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Lessons I Learned From Cheerleading

When a lot of people think about cheerleading, they think of girls in short skirts shaking pom-poms on the side of a football field. But contrary to popular belief, cheerleading comes in many forms. There is sideline cheerleading, recreational cheerleading, competitive high school cheerleading and all-star cheerleading. During my eight seasons of cheer, I participated in each variety of the sport. Although some forms are more athletic than others, each young athlete can learn lessons far greater than how to tumble or stunt. Here are the things I learned as I cheered throughout my childhood and teenage years.

Time management skills

From a young age, I fell in love with competitive cheerleading. I only did recreational cheer for one season and then transitioned to competing with a small all-star gym. Although we were amateurs and did not place well in competitions, I knew I wanted to continue with the sport. In seventh grade, I decided to try out for my middle school sideline team and ended up making it. During this time, I was still practicing at the small gym, but my dream was to be able to cheer on the sidelines. My middle school did not compete, so the only time commitment was practicing and attending football and basketball games. This was also the first year my middle school gave students the option to take a course load full of advanced classes. I always knew I wanted to go to a state university, so I added this to my workload to prepare for my difficult classes in high school. Most days my schedule was to wake up and attend school, practice at the middle school till 5 p.m., hop in the car and practice at the all-star gym from 5-7 p.m., eat dinner and shower by 8 p.m. then start my homework by 8:30 p.m. For a 13-year-old, this is an intense schedule that doesn’t lend itself to having much sleep. At a young age, I had to learn that school was the most important priority in life because there is no such thing as professional, competitive cheerleading after you graduate college. Time management became a skill I learned early because I didn’t want to have to pick and choose which extracurricular activities I could participate in. Although I was stressed at times, I’m thankful I learned how to manage my time relatively early in life because it came in handy many times down the road. Today, my time management skills are something I pride myself on and I like to think it came from my crazy schedule as a young cheerleader.

Everything happens for a reason

I entered high school with this same schedule, but I switched to a more competitive gym during my first year of high school. My previous program closed down, but I still wanted to continue all-star cheerleading at a higher level. At this point in my life, I was also on my junior varsity cheer team in high school. One day in February 2016, I was practicing my back-handspring technique on a trampoline in the gym. My mind and physical body weren’t in sync, causing me to flip the wrong way and injure myself. I dislocated my knee, sprained my MCL and cracked my patella bone. After visiting an orthopedist, I was told that I had to quit my cheer team and that our goal was to have me back at tryouts in June. My JV season was over because my team didn’t compete, but I had to leave my all-star team. I was heartbroken because it was only half-way through our season together. I ended up going to physical therapy for three months and decided not to continue with all-star cheerleading. The few months I had off led me to do a lot of reflecting and I realized that my body and mind needed a break. I had no free time and no social life since I was in seventh grade. I was healthy enough to try out my high school team again, and I made it despite losing a vast majority of my tumbling skills after being out for months. Because I got injured, which led me to end my all-star career, I had more time on my hands to get involved in the school. I joined student council, became a yearbook editor and joined the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. Without starting my involvement early, I do not think I would have grown over my remaining years in high school and gotten accepted into the University of Florida. What seemed heartbreaking at the time could be the very reason I am where I am today.

Hard work gets you far in life

I might not have been the best cheerleader on my teams, but I definitely worked hard. Tumbling, in particular, did not come naturally to me. Well, let’s correct that, nothing in cheerleading came easy to me. Actually, my first tumbling coach told me I was the least flexible athlete she had ever seen in her career. I guess you could say I’m not the most naturally athletic person, so I had to work extra hard to get to where everyone else was. I took tumbling private lessons for years just to get by because tumbling took such a mental toll on me. One of the most dreaded things in cheerleading is getting a mental block. You want to do a tumbling skill, but your body freezes and you develop a fearful mindset. For about 75 percent of my cheer career, I was going through a mental block to some degree. This came to fruition when I tried out for my varsity cheer team before my senior year. Even though I was on the competitive team as a junior, I was the only senior who did not make the competition team. I was devastated for weeks because competing is what I lived for. All I wanted was an explanation because I worked super hard, came through when it counted and tried out with the skills I thought I needed. Months later, I was called to fill in for another athlete who had another commitment during their second competition of the season. I learned the whole routine in two practices and hit the performance perfectly at the competition. I worked harder than I ever had before because I wanted to be on that competition mat more than anything. I was asked to be on the team for the rest of the season and ended up competing in the finals of the National Championships later that year. Constantly working to gain new skills and be the best athlete I could be translated into my academics. My only goal was to become a UF Gator, and I was able to accomplish that. Having a strong work ethic will never fail when trying to make a dream happen. Working relentlessly in cheerleading allowed me to acknowledge the power of determination.

Cheerleading goes beyond pumping up a crowd or leaving everything on a blue competition mat. The sport taught me valuable lessons and more about my character through the experience I underwent. Now, as a college student, I look back and reflect on the years that shaped me into the person I am today.