Feel like there is not enough hours in the day? You have SO much to go over with your team, and yet, the length of practice stays the same. With competitions or big sideline performances looming, you need to maximize your practice hours and really get down to the nitty-gritty… but how? Going into practice with improvements in mind is a great start–versus just winging it–and the more you have outlined in your mind, the better! However, being a master of practice is more than just coming in prepared. Here are four expert practice tips to up your coaching game this season.

1. Anticipate that your plans might not measure up. Knowing that your practice can segue off course at any given moment isn’t something to stress over–it’s something to embrace! This sounds contradictory to keeping your team on track, but until you see your plans in action, you never really know if what you had in mind will work. You probably head into practice with adjustments to the routine that you mentally solved since the last time your team got together, but will it actually work?? That’s the real issue, and the number one thing that could derail progress–reality. Maybe your cheerleaders need to work on a certain area to pull off a stunt or tumble, or maybe your original idea for a dismount is more challenging than you envisioned. No problem, just scale it down to your team’s ACTUAL skill level for the first performances, and work on progressing toward that stunt by the end of the season.

2. Expect parent interruption. In an ideal world, parents wouldn’t have access to practice spaces. Unfortunately, that’s not going to happen. Parents will always have something to say about the team, so the trick is to not have those comments/concerns/questions/etc. eat up practice time. When the season startsand throughout the seasonremind parents that they can always reach out to you via email to discuss any issues or ideas that they may have about their athlete. If necessary, you may want to set up a 15-20 minute session to further discuss anything, but avoid doing it around practice times, so that they receive your undivided attention. In doing so, you not only strengthen your relationships with the parents, but the lack of distraction might even lead to opening up your mind to alternative things you might not have considered. The parents of your cheerleaders have been there, overseeing their progress since they got into cheerleading–and they also see them practicing at home! Whether you realize it or not, they can provide valuable insight on the exact skill level of each individual team member.

3. Ease off the drill sergeant approach. You have a lot to accomplish in a small amount of time. Noted. But, holding practice just for the sake of improvement can lead to you overworking your cheerleaders. This can be problematic in two ways. One, your cheerleaders can become overly fatigued in practice, causing their actual performance to suffer; and two, the morale of the team can plummet from the ‘all work and no play’ feeling. Either way, stressing perfection over progress will backfire. You’re right: you can only do so much in one day, so acknowledge and appreciate the minor victories as you baby step toward the finish line. Just take a deep yoga breath, ease that anxiety level a tiny bit, and tell yourself that your team will get there! Your cheerleaders will perform better next time walking out of practice after having a few minutes of fun, too.

How else can cheer coaches improve cheer practices? Share your coaching tips in the comments!