We have long associated cheerleading with teens and young adults, who root for the home team at sports games and in some cases, compete in professional leagues. But that’s changing as we have come to understand the health benefits of cheerleading; lots of parents are introducing younger children to the sport.
Cheerleading for Kids: Table of Contents
The Importance of Cheerleading for Kids
Like any sport, cheerleading keeps participants active which is great for their health. Moreover, the sport incorporates elements from different types of exercise such as cardio, dance and strength training. But besides the obvious fitness element, cheerleading can be empowering for children because they will develop confidence, coordination and teamwork skills.
These skills are useful for other sports but they are also essential life skills. It will be beneficial to teach children to work hard to achieve their goals and collaborate with others, early on in their lives. If you’re hoping to get your children into cheerleading, we’ve got some useful advice and information on how to get started.
Preparing for Cheerleading Tryouts
Traditionally, cheerleading tryouts have been perceived as being a popularity contest, with the most popular students at school being chosen for the squad. However, that is no longer the case. The sport is taken more seriously now, so the successful recruits are the ones who demonstrate the necessary skills to excel in cheerleading. Here is what you should be thinking about with your little one before they try out.
Your child will need to show their dedication to the sport as cheerleading requires a lot of training, learning moves and a time investment. So it always helps to be prepared. Training in sports such as gymnastics and dance, prior to tryouts, will prepare your child for some of the moves and routines that they’ll be learning. If they start training early, they will begin to grasp not only the mechanics of cheerleading, but also the nature of the sport. That way, they can decide whether or not they are ready to commit.
- Learn the basics
Whilst they are likely to learn the full repertoire of movements during training, it doesn’t hurt to have some of the basics down before trying out. Jumping jacks and T-jumps are the basis for many of the routines and helping your child perfecting their handstand will help them to land cartwheels. Check out these exercises on Activekids to get started.
It’s essential that your child is excited about cheerleading and that it shines through at tryouts. When they’re in front of the panel of judges, they should show that they’re confident and enthusiastic. It could be argued that this is even more important than being athletic and landing all of the moves. Let your little one know that it’s not the end of the world if they fall or their moves don’t look perfect, they should just get back up, smile at the judges and carry on. Showing that you can take hardships in your stride and maintain a positive demeanor tells the judges that you’re ready to put the effort in.
There is no point of enrolling your child in a program if they are going to want to quit because it’s taking too much time and effort, or they simply don’t enjoy it. That’s why preparing them is essential. Cheerleading is not an easy sport, it’s not for everyone so you should check in with your kids to make sure that it’s making them happy.
Since teamwork is a huge component of cheerleading, you should encourage your child to make friends with the other children who are trying out. Have them ask the other kids why they’re trying out and what they’re looking forward to the most. They’ll feel much more confident cheering alongside someone that they feel comfortable with. Later on, they’ll be spending a lot of their spare time together, so bonding is paramount to being excited about going to practice and succeeding. The coach will also notice that they are at ease around their potential teammates, which can’t be a bad thing!
- On the day
Tryouts can take many formats but the most common method is that children spend some time learning cheers and then perform in front of a panel of judges at the end of the training. The whole process can take a few days or up to a week, where they’re learning new routines each day. They will usually perform a chant, routine and in some cases a stunt. When they go to the final tryouts, they will be assessed on their technique, enthusiasm when cheering, rhythm, coordination and how well they do with gymnastic moves.
As with any sport, it’s essential to pick the right clothing, especially when giving it a go for the first time. Check first whether there are any regulations about the type of clothing that your little one can wear. Make sure that your child is wearing something which is easy to move around in and in which they feel confident. At this stage, there is no point of trying to cobble together an outfit that looks like a cheerleading uniform as they will be provided later. They should just feel comfortable and confident at this stage. Be sure that they aren’t wearing jewelry that could catch on something and that long hair is tied back.
- If they don’t make it
Sometimes it won’t work out on the first try – that’s okay! If your child isn’t accepted the first time that they try out, be supportive. They’ll have worked hard and dedicated a lot of time to this new interest and will inevitably be disappointed. Do your best to console them and try not to criticize or reprimand them. Instead, advise your kids to ask the coach for advice: they should find out what they can improve on for next time and start to polish their skills.
