(This article was originally an email written in response to questions for help on starting a cheerleading team program for a rugby team in Italy)
Since you didn’t indicate the level of your rugby team, we have to be somewhat general in our answer to your request for more information and we are already planning and have notes for books on starting and coaching/managing cheerleading squads/teams, but you undoubtedly don’t want to wait for us to finish them.
We also must confess to little idea about the level and status of cheerleading in Italy (Imagine that, Americans that don’t know much about Europe, only their own country). So we don’t know, for example how extensive and how young cheerleading programs go in your province. Here in the United States, there are numerous cheerleading programs starting at age 5, so there are always experienced cheerleaders available at every level from which to draw a team without having to start at the beginning and teach all of the basics.
We apologize in advance for the somewhat unorganized approach. We are used to having a great deal of time to organize our thoughts and writing for our books and like to be very compete and organized. But here are some ideas for you to consider and steps to take to start cheerleading team.
In general, the age of the cheerleaders matches the age of the players on the team. High school cheerleaders cheer for high school athletes. College cheerleaders cheer for college athletes and professional cheerleaders (say ages 18 – 28) cheer for professional teams.
The status of cheerleaders also usually matches the amateur or professional status of the players. Professional cheerleaders are paid and are expected to work and train full-time. Semi-Professional and amateur cheerleaders have all their expenses paid for, although amateurs often have to fundraise to pay for their expenses.
In America, there are two types of cheerleading – competitive and cheering for sports teams. Competitive cheerleading is very big here now and cheering for teams has taken somewhat of a back seat in the amateur levels. We will assume you are interested in a team to cheer for the rugby team and that won’t compete in competitions.
This allows considerable latitude in choosing and setting up teams and, if desired, specialists. In addition to a regular cheer squad, specialists in stunting, tumbling, break dancing and flag runners can be employed to provide a more spectacular presentation.
The best source for choreography ideas for cheer squads is videos of last year’s National Cheerleading Championships. In the United States we like to get copies of the NCAA Collegiate Division I National Cheerleading Championships and cheer organizations like the UCA federation’s National Cheerleading Championships to keep up with the latest. There are a number of cheerleading federations, but many of them are small operations and do not have not as consistently high a quality of competition.
We also use MTV videos as inspiration for cheer dance moves, although the graphic sexual dance moves are not appropriate, there is much to see and learn.
We might mention, at this point, that cheerleading is currently the most dangerous sport for women in the United States. Many of the flyer and pyramid stunting injuries come about because coaches are not professional or experienced enough to demand the rigorous physical preparation and level of practice necessary for the safe and consistent execution of those skills. You must be vigilant about this because no one wants to look down at a young, beautiful and talented girl who has been permanently injured because of a preventable accident.
Due to the safety problems, it is advisable that all cheerleaders have sufficient strength, endurance and flexibility before attempting any tumbling, partner stunting, basket tosses or pyramids.
Depending on the experience level of your applicants for the cheerleading team, you may have to roll out the level of your cheerleading program over a period of time. E.g., the first year you might do only cheers, the second year you add group stunting, basic basket tosses and 1 and ½ height pyramids with spotters. By the third year, you could have safely trained new cheerleaders to do individual stunting, high pyramids and full difficulty basket toss flyers. How long it will take will be dependent on how much cheerleading experience is available from those who try-out.
The most important factor in the success of your team is going to be the head cheerleading coach who will have the responsibility for at least organizing and running try-outs, choreography, training and on the field management. You will need a person with a great deal of experience in cheerleading, cheer choreography, modern dance, jazz dance, physical fitness and strength training, stunting and pyramids, tumbling, break dancing and hip hop dancing (if that seems as popular in your area as it is in cheerleading here. We even have hip hop cheer dance competitions here in the U.S.).
To some extent, assistant coaches can cover some or any of those areas of expertise the head coach lacks. But your head coach will have to be able to integrate all those aspects into your performances and thus will need a wide range of experience. Ballet dance experience has not proved to be very large factor for successful coaches here in the U.S. as the style of dance is much different. It is not a disqualifying factor though if the coach also has experience in the other dance areas.
As a cheer squad cheering for a rugby team, special routine performances s will need to be created for:
- Team coming onto the field
- Sideline cheers
- Halftime/Quarter (?) performance
- Timeout (?) performances
- Team coming off the field
Sideline cheers need to be developed in order to have at least one for every aspect of the game such as kickoff, scrum and ruck. We don’t have any cheers in Italian, but there are ideas for cheers in our book and other sources for them on the Internet. In general, they need to have rhyme and/or rhythm.
Generally, fans will expect the level of cheer to match the level of play on the field so sufficient training is necessary. A professional cheer squad would train two (or three) times daily and training would include:
- Weight lifting (especially for stunt bases),
- Running for weight control and endurance,
- Individual and/or group stunting practice,
- Tumbling practice,
- Basic cheer drills (e.g. cheer motions),
- Basic dance training,
- Basic and current and future cheer routine practice.
A suitable training facility needs to be available. In the United States, many gymnastics training center facilities are expanding their programs to include cheer training. An ideal facility would have:
- A foam padded cheer practice area with full-length mirrors (gymnastics spring floors are ideal)
- Sufficient height for basket tossing – say 6- 8 meters
- Video recording equipment and playback monitors
- Tumble tramps
- Power tumbling floors
- Professional sound system
- Gymnastics safety pits for tumbling
- Weight training machines or free weights
- Running track or aerobic machines, treadmills, etc.
Few cheer programs in the United States have all of these training advantages, but in most situations, cheer programs use a number of facilities to get access to all the training they need. Colleges and universities often have all or most of the facilities needed and may be rented.
After acquiring a coaching staff and developing an organizational and support structure for the cheer squad, tryouts need to be advertised and held (our cheer tryouts e-Book gives a good overview of that process). The cheer coaches may serve as the judges for tryouts but are sometimes supplemented with local jazz or modern dance teachers and tumbling or gymnastics coaches.
Tryout criteria need to be established, especially for professional cheer squads where physical appearance is often also a factor in addition to athletic and dance ability.
Cheerleaders often serve as team ambassador and as public relations and ticket sales promotion team representatives. This means that this may be a factor in the tryout criteria and that training in public relations, public speaking, etc. may be appropriate.
Obviously, a budget for all of this and more will be required. Again, budget depends on the status of the team and cheerleaders (whether they are professional or amateur). Professional teams fund and pay their cheer squads. Amateur cheerleaders fundraise to pay for their equipment and expenses.
The budget is going to include items like:
- Coaching staff
- Uniforms, shoes and clothing
- Travel, food, lodging and transportation (if they are a traveling team). Note: Cheerleaders do not travel with the sports team to meets for the usual reasons.
- Equipment – pom-poms, sound systems and music, megaphones, cards, etc.
We do not profess to be expert about cheer uniforms. And there are numerous cheer uniform manufacturers in the United States (and available to view for ideas on the Internet). It seems most likely that local Italian designers would best create the cheer team image you desire much better and it is not uncommon for cheer uniforms to be custom designed and sewn.
There are other considerations in customizing the image of your cheer program. Costumed team mascots are very popular here and work and train with the cheer squads. Special cheering devices often are representative of a specific team like the cowbell is associated with Swiss teams and the tomahawks for the Atlanta Braves baseball team. You may already have something similar you wish to emphasize or create a new team cheering device tradition.
Well, that’s what we have off the top of our heads. Hope we have helped at least somewhat.