Athletes can learn so many things from their coaches, on and off the court (or mat in our case). I believe that a good coach can not only help you grow as an athlete, but as a person. Motivation, kindness, commitment, ambition, sportsmanship, and working as a team, are all traits that have been taught to me over the years and what I set out to incorporate into my own teaching. I write this blog having started a team with our personal main goal being to create a relaxed environment where experienced and beginner adult cheerleaders can just have fun. Other coaches and gyms might have an entirely different approach and goals, and are hugely successful in their own right.

I recently completed a 24 hour course, Exploring Sport Coaching and Psychology, and was made to think about true success in sport or fitness and explore how coaching and psychology contributes to that success. So I wanted to share my journey to becoming a coach, some of the things I’ve learnt, and my advice to anyone who might be considering it themselves.

My cheer journey 

I started cheerleading in 2008, and was lucky enough to be on a really lovely friendly team. XAC was my first “cheer family” and the amount of people who went on to cheer at university is a true testament to my old coach. It also taught me that the best things about cheer are the friends you make and the fun you have, rather than results being the most important thing (though of course that’s always nice!).

After years of being a competitive athlete, I suddenly got injured and at the time, I wasn’t sure if or when I would ever be able to return to cheer. I was devastated, but was given the chance to become a coach. I quickly discovered that in comparison to being an athlete, I got to know more people and learn much more about them which is what I still love today.

The wonders of being a coach 

Being a coach means you can help other people focus on their goals and figure out ways to achieve them. Seeing the excitement that athletes get when they learn a new skill is hugely rewarding, and essentially I really just wanted to teach others to love cheer as much as I do.

As a coach, it’s important to ensure that people are having fun and feel challenged, which can be difficult when you have a mix of athletes with varying ability. Which is why I have always liked to receive feedback from my non-competitive rec team throughout and after sessions. I quickly found that being a coach also meant I could act as a mentor and I have taken several mental health training courses so I can be a strong support system.

The rules of effective coaching 

The Open University Exploring Sport Coaching and Psychology course deep dives into how effective coaching runs deeper than wins and losses – it includes reaching and influencing athletes on an individual level. I wanted to share a couple of key takeaways from the course which might be useful for other people to reflect on their own sport or fitness behaviours, beliefs and practices.

Coaching needs to be more than just telling people what to do. You have to help people to come to their own conclusions and work out for themselves what they need to do to improve. A way I like to coach is to film the stunt or tumble or jump, and show them in slow motion what they have done so they can better understand how to improve their technique by seeing for themselves.

Secondly, take the time to learn the quirks of every individual in your gym and don’t rush into mass group stunting. Some flyers will have a fear of baskets and will feel better doing a few with a coach underneath them first; many tumblers will tuck but not flick. And just like any sport, the mind is much more important than physical attributes. Vulnerability should be embraced and accepted, and talking about it will build up an athlete’s trust in you. And for some athletes their active decision to face their mental block would be to reduce the challenge to something more accomplishable and slowly work their way up.

Fundamentals for sports coaches:

  • Respect is critical – If you want your team to respect you, you have to respect them. Be sensitive to your athlete’s life outside of practice and the time constraints, responsibilities or pressures they may be facing. Using a tone and words that are respectful to your athletes will get you respect in return.
  • Stay consistent – Your attitude, approach and expectations should always stay the same so that your squad knows what to expect. This gets everyone on the same page and helps you focus on what’s important and will undercut issues that may otherwise arise.
  • Listen to your athletes and don’t be afraid to ask for help – Good coaches not only speak effectively but are outstanding listeners. Great communicators understand the importance of asking the question ‘how do you (or how did that) feel?’. Knowing this answer can help you understand the best way of coaching an athlete on that day.
  • You can never do too many drills – Practice makes perfect and building up your athletes’ fundamentals and basics will build their path to advancement.
  • But do switch things up – Social media today is your best friend for inspiration when it comes to challenges, training, competition prep or games. Don’t be afraid to try new things.

Taking the leap into coaching

So you’re thinking of becoming a coach, but you’re not sure you’re qualified enough or would do a good job? I’ve been there and from experience I can only tell you to believe in yourself – you know more than you think you do. If you’re new to the role or even the world of cheer, do lots of research, talk to your cheer friends and listen to industry experts to hear their experiences, and most importantly, always be willing to learn more. Once you’ve done this, you can get started and be great at a job that you really love.