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A Cheerleading Captain’s Guide

The captain is one of the most important aspects of a cheerleading squad. A captain can make or break a team. There are many responsibilities associated with the job of captain. Your year as captain will be both a wonderful experience, and sometimes, perhaps a bit stressful.

Upon election or selection to captain, it is important to make a list of things you want to accomplish. Ways to help or improve the team. Be specific, and realistic. If the team has never gone to competition, it is not very realistic to expect to win first at nationals. Next you should list the traits that make a good captain (e.g. being a good role model) and bad captain traits (e.g. not listening to team members). Post this in your locker and look at it before every practice and performance. This will help remind you what type of captain you want to be.

As a captain, you have many responsibilities. On top of having to choreograph or assist with the choreography of routines, you will have to act as a role model to the rest of the team. You will be expected to help maintain the team’s reputation. You may be asked to provide disciplinary measures (demerits, fines, etc).
It is important that you treat everyone the same. Sometimes a captain has to do something that will make him/her less popular (such as administering punishment). As long as you are fair, and you treat everyone equally (do not show favoritism or let some teammates off with easier punishments because of their popularity or relationship with you), your team members will respect you.

The amount of power you have will depend on how you handle yourself, the respect of your teammates, and the respect of your coach or team advisor.

Let’s start out by talking about the captain- coach/advisor relationship. For a team to function to their fullest and best abilities, the coach (or advisor) and Captain must cooperate. You must be on the same page and be willing to compromise. Most importantly, you must COMMUNICATE problems, situations, and any relevant information that could affect the squad. Here are a few tips to help get you communicating with your coach/advisor:

There must be constant honest and open communications between the captain and the coach / advisor. This is not only the coach/advisor’s responsibility; the captain should play an equal part. The best way to establish and maintain a line of communication is to set up weekly/monthly meetings between the captain and coach/advisor. No other team members should be present. It must be known that all dialogue exchanged during these meetings are confidential – neither party should discuss what is said with anyone else unless it is agreed upon by both the coach/advisor and captain. During these meetings, open-ended questions should be asked. An open-ended question is one that cannot be answered by one or two words (like yes or no questions).

For example: How does the team feel about that fundraiser we were talking about? Or: Jenny was very upset after practice, Friday. There have been a number of arguments, can you tell me what’s going on?

All teams experience arguments, cliques, and other problems. It is important for you work with your coach/advisor to work out on these issues. As captain, you should keep your coach/advisor aware of all arguments, disagreements, or problems that interfere with or are relevant to the team. Again, trust is something that is a must. When you talk to your coach/advisor you should also have a plan on how to fix the situation. Sometimes you may want they coach/advisor to step in and help. You should be specific on what you want to do or what you want him/her to do.

You should also be open to the coach/advisor’s suggestions and feelings. They’ve been doing this a long time. The captain should always follow the coach/advisor’s wishes. If she says a dance is too promiscuous or a stunt is too difficult, LISTEN! Never argue with the coach/advisor, especially in front of the team. If you disagree with his/her opinion or choice, wait until after practice for a private moment. Don’t attack her “You don’t know what you’re talking about!” Or: “BACK off!” These types of remarks won’t get you respect and they certainly won’t change any minds. You should explain your reasons for your opinion (calmly and rationally) and listen to his/hers; then make a decision together. If she holds her ground, she is not trying to make your life harder, there are reasons that she may not be able to share with you.
It is also important for you to know when to get the advisor involved and when to handle the situation on your own. Usually, commonsense will help in this area, however, sometimes it can be difficult. Each situation is different and you may feel more comfortable with the advisor handling some of the more difficult situations.

Here’s an idea of when to bring in your advisor. The advisor should step in immediately if:

* A team member is in immediate danger: this can mean several things. If it is believed that the person is suicidal, experiencing depression, an eating disorder, or other conditions that may seek medical attention you should inform the coach/advisor. If you want to be a true friend and a good captain, you will tell someone of your team member’s problem. These types of problems won’t go away on their own and they are potentially fatal.
* If the situation has gotten out of control to the point of extreme aggression and/or violence.
* If anyone on the team is being shunned or ganged up on by the other members. The situation has snowballed: sometimes, if we just leave things alone they will work themselves out, other times the situation will build and build and build until is has grown to mass proportions. Generally, if you feel overwhelmed or the situation isn’t improving, it’s time to let the advisor step in and take some action.
* You are unable to deal with the situation from a professional standpoint, you are personally involved or hold a strong opinion for one side or another; the advisor should step in as the neutral person.
* If the problem can directly affect the school, yourself, or the team as a whole. This could be a rivalry that has gone too far with another team’s cheerleaders or your cheerleaders are taking part in smoking or drugs.

