In conversations with my “pre-teen” daughter and just listening to my cheerleaders talk and reading what they post on their twitter pages, it is clear to me that the time they spend in the gym is some of the most important time of their lives. Cheerleading is not only a great way to compete, stay in shape, and perform; but also a place where they belong.
To belong is something that I have notices most teenagers long for. To belong to what? The answer: anything. The reality is that they feel as if they don’t belong in this adult world. We as adults do not really take them serious and their voices are not really heard. Our ideas trump theirs, our knowledge is beyond theirs, and our reason is better. We make the rules, they follow them. We tell them where to go and expect that they do, whether or not we are going to take them there. We as adults expect them to “grow up” but refuse to allow them to act like adults. Granted, this is all for good reason (well maybe not all), after all we are supposed to be teaching them how to become adults. Do you as an adult remember what it was like being a teenager? I do, and I felt like nothing I did or said mattered, and that I really didn’t belong anywhere, so I had to try and fit in.
They change their hair, dress, attitude, friends, and whatever else they need to in order to fit in with someone. They often jump from one group to another just seeking acceptance. What could this cause other than stress? School work, home work, chores, boyfriends and girlfriends, thinking of the future, feeling like they can do nothing right, never being pretty enough, skinny enough, smart enough, funny enough, or especially cool enough; all of these things swim around in their head until the result is stress and depression. All of that to say: They need an escape. Escape from what? Stress of life.
That is where we come in, as cheerleading coaches and programs we must be a place where they can go to get away. A place where all that they are looking for can be found; acceptance for who they are, direction for who they will become, a place where they belong and add value to the environment. The gym should be a place where they don’t have to think about boyfriends or girlfriends, schoolwork or chores, what they will wear, or whether they will fit in. The gym is their escape. A place where their passion can be lived out, their stress can be let go, their goals can be reached, and their smiles can be real. The gym is where they overcome fears, break down barriers, and realize potential that otherwise would have laid dormant. As cheerleaders they belong to something bigger than themselves, they learn to be a part of a unit working together to achieve a common goal and build relationships around a common interest. The above also applies to the coaches.
As coaches we have the ability to give those hurting from difficult lives a place of peace and hope. It is our responsibility to keep our place their happy place. We posses the ability to create an atmosphere that allows them to escape their reality. It gives them the ability to think to that moment when they can be there and leave it all behind for the time they spend in the gym. Cheerleading is a place where they get to escape to in their minds during a time of trouble, their happy place. Cheerleading gives them what they are seeking so that they do not go and find those things in a destructive manner with destructive people.
Coaches and owners, I beg you to please not make your gym just another place for them to be stressed. Success will come to those who do what they love, it will come when they can enjoy being there and look forward to the time spent there. Give them hope, give them joy, provide for them an escape.