The typical cheerleader has to juggle school, family, other extra curricular activities and perhaps even a job. Summer break is a time when cheerleaders have less responsibility and can nail down skills that will be necessary for a successful cheer season once school starts back up again.
What Individual Cheerleaders Can Do
It's not always practical to get together with an entire squad to practice over the summer months. Still, there are plenty of ways for cheerleaders to keep themselves in top form individually.
Get in Shape
Cheerleading requires the ability to be active for long hours and smile through it all. In order to accomplish the more complicated routines, you'll need to be in excellent physical shape. Summer is the perfect time to get into a dietary and exercise routine that will build the core muscles you'll need for tumbling, stunting, jumping and standing on your feet for a full game.
- Eat healthier by choosing whole foods and staying away from sugary and processed foods that don't provide nutritional value for your body's muscles.
- Get in 30 to 60 minutes of cardio every day to keep active.
- Build your core muscles by doing crunches, backwards crunches and bicycle crossover crunches. You'll use your abdominal muscles for tumbling, dancing and stunting, so it's important that your core is strong.
Whether you are a flyer and have to pull a scorpion in the middle of a routine, or you're a back spot and simply want better flexibility for your jumps and splits, flexibility is something you should work on improving over the summer. Even the most flexible cheerleaders can improve their flexibility a bit more. Before doing any cheerleading stretches, have your coach or the coach at a cheerleading or gymnastics gym show you the best way to stretch so you do not injure yourself.
- Stretch only after warming up your muscles to avoid injury.
- Stretch two or three times a day, such as in the morning, at lunch and just before bed.
- Do not bounce. Static stretches are best.
- Stretch every day of the summer.
You may also want to take up yoga. In a North Dakota State University study titled Improving Lower Body Flexibility, Comparing the Use of Yoga and a Static Stretching Program, researchers found that there was no significant difference between participants who did static stretches and those who did yoga. Yoga can add variety to your workouts and help you stay motivated to stretch daily.
Work on Tumbling
Most school cheer squads now require at least some basic tumbling skills. Whether you are preparing for tryouts or simply want to improve your tumbling skills, get into a class at a local gym with a certified instructor. Doing a cartwheel or round off in your front yard can help you perfect basic skills, but attempting a back handspring or other advanced skill on your own is downright dangerous. Don't take a chance on a serious injury.
You can either join a local class with other people at your same skill level or request private lessons with an instructor to increase your tumbling skills before the season starts. Also, a trained instructor will be able to spot bad habits you've picked up, particularly if you are self-taught, and show you the right way to perform tumbling passes.
In cheerleading, there are specific motions and they each have a name, such as the "ready position." The better you know these motions, the easier it will be to take instruction from your coach once cheer season gets under way.
- Learn the name and position of each motion.
- Practice moving from one motion to the next with sharp, tight movements.
If your squad performs dances during breaks, such as at halftime, it is a good idea to brush up on your dancing skills. There are specific movements in dance that you can practice, just as there are specific cheer motions you can learn.
- Find out the most common dances your squad performs. It doesn't do you any good to learn jazz routines if the squad performs only hip-hop.
- Join a local dance class (check your parks department and dance studios).
- If you're struggling, sign up for private lessons to perfect your technique.
- Turn the music up and practice at home.
- Go to a local teen dance club and practice your moves.
- Go through old dance routines the squad previously performed. Record yourself and watch back or watch yourself in a mirror to find areas that need improvement.
Cheer squads should take advantage of the lazy days of summer to stay active and prepare for the upcoming cheer season. There are specific things teams should focus on the help them bond as a team and be ready with a set of sharp routines that will make their school proud.
There is nothing worse than a squad of cheerleaders who bicker with one another and don't get along. One of the easiest ways to prevent this problem before it happens is to take the time for the cheerleaders to bond as a cohesive unit. Accomplish this in a number of ways:
- Build trust with team activities such as pairing up and having one person fall back and trust the other to catch her. It is best to go ahead and do this on mats just to be on the safe side.
- Get to know each other with icebreaker games that delve into what makes each girl tick.
- Spend time together doing fun activities like bowling, fund raisers and sleepovers (assuming you have an all-girl squad).
- Encourage members of the squad to think like a team.
If your tryouts are in the spring, you will have the opportunity to take the new group of cheerleaders to summer camp. Summer camp can be over a weekend or a full week. It can be held at a camp with official cheerleading instructors or in your local school gym with the help of veteran cheerleaders and coaches. No matter where you decide to host the camp, some of the benefits include:
- Time to learn new routines
- Putting together complicated stunts and helping pair up flyers and bases
- Team bonding
- Building traditions
In addition to a more intensive camp, consider hosting skill-specific clinics over the summer. If your squad has three girls who still need to get their tucks, then host a tuck clinic and encourage those girls to attend for some extra instruction in this area. Be sure to stay positive, so they don't feel singled out.
Stunts are one of the most impressive parts of a cheerleading routine. If you plan to attempt a basket toss tuck during the first game at halftime, then don't wait until two weeks before the game to practice this advanced stunt. Instead, start working on stunting over the summer and it will be perfected by the time the season arrives. Summer is a good time to:
- Perfect complicated stunts and pyramids so that the squad is comfortable before it's time to cheer in front of a crowd.
- Bring in a specialist to help choreograph and improve stunts.
By the Time School Starts
With all the time spent both individually and as a team, by the time fans fill the bleachers and it's time to perform, the cheerleaders will be polished and ready. Plan to spend a good deal of time honing your skills, practicing your moves, and getting together with the rest of your squad.