Well here we are again with our penultimate article for The Diary of a university cheerleader.

It’s actually crazy how quickly this year seems to have gone and it’s been a ride to say the least, as you guys know, but at the end of the day I wouldn’t have had it any other way. I have learned a lot this year, about cheer and myself. This was my final season as Bull and I’m glad to be going out on a high, after all the blood sweat and tears over the years.

What’s new

So since the last article went live well, actually since I wrote the last article, we had our last competition at Future Cheer Adventure in Atlantis in MK, which actually concluded our season as well. I couldn’t have asked for a better last comp as Bulls cheerleader.

Honestly the whole day was so much fun. It was a bit of chaotic day for me; I had actually just come off shift in the morning of the competition, so there’s me getting all glammed up at work and making sure that I was competition ready.

I had my shift partner helping me apply fake tan at 7am- definitely one way to become closer with your colleagues!

If I haven’t said before I work in a residential home, so that was a bit weird for the people I work with- I had the kids asking me why they woke up to me looking a completely different colour haha! Luckily I wasn’t too far from the venue though otherwise I don’t think I would’ve been able to cope with the stress!

When I arrived the atmosphere was already buzzing, there had already been a morning session and it’s a really really good competition so everyone was in a good mood. It was so busy, but walking into that energy just meant that I was already in a great mood when I arrived, despite the stressful, or hectic morning it’s probably better to say.

Now the one thing I love about Future Cheer competitions, and obviously I love the all the comps anyway, but the Future Cheer merchandise is just unrivalled I swear, so obviously as my last competition on the team I had to spend a stupid amount of money in the shop whilst we are waiting. Who needs money anyway haha.

From warm up all the way through to competing the whole teams energy was just exactly where it needed to be. Obviously we had already competed once and I think that really really helped with some of the new team members to just calm their nerves and go into this competition feeling like ‘we’ve got this and whatever happens today we’ve just gotta have fun’, and that’s exactly what we did. The team as a whole actually did one of the best runs I would say,  watching the replay filled me with so much joy- that sassy energy was there, the smiles, everything. We just smashed it really. I actually think I performed worse in this one though; so I got to the dance section and, I’m sure everyone can relate sometimes, my mind just goes blank halfway through. But lucky for me no one noticed- well those who were supporting us anyway. These things happen but the important thing is to carry on!

This one was extra special because this time we had a lot of support for us, cheering us on as we performed, which I think just makes it so much better and so much easier to really go for it. So I mentioned before that our two coaches also coach an growing All-Star team in Bedford and there were a lot of young, developing cheerleaders who were desperate to see what a cheer competition was actually like. So a handful of them and their parents came to see us, and their little faces showed enough that they loved the experience, and according to the coaches and their parents, it’s given them a new attitude and energy towards their training and their future competitions that they’ll be taking part in. I love that these young cheerleaders had the opportunity to come see us because it’s nice to know that we can have an influence on them and can hopefully instil more of that passion for the sport in them, because cheerleading is growing and it’s important to show exactly what we do and exactly what we’re about, and I feel like we did that.

In terms of how we did, we were only competing against one other team, so the non tumble team from Oxford Brookes University, and I have to say looking at the scoresheet, it was much closer than we could have imagined. I’ve said before that because of our brand-new team, we created a more simple, maybe less creative routine, however we still made it look good. So at the ICC competition we didn’t score the highest on creativity which is okay, but yeah, we weren’t sure what we were gonna get when we showed up to Future Cheer. Oxford Brookes put on an amazing performance well done to them, and they deserved the first place position. However it’s still nice to know that it was a close call for us- just like our other trophy, our second-place trophy is treasured.

Because we were in the middle session of the day, we actually got to stay on a little bit longer and watch some of the world teams perform, who were incredible. That’s one thing that you miss out at all University nationals. Its  great to see other uni teams perform but then seeing the higher levels and the ones that have earned their place in worlds is insane. So the rest of the day which is really lovely to get to spend it with my team by end of the day I am just feeling really happy. I even braved flying for the first time ever. So I’ve been cheering for four years now and I have never been in the air. I have always stayed firmly on the ground happy just doing the lifting, the throwing and catching, but as it was my last time on the team I thought why not give it a go. Maybe I shouldn’t have done it outside in the concrete (although it’s now given me a funny video), of course there was every chance that I could’ve sacked it, especially since I am the queen of injuries, but I had faith in my bases and I can now say that I’ve been in the air. Having this opportunity has actually given me so much admiration for flyers, I don’t know how they do it, and I was only going to prep. I mean, I wasn’t as awful as I could’ve been; I have spent enough time as a base, knowing what bases need from flyers,  to try my hardest to do that, but I couldn’t do all the other pretty looking things they do, fair play to them! So to all my flyers, past, present and hopefully future, you have my utmost respect haha.

The Tuesday after our last competition we had our final official training session. Although some of the team had planned and organise to do some more sessions for the remainder of April this was actually the last session that I was going to be able to make it to due to work commitments picking up so this session was a bit emotional for me I suppose. I warned everyone not to say anything nice to me because I could cry but I managed to hold it together. It was just a really lovely final session with the team we started off with a nice cheer circle just chatting to each other before trying a bit of everything trying some more difficult stance looking into things that the team might want to do next year and even getting the air truck out just to throw some tumbles. Again I managed to get myself in the air, this time trying to lib, and I was actually pretty impressed with myself. That again I definitely still cannot be a flyer at my cheer facials we’re not quite there and I still laugh at the video. Although this wasn’t the last time that I receive a team it still felt like a bittersweet moment knowing that I won’t be training with them again.

