UK cheerleading is developing at a rapid pace as this sport grows stronger there are more opportunities for athletes to perform across the country and even on the international stage. With these great opportunities also come pressure to excel and that pressure if not channel correctly can lead to anxiety, metal block and stage fright.
There are higher physical and mental demands on Cheerleaders more than ever. It is commonly known that Cheerleading is 80% mental and 20% physical. If you are a little bit athletic you should in theory be able to perform well in this sport, however we all know people who have the skills and just crumble because of the pressure.
Richard focuses on helping cheerleaders overcome issues related to performance such as pre-comp anxiety, mental blocks and negative mindsets by applying sports psychology principles to enhance the performance using neuro-linguistic programming and non-verbal communication. As a Performance Coach He also looks at dynamics and environment to make sure it’s all conducive to giving athletes the best conditions to excel in.
Cheer From Head to Toe had an exclusive interview with Richard to find out more:
Please tell us a little about yourself.
My name is Richard and I’m the Director of Caric Care Ltd. I’ve been working in mental health for over 10 years now and prior to this I served for 22 years in the Armed Forces. I’m currently working as a Senior Practitioner at Alder Hey Children’s NHS Trust’s Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service CAMHS .
Why did you create this business?
I saw cheerleading as a sport from the very first performance I watched back in 2013. I couldn’t understand why it wasn’t considered a sport but I felt it was only a matter of time before it got the recognition it deserved. I mean, there’s nothing like it. It’s a combination of so many things that require speed, strength, stamina, teamwork, courage, timing, trust and strategy. I’m so glad it’s finally been recognised as a sport.
Having been involved in sport, from playing to coaching, I realised that when you get to a certain standard the margins between winning and losing are very slight. We’re talking half a point, or less in some cases. It’s the sort of marginal gain they talk about in Formula 1, cycling and athletics. Now consider athletes at that level in other sports; they have a team of sports scientists and sports psychologists working with the coaches to make sure the athletes perform to their best both physically and mentally.
It’s so sad to see athletes not reap the rewards for the hard work they put in over countless evenings and weekends because of something that can be avoided.
How did you get into coaching?
I watched my daughter Miah at competitions and she’s a very resilient athlete but has a few little self-confidence issues now and then; I studied her behaviour and compared it to others around her. I was interested in why people approached competitions differently and behaved in certain ways prior to taking the floor. I asked myself “why did they develop their own routines and behaviours in preparation and why did some of these strategies fail at the point of competing?”
I saw some extremely talented athletes totally overcome with anxiety which was being mistaken as asthma, stomach bugs and cramps but these were all common symptoms of stress and anxiety. I offered to work with Miah’s club and saw some very rapid improvements in athletes overcoming these issues that plagued them at competitions.
I got a real buzz out of seeing athletes that once struggled taking the floor and smashing it.
Is your business for athletes or coaches or both?
It’s for both. It has to be. Every great coach will accept help whenever they can because a great coach will always be learning and striving to improve just like great athletes do. We provide training packages to help coaches identify and recognise the signs and symptoms of the issues that can cause problems in performance. I can watch teams training and identify who needs specific work which frees up the coach from dealing with it and allows them to focus on what they do best – create amazing routines and give themselves and their athletes a sense of achievement and pride.
What experience do you have dealing with cheerleaders?
I’ve worked with many cheerleaders now at competitions who have been affected badly with anxiety and we’ve worked together to develop strategies to overcome it. They’ve gone on to perform at a level they never imagined they could. I’ve also been lucky enough to go into warm-ups and spot the athletes that are beginning to struggle with the scale of the comp or have last minute nerves.
What teams have you previously worked with in the Cheer community?
I’ve worked with Airborn Nitros and Coventry Dynamite and individual cheerleaders from other teams who have contacted me and asked advice. I’ve also been contacted by Crystals Elite, RDC, Wild Spirit Allstars, Elite Allstars, Casablanca Cheerleading and Lazer Cheer and I’m really excited about working with them all regardless of what level squads need help. The way I see it, every cheerleader has the potential to make it to worlds with the right support, commitment and encouragement.
Please explain how this service will work giving a detailed break down as to what happens when you visit a team and what skills they will take away from this service.
