When I first envisioned becoming a cheerleading coach, I honestly thought it would be a piece of cake. Mostly in part because when I cheered and now being a parent of a cheerleader, the coaches just made it look easy and fun. There is no ‘what to expect’ for the team, there is no instructional sheet to walk you through it. If you’re not fortunate (like I was) to have amazing fellow coaches to show you the way, you will go in blind as a bat! So, if you’ve signed on to be a youth cheer coach, here is what you can expect:

Football games.
If you are a youth cheerleading coach, you most likely are expected to have football as your main focus. Yes, football. We have to be at every single Varsity game, and most JV games. Expect to be yelling on the sidelines to players who could care less if you were there or not. There’s no getting out of it, even though most leagues still do not recognize cheerleading as a sport… but that’s a whole different discussion. We just exist. You and your cheerleaders are out there in the excessive heat, pouring rain, and the freezing cold. It’s just a part of life. If don’t have to love it, but you learn to at least accept it.

Dedication.
Good luck with a social life. I seriously only thought that being a coach would be the practices, football games, and competitions… thinking, “it can’t be that bad”! Right, time adds up quick. When you factor in practices four days a week two hours at a time, football games two times a week at two hours, and competitions, you are left with more than two days gone! Of course, that’s not it. I don’t think parents or cheerleaders realize just how much we put into it. Don’t think you can just leave practice and call it a day. Nope, you’re up for hours researching the rules, thinking of new stunts, and 99.9% of the time lying in bed picturing your routine. It’s a lot, and it takes some serious skill to balance cheerleading on top of a job and a family. Coaching takes passion, especially when you are a volunteer coach.

This one is short and sweet:
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8, repeat. Learn it and love it, because you will count to 8 over a million times during the season.

Competitions.
This is what we live for: nothing says cheerleading like big bows, a giant mat, and the smell of hairspray! If you have never experienced anxiety, you will. Most of the time us coaches are more nervous than the cheerleaders themselves! All those practices, all those beautiful faces looking at you, the music you thought long and hard to decide upon… there’s no words to describe how that moment feels when your team hits the mat. It’s the scariest two minutes and thirty seconds of your life. Rule of thumb, it doesn’t matter how well or awful they do on the practice mat beforehand; maybe it’s the judges, or the cheer gods having a different plan, but whatever they did before could be the complete opposite. Then it’s all over, and you patiently wait for the awards. You wait while listening to the same songs that are played out on the radio and watching the same line dances that drive you absolutely mad. You find out where you placed just to go to practice and make changes and repeat. What they don’t tell you is how much you desperately miss it all when the season is over!

The rules.
I currently have, sitting in a folder, the Holy Grail of cheerleading–my rulebook, which is approximately 1,084,726 pages long. Okay, I exaggerated a bit. It’s your guideline, your competition bible. Level to level breakdowns of what you can and cannot do. What exceeds your level and what does not. Do not think that you can get away unnoticed, trust me! Your best bet is to learn as much as possible, and whenever you think of this unique stunt that you THINK may be level appropriate, read it again. If you don’t, you could be at finals when you discover that your totally amazing stunt just cost you 2.5 in deductions, and then you cry for hours. That is not an exaggeration. There will always be another coach that knows the rules to the ‘T’, and will go to the judges the second your routine is done… ya know, just in case they missed it. Rules change, quite often.

The cheerleaders.
So, perhaps I didn’t completely scare you away. It’s not so much that I focus on the negative; it’s just that this is what you should expect. These are the easiest things I can describe to you, so that you are aware of what you’re getting into. There is one thing I can’t actually describe in words, and that is the athletes themselves. They are what make every hour, every football game in 101-degree weather, the anxiety (and sometimes the complete meltdowns) worth it. You aren’t just their coach; you are their counselor, their nurse, their drill sergeant, teacher, second mom/dad, and, most importantly, their role model. We are coaching the next generation of coaches–remember that! How you speak to them now is how they may speak to other little girls one day. Be kind. It is our job to build them up, while teaching them important life lessons that will stick with them forever. They will remember how you talk to them, and trust me, they can read between the lines. As a coach, you must learn tough love, but learn it properly! Tough love is an equal balance of both toughness and love–without one, it’s just the other. Speak to them as you would want someone to speak to your child, build them up so their confidence shines, respect them as you want them to respect you, and love them through every flaw. If you do these things, you will have a relationship with your cheerleaders that can brighten even the darkest days. Cheerleaders that see you outside of practice and make you feel like a celebrity. Girls who run full sprint, arms wide open to give you the biggest hug you will ever receive. Be prepared to have what feels like additional children, because after all the hours, you become family! A family that you help grow, that make you so proud, no matter how bad they did in someone else’s eyes in a competition. It’s the kind of pride that brings tears to your eyes as you watch them knowing that’s what you did. Aside from being a parent, coaching has been one of the most rewarding adventures I have ever done in my life.

What other things can a youth cheer coach expect? Do you coach youth cheer? Share your story in the comments!