A Coach's Guide to Cheerleading Practice
Running an effective practice is the key to having a successful cheerleading team. As a coach or team leader, you must always stay organized and focused to ensure that you are facilitating a productive practice for the entire squad. Practices should be planned out according to upcoming events and games, but you must always be willing to change-up the practice routine according to the strengths and weaknesses of the team.
If you are relatively new to coaching, or just want some new practice techniques, read the steps below to give your practices a boost!
Coaching a cheerleading team is no easy task and it never hurts to have some help. At the start of the season, have the team elect one or two captains who they think are the most responsible and hard working members of the team. The team captain(s) can help you facilitate practice and keep you up to date with what is going on outside of training. They can also help you choreograph routines and dances.
Although each practice will be a little different depending on what skills the team is working on, the overall format should remain similar from day to day. Have practice on set days and at set times that remain consistent each week.
As for the actual practice, the activities should be planned down to the minute (if possible)—the more planned out training can be, the less time you will waste. Write out a schedule and stick to it.
Of course, not every practice will be the same, but try to keep some sort of routine. Be sure to challenge your team by introducing new skills. Team building exercises are also good to incorporate every now and then. This is a time for learning, but also a time to have fun and bond as a group.
Hot Tip: Example of a Schedule
Write out your team schedule and stick to it for a more efficient practice! Here's an example of a team practice schedule:
4:00-4:15 – Stretching and warm up
4:15-4:45 – Tumbling
4:45-5:15 – Learn choreography for Friday night’s half-time routine
5:15-5:45 – Work on stunting
5:45-6:00 – Jumping drills
6:00-6:15 – Review game-time cheers
6:15-6:30 – Cool down and discuss upcoming events
Communication is the key to success. That may sound like a bit of a cliché, but it is true. Establish a time for weekly or monthly team meetings so that you and your squad have a forum to discuss any concerns, problems, goals, etc. This is also a great opportunity for the team members to get to know you and to become more comfortable talking with you.
Team meetings are also the perfect place to plan out competition schedules and other team events (like fundraisers). Big events need to be planned out together and at these meetings you will have the input of the entire squad. You don’t want to call team meetings too frequently, but be sure to have them regularly in order to maintain open lines of communication between you and your team.
As a coach it is up to you to set clear goals for both the entire season and for individual practices. To best utilize practice time, you should set a goal at the beginning of each day and, whether it is big or small, you must be explicit about what the team needs to accomplish. For example, if you have a big half-time performance coming up, the goal for the practice could be perfecting the ending stunt sequence. If your goal is to place in an upcoming competition, then a goal for the team can be to perfect a competition routine within a given time frame.
Be realistic about what can be achieved in one practice, and make your expectations clear.
Hot Tip: Preparing in Advance
If you have an upcoming event or competition, it can be hard to determine when exactly your team should start preparing. Typically, showcases or half-time performances take one to two weeks to get ready for—the team needs adequate time to rehearse the choreography and practice the stunts. Preparing for a competition can take up to three months. Do not wait until the last minute to start getting ready for major events… there is nothing worse than being underprepared!
Cheerleading is a very dangerous sport, so emergencies will arise, and you must be prepared. Create an emergency plan and share it with your team. Your captain(s) should be ready to help facilitate should an emergency occur. You should also have emergency numbers posted and a pre-designated driver. Hopefully you won’t have to put your plan into action, but you have to be prepared for the worst case scenario.
Neither you nor your team will enjoy practice if you don’t have fun every once in a while. Set aside time, either during or outside of training for the squad to let loose: Let them run practice on a slow week or go outside on a sunny day; plan team outings like a trip to the movies or sleepovers. If the squad has fun together, they will become a better, stronger team.
Hot Tip: Spice Up Practice
One way to add excitement throughout the season is to have themed practices. Every so often, pick a theme and have the team dress up for practice. (For example, a 70’s themed practice where everyone wears disco-style outfits—that are safe for stunting of course.) This breaks up the monotony of mid-season practice and is sure to be a good time.
Practice is where the hard work and learning are done, so the time must be used efficiently. As a coach, you must always keep the team on track and focused on the goals at hand. If you follow these basic guidelines, you and your team will make the best of your practice time together.