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by Melissa Hay

The lights scan the stage as you enter the floor, the announcer just called your team to the mat, the music is pounding and so is your heart. You have practiced your skills for the past 4 months. You hit your skills at practice now it’s your time to shine, to perform your routine to the crowd. You are feeling confident but nervous - You can hit this routine in your sleep. When you receive your scores, the comments leave you and your teammates confused, “More energy”, “Perform your skills to the crowd”, “More Excitement” Didn’t the judges see the same routine? Even though we” Hit Zero” it still wasn’t enough.

Watching videos on Facebook and Instagram you will see confident performances that make you stop scrolling. Flyers dancing in the air, tumble passes that visually jump out to you and dance breaks that have so many intricate parts it looks like there are twice as many athletes on the mat. How do these teams perform their skills so flawlessly? How do some athletes and teams perform their routine having the entire arena explode with excitement?

Cheerleading Performance Competition Worlds

Last season “You Hit Zero” was a major accomplishment for teams and programs. Hitting zero meant no deductions and a cleanly executed routine. However, even though teams hit their routine some programs were still winning with less than flawless routines but with a routine which performed better in the eyes of the judges.

According to the Varsity Scoring System, teams can earn between a 4.0-4.5 in technique when 50% of the athletes show excellence precision while teams can earn between a 4.5-5.0 for 75% of the athletes showing excellent precision and form. Just hitting your routine with clean execution and technique may not be enough. To be a team, athlete or program that stands out among the social media great routines, you need to focus on performing your routine to the crowd.

Performance is part of the scoresheet. According to the 2017-18 Varsity Scoring System; Overall Scoring Performance is a team’s ability to demonstrate high levels of energy and excitement while maintaining genuine enthusiasm and showmanship. Performance and showmanship is becoming a very important part of the scoresheet, though worth 1 point, this is the difference between podium places at many competitions. Though performance can be subjective, a common definition of performance in the cheer industry includes energy, enthusiasm, excitement and engagement with the crowd.

How as a coach can you draw this from your athletes and as an athlete how can you take your performance to the next level?

Cheerleading Cardio

AS AN ATHLETE it is your responsibility to perform each skill with confidence so as to not physically express worry about the execution.

  • It is your job to perform and engage the crowd, to put on a show. There are many excuses that can be made about the outcome of a competition, however the overall impression of the routine is the reflection of the athletes on the mat.

  • You don’t have to love the routine to perform the routine. If you believe in your ability and know you can execute it, then attention can be placed on the details of performance. If you lack this confidence, then more work is needed on your skills until the confidence in ability is gained. This could mean increased private lessons, classes or additional practice time until the skill is considered effortless.

  • Performance goes beyond facial expressions, just because you are smiling does not mean you are selling your skills to the judge. An athlete must confidently express the skill with their body expression and every ounce of energy and the best time to acquire and develop this expression is at practice. You WILL perform the way you practice, so if you practice with confidence and energy then you will perform the routine as such. Once skills are gained, muscle memory formed, confidence will build and build allowing for the finer details to be performed.

AS A COACH, your job is to prepare your athletes to perform their best. This definition in recent years has focused on the execution of skills rather than the showmanship of the routine. Coaching showmanship and performance is much more than increasing facial expressions, it involves instilling the overall confidence of each athlete to become a natural performer.

  • To get the most out of your athletes you need to establish a positive coaching philosophy, building your athletes up physically but also mentally. When they know they can trust your decisions they begin to believe in themselves. They move beyond knowing they can purely execute each skill to that of performing each element.

  • Many coaches believe they need to show tough love to instil skills and gain respect, but in reality it tears down an athlete's internal confidence resulting in mistakes and second guessing/lack of confidence in skills. A doubtful athlete will focus so hard on the execution of the skill rather than developing an outward projection of their internal confidence.

  • Finally, it is the coach’s responsibility to place the athletes on the right team/level with showmanship in mind. Execution is more than just hitting the skill, it is the athlete’s ability to perform the skill confidently and effortlessly so the muscle memory is established making execution natural. This may require the athlete to be placed on a lower level until their higher-level skills can be performed effortlessly. Once skills are effortless, then all focus can be placed on the additional performance features, eye contact, finishing motions, crisp execution by your athletes allowing for increased showmanship on the floor to engage the crowd into the performance.

After judging routines for many seasons, no matter how a routine is executed when the dance section hits there is usually a new sense of life breathed into the team. This is one reason why dances are placed at the end of the routine, allowing the team to impress the judges with energy at the end of the routine. But this energy and excitement should be executed in each section, with each skill.

This is the time of the year for choreography, the routine will reflect the physical abilities of the athletes on the mat, but it is both the responsibility of the coach and athlete to hit all the details. The focus must be on the intricate, ‘WOW’ elements which make the performance to stand out and engage the crowd. Confident athletes perform all elements making practice and performance more exciting to everyone in the arena.

Melissa Hay has over 20 years cheer coaching and judging experience. You can learn more about her services through The Allstar Cheer Consultant