I already miss our Tuesday training sessions!

The final month

As I said, this is the 2nd to last article with Cheer from Head to Toe, but there are still a little bit more to come. This month we have set our new committee for the next season and I am so happy to be handing over the torch to these guys. In the next article I’ll do a proper new committee reveal to introduce them to the CFHTT community, but all I’ll say now is that I’m excited to see what they do with the team. They already know that this isn’t the last they’ll see of me- I’m still going to be around haha, and it’s nice to know that they already can’t wait to welcome me back to support future training.

In the very beginning of May we also have our sports awards which I am really excited for. Now because of Covid I’ve actually only been to one sports awards and I just remember having a great time. That year the team that actually won Team of the year for the University, so fingers crossed we do well this year, but even if we don’t I’m just looking forward to spending a good night celebrating the season with the coaches and the team. And if anything it’s an excuse to get all dressed up which is a rarity right now. So in the next article you can look forward to hearing all about this, the new committee and my final goodbyes to the team.

If you’ve been following these articles since the very beginning I just wanted to say thank you, each month I still find it weird to put all my thoughts down but it’s been refreshing to get my voice out there and to be a part of the wider cheer community I suppose. So I hope you tune into the final article next month and then that’ll be it from me!

If you want to check out what Bedfordshire Bull cheerleader

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Using Inspiration as Motivation

How are we all doing?

What a week it’s been at worlds, with so many UK teams not only competing, but hitting zero, achieving GLOBES and really showing the world how we SHOW UP.

Have you been inspired by Unity Allstar’s persistence and determination that resulted in then being WORLD CHAMPIONS?

Unity Black

Are you inspired by EMCA C-Lebraties for attending their first worlds and coming home as SILVER CHAMPIONS?

EMCA C-Lebraties

Are you inspired by one of the many programmes or athletes that each experience their own hardships, that have showcased their talent on the worlds stage? No one simply appeared at worlds, it took hard work, commitment and determination to get to that point. Nothing worth having ever comes easy.

Whether you’re inspired to create your own journey to worlds, or to simply be the best athlete you can be, keep reading! Today I’m going to be sharing with you some things to think about along the way that can help you be the best version of your cheer self. Some of them may seem obvious, but they are all evidence based and science backed.

Numero uno, youve got to put in the work.

Have you ever searched YouTube or the internet for tips and tricks of having clear skin, and you just keep hearing that you need to drink water and wear sun cream. I don’t want to drink water, I just want a magic solution that will give me the skin of a newborn infant! Sound familiar? It’s the same concept in sport. You have to set the foundations, and you have to be consistent. Ideally you’d be training 5-6 times a week including you team’s training, tumble, flexibility, strength and conditioning etc. But if you’re currently training once a week, it might be unrealistic to say, ok from now on I’m going to train Monday-Saturday. Try adding one session a week of something you require. There are so many great exercise based resources on YouTube for whatever your heart desires. One extra session may not feel like much, but if you did 30mins extra a week of flexibility, that’s about 26 hours over a year – think of how those scales will look (and feel)!

And the best way to stay consistent is with accountability. Get a friend or two to join in, post it on social media, take before and after pictures or videos for things like flexibility and tumbling technique. We all have those days where we wonder why we’re doing it and if there’s a point, cue number two.

Two, motivation.

So, you’ve arranged to increase your training habits, but the motivation is running low. It’s unlikely that you will be ecstatic about every training session, but those times when you really can’t be bothered, they’re the ones that count the most. As well as creating that accountability mentioned above, vision boards are a great activity that you can do with friends or alone. Vision boards are very popular around the new year, but I think this point on the season is great for cheerleaders. It’s a visual way of setting your goals, manifesting them, and if you put it somewhere you see everyday, you’re reminded of your goals and more likely to work towards them.

Start off by choosing what time frames you want to focus on. Perhaps by the end of the season, by Christmas, by the end of next season or in 5 years time. Decide what goals you want to achieve by then. Do you want to improve your stretches, do you want to improve you tumble technique or gain a new skill, do you want to make a specific team, do you want to hit zero. Find an image that is associated with that goal (e.g., a cheerleader you look up to doing that skill, a photo of a “hit zero” badge) and stick it to your vision board. Outside of cheer, common things people put on their vision boards are the car they want to get in by the end of the year, what holiday they want to go on, how much money they want to save in a certain timeframe or a picture of a house if they’re looking at owning their first/new property.

Bringing it back to cheer, we want to make sure our goals are realistic. If you’re currently at forward roll level, you’re unlikely to get a full by Christmas. That can be the direction, but what goals can you achieve on the way? If you want a needle, we need to work on splits, bridges, shoulder flexibility, balance and core strength – so attach some goals to those.

-You can either print images out and stick them on a physical vision board, you can make the whole thing in word and use it as your lock screen, or print it out and stick in the front of your diary. It’s about setting those goals but also making it as visually appealing as you can – so that you want to look at it everyday, you want to be ticking off those goals as you achieve them.

Three, teamwork.