Exercises and Conditioning for Cheerleaders
As well as preparing for tryouts, it’s a good idea to encourage your child to continue with complementary activities when they do make it onto the squad. Cheerleading practice will probably take place once or twice per week but this alone won’t be enough to keep them on top of their game. Outside of practice they should consider doing some of these activities.
- Complementary sports
Have them enroll in complementary activities such as dance, gymnastics or different team sports. Dance and gymnastics will help kids to get to grips with some of the basic moves and improve their flexibility and rhythm. With team sports they will maintain a base level of fitness that they will need for cheerleading, but they will also get used to working with other team members to achieve a common goal.
Each of these sports enhances a different skill used during cheerleading, so it may be a good idea to look at their weaker areas before deciding what else to do. In any case though, these sports do offer some crossover between skills and any of them will be useful. Above all, training for these sports will help your kids get into a routine and train for cheerleading too.
It’s especially important to get some extra cardio training outside of practice because your little one will need to build up their endurance. After all, they’re going to be moving around a lot while chanting at the same time. Active team sports will give your children some much needed cardio training so they may want to enrol in a basketball or football team, for example.
- Strength training
They’ll be holding up teammates, launching them into the air and even holding their own poses so they’re going to need strong arms and legs. For adults, this is usually achieved at the gym with weights and machines. Heading to the gym may not be possible or even safe for younger children, but there are exercises that have been adapted for youngsters, which help build strength. Check out these 16 strength training exercises specifically for children, which are more appropriate for smaller athletes. These exercises at Activekids target leg strength. As with any workout routine, it is always best to consult a trusted specialist to make sure that it’s safe for your child’s age.
- Ask a professional
Professionals are professionals for a reason, so don’t hesitate to consult one! They don’t have to be competing at a national level, but perhaps you know someone cheering for the high school team. You can even search online for professional cheerleaders’ workouts and adapt them for children. They’ve managed to get where they are today and stay there with hard work, so aspiring cheerleaders will want to emulate them. Just be sure to check in with a physician to make sure the moves are safe for children.
Cheerleading Games and Activities
Whether your little one is yet to make the squad or they’re a certified cheerleader, there’s no reason to stop having cheering fun outside of practice. These games and activities can be done whether you’re introducing your child to cheerleading for the first time, prepping for tryouts or just having fun after training ends.
- Sports games
Take them to sports games where you know that there will be cheerleaders. It could be a professional sports game where they see the glamorous side of the sport, or a local game for their school team. Going to a local game will show them what they could be working towards. In the same spirit, you could introduce them to competitive cheerleading. Far from just riling up the crowd at a football game, cheerleaders now compete in national and international cheerleading leagues. They often perform in front of an audience so you could try to get tickets if a competition is happening near your home, or check to see if the tournament is televised or streaming online.
- Group practice
Since cheerleading is essentially a team sport, have your kids practice together. See if your little one has any friends who are going to try out or whether there are any children in the area who are interested in practicing in a group setting. This is a great way to prepare them for the teamwork element of cheerleading but they will also have way more fun training together than on their own. Training alone will not give them the full experience of what practice actually entails and it may put them off the sport if they find it lonely.
- Learn cheers outside of practice
Teaching your child some cheerleading moves is a great way to prepare them for tryouts while showing them what to expect from the sport. You can find lots of standard routines online, and see them performed on YouTube. It will be a fun exercise to have your child pick a favorite one and learn it together. Add a creative element and get them to come up with their own routine. Inspired by their favorite cheers, they will learn to plan and execute a performance. They may well need to do this when they join a team so it’s a great way to show them what they should look forward to.
Another fun activity can be to practice chants together. You’ll find examples of cheers for kids on YouTube and here at Sports Aspire. Again, add a creative element by having them come up with their own chants. It doesn’t even have to be about sports! Have them create a chant for their favorite TV show or book. The squad may collaborate to come up with their own unique cheers too, so this will help them gain some experience.
- Team building
Once your little one has made it onto the squad, it’s imperative that they get along with their teammates. They don’t need to be best friends, but they should learn to trust and cooperate with one another. Team building activities will help children feel comfortable with each other and help them to learn about the way that their teammates perform. From learning to trust each other, to working together to solve a problem, there are endless team building activities specifically for children. Check out Venture Team Building’s kid section and these 21 activities from MomJunction.
