Because of their high visibility, cheerleaders are observed and judged as much as—or more than—other athletes. Recent surveys indicate that most high school cheer coaches either resign from their coaching position within two years or stick around for decades. Why the disparity? Are the athletes, parents, coaches, and administrators really so different from one district to the next? I would argue that the driving force behind such statistics lies in the relationship between the head cheer coach and the supervising administrator. Where there is a positive relationship with the cheer coach—and there is at many schools—the cheerleaders flourish and the school reaps the benefits of that great relationship.
Establish Defined Roles
A cheer coach should provide athletes with model character in practices, games, and activities outside of school. As the overall leader of the school, the principal should take the time to form an alliance with coaches and let students, staff, and parents know that they support the coach. Principals should also encourage coaches to make sure schedules are easily accessible to both the cheerleader and parents. But what is most important for the cheer coach is the relationship built with athletes. My experience has taught me that a child who knows you care will work harder and create fewer problems. The role of the cheer coach is to show an understanding of each individual’s strengths and weaknesses and to follow the guidelines for safety in order to prevent injuries. Undoubtedly, cheerleaders require a skilled hand to guide them—a combination of discipline, nurture, and compassion.
The role of the parent is to be supportive of the cheer coach or, at the very least, to follow the proper channels of communication as set forth by the coach. As a parent myself, I know what it is like to want my child to be the star, to have the spotlight shine on her in a crowd the way it shines on her in my mind every day. As parents, we are often unable to distance ourselves from our children’s actual abilities. Sometimes parents try to overstep their bounds and leverage their influence to affect sports teams like cheerleading. This is why we have coaches. Not every cheerleader can be a flyer, not every cheerleader can be at the center point of a formation, and not every cheerleader can be team captain.
As an administrator, your job is to support your coaches by making it clear to parents that they are to follow the correct chain of command. When administrators allow parents to circumvent the coach, the administrator creates far more problems than solutions. A parent should have several conferences with the coach before ever being permitted to schedule a meeting with an administrator or the superintendent. When an administrator asks, “Have you met with the coach yet?” they effectively limit the power of the parent. I certainly am not suggesting that a parent’s voice be silenced, but rather that their voice be heard in the right way, at the right place, and in the right time. Parents need to be responsible for adhering to the rules and guidelines to which they agreed when allowing their child to become a part of a team.
Form a United Front
Disagreements between the administrator and the coach end in much less frustration than disagreements between the parent and the coach/administrator. When parents see coaches and administrators working together, presenting a united front, they will be less likely to become a divisive factor within the infrastructure of the cheer program. Let’s be clear here: Most administrators are very supportive of their athletic coaches and praise them in front of the student athletes, whether it be the football team or cheer squad. That positive attitude rallies the cheer program and makes it much more successful.
A cherished institution long associated with school spirit and pride, cheerleading was designed to unite the student body and promote community. A cheerleader’s job should be to support his or her team and be an unflagging symbol of positivity and possibility, but that role cannot meet its potential until administrators and coaches learn to work together.
Sidebar: Making it Work
The administrator’s role in the high school cheer program is crucial. Without the unflagging support of administrators, including secondary school principals, coaches run the risk of being steamrolled by parents and athletes. Here’s what principals need to do to help their cheer programs succeed:
- Sign off only on guidelines you support.
- Discuss any concerns with the cheer coach.
- Understand the expectations and rules implemented by your cheer coach.
- Become familiar with your campus cheer constitution.
- Engage your cheer coach in conversations about scenarios that may arise based on the cheer constitution.
- Be present and visible during parent meetings, especially those informational meetings held just before and after tryouts.
Meredith Cox Conlin is a former cheer coach at Duncanville High School in Duncanville, TX.