Grades can be the reason your team starts to dwindle in numbers. Coaches, and of course cheerleaders, start to feel anxiety and stress as the dreaded grade check comes around the corner, especially when a competition is fast approaching! At the school I coach for, the athletes are required to maintain a 2.0 GPA or higher, and must not have an F on their report card to continue participation. Many of the athletes will argue their teachers did not input all of their grades in time, thus resulting in ineligibility. I am constantly reminding cheerleaders to politely ask teachers to get their papers scored, and put into the system so there are no arguments with the athletic director later. I have come up with a few ideas to lessen the burden of grade checks, possibly improve how your cheerleaders perform in school, and maintain numbers on your squad.

1. Have mandatory study sessions. This is something new my team will try in the upcoming year. Tuesdays are their early release days: the students are dismissed at 1:30PM, and practice begins at 3PM. For the first half-hour, I give them freedom to change and hang out with friends for a bit; for the last hour (2PM-3PM), they are required to get together with their teammates and work on homework in the school library. This is not only a great time for the team to bond, but also a time for younger athletes to ask the upper-classmen for help if they need it. Homework will be directly in front of them in hopes to get at least some of it finished. Instead of over an hour and half of wasted time, they can now do something productive for both cheerleading and school performance. Captains will take attendance. Anyone who does not show up for study time will have to take an unexcused absence, and complete it during practice, which they must attend.

2. Have your own grade check. If given permission by your school, make your own grade check template. I do not work at their school during the daytime, so it makes it hard for me to check on all of their grades. The athletic director is typically very busy and is not often available for me to go into the office for grade check meetings. Instead, I have my own chart that lists the athlete’s name, their class subject, their grade for that class, and the teacher signature. This way, if the teacher has not input all their grades but knows they are passing, he/she can write in the letter grade and sign it verifying they are eligible. I also have a place for notes! If the teacher would like to leave me a note about my athlete (maybe they are disrupting class a lot, missing class, or are often tardy), then I can address these concerns at practice and let the athlete know that school comes first, and if he/she cannot behave properly in class, they are not welcome to participate in cheerleading activities.

3. Encourage tutoring. The high school I coach for offers tutor time after school for students who need it. I have, many times, encouraged my athletes to take up this opportunity. Often times, they develop a great relationship with their teacher and watch their grades improve as a result.

4. Give incentives! This year, we plan to use a merit/demerit system. After each grade check, the athlete who maintains their GPA of 2.0 or higher will receive a merit. If the athlete has A/B Honor Roll at the time of grade check, they will receive two merits. At the end of each season, the athlete with the most merits will receive a gift card to the place of their choice.

5. Talk to teachers. This is important! Having open communication with teachers will help you stay up-to-date on your athletes’ progress in class. By knowing if an athlete is failing because they are simply not finishing or turning in homework, you can offer better advice and can possibly end the problem. If you know a student is failing because they are legitimately struggling in the subject, then you can offer help or advise them to seek tutoring. Knowing your athletes is the best way to help them. Get to know the lazy ones from the ones who try but are just struggling. Understand what motivates them to maintain those grades, and what options they have available to them.

Grades are important. As coaches, we not only have the responsibility to run effective practices, maintain team unity, and look good during performances, but also we need to encourage our leaders to perform well in school. Getting bad grades will affect them in many ways–including cheerleading. Ultimately if the student cannot pass a class, they cannot be on your team. It will affect you and the whole squad in the end.

How else can cheer coaches encourage their cheerleaders to perform well in school? Share your tips in the comments!