By Alison Arnold, Ph.D. and Sara Robinson, M.A.
Have you ever done anything half-way? What was the result? We all know that half-way effort leads to halfway outcome. Lord knows we spend way too much time dedicated to cheerleading to be okay with less-than-stellar results! Every day in the gym is an opportunity to move ourselves, our staff, and our team forward. This article will help you and your athletes go ALL-IN with everything that happens in the gym, helping align the body, mind, and spirit so that you become unstoppable, leaving everything you have on the floor.
We all know how powerful body language is. It’s a clear indicator and communicator of how we are feeling. Being all-in with body language means coaches and athletes walk into the gym activated, present, and ready to go. They leave the stress and drama of the day at the door using the gym as a place to channel their energy toward positive results. It’s important our athletes are aware of the impact their body language has on everyone. I’m sure there is nothing that ruins your day faster than eye-rolling, and drama-rama body language. Remember, you train the behavior in your athletes by what you model and what you tolerate. If you want your athletes to be all-in during warm-ups and conditioning, you can’t be on your cell phone or leave the floor to talk to a parent. If you want your athletes to “save the drama for their mama”, you must demonstrate emotional control and relentless optimism.
Tools to practice ALL-IN body
- Be 100% present for practice. No cell phones, or side talking with other coaches unless it’s about the practice plan. Be focused on your athletes.
- Model the activated, focused body language you want your athletes to have. Spend the practice walking around putting them into the body positions you want to see instead of just yelling corrections. Stay involved.
- Begin and end your practice with a line-up. Beginning line-ups should consist of a review of the practice, focus points, and daily goals. Ending line-up includes reviewing positives from practice and focus points for the next practice. Be sure they are standing with confident, focused body language throughout the line-ups.
- Be on time! Or, five minutes early. Communicate and model importance by being on time.
- Remind your athletes that staying positive helps them become stronger and more mentally tough. Repeat routines, skills, or stunts when someone displays negative body language.
- Have a box, pen, and slips of paper by the front door where athletes can write and drop off their troubles and stress. Tell them they are welcome to pick them up on the way out.
- Commit to having no negative body language all practice.
- Pretend like today is a competition and judges are watching every second. Practice your competition body language.
- Rock your confident swagger all throughout practice today.
- Remember how your energy affects others. Promise yourself that you will be an energy-giver and not an energy-taker.
It’s extremely difficult to get anything done when your athletes or coaches are mentally checked out. With the incredible amount of stress people are under today, it’s harder and harder to compartmentalize and stop the mental chatter that takes us out of 100% engagement. The mind is like a monkey, always running around taking us on “field trips” of negativity, frustration, fear, and stress. It takes effort to keep the mind all-in. Here is one of our favorite teaching stories about the power of the mind: A Grandfather from the Cherokee Nation talked with his grandson. “A fight is going on inside me,” he said to the boy. “A terrible fight between two wolves. One wolf is evil and ugly: He is fear, self-doubt, negativity, pressure. The other wolf is beautiful and good: He is joy, confidence, hope, courage.”“This same fight is going on inside you,” he counseled, “and inside every other human as well.” The grandson paused in deep reflection of his grandfather’s words. Finally he cried out, “Oh No! Grandfather, which wolf will win?” The elder Cherokee replied, “The wolf that you feed.” Helping coaches and athletes not feed their negative wolf is essential to success. But it also requires work. Be vigilant of negative self talk. The most important tool to anchor the monkey mind is Mental Choreography (MC). MC is key words your athletes say to themselves during routines, stunts, and tumbling that keeps their minds tight. Usually MC is very rhythmic, short, and specific. Counts are always good MC, as are words like “Tight”, “Up”, “Squeeze and Pull”. An athlete must integrate their coach’s counts and corrections into her MC, as if the coach was sitting on her shoulder. Even when you have yelled the same corrections over and over, many athletes don’t actually say them in their heads! With MC, the monkey mind stays focused on the task at hand and is pulled away from distractions.
Tools to practice ALL-IN mind
- Give your athletes solution-focused corrections and give them one-word to focus their mind on. The mind can only think of one thing at a time.
- Make sure your athletes are saying keywords. Have them all say them out loud like robots!
- Teach your athletes to change negative thoughts fast. Say a cue like “Flip it!” when you notice an athlete in a negative mental state.
- Flip your own negative thoughts fast and let your athletes know you are doing so. Tell them you are restarting and they should too.
- Practice “relentless optimism,” even if you use humor. Say things like, “Ok, we can only get better after that one!”
- Keep your mind focused during routines by counting and saying keywords.
- Say the corrections your coaches give you in your mind everyday, every turn, every routine, every time!
- Change negative thoughts fast. Don’t feed the bad wolf.
- No side-talking! Ask yourself, “Am I helping my team reach our goals right now?”
- Remember, pushing through fear and bad days makes you stronger. Commit to staying positive through the hard times.
Being all-in with your spirit means you have a clear purpose. Teamwork, discipline, selflessness, focus, commitment, and dealing with adversity are all tools trained on the mats of the gym. Many see cheer as a metaphor for life. When you are all-in spiritually, you remain aware of this big picture impact at all times. Your heart remains activated and passionate because you realize you are not simply coaching, but impacting lives. Just as we remain aware of why we coach cheer, our athletes need to be clear about why they come into the gym day after day. They might have a dream of winning a World’s ring, or learning a certain tumbling pass. A heart statement captures these bigger picture reasons and activates the heart so it overrides negative thoughts. It might be, “Do this for my team,” “This is for Worlds,” or a dedication to someone inspiring. When you and your athletes understand why you do what you do, passion and spirit can be all-in.
Tools to practice ALL-IN spirit:
- Why do you coach? Put the reason somewhere you can see it everyday.
- Have your athletes write their heart statements on their arm during practice.
- Have a goal for every practice and state it to your athletes.
- Do countdowns to competitions on the board or mirror. Keep your athletes aware and hungry.
- Create challenges and games to keep the spirit excited. Everyone loves a fun mini-competition!
- Why do you cheer? Who or what would you dedicate this season to? Write your heart statement on your arm.
- On a bad day, breathe and say your heart statement to turn it around.
- Make a collage or vision board with pictures and words that represent your goals and dreams. Put it somewhere you can see it every day.
- Watch motivational videos that fire you up!
- Be a leader in the gym today. Remind your entire squad what your goal is for this season!
To get the most out of this article fold a piece of paper four times creating 16 boxes. In each box write tools from each section that fit your program; cut out the boxes and put them in an envelope. You may want to keep the coach and athlete tips separate. Then, have your athletes or coaches pick a card before every workout: that idea becomes the focus of the workout for athletes or staff. The best thing about being ALL-IN is you live a life with no regrets!