Wednesday, August 4, 2010

"Cheerleading is not a Sport" - Looking at the U.S. Ruling

Those that keep an ear to the ground for any cheer gossip have certainly been following the U.S. debate regarding Quinnipac University's decision to adopt cheer as a varsity sport, dropping the female volleyball team. All over social media young cheerleaders were up in arms regarding this ruling, adamant that what they participate in is a sport.

But, if delving deeper, this debate is not about the athleticism, dedication, drive or heart of cheer athletes. The physical prowress and athletic ability are what we believe to be on par with more traditional sports, but the Quinnipac ruling is completely unrelated to either of these characteristics.

The debate involves Title IX and whether Quinnipac satisfied the Title's rules for equal athletic opportunity for female athletes. By dropping volleyball it's likely that Quinnipac stood to save some money by replacing it with the competitive cheer team. This was less a decision over one sport versus another, and more a case of bean counting and budget balancing.

The judges ruling that cheerleading is not a sport stems from the qualifications Title IX places on the category of "sport". A defined season, public governing body, systemic competition schedule at regional, state and national levels, and additional levels of organization. Many Canadian universities also require these elements to be considered a "varsity sport."

If we are honest with ourselves, cheer offers none of this. We train nearly year-round, have private companies operating varied competitions with limited qualifications for entry, and multiple governing bodies that individual gyms can pick and choose with which to associate. There is nothing wrong with this system, it works well for us, but it precludes cheer from being considered a "sport" under Title IX

Industry leaders are working hard to solidfy our activity, organizing and creating unity across Canada and the U.S. Whether being a true "sport" by Title IX is in our best interest is an entirely different debate. We would sacrifice training time during off-season, potentially be more limited in our competition choices, etc. However, an improvement in the uniformity of experience and training required to coach cheerleading would be a likely benefit.

The Quinnipac ruling serves to point out the lack of definition in competitive cheer, and should serve to drive us all to improve the organization and uniformity associated with non-sideline teams. The United States All Star Federation has made significant head-way in recent years in solidifying All Star cheer standards across the U.S., improving both safety and consistency. Cheer Alliance has followed suit, creating school coaches training, a consist scoring system and adopting the U.S.A.S.F. safety rules for both school and all star teams so that they can compete across North America.

So, is cheerleading a sport? Well I guess that depends on your defintion.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Important Scoring Changes at CA events

Hey everyone! Now that we're just around the corner from Nationals, we thought it would be a great idea to ensure EVERYONE has read up on the new scoring process at Cheer Alliance. Please be sure to visit our website at under "Scoring" for links to our Score Grid, Sample Score Sheets, Competition Guidelines & Deductions Policy.

Key changes:
Three different score sheets - Building Skills, Jumps/Tumbling, Choreography

Two judges for each skill set, 6 adjudicators total per panel plus a Safety and Legalities Judge. (Please note that for Spring Classic, there will be a total of 4 judges, one in each category).

The weighting for each skill set varies between All Star and School, with All Star's jumps/tumbling weighted slightly heavier.

Another key change this year is that we are not deducting for early dismounted stunts which are safetly caught in a controlled cradle. Instead, you will notice that Execution/Technique is now weighted higher than past years, allowing the panel judge to adjudicate overall technique and execution instead of counting the number of falls. Teams who have early dismounts will have these errors reflected in their technique/execution scores for that skill set. For example, Stunt difficulty is out of 10, where as execution is out of 15. This leaves the adjudicators more room to score both technique and execution of stunt skills.

Why the change? We shifted our focus this year to safety. Deductions are meant to keep teams SAFE, ensuring there is minimal pay off for skills that they cannot execute safely each and every time. Violations of Legalities Rules are considered be unsafe, as the athletes in the level may not have the experience, technique or training to complete the skill safely. Several major companies in the US are adopting similar policies, be sure to read up on every company that you plan to compete with!

Further along this safety theme, our score grid attempts to educate coaches on all the available options and room for growth within each level. The idea of maxing out a level encourages teams to stay in a level until they have mastered all the necessary skills.....ensuring that they can safely move up to the next difficulty level. For years the trend has been to do the minimal skills and then charge forward to the next level.....often leaving athletes bereft of the skills, technique and experience they need to be safe and successful.

We also strongly believe that the new scoring system will allow teams to adjust to the highly competitive level of cheerleading in the United States. Why not push ourselves to keep up instead of accepting a second-class standing? Set the bar high, and teams will strive to reach it!

Their will certainly be growing pains along the way, fine-tuning and finesse will need to be added to this new system. But the end goal is worth the work.....we promise. Certainly welcome thoughts, and constructive ideas as we move forward

Happy cheering!

