Updated: Apr 2, 2019
Imagine a world where every athlete on a cheer team is on a fully paid scholarship.
Where teams have 1 coach for every 5 athletes, including an in-house nutritionist, physiotherapist and conditioning coach.
Where teams train 3 hours a day, every day.
Where the most time-off cheerleading during the season is 2 weeks.
Where you are recruited as early as 13 to join the most prestigious team in the country.
Where cheerleading championships are the most watched TV show.. bigger than the X Factor!
Where precision is king so much that athletes are required to have the same hair cut.
Where Level 6 routines are 6 minutes long and packed with so many visual effects your eyes can barely keep up.
Where cheerleading uniforms are replaced by flamboyant and artistic athletic couture.
You’re probably picturing a team of the future, circa 2050 but you would be wrong. This world already exists, in a place you would never expect it to: THE PHILIPPINES.
Earlier this year, I travelled to the Philippines for business. As I discovered very quickly, it’s probably one of the very few countries where cheerleading is taken more seriously than in America.
A small part of me thought that I would be welcomed by a team of cheer-mutants who had somehow found each other and put together a cheer team, unknowing of their own world-class talent, but what I found was probably the most professional and advanced infra-structure I have ever seen in competitive cheer, even by USA standards.
The team and the management at NU University are as generous and lovely as they are talented. They are 4-PEAT (going for 5) National Champions in a highly competitive and televised championship - so that should give you an idea of the level we are speaking about!
I literally felt like I had died and gone to cheer Heaven. It was everything I love about cheerleading, minus the politics or cliquey atmosphere you sometimes come across in elite cheer. They took me in, they fed me, showed me around their city, took me to watch a show, fed me some more, spilled the beans and shared their methods of success, but equally eager to take on more tips and ideas.
So here it is, the recipe for “Level Asian” - from the coaches and athletes of NU PEP SQUAD:
Your body needs to be at optimum muscle / body fat percentage levels. The team has no weight guidelines but strict body fat / muscle percentage guidelines. The first few months on the team is focused on getting this and your overall conditioning right. You need to combine muscle hypertrophy, catabolic fat burn and controlled nutrition. Get yourself / the team a personal trainer or an expert in nutrition and fitness or get your hands on any resources available to you, and athletes need to understand the science to fully embrace it. - Glenna Grace Estrera, Team Nutritionist
Timing is EVERYTHING. What and when you sleep, eat, drink before and around your competition and training: Have a coach in charge of time and schedule keeping, and the week before competition, they should even be allowed to raid the rooms for sweets and banned pre-comp foods. Timing is also important for recovery meals and hydration and skipping meals is a HUGE NO-NO.
Cheerleading is a privilege, grades come first and you must keep a minimum of a 2.5 grade average. Train hard for your team, train daily. Cheerleading is a mould to be a better person for when you graduate.
Your body can't perform skills without the basics. All athletes should have a strong background in gymnastics and perfect their skills before building stunts or difficulty.
Athletes are to a team like cells are to an organism: They all count and must work as a unit, not in cliques. Go out, bond, have fun, with the whole team together. Regularly, even as much as once a week if you can! Do non-cheer things. Bond as humans.
Have a 'Team A' and a 'Team B', allowing one team to train for at least a year before graduating to Team A which only focuses on competitions. Keep spots open at all times, knowing athletes can be promoted or demoted at all times if they fall behind.
Cheerleading is a sport. Sport is backed by SCIENCE. Learn the science and follow its rules, you will be a winner every day of your cheer career.
Cheerleading moulds you into a better person, helps you grow and be the best version of yourself you can be by the time you graduate. True story: Amanda got so angry in her first year that she BIT one person in her stunt group. After a year of cheer, she is now regarded as one of the nicest people on the team!)
Promote a culture of exchange: Where athletes receive as much support as dedication they give the team. Be driven by the fear of not being able to give back, not by the fear of the coaches being angry.
Follow the motto: "Stay focused, stay humble, stay hungry"
The answers may be surprisingly simple, but they are strict. Of course we understand not all of them are easy to implement, however they all are worthy of consideration and the underlying principles adapted to your program! There’s nothing particularly "asian" about any of this, it's just all very much based on following strict laws of sports science, psychology and team culture. In fact, it's pretty much just Body Before Skill through-and-through, paired with an excellent business setup that benefits everyone! This is why we decided to award NU Pep Squad the very first #WeAreINTENSITY Award, after just winning their 4th GOLD in a row at the national Cheerleading championships a few days ago!
With special thanks to Amanda Alejandrino (Co-Captain), Glenna Grace Estrera (Team Nutritionist), Managers Patricia and Poncholo Chunism, and the NU Pep Squad coaching team: Gabriel Bajacan, Ghereeka Bernie, Karl Pabilonia and Estong Ocampo Jr foe being so generous with their time and sharing their knowledge with us!
Follow NU Pep Squad: https://www.facebook.com/nupepsquadofficial
See the NU PEP Squad full routine at UAAP Championships 2016
ABOUT CHEERLEADING IN THE PHILIPPINES Cheerleading in the Philippines is mostly run and funded through Universities, there is no 'all-star' cheer category. A cheer career only lasts 4 years: it starts and ends with University, coming straight from gymnastics. Cheerleading is a means of education: many of the athletes on the team would not be able to study at all would it not be for cheerleading, as many athletes come from rural and isolated areas. The Philippines are known to be the land of the "Happy People" with a strong Spanish-American heritage, the Philippino pop culture is a blend of latino-style festivals, MTV/karaoke Asian culture and USA pageants. Their competitions love the showbiz culture so that it can appeal to a wider audience (not just cheerleaders, moms and friends!). The UAAP is the national governing body for University Sports, and championships (including cheerleading) is some of the most watched TV programming in the country. Cheerleading is one of the most watched sports in the country. People who don't cheer know who the teams are... They are national celebrities! Being a cheerleader in the Philippines is considered a privilege because you get to be on TV.