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 gym.....you'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 level.....it'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!