I’d say I’m a pretty busy parent. I am not great at remembering when it’s my snack day or bringing granola bars for the goodie bags. In fact, I have a village around me that helps with stuff like that because they know my life can get crazy sometimes. Despite my best intentions, I just don’t remember everything. Our gym parents are a lot like that sometimes too. 

They forget about “important” things like extra practice.

They overcommit by making plans to go to a cheer competition, a little brother’s basketball game, and a cousin’s 3rd birthday all in one day. 

They lose their keys and are late to practice.

These things happen. But when we place an unrealistic burden on our gym parents, we are shortening their lifespan of fitting this sport into their lives.

Recently I was talking to someone who had a frustrated parent in her gym who wasn’t wanting to stay at a competition for eight hours and cheer on all the teams in the gym. You might think that’s bad sportsmanship. I think it’s a reasonable frustration. Let’s look at a typical competition.

If you’re like me, here’s what that looks like.

Arrival Time: 12:00 p.m. (I learned not to call this “show time” when I started getting a lot of dance parents joining our program.)
Gather for Warm-Ups: 1:00 p.m.
Warm-Ups: 1:20 p.m.
Compete: 1:50 p.m.
Awards: 4 p.m.

In this example, you’re looking at a four-hour competition day. Sure, mom will spend another hour doing hair and make up before arrival (if they followed directions to show up competition-ready anyway), but for the most part, this is a half-day activity. 

Until we start asking parents to come in at 8 a.m. to cheer on the tinies, minis, and youth team before them. When we mandate these things rather than encourage them – that’s when we find more problems and shorten the lifespan of a cheerleader in our sport.

Your teams might be small like mine. If that’s the case, it’s hard to have 11 kids on the floor and 11-18 parents cheering them on from the viewing area. You might feel like that’s not going to give them the encouragement they need. I just went to a competition this past weekend where I took just one team. We had to pull from the first event of the season due to an injury, so it was a make-up event. It was three hours from home AND it was on the day of our staff awards banquet so I was the only coach to go and we officially had 11 parents in attendance.

My team did AMAZING. I mean they killed it. With a small team and just a few spectators there to cheer us on, here are a few things I did to make it just as meaningful as if the whole gym were there: 

  1. I made sure I was the loudest one of all. Your kids are focused on one thing when they compete – you. Be the loudest and craziest one of all (not for the cameras, but for your athletes. Let them know you’re cheering them on.) 
  2. I told the parents it would be a small audience with just our team, so bring their noisemakers and REALLY cheer these kids on.
  3. We are super friendly with other gyms. We cheer them on, and in return, they cheer us on too. I was at an event last year and realized the power of having another team cheering you on. John Calloway from Gym Stars had a great Senior 4, but so did I. He came up during warm-ups to introduce himself and tell us our teams had looked great throughout the day. Not only was I grateful for the acknowledgment, but I immediately committed to cheering on his teams throughout the day. His team was going right after mine, but from the side, I could see John by the music table genuinely smiling and cheering on our kids when each part of the routine hit. That is sportsmanship among gyms, and you better believe we cheered loudly for them when they went after us.

In my early days, when I only had 28 all star kids, I almost felt a little embarrassed when our 12 parents would walk into the spectator area behind a team like Twist & Shout that had hundreds of parents crowding in to cheer on their teams. 

Today, I realize it’s just part of growing your program. It’s not anything to be embarrassed about. I didn’t feel embarrassed one bit this past weekend when I had 11 spectators. Sometimes other teams won’t see you as a threat…and that’s how I like it. Come out of nowhere with an amazing routine that has parents from other gyms cheering you on, and it won’t matter how many people you brought to the competition.

If you want parents from other teams to watch and cheer on for the simple act of sportsmanship, then you have some options for doing this without placing an unrealistic burden on them. Here are some options: 

At Five Star Athletics, Shelley has 16 all star teams. So, they create blocks where parents are asked to cheer on the athletes of other teams. If your child has to be there at noon as their designated arrival time, and awards are at 4 p.m., then there are likely going to be 3-4 teams competing during that time. She asks those parents to go down and cheer on those teams. It doesn’t place an additional burden on the parents and creates a crowd for each team. That’s a win-win! 

At Oregon Dream Team (ODT), Dan doesn’t require his teams to go early or stay late to cheer on other teams. He does, however, build a culture where it’s encouraged and parents actually do it out of their own free will! Imagine that! They understand the value of having a crowd, and they arrive early or stay a little late to cheer on others, because they know how important that is to their athletes. You can do this when you have a positive team culture. My gym does it like this too. Now…there are certainly times when the tinies are competing at 7:02 a.m. and no one else has to be there for hours. That’s when we ask parents to bring the noisemakers, and signs, and deck out in Twisters gear to cheer on their kids (though I also question if sometimes that distracts our tinies…) We make it work without asking people to be there all day long.

So, as you can see, there are options. Don’t ask parents to spend an unreasonable amount of time at competitions. They have other kids, and other responsibilities, and heck – like me – they’re likely to overcommit and try to do three or four things the same day as a competition. How great would it be if it worked the other way – where they expected it to take a full day and then ended up actually having free time with nothing planned? That’s the way to a cheer mom’s heart!