Teams are like family. You don’t get to pick your teammates, but through thick and thin you’ll end up loving each person in their own different ways. Cheerleading relies on teamwork, communication and cohesion. If you lack any of the above, it can result in falls, bobbles or injury. The very core of cheerleading is that team identity. So make sure you spend the time to get to know your teammates, organise socials, come up with your own chants and handshakes. It may seem like these little things don’t make a difference to what you put on the floor, but teams who are better able to communicate and work together, are the teams you see achieving their dreams. Team work really does make the dream work.

It sounds obvious that teamwork is key to a sport like cheerleading. But take it from someone (me) who has just endured a gruelling 12 weeks of my recent Group Dynamics and Leadership module; when we experience that cohesion with our teammates, captains and coaches, we’re more likely to experience a higher level of satisfaction from training. The more you enjoy something, the more you want to do it. This also increases your intrinsic motivations – that means, you’re more likely to want to do it, rather than feeling like you need to do it. I.e., I’m going to get to training early so I can make sure I’m eager and ready to get started, over, I’ll try not to be late so I don’t get burpees.

Four, coaching.

If you’re not already a coach, do you have the opportunity to coach another team or assist their coach? Stay with me here.

I recently had the experience of doing a skill I’ve never coached before – it’s just not something that’s come up whilst I’ve been coaching. I think it might have been as simple as a dive roll. The person going after me asked when, during the skill, I put my hands down. I literally replied and said “I have no idea”. It’s a skill I learned as a child and now, as an adult reluctantly nearing my late twenties, it’s a skill I perform using muscle memory. I don’t know how I do it, I just do it. You’ve likely had similar experiences with skills yourself. Most commonly we think of riding a bike or driving a car. They are skills that once we know what we’re doing, we don’t think about it, we just do it.

When you coach, you have to think about how you do these skills, every little movement, where your hands go, the timing of the skill, which muscles you’re using – because you need to be telling the people you’re coaching exactly how to do the skill. You can show them how to do it, but you also need to communicate exactly how they’d replicate that skill. That’s why some of the greatest athletes in the world do not make great coaches – because they can’t explain how they do it, they just do it. If you’re looking for a way of improving your own skillset, learn to coach. You’ll be more present in your skills and have more time to think about your technique. Plus, you’ll learn more about the different positions and if you’re a base, you’ll likely become more appreciative of the movements your flyer or back makes during the stunt, and vice versa.

If you don’t have the opportunity to coach within your programme or elsewhere, try and teach a non-cheerleading friend or family member. I remember being told in school that once you’re able to teach it to someone else, that’s when you fully understand it. Although, theories, techniques and rules are always changing, so we never “fully” understand, but that’s a topic for another day!

Five, manifestation.

Now I’m not telling you to get your cards read or to build up a crystal collection (although if that’s your vibe, go for it!). Bare with me here. What I mean by manifestation, is believing in your abilities. You’ve set those goals, you have to believe that you’re going to achieve them. Vision yourself achieving those skills, imagine hearing your team’s name called out in first place, or whatever your goal may be. Think about what you can see around you, what can you hear, and overall, how do you feel in that very moment? Living out these experiences in our mind allow us to replicate what that might feel like, and it gives us that boost of motivation to get going. Try it out next time you’re struggling for motivation before a session. Ultimately, it helps with your confidence and self-belief. If you can’t believe in yourself, how are your team going to? I believe in you, but you have to believe in yourself first.

To recap

  1. Structure in extra training sessions. They don’t have to be official sessions in the gym, they could be 30min bursts in your room following a flexibility or conditioning video.
  2. Create a vision board either independently, with some friends or your team. Have a look on Pinterest and YouTube for some ideas.
  3. Work towards that unbreakable bond with your team, take the time to get to know everyone, organise a social, get a mascot and create that team identity.
  4. Coaching is not for everyone, but it may help you understand the skills you’re learning.
  5. Manifest your goals into existence!

That’s all for this month. If you have any topics you’d like us to cover, get in touch! If you find yourself creating a vision board, be sure to tag us.

Happy goal setting!

Ta’ra for now,

Rach x

Written by Rachel

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Unity Allstar black are the first team in UK history to be crown World Champions

Day 1

Day 2

Amanda Unity Allstar gym said

“In 2006 Tori ( co-owner of Unity Allstar gym) started a cheerleading team called Unity Allstars and I was lucky enough to be an athlete on the original team. In 2009 I came on board as a coach and we turned the team into a programme and that team was named Black. Black attended Worlds for the first time that year and came 11th. I was still an athlete then too, it was my first time on the worlds floor and I was lucky to do it 3 more times for Black in 2010,2011 and 2016.

This year was Blacks 11th year at Worlds. This year we gave our all. And this year, after so many years of hard work, of blood sweat and tears – we were crowned WORLD CHAMPIONS! 🥇

I cannot even explain how this feels. The team that started it all, the team that helped us create our programme and build our gym has become the first English team in history to win an Allstar division at Worlds. Today they inspire countless generations of children in our country, they are proof that hard work and perseverance pay off.

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Team Wales journey to Worlds: A triumphant return to Worlds

It’s finally World’s Month!

After two years away it’s amazing to see our National and All-Star Teams make their triumphant return to Worlds. While there are currently no Adaptive Abilities categories at IASF Worlds (Hopefully this changes soon!) We do have some outstanding National Teams representing AA at the ICU Worlds.Adaptive Abilities Cheer (formerly known as ParaCheer).

As of Worlds’ 2019 there were 4 Adaptive Abilities categories: Unified Advanced Cheer (Level 4), Unified Median Cheer (Level 3), Unified Hip Hop and Unified Freestyle Pom.