Now let’s talk about some of the captain’s other duties and responsibilities. Jobs and responsibilities will vary from team to team so it is important to sit down with your coach/advisor and discuss what will be expected of you in detail. Generally speaking your duties will look something like this:

Practice Duties:
1. Stretch out the team- 20 minutes of stretching, no less than 15 to prevent injuries. We’ll talk about a stretching routine later on.
2. Choreograph material and teach it to the team- you may have the help of a co-captain or coach. Just be sure that any routine you make up is appropriate (some schools have rules about too much shaking or anything promiscuous) and not dangerous. Stunts should be kept to the level that your team has achieved. Do not try to build something that is too big or hard. A good captain knows what his/her team is capable of and never risks injury to make a routine look better. Remember: the difficulty of the stunt is less important than the perfection in execution.
3. Inform the team of any upcoming events (team get-togethers, practices, performances, poster sessions, etc.)- At the end of practice, you should sit your team down and handle any business. It is a good idea to have a “normal” end to practice. Some have chants that they say so they know practice is over (there’s the always famous “tally-ho [clap * clap] Let’s go!” chant). After practice, you should stick around a minute or two to make sure no one has questions or problems. The captain should never be the first one out the door!

Helpful Tips :
* Team members should never practice, perform or stunt when they are sick. While this is an inconvenience, it should always be carried through. When a team member is sick, she will not perform up to the team’s standards, hurting the overall appearance of the routine. More importantly, when someone is sick she risks physical injury, as she is not taking normal precautions, distracted by feeling ill. Cheerleaders should NEVER stunt when they are feeling less than 110%. This is incredibly dangerous! As captain, sometimes it will be on your shoulders to tell a team member he/she can’t participate.
* Discipline is necessary with any team. Monetary fines are a great way to increase team funds and encourage team members to show up on time and in proper attire. It can be as little as $.25 for not smiling at a performance or as much as $1.00 for showing up inappropriately dressed, not listening to the captain, or arguing. This is one of the more difficult aspects of being captain. Sometime the coach/advisor will take care of this responsibility, if not, as captain it is your job to see that the discipline is carried out as needed. This may mean giving your best friend a demerit, or giving the most popular girl a fine. The most important thing here is to treat everyone the same.
* In the beginning of the year, the team should hold a slumber party or pool party; an event that has nothing to do with practicing, just good ole fun! This will encourage the team to start the important bonding process. A successful team is one that feels like an extended family, they can count on one another and they trust each other.
* Goals should be laid out during the first practice. Whether the goal is to go to competition, throw up a liberty, or just to have fun, it is important for the team members to know what they are working for.
* When cheerleaders are stunting, there should be NO talking, laughing, or playing around. There should be enough spotters (when practicing a new stunt everyone not in the stunt should spot), and stunting should take place on grass or mats. If your team holds summer practice, keep an eye on the temperature and on the team members. If the team is practicing outside be sure they have access to liquids (10K or Gatorade, something to put electrolytes back into their bodies). If people start getting ill, practice should be moved to a shady place or indoors.

Performance duties:
1. To lead the team in routines, cheers, chants, or bleacher dances.
2. To meet and greet the other team.

Helpful Tips:
1. Use your discretion; if the sidelines and field are wet you may want to pull any half time routines or take out stunting. A muddy field is not ideal for dances or stunts.
2. Cheerleaders should never build pyramids on the sidelines. It is inconsiderate of people trying to watch the game and dangerous if a cheerleader falls into the bleachers or on the people standing on the sidelines! Something simple- like a prep or extension is acceptable as long as it is not obstructing the view of the fans.

Now about that stretching…

When stretching, I always start from the top and work down (head to toes). Take it easy your first time or two- I would recommend 3 to 5 repetitions, no more. When you feel you’re ready to increase the reps. Do so only by 2 or 3, it may not seem like a lot, but your muscles will feel it.

Start with your neck –
Looks: Look as far as your neck will let you to the right and left- do this about 3-5 times. Try to look over your shoulder, but be sure to keep your upper body facing forward.
Ear-to-Shoulders: The goal of this exercise is to touch your ear to your shoulder and your chin to your chest. Start with the right, touch your right ear to your right shoulder, now your chin to your chest, now your left ear to your left shoulder, and your chin to your chest…repeat 3-5 times.

