Jr. cheer is the best way for younger boys and girls to get a taste of the fun world of cheerleading. It can give them a head start on the skills needed to excel in the sport of cheer, while at the same time maintaining the most important part of it: fun!
What Exactly is Jr. Cheer?
Jr. cheer is a kind of program that helps young aspiring cheeleaders between the ages of 7-14 build up their skills, discover their innate talents, and most of all have a fun experience without the pressures of a competitive environment.
There are basically three kinds of organizations that offer junior cheer programs:
Professional Football Teams
These programs are usually the most robust and filled with truly unique opportunities, like performing with professional NFL cheerleaders at a nationally televised game. The Colts is just one example of an organization that has an excellent program for young cheerleaders. These larger programs can offer not only basic skills like tumbling and jumping, but also special features such as makeover advice from professionals, photographs for a portfolio, and special uniforms and other accessories. These programs are usually quite large, with up to 300 or so girls participating in each weekend clinic. The Houston Texans) is another good example of a popular jr. cheer clinic.
Collegiate Cheerleading Programs
Colleges such as Oregon State University also offer junior cheer clinics, which include opportunities to appear during halftime, showing off the skills they've learned in the clinics. These can be especially fun if the young person is a fan of the team, and can learn the specific chants and cheers they've done in the stands. The chance to be on the other side, leading the fans in supporting their team, makes for an unforgettable experience. Sometimes even local high schools will hold "Junior Cheer Clinics" sponsored by their booster clubs or as part of a fundraiser for their squad.
Private Sports Organizations
Some communities create private sports organizations for their youth, and whether football or basketball these can also have jr. cheerleader programs as well. Liberty Cheer is a good example of this kind of program. One of the major differences with this type of program is that the practices tend to be scheduled for after-school (for Liberty Cheer, for example, practices are Tuesdays and Thursdays for two hours).
What Happens at a Jr. Cheer Clinic?
Clinics usually will run during the day on a Saturday, though some camps provide overnight stays in the college dorms as well. Most of the skills are taught by senior-level cheerleaders, with more advanced skills taught by the coaches themselves. Participants should show up in comfortable clothes they can move in - this is a workshop, not a game, so no uniform is necessary. Of course, by the end of the clinic most programs will present the young cheerleader with a certificate and a t-shirt or other symbol of their accomplishment.
During a jr. cheer clinic, these are some of the activities that might happen:
- Learning about cheerleading from the coaches and captains
- Learning basic skills such as jumps and basic tumbling
- Cheer crafts like making pom poms, cheer signs, or other accessories
- Learning cheers and chants specific to the sponsoring school right alongside the actual cheerleaders.
At the end of a clinic, usually the participants are given something to signify their participation like a certificate or t-shirt, and are invited to show the cheers they learned at an actual game later in the season with the cheerleaders. These can be amazingly inspiring experiences for the aspiring cheerleader.
Finding a Good Junior Cheer Program
If there is a local high school cheerleading team, the odds are that they know of the options for junior cheer programs locally. At the same time, there are many online sources besides google that have junior cheer programs listed. Varsity is an organization that not only helps run competitions and camps but also contains tips on starting your own jr. cheer camp. Looking up the cheerleading page of your favorite local collegiate or pro team can also bring you to a good program for an aspiring cheerleader.
What Skills Do Junior Cheerleaders Need?
You don't need any actual skills before you go into a jr. cheer program - that's the purpose of the program, to teach you what you need to be an excellent addition to any squad. However, you get more than the basic tumbling and chants. To quote the Liberty Cheer program, the goal is to instill qualities such as
- Responsiveness to directions
- Effort in every one of the activities
- Sincerity in friendships, enthusiasm and spirit
- Polite to coaches, team members, and even the rowdy fans
- Esteem for yourself and your accomplishments
- Consideration for other's moods and feelings
- Thankfulness for all the work being done by the teachers and the other team members
That spells "RESPECT," and it highlights the many qualities that can be learned in cheer but carried over into all aspects of a cheerleader's life.
Of course, the primary skills of any junior cheerleader are the same as any cheerleader: absolute dedication to a positive attitude about their school and their team, and a desire to share that attitude with everyone who sees them.