Taking a group of sideline cheerleaders and helping them understand the world of competitive cheer is no easy feat: I’ve seen some of the best athletes question their very love of the sport once they saw the hard work and dedication that goes into cheering competitively. It could be the fact that they just watched their season go from just a few months and a few Saturday nights to almost three quarters of the year with practices and competitions. Or, that the two hour football game that they once cheered at now turned into a daylong spectacle, with preparations beginning as early as first light.

But, I’m here to tell you that it does not have to be that stressful! From a mother that had to teach her daughter to be a sideline cheerleader after five years of cheering competitively (which, for the record, I think is much harder), it’s just about setting expectations right off the bat.

First, before I even have my first practice as a coach, I always a conduct a mandatory meeting for the parents. I’ve learned that no matter what, the parents will always be the backbone for the love of the sport. If you have the parents on board, the child will be too. I walk into that meeting with a detailed layout of my expectations, practice schedules, practice expectations, tentative competition schedules, and competition expectations. I refuse to leave anything for the imagination, because their imagination is usually not as half as in depth of what the sport really entails. And, that’s where you can get into trouble: you have to remember that these parents have also been a part of their child’s sideline cheerleading experience, and they are just as used to only being at a handful of football games and transporting them to practices for a just a few months. Lay it all out on the line, and if the parents see your passion, they will follow you wholeheartedly.

Next, I get the team together. We don’t meet at the gym. We don’t practice. They don’t even have to come in sneakers. I just get them together. I let them introduce themselves, we’ll do a few team-building exercises, and then I break down what will take place for the season. I explain everything: the vigorous practices, the long competition days, the even longer practices leading up to competition days, and the passion that they will need for the sport. Most of all, I teach them to become a family. I’ve learned that if they look at each other as part of their ‘cheer family’, they will do everything in their power to work hard for that family and to succeed for that family. After that meeting, we no longer refer to each other as team members, but as each other’s cheer brother or sister. And, they will remain each other’s cheer brother or sister long after our season ends. Competing together is a bond that barely ever breaks!

Last season, I started out with 27 recreation football cheerleaders, and only four of them had ever stepped onto a competition floor before. We worked as hard as we could, as many long hours as we could, we built a mutual respect for one another and for the sport, and though we set a goal just to place in our competitions, our mini team wound up taking first place at local competitions and our junior team took 2nd place at a national competition–beating out several experienced and established teams! It all went back to setting expectations.

You will always have the sideline cheerleaders that just want to be sideline cheerleaders, and that’s okay. They enjoy doing it for the smiles, to get the crowd pumped, and cheering on their school teams.  But, then you find those that want to be competition cheerleaders; they will learn how amazing this sport is. They’ll love the lights, the glitter, the hairspray, the adrenaline, and the two minutes and thirty seconds that they get to leave it all on the mat. And, if you get to win a few trophies, that doesn’t hurt either.

In the end, if you can say–as a parent–that your child finished the season because they fell in love with the sport, then you’ve done your job, wholeheartedly.