Neck Rolls:
We’ve all done this exercise, but many people do them incorrectly. A neck roll should stretch your neck- it’s not just something coaches make you do in P.E. To do a neck roll correctly your should start with your right side: touch your right ear to your right shoulder (this is kind of a continuation of the last stretch but this time, we look up too!), now roll your head so that your chin is to your chest, roll again so that your left ear touches your left shoulder, and the new thing: Look up, put your chin as high as it will go. These motions should all flow – opposed to the other exercise which consisted of individual motions. Roll your head around on your neck slowly.

Shoulders and upper back:
Shoulder rolls are easy but if done correctly they can serve many stretching purposes, they are especially great for upper back stretching. Roll each shoulder a few times each, then roll them at the same time.

Shoulder stretches:
Stretch your hands way up above your head, clasp your hands together, now stretch through to your left and right sides (arms should still be over your heads and back should be only slightly bent to the side you are stretching toward,). You should feel the pulling under your arms and on the sides of your torso.

Lower back:
Around the world: This starts out much the way our last stretch ended. Arms are up in the air over your head, now bend at the waist until your back is flat (your arms should still be stretched out, now parallel to the floor) reach forward, then roll around to your right side (chest always faces the ground) and then to the center and over to your left side. This time, skip the center and go from side to side. Repeat.

OK, we’re getting down to the hamstrings and calf muscles:
Lunges are great, just make sure you don’t put your knee over your ankle- that could do knee damage.

Floor stretch around the world: Sit on the floor with your legs spread apart. Start with your right leg, try to put your chin to your knee- flat backs- no cheating! Then go to the center- chin to the floor (this is difficult but possible), now left leg. Repeat 3-5.
Reaches: Bring your legs together, toes should be pointed, now reach for your toes, try not to arch your back, it should be flat hold for 3 seconds . Repeat 3-5 times.

Toesies: Same position, legs together, sit straight up. Now flex and point your toes, if you are doing this correctly you will feel it in your calves.

Straight kicks and jumps are a great way to end a stretch session.
Remember not to overdo any stretching, it will do more harm than good. Stretching should give you a pulling sensation, sometimes this is mistaken for pain- any stretching should have a pull to it to get the full benefits, but don’t stretch so hard it hurts! Your muscles will become loser and you will be able to reach further as you advance. After stretching take a cold bath or apply ice to any sore areas to reduce inflammation. If needed apply heat to relax the muscles. Remember that stretching is a process, start easy and work to the harder stuff. Stretch all of your muscles- don’t just focus on legs, or shoulders, etc.

Even after the stretches and precautions taken, injuries are inevitable in cheerleading. Would you know what to do if someone on your team was hurt? Here are some common injuries and what you should do. You should always have an adult on hand- if a person falls or is injured and there is not an adult- you should send someone to get one right away.

Sprains, strains and breaks: Sprains can be mild or severe; it is almost impossible to tell whether it is a break or sprain without an x-ray. The limb should be wrapped and no weight or pressure should be put on it until a physician has checked it out.Ice should be applied immediately to any sprain or break.

Head Injuries:
Head injuries are very serious. Apply ice and keep the injured laying down. Keep her calm and very still until help comes. Keep her awake and talking (make sure she knows her name, where she is, etc.). DO NOT move the person. If the person is unconscious, be sure his/her airway is cleared so he/she can breathe.

Usually the bases are the ones to get teeth knocked out- apply pressure to the bleeding and put the tooth in milk.
Bloody nose: Apply pressure. There has been debate as to whether to tip the head back or forward. Tipping it back could cause the person to choke or suffocate on the blood.

Black eye: Ice

Back Injuries: Back injuries can be extremely dangerous and how you handle the person could affect the outcome. NEVER move a person who has an injured back. Keep the person laying flat on the ground. Make sure the person can feel his/her limbs (arms and legs). The most common back injury is a hurt tailbone.
There should always be an adult by when you are stunting, but even adults get nervous and forget what to do sometimes! Be helpful, but let the adult control the situation. Staying calm is the key. If the injured person sees everyone else getting upset and panicking she is likely to do the same. Show care and concern, but don’t totally lose control!

Quick Tips:
1. Always call a doctor when someone is injured.
2. Do NOT move the hurt person if they are unconscious, or have sustained a head or back injury
3. Ice the injury
4. Keep them still and calm
5. Don’t crowd the hurt person; give him/her some space.
6. Check to make sure the person isn’t experiencing numbness (especially with a back injury, be sure he/she can feel her legs).
7. If the injury is serious, wrap him/her in a blanket or jacket to prevent shock.
8. If he/she has sustained a head injury: Be sure he/she stays laying down, don’t let her go to sleep, keep her talking (make sure she knows who she is and where she is).

