well nourished and well hydrated. Keep doing your conditioning exercises unless they give you a workout packet which some schools will. Keep tumbling, practice your cheers, chants and band dances, and make sure you know them well! You don’t want to look like the idiot that didn’t practice their cheers at summer practices. There’s always that freshman that comes in and doesn’t know a thing which in turn makes the whole team suffer. Don’t be that girl! At UCF we used to go to the pool for one day and everyone has to line up across the edge of the pool. They call out cheers or band dances at random and if you mess up you jump in the pool! Everyone does them until everyone is PERFECT. Once again, don’t be that girl! It's so important to keep up all the hard work you put in to tryouts, afterwards as well. Keep up an outstanding impression! But of course, not everyone is going to make the team. Which comes to the ugly side of college cheer tryouts. Story time.... I was a UK cheerleader for my first year of college. I made great memories, learned SO much as far as cheer, and really built some great relationships. Tryouts came for the second year, yes in college cheer you have to try out every year, and it was going to be a tough one for me. I worked my butt off and knew I had something to prove but unfortunately, it wasn’t meant to be. I didn't make the team....AND THAT'S OKAY! I just remember I didn’t cry, I didn’t say much, I just felt…..relieved. Not everything is meant to be, and I truly believe that everything happens for a reason. I collected myself, did exactly the steps I talked about previously, and found myself at the BEST, in my opinion, university in the country. I kept practicing my skills, I reached out to team members and introduced myself to the coaches, as well as working out and eating right. I was fortunate enough that there was a spot for me on the team and after my first week of practices I was an official UCF Cheer Team member! Now not every story is like mine, but here’s what’s important. If you don’t make the cheer team, or any team for that matter, it’s not the end of the world. A very brilliant cheer coach once told me when I was beating myself up about my skills, “At the end of the day, it’s just cheerleading.” You’re going to get a degree, you’re going to make friends, you’re going to have the time of your life in college so don’t sweat it. It’s about how you pick yourself up after the fact. You can always try out at another university or better yet try again the next year! Take that time to practice and build up your skills. There’s nothing coaches love more than seeing a come back story of someone who just didn’t quite fit the mold at first, and comes back to wow them!
So there you have it. The tips I wish I would have known before hand, what to do after you make the team, and how to move on if you don’t. The most important part is to have fun and enjoy every second of it. A cheerleader is an ambassador to a school, and the photo behind the logo at every university. You represent the pride and dare I say it, spirit, each university’s students hold in their hearts. So remember to practice, prepare, do your homework, and cherish every part of it!
Sammie Litten is University of Central Florida cheerleading alumni living and working in Orlando. She continues to spread her love and passion for cheer every day. She has been a cheerleader since the age of 4 and loves so many aspects of cheerleading such as co-ed partner stunting, game day cheers, working out, and cheer hair and makeup. Her favorite cheer memory is cheering on her Knights in Ireland against Penn State.
www.sammielitten.com Social: @sammielitten