It's important to take a look at cheerleading from every possible angle. LoveToKnow is excited to interview Rhianna Porter who is currently coaching a recreational squad. Rhianna has been coaching middle school and high school cheerleaders for the last seven years. She gives the inside scoop and offers up some invaluable cheerleading tryout tips.
Coach Rhianna Porter Shares Try Out Tips
Coach Porter's Background
LTK: Thanks Rhianna for taking the time to answer all of our questions. First, can you tell us a little about yourself and how you got involved in coaching?
R: I started out by cheering for the recreational team for my hometown in Pennsylvania. I was captain of my middle school team, but then eventually decided that I loved competing way too much to just limit my cheerleading to football. So I joined the Xplosion All Stars, now known as Spirit Explosion of New Jersey. I cheered for them for about three years.
I started coaching at age 16 for my first recreational team. I've been coaching that team for seven years now. I then started my own All Star team, and that was one of the most difficult years of my life. (But in a good way!)
In addition, I'm currently coaching the Varsity team of the Bucks County Bears. They're currently only cheering for their football boys but in January we will attend our first competition!
What a Coach Looks For
LTK: What would you say are the three most important things to try to convey your spirit during your try outs?''
RP: Well first, you always want to walk on the floor with a positive attitude. If you feel any negativity at all it will show through in your performance. Secondly, it's important to try not to show how nervous you really are! Remember the absolute BEST cheerleaders are really nervous. Remember anything and everything that the coaches told you during try out days. One of the things they will be looking for is to see how much you have improved. How you've improved over try out week is a great indicator of how much you'll improve over the season.
LTK: While specific necessary skills vary from team to team based on the team's status (All Star vs. Varsity vs. rec), what are the "must have" skills that you think every cheerleading should have before try out day?
RP: The biggest "must have" is a smile and a great attitude. However, skills do vary from team to team. Here are a few basics:
- Know the difference between jumps.
- Know all the basic motions.
- A high school varsity squad would probably want you to have at least a standing back hand spring.
- An All Star level 5 team would want a standing tuck and a full twist.
However, always check with the coach before try outs so you can hone your skills!
LTK: As a coach, what are some of the qualities you like to see in your squad? Are there things you're willing to work with? (For example, a great tumbler who maybe needs to work on dancing skills?)
RP: As the coach of a recreational team, I try to pick the positive out of each girl. There's not one girl on my squad who can "do it all". When it comes to try outs for competitions, I think about what I need in my routine and choose based on that. For example, if I know I need three solid tumblers and a few girls with solid tumbling and three sets of stunting pairs, I know that I need about 18 girls with those types of skills. If I know one girl has worked extremely hard all season but isn't "the best", she would still make my team.
For high school, there is usually an exact number of girls that they can take and they know that number before hand. This makes it harder to choose on just attitude alone. However, I would say that you should always ask for tips on what you can do before try outs to make that spot on the team yours!
Walking Through the Try Out Process
LTK: Can you walk us through the try out process? What does a typical day or clinic look like?
RP: Since we are a recreational team, we start out with a group of girls all with different abilities. There are no try outs and everyone makes the team. In November, we will narrow our team down to about 20 girls. The girls will usually have to do a quick dance (three eight counts), and then maybe the cheer they've been working on all season. They do this in front of judges they don't know who score them. Next, the judges hand the final scores to us and we, as their coaches, have the final say. What's nice is that we know the girls and know who has been working and who has a great attitude. We generally have our team picked before try outs, and then use the score sheets to improve their skills.
I have tried out by clinic for Temple University. They watch you during the entire clinic (which in this case was three days). We mainly did a fast dance and then lots of stunting. There were over 100 girls trying out, so if you messed up you knew you wouldn't make the squad. I was trying out for the co-ed team, but I fell out of my stunt! I still made the all girls team though!
LTK: Any embarrassing stories about trying out that you're willing to share?
RP: Honestly, try outs are such a blur for everyone- even the coaches! We can feel the tension in the air.
My most embarrassing moment was falling out of my stunt when I was trying out for the Temple University co-ed squad. I had been practicing co-ed stunting all summer long. On the day of try outs, I decided to try to impress the judges with a co-ed heel stretch. Except I hadn't worked on this one at all. I hit something all right- and that something was the floor. My partner didn't even have time to try to catch me! I wasn't hurt thankfully. The moral of the story is don't do on try outs what you haven't done in practice!
Do's and Don'ts
LTK: List some do's and don'ts for try outs.
- Come dressed appropriately! My team is told to come in full uniform. If you don't have a full uniform, wear the team colors and a nice bow in your hair. Appearance really does make a huge difference!
- Do practice, practice, practice.
- DO NOT use any excuses if you do mess up! Just keep smiling. If you do that, it's possible the judges won't even notice.
Info for Parents
LTK: As a coach, is there anything you feel like you want parents to know up front about getting involved in cheerleading?
RP: I have a parents meeting before hand, and I let the parents know that I'm a tough coach. I also really stress that I have their child's safety in mind and no matter how dangerous something looks, if I don't think their child can do it I won't ask them to try. Safety is the number one priority.
I also let the parents know that cheerleading is a team sport, and that if one girl is missing from practice, it ruins the whole session for everyone. So grounding girls from practice is simply not acceptable.
Advice for Cheerleaders That Don't Make the Squad
LTK: Do you have any tips for girls who don't make the squad? What can they do to make the squad next year?
RP: There are always cheer tumbling classes at gymnastics centers now. Take one. Try to make friends with a cheerleader, and ask her to help you improve. The coach (if it's the same one) will notice the difference from year to year and will KNOW how hard you've been working, and that says a lot.
Don't be too hard on yourself. Most girls who are trying out for a school squad have been cheering for a few years. It might take you a couple of years to make the squad too.
Hard Work and Perseverance Pay Off
Try outs are never easy, and sometimes they don't go quite the way anyone planned. Whether you make the squad on your first try or your third, working hard on your skills and presentation will make you a better cheerleader. The key is to set a goal of making the squad, and then doing everything in your power to make that goal a reality. Having a great "cheer" attitude will also go a long way toward achieving a your goal, so put some pep in your step and start practicing now!