First of all, I would visit and do what we call psycho-educational work. I give a presentation on how the brain works and why it does some of the things it does when we don’t want it to and how these things affect performance. I also explain the need for the ‘big three’ in mental well being: The right amount of sleep, the right diet and the right amount of exercise.
I like to chat to the coaches and hear their perspective on what the issues are that I need to work on. A good coach can easily identify what’s going wrong and who needs what. In that respect I’m lucky to have worked with Alex Morris and Michele Creer at Nitros and Sarah Biggs, Ryan Cleaver and Laura Pittaway at Coventry Dynamite. They’re so in sync with their athletes and really have a good handle on their squads so they can spot who needs that little extra support.
I then like to take the athletes away and do some specific work on the issues that are preventing them from hitting it the way they’re capable of.
At Nitros I do a lot of watching in training and Alex Morris and Michele Creer have given me a lot of freedom to pull athletes out and talk to them to identify what’s not quite right. At Coventry Dynamite we work slightly different as Sarah, Ryan and Laura have quite a broad skill set between them and a lot of experience at Level 5 and competing at Worlds. They’re very professional and so in tune with the performance that they let me do my job which allows them to focus on what they do so well and that’s creating world class performances. I quite like the flexibility and prefer to fit in around the coaches main effort.
I also learn a lot from the cheerleaders too. I’ve had a few chats now with Emily Bonney, Maylin Tsang, Emma Rowbotham, Laura Wordley, Ryan Cleaver and Mart Tsang and asked a lot of questions about flying and basing and tumbling to get a feel for the different experiences and perspectives and they’ve helped me as much as I’ve helped them.
How will teams know if the coaching has been successful?
They’ll be able to see a difference in their athletes in the way they train and perform. I don’t just work with athletes with specific issues. I like to spend some time with the whole squad to do preventative work because anxiety can strike at any time so it’s good to know what to expect and how to deal with it before it becomes a big problem. It will give them confidence in their ability and remove fear of failing because failing has such stigma attached to it when actually it’s a very human and normal part of learning.
I have taken various strategies that I use on a daily basis at Alder Hey CAMHS and implemented them into a unique system I developed called KICK-ASS. It’s perfect for cheerleaders and each letter represents a subject so:
ASS are the negatives that each athlete may encounter.
A is for anxiety which affects a lot of cheerleaders at some stage and can often be quite debilitating. It can come on with no warning or notable trigger so it’s something every athlete should be aware of.
S is for self-doubt which again is something every athlete will suffer from at some point and can lead to reluctance to perform outside of your comfort zone.
The other S is for stress which can be positive or negative. Positive stress is what we do in training and that is to push your limits to improve. It’s within your ability but slightly more than you’re used to. Negative stress is when we feel we haven’t got the ability, skill or resources to meet the demands put on us and that can often come from anxiety and self-doubt.
So to overcome ASS we have KICK.
for knowledge. Knowledge is power and knowing your capabilities, your routine and your goals is vital. If you know what you’re expected to do and know you can do it when you need to that removes some of the anxiety. It also teaches athletes to put faith in their coach who has a vision of how things should look so the athlete buys into the coaches knowledge.
is for inspiration. Remembering why we started a sport in the first place and looking at where we want to be. A lot of cheerleaders look up to their coaches and aspire to be like them someday. Some look at team mates as inspiration. I guess I’m really lucky to have met some fantastic coaches and incredible athletes in such a short space of time. My own inspiration comes from my dad who was a Canadian ice hockey star who taught me that if something is worth having then it’s going to be hard to get or everyone would have it. He worked as hard in training as he did in games to create that muscle memory. The harder we work in training the easier it is to perform on the big stage.
is for commitment and Courage. To really excel at a sport there has to be commitment to training and learning your skills. There also has to be courage to sometimes put doubts to one side and just go for it. Sarah Biggs at Dynamite does a few things in training that I really like and they’re based on removing that fear of getting it wrong and being self-conscious. Obviously, I don’t want to give Sarah’s techniques away so I can’t say more than that.
is for kinesiology which is the study of human movements, performance, and function by applying the sciences of biomechanics, anatomy, physiology, psychology, and neuroscience. Athletes need to know what the body can do because the over-protective brain will always try and tell us we can’t do certain things. The brain has a safe working limit which tells us to stop way before what we can actually do.
