What is self-esteem? From a parent’s perspective, I place self-esteem in the center of a web of synonyms: courage, self-assurance, pride, self-reliance, dignity, self-respect, boldness, and having faith in oneself. These are the character traits I was hoping for when my daughter first registered for cheerleading. As a parent of a cheerleader and then a cheer coach, I attest that the interaction in cheerleading will build self-esteem.
External tangibles like trophies, medals and facebook likes can build self-esteem, but a wise coach places more focus in internal factors like personal growth, personal triumph and achieving individual goals.
A great tool cheer coaches can use is called E-tanks (the E- stands for emotional). The metaphor is that athletes arrives with an empty tank, and during cheer practice we want that tank fuelled up with good stuff like encouraging words and achievement of skills. The challenge is for the coach to change speech habits. Instead of using general comments like, “Nice jumps,” the coach will choose more specific words like “You have a really good toe point on your jumps!” Using specific language gives athletes a clear idea of what their strengths are with specific examples in mind.
Caitlyn Nelson of Cheer Factory/The Cheer Forge explains, “Self-esteem needs to be coached in order to create safety in a stunt. If athletes are lacking the self-esteem to speak up if a stunt does not feel right, then the whole group is at risk. All athletes need to know that their opinions count. In my experience as a coach, as the shy girl gains confidence in her abilities and knowledge of the sport, then she will develop the self-esteem to speak up.”
In the long-term, self-esteem helps athletes strive for what is most important in life. Having self-esteem is the opposite of being a people-pleaser. Athletes with well-developed self-esteem, are determined to seek personal fulfillment and career fulfillment on their terms and are able to resist external pressures. Having the self-esteem to speak in public, to apply for a dream job, to make a new friend, are all skills that are practiced in the safety of cheerleading on the mat, and then used off the mat.