It’s summertime! For most of us, this means beaches, barbeques, and cheerleading. Wait, did I say cheerleading? Okay, maybe summertime only means cheerleading for a select few crazy coaches. Like myself. I won’t deny it. I have to assume it’s not much different for highly competitive basketball coaches who host summer youth programs and whose athletes play in organized summer leagues, or for high school soccer coaches who do the same. Just as there are in other sports, there are various different approaches for summer cheer programs that have been tried and tested by coaches throughout the state. This latest addition to my blog, Three Cheers for Cheerleaders, will focus on these types of summer cheerleading. I’m going to answer all of your questions (and by answer all of your questions, what I really mean is that I’m going to give my opinion on questions you’ve probably never thought of) about where it should be done, how it should be done, and most importantly, why it should be done.
I’ll start with the traditional four day, overnight cheer camps that are held at several locations throughout the state, with the biggest and most well-known camp being the one at Husson University in Bangor. The camp is hosted by Tami Campbell, who after 25 years of running the camp really has the experience down to a science. Her staff is appointed by the National Cheerleaders Association, an organization that hosts nationwide camps and competitions. The instructors are insanely talented and truly inspire young cheerleaders. I’ve brought many teams to this camp over the years and have found the experience to be amazing for team bonding. It’s intense, and can also be a great indicator of how athletes react when tired, sore, and under pressure. Unfortunately, cheer camp in Maine cannot be made mandatory by coaches nor can we prohibit any athlete from joining the camp team. And since competition teams are not picked until November, sometimes the camp effort turns out to be somewhat futile. Many teams are unable to meet for more than one or two practices before camp actually starts, so are often unprepared for the physical rigor of four days of stunting, dancing, and cheering from sunrise to sunset. Another drawback to the overnight camp is the tumbling instruction, or the lack there-of. I understand the liability issue and wouldn’t necessarily want my athletes tumbling with instructors I’ve had little previous interaction with, but since tumbling has become a major fundamental in cheerleading that is part of the score sheet during winter season, it’s unfortunate that overnight “company” camps have not found a way to integrate this skill into their curriculum. That being said, these types of camps do offer a great competitive advantage; I’ve found that my athletes often push themselves harder when they are surrounded by other talented teams than they do when we practice alone in our own gym.
Another common option for summer cheerleading is the private camp, in which a high school, rec center, or college team hosts a day camp with a private instructor. These camps are usually 2-3 days long, and the hosting school will often invite several other schools with similar ability levels to join them. These camps provide more personal instruction with a more flexible curriculum. For example, if stunting is a team’s priority, instructors will likely spend a greater amount of time stunting, rather than having to spend an equal amount of time on jumps, dance, and motions in addition to stunts. Participating teams not only bond within their own team, but they often bond with members of other teams as well. This can be really beneficial in February when you walk into the Augusta Civic Center and can feel like there’s at least ONE team who knows you and hopes you do well.
A newer trend, one that I credit my own coaching staff with perfecting, is the two to three day per week summer practice schedule that mimics a summer basketball schedule. Rather than do a one week intensive camp, we practice from the start of the MPA’s official “hands-on” period in June and finish at the end of the hands-on period at the end of July. We’ve found that this schedule helps build consistency and decreases soreness and injury rates for athletes who have sat out the spring sports season and are therefore unconditioned. When I started coaching at Medomak six years ago, we had a clear weakness in tumbling. And by weakness, I mean that we could barely do a full team somersault. Rather than pay for overnight camp, we put our fundraising efforts to hire a gymnastics coach to attend our summer practices. Within five years we had a full team of back handsprings with several elite tumblers. The price is certainly more affordable for most families than the price of overnight camp (whether cheer, basketball, or soccer), and we’ve found it to be quite beneficial for skill building. There are clear drawbacks, however; mainly that it’s difficult to have perfect attendance at every practice, as opposed to overnight camp where, for the most part, once you’re there, no one is leaving. Because of said attendance issues there’s also an absolute lack of team bonding.
Those three options are just a sampling of the different types of summer programs available to cheerleaders. As coaches, we recognize that high school athletes have much to juggle – family vacations, summer jobs, relaxation, and quality time with their peers, to name a few. As coaches, we also recognize that summer cheer programs are often the most essential time for skill building. Winter season is fast and furious, and it’s difficult to learn new, advanced skills when also learning choreography for competition routines and preparing for basketball games. I speak for many of us when I say that our goal is NOT to intrude on family vacation time, job opportunities, or the chance to just relax and have fun. On the other hand, I also speak for many of us when I say that as coaches, we are committed to making the winter competition season successful, and that usually starts in the summer. NONE of us enjoy wiping tears and consoling cheerleaders who are upset by their placement at competition. Our coaching staff’s message has always been this – if you’ve done everything you can do, and have taken advantage of every opportunity that’s been offered, there’s no such thing as failure. That being said, I stand firm in my message to the cheerleaders, cheer parents, and coaches who might question the importance of a summer program. Physically, mentally, and emotionally, summer programs are where winter competition success starts. No coach can mandate it, and we can’t base our winter team on who participated during the summer or not, but there’s often a very clear difference in the skill level of an athlete who put in time during the summer and in the athlete who didn’t. The bottom line is that there are many different options for summer cheerleading, and the general consensus among coaches is that almost any organized program is better than nothing. So let’s give a big cheer for beaches, barbeques, and, you’ve got it, summer cheerleading!