Team Wales have fielded teams in Advanced Cheer, and Pom in previous years, representing in both again in 2022.

I had the great pleasure of following Team Wales AA Advanced Cheer on their journey to Worlds.

Coaching Staff

Head Coach – Sabrina Mountjoy.

Sabrina Mountjoy

Sabrina has been the head coach for Team Wales Paracheer Pom in 2017 (Winning Gold) and 2018 (Winning Silver) as well as Team Wales AA in 2019 (Winning Silver).

She also head coaches the Wales Adaptive Abilities Coalition (WAAC) and is the SportCheer Wales board representative for Adaptive Abilities and SEN athletes. Sabrina coaches RSD in both Cheer and Dance and a dance lecturer.

Trainee Coach – Lauren Anzani.

picture of women smiling
Lauren Anzani

Lauren currently coaches and competes with RSD and has been involved with cheerleading and dance for over 20 years, gaining National, Grand and World championship titles along the way.

She has represented Team Wales in both Cheer and Dance in the ICU and IASF World Championships.

Trainee Coach – Carys Hopkins.

Cary Hopkins

Carys has been part of RSD for 15 years and has coached Cheer and dance teams for 10 years. Carys was a member of RSD Legends and has also represented Wales on 3 occasions in the World Championships and was a flyer on the very first Team Wales team back in 2014. She is thrilled to continue to be a part of the cheerleading community through her role as a trainee coach for the Welsh Adaptive Abilities team.

Training

The team have had a total of 10 training sessions, usually running for 4-5 hours per session. They train from October till April either once or twice a month as a full team, alongside any all star training the athletes have with their home teams. They have been lucky enough to be sponsored by three gyms in Wales: RSD, Gymfinity and AZ Elite and their training time has been split across the three.

I had the pleasure of attending a training session at RSD to observe, and this team works hard! They have a lot to work on, with a full Cheer routine as well as their country cheer to warm up the crowd. ICU routines differ in a number of ways to traditional all-star Cheer. Routines are 2:15 instead of 2:30 and do not include a compulsory dance element (although many teams choose to include one). Teams are also required to include a chant element prior to their full routine, similar to a sideline performance of Cheer. Their routine is all inclusive, and uses all athletes to the best of their ability to create a strong routine. They have added some lovely little features to their routine, such as sign language motions within their main routine, as well as sign language in their chant to ensure everyone can get involved. While we don’t want to give too much away, we cannot wait to see what they put out on the World’s floor!

Team Breakdown

All of the current ICU categories use a unified approach to Adaptive Abilities. This means a mixture of disabled and non-disabled athletes. The current stipulation for ICU is that 25% of the team have some form of disability, although some UK competitions only require one athlete to have a disability to enter Adaptive Abilities categories. While the scoring grid for Adaptive Abilities is mostly the same as All-star, there are some clear changes made to ensure the safety of the athletes involved. Although Adaptive Abilities Advanced is classed as Level 4, baskets are not allowed in any routine and there are specific rules surrounding wheelchair users and anyone using ambulatory equipment.

Team Wales AA this year has 22 members in total, with 21 travelling out to compete at ICU Worlds. One member has been training with the team and will perform in the UK, but unfortunately due to their disability and the current Covid restrictions will be unable to travel to the US on this occasion.  With only 5 members previously competing at the World Championships, they have had to work extra hard this season just to get ready! Many of them are from Allstar teams, with a mix of programmes such as RSD, Rebellion Allstars, Gymfinity, Swansea Falcons, Inferno Cheer and Dance and WAAC.

The team this year has a 42% disability ratio (38% when competing in the US) with a mix of disabilities and additional needs. These include Dyspraxia, Irlen Mears Syndrome, Ehlers-Danlos, High-Functioning Autism and Leg amputation. Athletes disclosed by choice and gave permission for these to be referenced.

This is Team Wales AA’s third year representing at ICU Worlds in the Adaptive Abilities Advanced category following a two year break due to Covid. They claimed Silver at the 2019 World championships, and we cannot wait to see if they can make it Gold this year.

Watch out for their performance 20-22 April 2022.

To watch Team Wales AA perform go to the cheerunion.org they will be performing Thursday 21st April at 4.18pm BST

Written by CFHTT family member Molly

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The last chance to get it right.

Team selfie

Hey CFHTT readers! It’s been a busy month for us at Bedfordshire Bulls so lots to catch you up on! But before I blab away, to begin this months diary, we have a feature from one of our beloved male cheerleaders on the team.

Cheer is often seen as a female-dominated sport, particularly in university cheer I’d say, but for as long as Bulls has been around I believe we have been lucky to have a coed team. Our male cheerleaders are just as valued and I have loved working with the guys over the years! So here is a little bit about Ryan and his experience on Bulls!

Back spot and base Ryan

Hi! My name is Ryan.

I am currently in my second year with the team, and I perform as a back-spot or as a base. I initially joined cheer as I love trying new things and from what I heard from people on the team it would be a fun and exciting new challenge. One of the main things that I like about being part of the team is that all of the members of the team have such an inspiring charisma that lifts morale and motivates.

This season has been one hell of a rollercoaster ride; getting back into the rhythm of face-to-face sessions after covid, members catching covid, injuries, showcase, open mat sessions and socials. I’d say my favourite part of the season so far would be performing in our showcase as this was the first time we performed our entire routine in front of an audience, which was a really enjoyable experience as it improved everyone’s confidence and was a laugh. I’d say a definite low point was when Lindsey broke her arm.