A new team, a new year: at the beginning of the year, there will be new members on your team. Some of these members may not have cheered in the past. Some of the old members may need a refresher course on the rules of cheerleading. So here is a general list of rules. Add to these as you see necessary. Print them out, give each member two copies. Ask them to sign the copies. One copy should be kept in your files, the team members should take home the other copy.

1. Smile during a game or performance. Look like you are having fun (even if you’re not).
2. Pay attention to the game. (Is your team offense or defense? Are you winning or losing? Who has the ball?) The game should affect how you cheer and what you say.
3. Pay attention to what your team is doing and what they are planning to do, do not wait until the last minute before a stunt or performance to ask questions. Walking out to perform is not the time to ask “What are we doing!?” or “Where do I go!?”
4. If you make a mistake, don’t draw more attention to yourself. If you make a mistake, do not stop in the middle and tell your neighbors; do not double over laughing; just keep going. It is not attractive or cute to laugh hysterically because you messed up. If you mess up, chances are not many people noticed. Mistakes are inevitable; it’s how you react to your mistake that is important.
5. Stay in your formation. If you are standing on the sidelines or side court, NEVER walk to another position to talk to a friend. Stay in line. Cheerleaders are supposed to be cheering on the team, not carrying on a conversation among each other. It’s Ok to look like you’re having fun, you can even chat about the game with the cheerleader next to you- but this isn’t the time to talk about boyfriends and what you did last weekend.
6. During halftime, most cheerleading squads go to meet and introduce each other. Some teams even introduce the opponent’s cheerleaders to their own crowds; they may partner up, make a brief introduction (your name and year), and then you are supposed to do a tumble pass, a jump, or a partner stunt. Do not be a showoff, if you can do ten toe touches in a row that is great, but do not do it during intros.

I have read and understand these guidelines and will follow them throughout the year.

Signature: _________________________________________ Date: ____________

Now let’s talk about some common team problems. Arguments, disagreements, rivalries and cliques can be found on almost any team. Some are unavoidable and should be expected, but NOT necessarily tolerated. The key to a good team is working together toward a common goal. It is best to address such problems with your coach/advisor present and if possible, the captain or adult should address the group. Here are some things to remember:

1. Everyone wants her hand in making decisions- the key is to compromise- don’t sweat the small stuff!
2. Being a team does not mean everyone has to be best friends. It does, however, mean that outside issues should be left outside and everyone MUST be willing to work together as a team.
3. Try to make all of the team members feel equal. In other words, don’t let one have more privileges and leeway than the others.
4. When in doubt, inform the sponsor/coach.
Here are some tips and guidelines to help work out problems with Cliques, disagreements, arguments, and rivalries

Cliques: A clique is a group of friends that hang out together; they are usually reluctant to let others into their close-nit group. This can be a serious problem for teams that need to work together as an entire group (such as cheerleading). Cliques can make other team members feel left out and uncomfortable or self-conscious when trying to perform a task. There are many ways to solve the clique problem. In general, it’s best if a coach/advisor deals with this issue. If you must:

1. Take members of the clique aside and point out that they are excluding other team members from their group and they should mingle and associate themselves with other members of the team while at practice or team-related events. Point out that they can hang with anyone they want during their time, but during team time they need to be a team- not a clique. Do not address this in front of the whole team. This can be a very sensitive issue and for best results it is best handled individually.
2. Break up cliques when possible. Put them in different stunt groups or assign them different poster sessions so that they learn to work with other members of the team.
3. Schedule team-oriented outings such as movie nights, ice-skating, or dinner at someone’s house.
Disagreements: Disagreements are a part of life. Disagreeing is not a bad thing; it merely says that each person has her own opinion on how something should be done. The best way to handle a disagreement is to let the team work it out- try to keep the adults out of it.

For a BIG disagreement: Sit all of the team members down in a circle. Have a “Speaking Stick” to pass around. A speaking stick can be any item (a pompom, a pen) it is passed around the circle so that whoever is holding the item has the floor and others cannot interrupt or comment until they get the stick. There should not be any criticisms from other team members. As captain, you should LISTEN to everyone’s idea or suggestion. Write it down and show interest, then either vote on them or speak with the coach/sponsor about them. Tell team members that their opinions are important, but they won’t always be used. Try to use everyone’s suggestion at least once during the year. This makes the members feel more involved- it helps to get rid of that puppet-on-a-string feeling.
For smaller disagreements: Try someone else’s idea, it might just be better than you though! Or, Try to compromise. Give a little, take a little, then everyone is happy.