I also use another strategy I’ve developed called D3 which utilises Determination, Discipline and Dedication. I try to make each strategy easy to remember so it’s easy for athletes and coaches to recall.
As well as KICK-ASS and D3, I also do training for coaches on mental wellbeing of athletes and I teach the signs and symptoms of the mental health issues that are common to the demographic they work with. I’ve developed a technique called ‘Sensory Bombardment’ which helps restore the balance of the brain’s emotional reaction which is pretty good to start people off with. I’ve been using it for around seven years now and it’s very popular and effective because it’s actually a fun thing to do.
Thank you, Richard for sitting down and talking to us that was such a informative interview. Please find below testimonals from Coventry Dynamite, Airborn Nitros and TCA Tycoons
If you would like to find out more about Caric Care please follow the social media platforms below. Testimonials from teams Richard has work with in the past .
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Team: Coventry Dynamite
Position: Managing Director
Name: Sarah Giggs
We have had the pleasure of working with Richard on two occasions now, he comes down to our weekend training sessions for our Worlds teams. I think that Richard is a great asset to any team; as coaches we are so focused on the end goal, the competition, that I think it can be very easy to let the mental welfare of your team pass you by. Richard comes in and talks to the team as a whole and also does separate one to one sessions with those we think may benefit, or those who request it. He speaks about coping strategies for mental blocks, about ways to combat pre competition stresses and also about how to go about managing all of those external influences on mood and performance that we so often miss as coaches.
One of our key demographics at Coventry is young females aged 11-16 years, I personally think that social pressure on these young people is huge, having a safe haven in the gym where you know you are not going to be judged, where you can really relax and learn how to become the best version of your self is fantastic. Having Richard around at practices adds to what we can offer as a program, we want to build a team that has great chemistry, not necessarily the worlds best athletes, but a team that really clicks, where everyone can be themselves and be happy to be at practice and excited embrace and share the amazing experiences that lie ahead.
I would 100% recommend the service Caric Care provide. It has helped many in my program already and I’m sure will continue to do so. As coaches we know that well balanced, calm, happy, passionate and anxiety free athletes will help us achieve our end goals. I look forward to working more with Richard and to where this partnership will lead, I hope that many more of you have the pleasure of working with him in the future.
Team: Airborn Academy
Name: Jules & Mart Tsang
We were lucky enough to meet Richard from Caric Care in September 2016 and from the outset absolutely loved his ideas on how he can help our athletes and coaching team by using sports psychology and performance coaching.
Richard has a wealth of experience working with children and adolescents in a mental health capacity including at Alder Hey Children’s NHS Trust as well as in schools and dance academies.
Whilst our coaches focus on the physical side of cheerleading, Richard’s focus is on our athlete’s minds to positively enhance their mental wellbeing to build confidence, overcome obstacles and help them reach their full potential.
He has been working weekly with our teams and his input has been invaluable. The athletes and coaches have loved having him as part of the coaching team and are really open to trying his techniques.
He helps our athletes develop strategies to mentally prepare them for training and competitions with a sound mind set. He provides guidance on how to cope with the pressure of competitions, to overcome anxiety and nerves and he has worked with some of our athletes on a one to one basis to provide support on how to get over those dreaded metal blocks.
Cheerleading is such an exciting team sport but can be tough with all the disciplines it incorporates and is reliant on all athletes in that team committing and contributing to their full ability to create something special. Those 2 ½ minutes on the mat at competitions are a result of hours of training in the gym. We want our athletes to really enjoy their training, give it their best and above all, believe in themselves. Richard certainly helps us achieve that by promoting a healthy self-esteem and giving them the tools and techniques to maintain focus and stay in a positive mindset.
We are looking forward to the rest of the season working with Richard.
Team: Tameside Tycoons Cheerleading Academy
Position: Head Coach
Name: Jane Wood
Thank you for all your help to TCA, for the strength and encouragement you have given to help gain confidence and make the dancers and athletes overcome any obstacles that stand in their way.
Thank you for all you have brought to TCA. You have given support and encouragement to all our