I am really excited for the comp as I am certain we are going to absolutely smash it…..

First of all to let everyone know, this section is coming straight off the press as I have just got onto the coach after our first competition. Straight to the facts we scored 4th in our first competition since before lockdown. I am absolutely thrilled at how the routine went today and I feel that everyone performed really well. Needless to say, I am ecstatic to perform our routine at our next competition at the weekend, I am certain the rest of the team feels the same as any nerves we had beforehand are gone and we are ready to end the season on a high with dominating the competition.

all male stunting

There we go!

I appreciate Ryan so much for sharing this and am glad to know he has been having a good year despite all our challenges.

Sasha president and writer of the diary of a university cheerleader

Now back to updates from me!

So as you’d already be aware from our previous articles, we’ve not had the easiest of seasons by a long shot. And just when we thought it couldn’t get any more difficult, something else would come along. In normal seasons, we would have the full routine and be running fullouts by at least mid-February..but this year we couldn’t start fullouts until mid-March, the same month of competition. Then we lost another athlete two weeks before the competition. To say we were feeling the pressure would be an understatement.

This meant we really had to step up our preparation, especially as we were due to have our showcase the week of the competition. So we had to have extra practices as frequently as possible and speaking as one of the athletes who also works full time, this month almost killed me I swear. Coming off of 24-hour shifts to then train, and go back onto a 24 hour shift the next morning was an intense routine and my body, my injured wrist in particular, was not coping too well. I think the majority of us were feeling it in one way or another but I appreciate that the remaining team members changed their work schedules and gave up their free time where they could to attend.

Charity Showcase (SHOWCASE TEAM PHOTO)

Team showcase

While we probably didn’t have time for this year, we had committed to hosting an annual showcase and I’m actually so glad that we did. Usually, we would have showcased a few weeks before the competition to expose the team to perform in front of an audience, so that it isn’t such a shock and so that we can work out any performance issues to give us time to work on these. This year we didn’t have the luxury of time hence the showcase being held the same week we had our first competition. But this was our last chance to get it right before we competed.

I cannot even take any credit for the success of this event, I was too busy to have a hand in the planning and organising, so our social secretary Janel did everything and she smashed it!

Thanks to her we were able to get other performances involved, some from one of our coaches’ companies 3 Keys Performance, and then from Luton based Vita Artes Academy too. The young ones did so well in their performances and we were grateful to have them involved and supporting us, and they loved giving cheerleading a go at the end of the show!

VITA ARTES
give it a go

The showcase wasn’t just positive for our other performers though-it was actually the first time we properly hit the routine which was an amazing feeling. Nothing like pulling it together at the last minute. And we had nearly 100 people in our audience to support and witness this, including some Bulls alumni. Honestly, I think this is what helped us bring it together and despite the stress, this is why I’m glad we went ahead with the showcase. Hitting the routine here gave us that much-needed confidence ahead of the weekend so thanks to you Janel for making this possible. And to make it even better, alongside a donation from 3 Keys Performance, we raised £291 for Young Minds Uk which is incredible- I’m so happy with the team for continuing to support this important charity.

ICC Nationals Competition

So the last weekend of March we competed for the first time in 2 years at ICC Nationals in Nottingham. This competition was one that we were supposed to go to back in 2020 so it was good to finally experience this event! But in true Bulls fashion, this day wasn’t without its ups and downs! Unfortunately, one of our flyers came down with a fever and was too ill the night before comp, and therefore she couldn’t compete. Therefore one stunt group couldn’t do anything in the first section, and we had to put another flyer into the centre of the pyramid when she had never done this before. Literally, the first time this was tried was during our warm-up, but fair play to Niamh, she handled the pressure like a champ and did really well.

Before the day even began we had drama with our coach being almost an hour late and not even knowing if it would show up so tensions and nerves were high. Luckily I had thought beforehand that the team might need some positivity so I made everyone little gift bags with good luck pins, sweets, mints, paracetamol and personal notes to each member. I felt like it was important to build them up and show them how much I believe in them, and after the rough start to the weekend, I’m even more glad that I did this for the team spirits were lifted once again!

(GIFT BAGS)

gift bags

The day as a whole was so enjoyable-ICC put on such a great event and watching the other team’s performances was great. In terms of our routine, we actually hit and I’m so happy about that. Our warm-up was stressful, the team is brand new and there seemed to be a lot of panic in the air while this is understandable, it’s not what we needed. But just like showcase, when it mattered, we were able to pull it together and there was only a problem with a partner stunt at the very end.

I’ve said this before and I’ll never stop-I being so proud of this team. As Ryan already said, we placed 4th– with the infancy of the team we just couldn’t have a high difficulty routine because this would sacrifice our cleanliness. If we didn’t have so many problems in the season we may have been able to increase this, but it’s okay that we weren’t able to. I’m just happy that we put our all onto that mat and that we all had fun. And I now have an epic photo of me celebrating at the very end of the performance haha.

My favourite part of the whole day has to be when all the teams got together for awards. It felt like covid had never happened; everyone was together again, laughing with each other and dancing to the wobble, Cupid shuffle and cha cha slide. This is what I love most about competitions-the celebrations and feeling a part of a community. It was a long day, but so worth it.

Fourth place feels like first

The cheer hangover is real.

