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Perfection Before Progression: 5 Steps to Ensure Athletes Are Improving Safely & Properly

Our motto is “perfection before progression” when it comes to cheerleading. When teaching athletes how to stunt, tumble and jump it is important that coaches and industry leaders give them the knowledge and fundamentals to properly and safely perform novice to elite skills. In doing so will prevent injuries, build trust and relationships and increase confidence.

It is all too common to hear coaches instruct from afar, and yell out phrases like “chuck it” and “just do it” without providing athletes a thorough explanation of the basics and profound constructive criticism. My company, Rah Rah Routines, promotes a more hands-on, visual approach that promotes consistency and structure when teaching athletes the do’s and dont’s of cheerleading.

Here are five steps coaches can use to teach their squad about safety and proper training — turning their cheerleaders into strong, confident athletes and future industry experts.

Knowledge is Power: As an experienced instructor and coach, I realize one truth: It is hard for the body to do what it wants or needs without the brain’s support. This statement is all too obvious, but it is a strategic approach that gives athletes reasoning as to why basic instruction is important and exists. For example, a coach can tell an athlete that it is important to tumble with straight arms above the head because it protects them from injury. Verbally explain and visually show them that if your arms are bent when flipping it will cause your head to get closer to the floor. The athlete’s brain makes a connection with the information given — that bent arms equal injury. Athletes crave logic behind the skills they are taught because providing such evidence leads to self-confidence and trust. Athletes must mentally understand the skills they are performing before they can successfully and safely perform them physically.

Set Standards: Coaches and industry leaders must have a system in place when moving athletes up to a higher level or holding them at their current level. The criteria and expectations to progress in various skill sets must be completely understood by the athletes and individuals the athletes trust like family and friends. Have athletes set goals to when certain skills will be accomplished, such as “get my roundoff in a month” or “achieve an opposite leg heel stretch in two weeks.” This allows for athletes to claim ownership and take responsibility for their own progression timeline, sending them a message that their achievements are the result of their own actions and no one else’s.

Repetition Works: Perfection is achieved through repetition, which leads to consistency. Like the saying goes: “try, try and try again.” Repetition is another strategic approach to teach athletes that muscle memory aids in the perfection of skills. When skills are consistent they are never loss or forgotten, they are ingrained in the mind. This allows for the athlete to better understand more difficult tricks, apply corrections to imperfect skills and learn how to problem solve when things fail.

Promote Structure: In order to achieve or perfect any skill, athletes need self-discipline. A way to promote self-disciple is creating a safe structure or routine in a healthy learning environment. Athletes can handle change best if it is expected and occurs in a familiar routine. A predictable routine allows them to feel secure and develop a sense of mastery in their skills. Once the ability of a certain skill is strengthened then they can tackle larger challenges. Structure teaches athletes to constructively control themselves and their environments, cooperation and forward thinking.

Communicate Concerns: Safety is all about knowing the proper precautions to take in a sticky situation. When I teach athletes how to tumble, in particular the higher level skills, I make sure they know how to get themselves out of a potentially dangerous scenario that can cause injury. Teachings like “backward roll after landing an over rotated tuck” or “do not step out of a falling stunt” is important to communicate to athletes before they physically perform any skill. This allows for the them to make smart decisions during pressure situations as well as reduce injury to themselves and others.

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