I had been telling myself no one else needed this blog…and then I heard another gym owner was dealing with the same thing, so here goes.
Losing kids to other gyms is hard.
Senior kids “retiring from cheer” at 16 is hard too.
Losing kids to another sport is hard.
This is supposed to be one of the most exciting parts of the year, but for some gym owners, it’s just hard. You might be looking at your tryout rosters and seeing a few missing names this week, like I am. I have names that have been on those rosters for 10 years that aren’t on it this year.
They didn’t graduate. They just needed something different. In the past two weeks, my senior 3, who we had decided was officially moving up to senior 4 this year, lost 72 years of cheer experience.
A couple decided to “retire”, and I knew this would be the case. I didn’t fight them on it. For a couple, their attendance was inconsistent, and they had mentally prioritized other things. I had spent all season thinking it would be for the best if they didn’t return. Two graduated. I’m happy for them. Both will cheer in college this next year. The other three were the hardest, though. One by one, they each came to us and told us their plans to cheer elsewhere. They want to be on Worlds teams. They want to travel more and go to bigger competitions (Varsity).
I get it. I like the lights and the deep divisions too. Years ago, we did those events, and winning in a division of nine or ten is exhilarating.
I sat back yesterday teary-eyed (because I’m human) in the office at the gym and asked my business partner, “Do you think these are isolated, or do we need to make a change?”
She knows me well and doesn’t say things just to appease or make me feel better, so I know I’m getting her honest opinion.
“I really think it’s isolated. We have so many kids who can’t wait for next season.”
She’s right. I have the biggest registration for team placements I’ve ever had.
I had 63 level one kids on Monday and Tuesday. We had 23 level 2 kids and just 11 level 3 and up kids. On top of that, I have 21 full-year novice kid (and that will grow this summer), 21 hip hop kids, and 25 competitive tumblers this season. For those with big gyms, you might think my upper levels look crazy. For those with smaller programs, you get it! I’m in a small military town.
Most kids around us are expected to get jobs at 16. That takes a lot of kids away from all star. Friday Night Lights is a pretty big thing here. High school cheer takes a lot of kids away from all star. Social media glamorizes Worlds. I understand why. It’s impressive. So the same way young kids are gravitating to my program to get started in cheer, older kids are looking for opportunities.
But just like I tell gym owners, I have to put this in perspective.
The ones who won’t be returning hurt the most, but…When I do the math, I lost 1.7% of my program to another gym. I am also on track to grow my program by about 12% this year, not including any half-year athletes (which would grow the program nearly 20% by November).
Kids are not numbers. They’re people who we love and invest our whole hearts into. But, when you start feeling defeated, you must look at it from an outside perspective. If I called my dad, who knows nothing about cheer but a lot about business, and said, “I lost three kids I really love, and it feels awful,” he’d probably ask me the impact on the business. He’d be pretty confused why I was so upset when I told him a 1.7% churn rate.
So if you’re dealing with this like I am, I’m about to give you a couple of tips.
  1. **Fact. v. Feeling: **Get out of the “feeling” side of this and do the math. You can miss kids, and you have every right to feel hurt and sad. Heck, you might even be a little mad. I get that. But once you do the math, do you actually have a huge problem in the program, or is it minor in the grand scheme of things?
  2. **Pep Up: **Don’t walk into tryouts defeated. The kids’ energy will feed off you. We found out one of our kids was going to another gym just 90 minutes before our level 2 tryout clinic last night. This athlete had just received a 10-year ring at our banquet. Needless to say, it was a challenge to pick ourselves up and give our level 2 kids all the energy and excitement they deserve.
  3. Don’t Bottle it Up: I can’t usually talk to Justin about this for very long. He wants to solve the problem for me because that’s what husbands do. I don’t need a solution right now. I just needed to get it out. So, I thought of two people I respect and reached out to tell them how I was feeling. One is the best choreographer I’ve ever had. From her – I was looking for advice on team placements and what I can do moving forward with the remaining athletes. The other was a local gym owner who is now a coach in the NG Academy and is also familiar with small-town antics. Sometimes you just have to tell people who would get it. Please don’t let that be parents. You need people who can empathize. Even the most trusted parents shouldn’t be burdened with gym owner problems.
  4. **Give Yourself Time, and Then Let it Go: **Take a lesson from one of my athletes. I have a kid in my gym who is wise beyond her years. She has good parents who have given her a lot of their wisdom, and unlike most teenagers, she actually accepts their wisdom. She has a rule she set for herself after a bad practice. She allows herself to complain for 5 minutes and then lets it go. I’m not sure 5 minutes was enough for me this time, but I gave myself until 10 a.m. today. Holding this frustration and sadness any longer isn’t fair to my kids, my staff, or the 63 kids who try out tonight.
So, I have nine more minutes to be upset. My time was 10 a.m. today. But to be honest, setting that time limit for myself was actually freeing. I felt the feelings, and now I can move forward with making season 12 the best one we’ve ever had at my gym!
I plan to spend some time over the next week reassessing our processes and making sure we’ve got a solid plan for this season. We want to meet the kids where they’re at. If I know some are going to need to step it up to meet their goals this season, I’m going to make that plan that kicks off early in the season. They all need rest and a break, and a chance to be kids…but we can make that happen as a team and begin building the bond they need early on. Here’s my plan for this season:
  1. More team bonding. Most of our teams bonded well this past season. The ones that struggled the most with their stunting didn’t bond very well. They represented four different school districts plus two homeschoolers. The bonding that normally comes easily, required more intention. I need to plan ahead for that this season.
  2. Better coaching pairs. Our coaches are great, but some have better availability than others. My availability in the summer totally stinks. My teams need consistency, so we must pair coaches strategically to continue to progress despite coaches’ schedules. Those with full-time jobs may need to be partnered with a coach with tons of availability. My college cheerleaders who coach teams can’t be paired together, as basketball season is brutal. My goal would be to never need a sub this season but to ensure one of the two coaches can be at every single practice. (Maybe this is standard at your gym, but finding cheer coaches is hard in my area, and that usually comes with conflicting college schedules and full-timers.)
  3. Intentional Competition Schedule. In the past, I had some parents who were very vocal about certain competitions, whereas others didn’t say much. So, we’ve gone to many of the same ones year after year. This year we’ll need to diversify a bit to build some excitement back into our schedule. I’ve asked the parents, but now I want to ask the kids what they like the most!
What will you do to ensure this is the best season so far for your gym?