Now I don’t know if this is a major thing in the cheer community or what, but I remember after my very first cheerleading competition I felt so rough, and my teammates at the time told me that I was experiencing a ‘cheer hangover’- quite like a normal hangover just without any alcohol involved. And I can safely say that it has hit me like a train this year. The competition in Nottingham was such a long day; I didn’t get home until almost 2am, and then had to be back onto a 24 hour shift after just a handful of hours of sleep. The day started off with just tiredness but I progressively got worse and worse. Maybe this was something worse than just a ‘hangover’ because I had a fever, chills, aches, migraines, the lot! To the point, I wasn’t even safe to drive.

I feel like this was a wake-up call to me that I’ve been burning myself out and my body has finally had enough. Cheerleading really takes its toll and requires lots of decent rest in between; something I just haven’t had much time for this month. I’ve learnt that I can withstand a lot and keep pushing through more than I thought I was capable of, however, the consequences to myself have taught me that I really shouldn’t push myself so much. My days off need to be valued and used for rest, rather than continuing to be busy with errands and other things that really can wait.

We have our last competition this weekend so I have just a few days to rest up and get back to myself as much as possible, around my work, before we hit the mat again. As much as I could do without it, this competition will be my final one on Bulls and  I really cannot bear to miss it. I may collapse next week but at least I’ll be going out with a bang haha!

By the time this article is live we would have already finished our season, but don’t worry there’s still more to hear from us just yet! Tune in again next month to hear about our final competition and our plans from here on.

Ciao!

Professional photo from comp

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  Competition Mindset

Many cheerleaders in the UK will have now had their first comp or two of the season. And doesn’t it feel fabulous to be back on the mat, in front of the judges, in uniform and with your whole programme cheering you on? Great, right? For some, however, comps can be really stressful and anxiety-provoking. In this article we’re going to talk about the highs and lows of competing, and give away some tips to make sure you’re next comp is your best yet! We’ll explore some basic fundamentals, but then some mindset tips too.

First of all, you have the preparation. You know the phrase, the failure to prepare is preparing to fail – or something like that. So in order to be the best version of yourself, the best member of your team, we need to ensure that you are well prepared. So, let’s start with the basics. Are you eating and sleeping well? By that, I mean are you eating full meals and getting a full night’s sleep?

The good thing about exercise is that it helps with our routine and in turn our sleeping pattern. But it can be really easy to go to bed on time yet sit scrolling through your phone. We know just how easy it is to fall down that explore page rabbit hole. All the professionals say it’s best not to go on your phone right before bed because the lights on your phone affect your ability to sleep (or something much more scientific, but that’s ultimately what they mean). I’m not going to sit here and say you can’t go on your phone before bed, because ultimately, I’d be a hypocrite. What I do is schedule time to be on my phone before my ideal sleep time, and ensure I have it on that night time mode, where the blue lights are reduced so it’s got a bit of an orange tint. Either way, just make sure you’re getting your rest. Without your rest, your body can’t recover and fill you with the energy to perform at your best.

Off the back of that is food. Ultimately, we need to make sure we’re eating full and balanced meals to ensure we’re fuelling our bodies with enough energy to train and compete at our optimum levels. However, it’s never as simple as just that, is it? We belong to an aesthetic sport and our uniforms can often show parts of our body that naturally carry the most fat. We also use our bodies in a completely unique way in jumping, tumbling and stunting. And for some people, those mindsets and thought patterns play into their diet. If that’s something that makes you feel uneasy, you are not alone. I could sit here and teach you about the importance of an athlete’s diet until the cows come home. I don’t want to sit here and teach people to suck eggs or insult their intelligence. If this is something that plays on your mind, Beat, the eating disorder organisation have a number of resources on their website you may benefit from. They also have a telephone helpline, email and chat rooms to speak to one of their professionals for advice. If in doubt, check them out for non-judgemental advice. I’ll link their detail below. Remember, you’re a cheerleader, they don’t get much better than us!

https://www.beateatingdisorders.org.uk/get-information-and-support/get-help-for-myself/i-need-support-now/helplines/

Moving onto that winning mindset. Now it’s so easy to fall into the negative mindset trap, comparing uniforms, comparing the amount of support you have to another programme, comparing facilities, elite stunt sections, etc. We’ve all been there, we all know what I mean. So you’ll also likely be familiar with the phrase: comparison is the thief of joy – I’m all about the quotes today.

You don’t get extra points for having the sparkliest uniform or whether you train on a sprung floor or not, you get your points for what you put out on the comp floor. So put on your tunnel vision and instead of focusing on what you haven’t got, think about how amazing all the things you have got are, practise some gratitude. We have to think about the things that are in our control. We don’t have control over anyone else but you and your team. For the most part, you have control over the words that come out of your mouth and the thoughts in your head, so let’s talk about that.

Of course, we need to practise. You don’t need me to tell you that, you train every week. But outside of training, we can be listening to the music, marking the routine in your head on the bus, stretching and conditioning at home. Aside from the physical practise, how do we train our minds for competition? Well we need to ensure we are the best we can be. If you are the best version of yourself and you give everything you’ve got, even if something falls or you don’t get the placing you were hoping for, you know there was nothing more you could have done because you gave it your all. That’s when we (hopefully) are at peace with ourselves. So we’re eating enough, we’re sleeping well, we’re practising at every opportunity, how do we make sure we have the right mindset?

