“Cheerleading is a metaphor for communication and people working together,” says Caitlyn Nelson of Cheer Factory/The Cheer Forge. The glass of water exercise, as shown in the photo, starts with explaining the task, and then each group communicates to work out their strategy. The bases have to maneuver the flyer through a full flip without leaving their hands and without spilling the water. It is very slow and usually results in some wet athletes. After the activity, athletes reflect on their group’s communication.
Communication is defined as the exchange of information, ideas, or feelings. If only it were that simple. All of the subtleties of word choice, facial expression, body language, etc. make communication as art as well as a science. In the highly interactive sport of cheerleading, there are many opportunities to develop communication skills one-on-one with team-mates, with stunt group members, and the entire team.
Caitlyn reflects, “When I think of communication in cheer, there are so many ways that communication is part of team practices, private lessons, and stunt circles. Athletes develop a chemistry to recognize each other’s cues. One person can make a comment that leads to a decision and everybody knows what they mean. That is golden.”
Caitlyn recalls being a coach with athletes who lack the confidence to speak up, and they are also lacking the vocabulary to work through difficult conversations. “I want to build that vocabulary that will help my athletes to have some scripts for creating positive conversations that lead to creative solutions.”
Cheerleading is a highly interactive team sport; talking is allowed and common even during a competitive performance. Being able to choose words the right words for the situation is a skill on the mat, and in life.
There are many forms of ‘mat talk’ such as spoken instructions, words of encouragement, and cheering each other on. Many of these verbal and non-verbal communications become part of the choreography of the routine.
A common coaching strategy is the stunt circle. Coaches take care to set up the expectations of only positive language, and then when the stunt hits, there is spontaneous applause! Again, both verbal and non-verbal communication is part of practice, and part of the gym traditions.