Under the umbrella of kids team building, is ice-breaker games. When children are first accepted onto the team, they may not be with their friends and perhaps they won’t know any of the other kids if you choose a club independent of their school. That means it’s important for them all to get to know one another; to have some fun and laughs before they start getting serious. We recommend these Cheer Camp Icebreakers.
Is Cheerleading a Dangerous Sport for Kids?
Any sport has the potential to be dangerous depending on a few factors, including the equipment being used, what type of movement the sport involves and the people who practice it. Essentially, cheerleading for kids is not a competitive sport; quite the opposite.
Succeeding in this sport relies heavily on working well in a team. Even when practiced competitively, the sport doesn’t require any physical contact with the opposition.
This means that there is no risk of physical altercations while they are cheering. In addition to this, the only equipment that cheerleaders are likely to use during the sport is pom-poms, which don’t pose any risk to the participant’s safety.
It’s likely that the coach will be choosing a team based on their athletic skills and how well the individuals can work together, which minimizes the chance of anyone getting hurt. This goes for your child too. You need to be sure that your child is practicing sensibly. Let them know about the consequences of dangerous behavior and outline a punishment if they fool around. With some of the more risky moves, even a minor misstep could cause injury. Make sure they understand that joking around is for after practice.
As with any physical activity there are ways to train safely and not doing so can result in sprains or worse. Generally, it’s important to warm up before engaging in strenuous activity and then to stretch out afterwards. Outside of training, they will need to eat and rest properly; ensure that they are eating nutritional meals, not too close to practice.
It’s not advisable to train every day, so they need to schedule in the recommended number of rest days. They should always avoid competing with an injury, however minor it might seem. In the case of any discomfort, take your child to a specialist who can advise them on a recovery program.
Following these guidelines will keep their muscles warmed up and lower the risk of getting hurt. The coach should also provide a training schedule, advise on the best food to eat, before and after practice, and how much rest they need. But you can always consult a physician if you’re unsure about anything and they will be able to advise on how your child can train safely.
Specific to kids’ cheerleading, there are some moves that could lead to injury such as human pyramids, throwing teammates in the air and gymnastic maneuvers which require a safe landing, including flips and cartwheels. While these actions are risky, the coach is experienced in the sport, and as such, they will ensure that your children avoid unnecessary danger.
Adequate training will help to perfect these moves but the coach will know how to train them in a way that doesn’t put them at risk. For peace of mind, check out which safety equipment the club is using; look out for soft mats to break their falls. Ask the coach which safety precautions the club is taking and learn about the actual risks of injury so that you can be prepared.
As you’ve understood by now, cheerleading is a great activity for kids! Whether they decide to practice it competitively for a team or join a club which offers cheerleading as a fun pastime, your kids will reap the benefits. Not to mention the life skills they’ll learn along the way. If your little one is bouncing around in front of the TV when they see cheerleaders chanting at a football match, then this could be the sport for them. (Or if they see teenage or adolescent cheerleaders performing at a local high school or peewee football game).
Once they get into it, they’ll be fit, healthy and have a lot of fun!
Additional Cheerleading Links & Resources
For some additional reading on the topic of kids’ cheerleading we recommend checking out the following cheerleading articles and guides, some of which are from a University level but can provide great insight into kids’ cheerleading:
- Want to be a High School Cheerleader? This guide breaks down the tryouts, camps, games, and high school cheerleading culture for all interested parents. Read it here.
- The Guide to Cheerleading, from San Francsico University. The 70 page guide has probably everything you need to know about cheerleading so that you can explain it to and guide your kids. Read it here.
- Liberty University Cheerleading Tryout Information. Though this is school-specific, we thought it would be interesting for a parent to peruse a University cheerleading tryout guide. Read it here.
- Youth Subcultures: Understanding Subgroups to Better Address Barriers to Learning & Improve Schools. This academic guide focuses on cheerleading as a subculture, and can provide great cultural insights to curious parents. Read it here.
- A Kids Cheerleading Coach’s Guide to Successful Coaching: If you’re a parent who is more interested in the coaching side of cheerleading, then be sure to check out this guide. Read it here.
Featured image from Flickr, posted with Creative Commons License.