If you’re competing virtually this season, you’re likely trying to think of all the things you can do to make it extra special for your athletes. As owners and coaches, we’ve been faced with some big challenges this season – but so have our athletes! It’s likely they’ve had plenty of practices without full stunt groups and full teams, but through all of that – they’ve persevered! That alone is worth celebrating, but if your athletes are like ours, they are looking to celebrate competition-style.

Below, we’ve compiled a list of 5 things we did this season during virtual competitions to make it extra special for our teams:

  1. Go old-school. I don’t know about you, but I stopped asking parents to bring noisemakers and homemade posters a long time ago. They’d get left in the stands and we’d get warnings that our posters blocked portions of the front of the stage. So, while we didn’t discourage it, did didn’t encourage it either. This season, however, is the season to bring back the noisemakers and old-school signs. Ask parents to pitch in at home and make signs celebrating the teams and wishing them luck. For our first virtual competition, we lined the hallways with signs made by parents and siblings. Because our lobby was open, we hosted a socially distant painting party during a practice, however if yours isn’t open – just ask parents to make some signs and bring them in. We made sure the parents knew how encouraging this would be to the athletes. We posted about it in team pages, sent emails and even reached out individually to parents who didn’t respond to see if they could participate. As a result, we had tons of posters for each team. The parents had fun, and the kids walked around the gym with smiles reading all the posters.
  2. Give them a heart attack. O.K., I can’t take credit for this one. I heard about this idea from one of our amazing Next Generation Gym Owners Academy clients and had to jump on this for our upcoming filming. (This works extra well if you’re filming or competing in February!) Get out that pink and red construction paper, and turn them into hearts. Make them a full sheet if possible. Fold them in half and cut them into hearts the way you may have done in elementary school. Then, pass them out to coaches about a week before you film your routine. Have the coaches write a special note to each of the athletes encouraging them and telling them one amazing thing they’ve seen them accomplish already this season. From here, you have two options. Your coaches can pass them out to the athletes and have them read before or after competition – or you can string them on fishing line so they hang throughout the gym and the athletes can walk around and read all the encouraging notes.
  3. Decorate the gym. Yes, I know I’ve already talked about hanging posters and hearts, but now I want you to consider what you can do to decorate your gym. For our showcase, we made a huge balloon arch and strung it over the cheer floor. You don’t have to spend six hours like we did, but a simple balloon tower can be made in under an hour. Make sure you have a small air compressor so you’re not manually inflating each balloon. From there, head over to youtube and find a video on balloon arches and/or towers (or reach out to me directly on Instagram and I’ll share my favorite video posted by a friend who also owns a cheer gym!) Arches and towers can be made very easily and are super cheap. In addition, consider crepe paper, helium balloons in your team’s colors and any other birthday-style decor in team colors.
  4. Make some noise. If you aren’t able to have an audience for your virtual filming, your coaches and alternate teammates are going to have to get loud! For this, we asked parents again to participate in dropping off some noisemakers. These can be as simple as beads in a water bottle. Anything that makes noise when your kids hit their stunts will pump them up to continue the routine. If your athletes are like ours, they were extra nervous for pyramid, because they knew they had only had one full team practice to test out the whole pyramid….and that was the day before we competed! So, anything you can do to encourage them and get them excited – including being loud – will get them excited!
  5. Celebrate no matter what. For my gym, our first competition was a lot different than normal. Zero deductions tends to be the expectation rather than our goal. Typically we have zero deduction routines hitting pretty solidly at least 2-3 weeks out from our first competition. This season though – our Youth 2 had never actually hit a zero deduction routine prior to their first competition. So, we set a different goal. We asked them to shoot for zero deductions on tumbling. As a result, we controlled the controllables (something gym owners have gotten pretty good at this season.) We were able to focus on individual tumbling skills even when 20 percent of our team was under quarantine. Essentially, by setting that goal, we set them up for success. We had athletes get private lessons and do at-home drills more than before as they strived to achieve that goal. If stunts didn’t hit or pyramid didn’t hit, we were going to take it as an understandable mistake this season and move on from there. You know what happened? Our kids were so pumped that they hit their tumbling section without deductions that for the first time ever – they went on to have a zero deduction routine. They didn’t win that day, but you would never know that based on the excitement they felt and the excitement our coaches showed them. No matter what your routine looks like this season, cheer them on as if they won Worlds. They have been to hell and back in the last year, and small, achievable goals are O.K. this season. In fact, if it builds their confidence and keeps them loving cheer, it’s more than O.K. It’s perfect.

No matter what your season looks like, just know – all of us here at Next Gen are cheering (loudly) for your success on and off the mat. If you’re still looking for a virtual event, check out the Next Gen Virtual Championship Series March 13-14 and April 10-11 by clicking HERE.