The easiest way to start is with imagery. A lot of teams are doing this now at comp which is great to see. Have you ever lay in that circle, holding hands with your speaker in the middle, listening to your music playing and performing the routine in your head? Gives me chills just thinking about it! Well, I don’t just want you to do this on comp day. Closing your eyes and performing the routine has so many benefits. Imagery helps us stay focused on the task at hand rather than those pesky negative thoughts. If we’re imagining our full out, we’re imagining us hitting, not falling. It helps build our confidence and reduce anxiety. When we hit our stunt or tumble pass, we feel joy, right? So imagery replicates that joy, without that feeling of imminent death when you finish your full out (I can’t be the only one). Of course, when thinking about the routine, you can still sing along, give your facials, you can feel your the muscles that should be moving in that instance. If I come home feeling deflated after struggling with a new stunt sequence, the next day or the day I’m next due in the gym, I’ll perform it mentally in my head a few times. Of course in my head I’m as good a flyer as Gabi Butler, so I hit every time. It gives me the confidence to think, you know what, next training session I’ve got this, I know what I’m doing and we’re going to smash it. Imagine doing that once or twice a week. You’ll reduce those pesky negative thoughts like “last time this happened”, basically those WHAT IF thoughts, and instead you’ll focus more on what will hit, WHAT WILL happen.

So we’ve gone back to Barney the dinosaur’s playhouse, our imagination is fantastic. But now it’s comp day and the nerves are kicking back in. What do I do now? Well I’m going to take you back to a (slightly relevant) memory of my GSCE maths class. It was the day before the exam and we were staying after school stressing doing mock papers thinking we were going to fail. Our maths teacher simply said “if you don’t know it now, you never will”. So at first glance you think, oh fantastic I’m doomed to fail. But then I realised, ok, I’m unlikely to learn anything new in the next 18 hours, so what is stressing about it going to do other than put me in a bad mood? Generally speaking, when you arrive at the venue for your competition, it’s all the hard work you’ve done in the lead up to the competition that matters. Practise makes permanent, so whatever you’ve practised will likely reflect on the floor.

Have you ever been in warm up and your usually seamless routine seems to be falling to pieces? Everyone is freaking out, you’re feeding off each other’s stress and you’re all just want to get it over and done with. That’s not how comps should be. You train all season, you put in all the hard work, the blood, sweat and tears for a measly 2.5 minutes. ENJOY IT. Sometimes stunts fall. Yes, it’s heartbreaking, but all it means is that it’s just not your day, it’s someone else’s. If you walk onto the comp floor with the weight of the world on your shoulders because your stunt fell, your jumps were out of time, you flopped your tumble pass and you can feel your coach’s death stare piercing through your very existence; naturally, it’s going to become a self-fulfilling prophecy and even if you hit, you’re going to feel pants. Alternatively, if you walk onto that floor thinking, “you know what, I’ve put in all the hard work up to this point, I love my teammates, I love cheerleading, and we’re going to showcase who we are for better or for worse” I bet you’ll enjoy that 2.5 minutes so much more. Naturally, when we’re all enjoying ourselves, we’re feeding off each other’s positive energy, we’re pushing harder, we’re performing and the judges see that. Whether you win the trophy or you come dead last, the things you remember long-term are the emotions and bonds you had.

But what do we do when the negative emotions start creeping in? I tend to use a couple of grounding techniques. Sometimes we get all up in our head so I just remember to feel the floor, whether that’s with my feet, stamping or jumping on the ground, or physically placing both my hands on the ground, it reminds me that I’m here in my body and keeps me present. Sounds a bit weird so I’ll move onto some more common grounding techniques.

Box breathing can be useful if you’re someone who benefits from breathing exercises. You start by doing a heavy exhale getting as much air as you can out of your lungs. Then, breath in for a count of four, make sure you’re breathing into your tummy, hold your breath for a count of four, and then slowly exhale for a count of four, then hold your breath for a final count of four. Repeat this a few times. This can help ensure you’re present in the moment when you get thoughts racing around your head and it can also help with your concentration.

Another common grounding technique is the 5-4-3-2-1 method using your senses. Start by acknowledging five things you can see around you. Another person, a chair, a water bottle, a light fitting, a fire exit sign maybe. Next, acknowledge four things you can touch, perhaps your shoe, bow, floor, hand rail. Then, acknowledge three things you can hear, for example, the music playing, someone talking, shoes running across the floor. Acknowledge two things you can smell, like hairspray or sweat (lets be real here). Finally, acknowledge one thing you can taste, whether that’s water, the last thing you ate or your plain old tongue. So five things you can see, four you can touch, three you hear, two you can smell and one you can taste. It helps us remain present and empties your mind of the racing thoughts.

These techniques are best practised when you’re not in a heightened state of anxiety or stress. Once you’ve perfected them in a relaxed state, it becomes easier to use when your anxiety levels rise. Like everything, these techniques aren’t for everyone. I used to hate box breathing but now I can use it well. But have a Google, or even check out YouTube for some grounding techniques that may work for you.

It’s so easy to get caught up in hitting zero, placing first, winning a bid. It’s important to set goals and aim high. Just remember, we’re human. If today isn’t your day, maybe tomorrow will be, maybe next comp or the one after. The main thing is you’re safe and you’re enjoying yourself. If your best friend was feeling anxious, nervous or stressed, what would you say to them? And then take your own advice.

