The best laid plans of mice and men, of coaches and athletes, of event organizers and sport organizations, often go awry. My intention was to write this weekly column and follow the annual cycle of the sport of cheerleading with some history, trivia, and trends thrown in for good measure. Since mid-March, the sport cheerleading now becomes the backdrop for other musings, demonstrating that sport is very much a metaphor for life.
Cheerleading is a highly photogenic sport. Choreography is punctuated by photo opps, typically the pyramid structures and stunting skills. I have many photos of triumphant pyramids, but no photos of a falling, or fallen pyramid. Unless a photo of a fall has some comedic value as a “blooper” it gets deleted.
Learning to fall is an important part of the curriculum in cheerleading. In the case of a fall, each athlete on the team has a specific duty in the catch. When athletes are young, their skills are closer to the ground, so the “catching” skills are easier. As stunts increase in complexity and height, the catching skills are part of every team practice. Stunt skills take hundreds of reps to master, so each skill that doesn’t hit becomes a chance to practice those catching skills. “Good catch!” says the coach.
For flyers, it takes super-human mind-control to resist the instinct to flail all four limbs during a fall. Flyers need to trust the bases to do their job. And, flyers must keep arms and legs tucked in, and core tight, so that they are easy to catch. The flyer’s pencil-like body position prevents injuries for all athletes.
When a stunt is coming down, there is that micro-second of planning time for athletes to prepare what they have been trained to do (even if they would rather be delivering a perfect routine). And then, the micro-second is over, and there is the thud of the fall. Bases will do their best to prevent the flyer from touching the mat.
In times of trouble, the people on the ground are trained to do their job. When a stunt is falling, the flyer needs to do as coached, tuck in, and maintain core strength so they are easier to catch and prevent the spread of injury of others nearby. Is sport a metaphor for life, or what?
Stay tuned for next week’s column, “How to Get Up.”