If absolutely necessary, get the sponsor/coach involved. Generally, disagreements should be easy to handle. Just remember that everyone wants to have a hand in the decision-making. If you allow them to have their ways sometimes, they will come to respect the decisions that aren’t up for deliberation.
Arguments: These can sometimes be tough to handle. Arguments are different from disagreements in several aspects:

1. They can be direct toward an individual
2. They can be over non-team related circumstances
Sometimes an argument can be handled within a team; sometimes it’s best to bring in the coach/advisor.
The best way to handle it is to get to the bottom of the argument, have only the involved parties (the ones arguing) present. Ask them to tell their views on the argument one at a time, no interrupting, no exceptions. (Sometimes this will be a stopping point because they will both see that the situation was either misinterpreted or not worth arguing over).
You should NEVER chose sides, no matter what. If a punishment must be administered (and should be done by the coach/sponsor) it should be done to both parties unless there is an obvious innocent/guilty party (one spreading nasty rumors about the other, etc).

Next, ask them what they think should be done (within reason) to fix the problem. If need be, bring in the coach/sponsor.

Rivalries are a natural part of life- in the office, in school, at home and just about everyplace else ~ even between animals! The best way to end a rivalry is to make sure everyone is on even ground- all team members should be equal. No extra attention, leeway, or privileges (unless earned) should be shown to individual members
Here are some other team problems that you should anticipate:

Who gets to fly?
The answer is anyone who wants to. Everyone should get the opportunity to experience going up in a stunt. If nothing else, it will make them sympathetic for those who do go up on a regular basis. It also helps fliers if they have a chance to experience the stunt from the bottom, ever heard of the phrase: If you could only walk a mile in my shoes??? Well, try it! The team might want to have a permanent group set-up for performances and that is understandable. Some people base better than others, some are meant to fly, and some are the perfect back spots! But let each person try out the different positions. You just never know what type of talent they are hiding!
There is a lot of tension on our team, people are arguing and fighting, now what!?
When things get out-of-control, it’s time for a sit-down. The team should schedule 15 to 30 minutes to sit down in a circle and discuss the problem(s). As previously mentioned, during a sit-down, only one person talks at a time (have something that allows them to talk, a stick or something. The only person who can talk is the one that has the stick.) Before peace talks begin, remind them that this is a team, a TEAM. You need to all work together to accomplish a common goal (whether it be a game or a competition).
Point out that they obviously enjoy cheerleading enough to give up time to practice and cheer at events, so while you understand how important they are to your team and the team is important to them and if they really belong and believe in the team, they will try to help fix the problems.
Now, the next thing is you need to find out what the heck is going on, what are their problems…(don’t put it like that). Start out with something like: “I have noticed that the team has some personal issues, is there anything that we need to bring out and talk about?” You can say whatever you feel comfortable with.

Be prepared to hear whatever they are feeling, no matter how bad it is. Also let them know that personal attacks (so-and-so is fat and can’t stunt worth a darn, you suck, etc.) will not be tolerated. Let them talk, let them voice their problems/opinions. Make them feel apart of the “healing” process.

The show MUST go on, even if I am sick…

No one should EVER stunt sick, whether it’s just a little under the whether or a bout of the flu. If you are feeling under the weather you are more prone to falls. Not only can the team be sued for this (negligence, it happens often), it ruins the routine. When someone is sick it is hard to hit the stunt or stick it to its fullest. You should ALWAYS have a backup person or stunt. Even if you substitute the basket toss for 3 chairs or an elevator/extension.

No one should perform or throw a stunt if they are not in tip-top condition. There should be no ifs, ands, or buts about it.
We don’t want to hang out with HER!
As earlier discussed, there should be no cliques, couples, enemies, etc. You are a TEAM, that means everyone. Whether you hate the person or are married to the person, no one outside the team (and preferably within the team) should know about it. If two cheerleaders have a big argument, it should NOT be brought onto the team. It should not affect the team in any way. Most importantly, the team should not get mixed up in it. Everyone on the team should leave personal problems outside of practice; they should NOT interfere with or have any part of the team.
There is one team member who really doesn’t care, she just wants to be on the squad but she’s not willing to work for it. Remember, you can have tryouts any time of the year. If someone is not living up to the expectations of the team, that is they are slacking off, goofing around, and making the team look bad, kick them off. They CAN be replaced. It may take time, but they can be replaced. Talk to your coach/advisor and work out something together.

Decisions, decisions?
When trying to make a team decisions, find out what the team wants. Maybe they aren’t interested in attending that event or competing. If not, it might be a good idea the next time around to specify that you are looking for people interested in competitions
As captain, you will have both good times and bad. There will be times you want to go home and cry because it seems like everyone is against you, and there will be moments you want to remember forever- the team finally performed a dance PERFECTLY or hit the stunt you created!