And that’s me over and out for the next month. If you have anything you’d like us to cover, let us know! Best of luck in your upcoming competitions and remember to tag us in all of your photos and videos.

Take care,

Rach x

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The show must go on: The diary of a University Cheerleader

So, we have finally arrived in competition month! How scary to think that at the end of this month we would have competed for the first time in 2 years, or, for the majority of the team, the first time ever!

The nerves are starting to creep in now for certain. This has by far been the toughest, most complicated season I have ever experienced. We have a brand new team and we’ve never had to start from scratch quite to this scale before. Don’t get me wrong, the team have come along leaps and bounds; their skill set has been built up and improved on massively which makes me so proud and happy to see. But we have had so many bumps in this journey that it has felt endless. We lost 2 more athletes in the last couple weeks due to injury and other commitments affecting competition. And while we completely understand why they had to go, it just really hasn’t been ideal this close to competition and we have exhausted our alternatives, and worst of all, we miss having them with us.

I know I said this last month but I thank my lucky stars for Sarah and Kieran for somehow just pulling it altogether after every setback. I know they are just as stressed about all the issues we have had but they’ve made it work like the miracle workers they are. But it’s also important to acknowledge our athletes and their adaptability. We have flyers basing and bases backspotting; some people in positions that they’ve never worked in before, and they’ve just got on with it. While I feel for their frustrations with all the changes, as I am feeling the same too, their dedication and resilience has to be commended. I believe this really demonstrates teamwork and what cheerleading is all about-being there for each other through thick and thin. This team is incredible.

Mean Girls Returns…

This year has been a tricky one for socials but one that we couldn’t miss out on was the return of the old boys! Every February half term it has been tradition for the cheer team to hold a Mean girls themed circle to welcome the return of our cheer alumni. We even have our own ‘Burn book’ (don’t worry, there are no Regina’s here!) where we vote on ‘who is so fetch’, and ‘who doesn’t even go here’?! and attendees become immortalised in these categories. In the past we had a book going for 5 years before it was unfortunately lost, so this year we started anew and from now on this book will reappear at every Mean Girls social to come.

While this year’s was quieter than it usually is, not helped by the weather, it was a fun chance to relax and have fun in the middle of a stressful season. For me, it was a opportunity to enjoy some well-earned time off from work as I often get so caught up that I forget to look after myself. Plus, I was able to introduce some of my cheer family to one of my colleagues and I loved seeing my two lives collide and gel so well together.

Tonight (01/03), we finally got to have our choreography session with Ella from ENDchoreo

(Ella is also a competition judge/Head Judge for various UK and European EPs, and runs @endchoreo, an industry consultancy business, with the aim of helping athletes and coaches to achieve their cheer and dance dreams.)

after it was postponed last week due to the weather. We were very lucky that this partnership allowed for us to have a session with her and we could not be more grateful for her and her hard work. Ella has had to put up with our constant changes while trying to work out the formations for our dance section ahead of the session but her patience and commitment with us has been incredible and so appreciated.

She definitely worked us hard tonight, and I’m not sure I’m going to be able to move tomorrow- the bow headache alone is convincing me I have bruised my head (I swear I’m only being a little dramatic. It’s been a long time since I’ve had to wear a cheer ponytail haha). But the relief I feel from finally having a full routine is a great feeling. Thanks to Ella we have an epic dance section to close off our performance and it’ll certainly pack a punch. Now we just have the next few weeks to clean it all up and get comp ready!

The countdown is on..

So we have just 3 weeks to go (from when I am writing this) and from now we really knuckle down with preparing our performance and execution of the routine. It’s full-outs every session now which is going to be a shock to the system; not just to the new cheerleaders, but for myself as well. I swear full-outs test your body like no other workout and I have been out of practice for far too long. But I know how important they are to prepare us, so with that knowledge I feel like I have to be this team’s biggest cheerleader to help them push through this. I know we’ve got this!

To help us prepare we have a few things lined up over the coming weeks.

We will hold a short ‘sass’ workshop to bring out those cheer facials and the full blown big performance that a cheer routine requires. We have done this in previous seasons and it has been great fun; it’s nice to be able to be a little silly around each other to break up the serious hard work of building the routine. But despite the silliness, the workshop is really beneficial in bringing out the sassiness and allowing our athletes to feel more comfortable with being big and bold on the competition floor. Our coach Kieran has actually always been the sassiest one of the whole team so we can learn a lot from his flair and performance!

Additionally we will be having an extra training session thrown in. Four hours on a Saturday to focus solely on the routine which will be long and tiring, but crucial to cleaning up the routine and getting it just right. And this comes just in time for our annual showcase.

Before covid we would always hold a showcase before our first competition, to prepare us for performing in front of an audience. It always feels so different when you have other eyes on you, and considering the infancy of the team, we just had to make sure that we brought back showcase. This year it is bigger and better than ever! On our final training session before competition, we will be opening up the bleachers to an audience of friends, family, students and, well, anyone! There will be other performances too, from dance students, the dance society and even a Luton based performance academy which is really exciting, and all thanks to the help of our social sec Janel. The money raised from the tickets will go straight to Young Minds UK; our charity for this year, and we are hoping to put on a raffle too to help boost the fundraising.

So, if you’re around Bedford on the 22nd March, feel free to come along and watch- We would love to have the support!

SHOWCASE

Otherwise, we will see you at ICC Nationals at the end of the month! Ciao for now 🧡🖤🤍

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