Cheer Nerves Theory

I recently spiraled into thinking about the controversial issue in cheerleading that is: the inconsistencies of skill execution in high-pressure performances. I’ve probably over-thought about this common issue throughout this 2020 season because I focused more on my profession as a choreographer, assistant coach, and judge.

To make this blog more interesting (and relatable), I’ve included videos of important past performances when I failed to execute.

My initial question: If cheerleaders willingly sign up to perform tricks & skills for a crowd–regardless if on a sideline or in a performance venue, for crowd encouragement or for competition–why is it the norm that more of these performances will have errors than the amount of routines hitting completely as planned?

I’ve narrowed it down to what I think are the main three reasons for performance mistakes:

  • Lack of Focus
  • Probability of Human Error
  • Bad Vibes

Lack of Focus: It’s not a wild concept that even though cheerleaders practice routines day in and day out, they can be distracted on a competition/game day. You don’t have thousands of people watching your every move at practices, this feeling is difficult to replicate. Lacking in the ability to focus during a high-paced routine can happen easily when athletes perform in a new place, have preoccupied thoughts before competing, or are so confident with their skills that they feel they can rely on muscle memory instead of respecting the task at hand with focus.

See for reference: Team USA All Girl Partner Stunt 2014. Dropped our most confident, to-the-top skill we had in our routine, an all girl back handspring full up. We didn’t even have a plan of when to get back in because we had never dropped this. I was the one who lost focus (I was thinking of how we were off center, rather than my body line) and single-handedly caused our worst day ever.

Probability of Human Error: This idea is a given issue due to the nature of humans not being robots, and it can ultimately be impossible to fully prepare for. You can’t measure the adrenaline rush of each person on the team performing with pressure. How can you communicate when someone makes a split decision based off of a reaction or a feeling? The other people in the group can’t read their minds. A disconnect of communication can completely throw a group off their game. Not understanding your teammates can result in the unexpected, but communicating can definitely help you.

My Example: One of my 2 UCA College Demo Routine Falls in 6 years, Alabama College Camp 2014, back right corner with some OG squirrels. We couldn’t even tell you what happened here as it was unlike any other time we had practiced the skill. Luckily, we got back into it pretty quickly.

Andddd lastly…

BAD VIBES: They’re so real! When cheerleaders are at competition, they stand in a close hallway/dark tunnel, waiting to perform after team(s) currently on the floor. You can feel the bass of the other team’s music, see spotlights from behind the main focus of the venue, and hear the roar of the crowd– whether with piercing applause or with the painful sigh of a missed skill. This same concept can happen at a game with a powerfully distracting/negative crowd. All of your senses will heighten, you’ll get excited/nervous, and if you’re not careful, you might start focusing on your doubts and worries, rather than your confidence.

Fail Video for this one is my very poorly executed stretch rewind to what I call, a pistol-squat-bobble. I was unprepared for this because I hadn’t doubted the likeliness of the stunt hitting until the very moment I set up for it. USA All Girl National Team 2015 (first team elite stunt… you’ll know which one is me). This was also the hardest routine I ever competed and I let my nerves get the best of me.

It’s not actually a huge surprise that falls happen so often in competition– once you realize that many coaches/captains are not being realistic and addressing these likely situations. If you’ve ever been to a cheerleading event, you’ll notice that the ones who manage to keep all the people up will most likely win. The routines are supposed to hit.

So, why can’t we be more like the Circus Acrobats who do seemingly mind-boggling tricks the same way each time? Well, we can– with passionate coaching and communication between athletes. With an attention to building awareness, addressing the likeliness for split decisions, and training to have control of our movements, we can help our athletes handle high pressure and perform something they’ll be proud of for years to come.

Make yourself aware of the negatives trying to stand in your way and replace them with positive confidence. I always fully convince myself that I will execute everything if I trust the reps I’ve put in, and when I get nervous, I remember that my group/partner has my back, and we will be able to react together if necessary.

Remember to carry good vibes and start doing routines you’re proud of!

-coach kait

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