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Getting ready for 2010

The first part of the 2009-10 Competitive season is drawing to a close, and as we move into 2010 it's time to tally up the wins, losses and goals of 2009. Here at CA, we've decided to really focus on building safe and successful teams from the ground up.

As All Star cheerleading continues to explode across the country, it's easy to forget where we all came from, be it collegiate programs or highschool teams. It's time to re-invest in our roots, as an entire industry, and ensure that these high school programs have access to the training, support and resources that make the all star industry such a booming success.

In 2009, we launched a new training program that focused on the basics for school cheerleading coaches. It's not about a simple test and memorized answers, but a hands-on approach to improving methods, techniques and safety initiatives used by all cheerleading coaches. We'd be very interested in hearing from even more high school teams and coaches across the country. Let us know what you information and resources you want, and what major issues and obstacles you currently face.

As a young industry, we need to ensure that the next generation of leaders are well-trained and prepared to step into the spotlight. I can't think of a better way to start then looking back to our roots and helping out the collegiate and scholastic programs that could use some guidance.

Looking forward to a great run of events in 2010, happy holidays!

Monday, August 24, 2009

IASF Safety Judges Conference

Just returned from the 2009 Safety Judges Conference in Dallas, TX. Lots of great lessons learned, and met some fabulous people.

The new age grid changes, which now incorporate anyone 18 and under into Senior levels 1-4, is meant to encourage more competition in each level and division. Great stuff, as that's the most common 'complaint' these days, is that the divisions can get rather sparse!

Also new this year, Senior Open Level 5. This division was created as a stepping stone division, a chance to let the athletes learn single layout fulls before competing doubles and improve upon technique and safety across the division. Anyone in Canada planning on tackling this division should give the office a call, some pretty specific rule interpretations that you should be aware of before choreographing!

Another key element, is to be sure all your dismounts are assisted. This includes any "transitions" that involve throwing a tumbler out of a cradle position etc. Anytime a top person is dismounted to the performing surface they MUST be physically assisted by a base until contact is made with the floor. At EVERY level. This isn't a new rule, it's always been there, but the interpretation has now adapted to include these seemingly innocuous choreographic elements.

Canadian coaches should feel free to give me a call in the office, happy to share what was learned.

Also important: Have your coaches follow the USASF/IASF Safety Rules updates on Twitter. Great way to make sure your Level1-3 coaches (as this who is most likely to be affected) get the up-to-date knowledge that is so crucial : LesStella on Twitter....follow it!

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Changing the Canadian perspective on competitive cheer...

Over the past year, my first year working at CA full-time, I have fielded many conversations about appropriate competitive cheer levels, problems retaining athletes, and issues related to running a business versus responsible coaching. I hear the same issues again and again, from province to province, and gym to're all saying the same thing. Know that in your frustration you're not alone!

Here in Canada we're just out of the starting gate when it comes to changing athletes' and parents' perceptions about competitive levels. We've traditionally focused on stunting, leaving tumbling, jumps and dance running to catch up to our building skills. As our programs grew and began to venture south, everyone began to notice the great divide....and pay for it on the podium.

So now we're forced to delve into our programs and restructure. Athletes have been shifted in levels, a new focus on tumbling and non-building skills has been brought to practice, and some athletes' are up in arms about the change.

What to do?

Communication is key! Get the info out early, host parent meetings to explain the importance of building a well-rounded skill set, and the benefits of being with a group of athletes that are all working on the same skills and at the same pace. These levels weren't designed like school grades, you aren't gauranteed to move up each and every year...they are in place to make the sport SAFE and fun.

But what about those parents' and athletes' that jump ship, hoping that taking their 'business' elsewhere will garner a higher level, and in their eyes more prestige?

1 - Grin and bear it, if we are all on the same page they will eventually realize the reasoning behind your reccommendation. To grow the sport in Canada we all have to commit to responsible coaching.

2 - It happens everywhere. And it can give an athlete a chance for a fresh start, wish them luck and mean it!

3 - Pro-active communication plans are essential to retaining athletes during all big changes.

The message needs to be that lower levels aren't lesser levels. Give those level 1 and 2 teams just as much floor time, face time with the owner/head coach, and program support as the level 5 team. Build a family from the ground up, pair the teams with each other for pre-comp practices, have them create signs and cheers for each other. Celebrate the victories of teams at every level, the beauty of cheer is that you can be a champion at every's not just for the elite tumblers.

Running a successful business and being a responsible coach are not mutually exclusive. With proper planning and communication you can shift athletes around to the appropriate levels and retain them. Build a stronger and safer program by being honest about the levels your athletes' can work at, and celebrate the accomplishments of every age and level.

Good luck with the 2009-10 season, I've heard great things from so many. Keep growing Canada!