This is an excerpt from Coaching Youth Cheerleading by American Sport Education Program.
Whether you are coaching a cheer, sideline, or dance routine during a game, always remember the role of the cheerleading squad is to facilitate crowd support for the team on the field or court. Although this may sound simple, it is more complicated than you might think. There are many factors involved in engaging a crowd. For example, if your squad’s team is on defense and the other team is about to score a touchdown, you don’t want your squad doing a “We want a touchdown!” sideline. In that situation, a simple defense chant is most appropriate. Use material to get the spectators into the game and to entertain them. They have the most fun when they feel like they are a part of the game. Through effective use of cheers, sidelines, and dances, your cheerleading squad can help create that experience.
What are Cheers, Sidelines, and Dances?
A “cheer” has a definite beginning and end and should be used during an extended break in play (pregame, time-out, or halftime). Cheers are the best way for your squad members to incorporate stunts, jumps, and tumbling to lead the crowd. The general rule is that a squad should never do a cheer while the ball is in play. Here’s an example of a cheer:
All for the Saints!
Stand Up and Holler!
A “sideline,” however, repeats itself and should be the primary material used when the ball is in play. Even so, you can also use it during the extended breaks (pregame, time-outs, or halftime). Your squad members can set up and perform these sidelines in the same manner as the cheers. You can end a sideline by having the captain yell “last time” so that all of your squad members understand what to do. There is no hard and fast rule on when the stopping point is and your crowd is usually a good indicator of when to end the sideline. Here’s an example of a sideline:
Gooooo, Tigers, Go!
Gooooo, Tigers, Go!
Gooooo, Tigers, Go!
Gooooo, Tigers, Go!
Dance routines are used to entertain the crowd during extended breaks, usually pregame or halftime (however, a short routine can be performed during a time-out if the game isn’t too close). They are typically performed on the field or court.
Youth squads generally have only one dance per season, which they learn at a summer camp or at an organized dance class. However, you may be in a situation where you, the coach, are responsible for your squad’s routine. If so, you can enlist the help of local dance instructors, teachers, coaches, or any other person with dance experience. Following are a few suggestions for creating a well-designed dance routine:
Choosing Style and Music
You have several options when choosing a style for your squad’s dance. For example, you can select traditional styles, such as pom, kick, or jazz; or specialty styles, such as lyrical, modern, prop, or military. You can also combine several styles into one performance. On a related topic, as you are choosing a style of dance you will also need to select appropriate music. Here are some things to keep in mind when selecting music:
- Choose music that is easily recognized and enjoyed by your audience and that is appropriate for family viewing.
- Look for songs that have strong beginnings and endings. The first and last things the audience sees should be powerful and memorable.
- Don’t use repetitive music. This may cause your audience to tune out. If you repeat choreography, that’s perfectly acceptable, but it is not always necessary to repeat the music.
Choreographing the Dance
Developing choreography can be a trial-and-error experience—what works for one squad doesn’t always work for another. Allow yourself leeway and don’t be afraid to change your mind. Some things that show promise in your head and on paper don’t always have the same effect on the performance floor. Whether this is your first time or hundredth time, always remember that creating choreography is a constant learning experience. The more you practice, the better you get!
As you are choreographing your squad’s dance, know that an essential part of the dance is the blending of the different portions of the dance to make a solid routine. These transitions are a terrific way to change formations and move from one style to another smoothly. Transitions should happen quickly, free of unorganized movements and free of any collisions. Each element of your routine should be a pleasant surprise. Remember, too few transitions can make your routine boring and too many can seem chaotic. Finding these new positions easily and showcasing the strengths of your performers will add visual highlights throughout your routine.
Teaching the Dance
To successfully teach a routine, here are a few things to keep in mind:
- Be sure the routine is finished before you begin teaching. Do not second-guess how quickly your squad will learn and prepare only a certain amount. Do, however, try to determine a good stopping point about a third of the way through the routine.
- Keep your routine notes nearby in case you need to refer to them.
- Practice teaching and using correct terminology before you actually teach.
- Count as if you are performing the routine with your voice—staccato for sharp motions and smooth for fluid movement.
- Use vocal cues and lead-ins. When rehearsing, give a four-count lead before the step. Use the same tempo you wish for them to continue in. Don’t forget to note the music arrangement (verse or refrain) or any changes or effects in the music.
- Use as few words as possible. Too much instruction will confuse your squad members and leave them lacking focus.
- Be specific. The more specific you are, the less the squad members will need to ask questions. Always pretend that the squad members can’t see you and only by your verbal description can they learn the choreography.
- Progress at the rate of the majority of your squad—not fast enough to lose those who learn at a slower pace and not so slow that the squad members who are fast learners are bored.