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Cheer Parents Should Think More Like Hockey Parents

Cheer is a sport. It’s our sport, and we love it. And like all other youth sports there are a variety of levels of play, so that children and teens of all skill levels and ages, can participate in the sport they love.

Apart from being a cheer coach and co-owner of CheerStrike Royals, I am also both a cheer and hockey mom. I’ve lived for many years in both realms of sport. What I’ve observed is that cheer parents should think more like hockey parents; let me explain…

While placing athletes on our teams for the upcoming season we often come up against a line of thinking that is unique to the cheer world, and frankly detrimental to the sport of cheer and the development of its athletes.

This detrimental line of thinking goes like this; athletes and parents expect that after a season training and competing at one level they should be ready to train and compete at the next higher level. They think that if they don’t “progress” into a higher level of competing, participating on a team for that season is a “waste”.

Let’s look at how youth hockey works in order to explore why this is the wrong way to perceive progress in sport and why this perspective only sets children up for disappointment and to give up on sport. Sport has the ability to play a vital role in the healthy development of all children and continued participation in it should always be the goal.

In hockey, all kids start out at the house league, or recreational level. At a certain age the option for a more competitive level of hockey is offered. Many kids tryout in communities all over Ontario, but only the kids ready for that level of training and competition are placed on the competitive team, most kids remain on house league teams. Players most often remain playing hockey at the house league level for many years. They don’t give up on the sport they love because they didn’t “progress” to a higher level of play; they commit to their teammates and train hard at their appropriate level and progress in skill, experience and character development because that is what sport does for kids at any level of play. This progress is always worthwhile, and never worth giving up on.

Maybe your little hockey player plays house league hockey for many year and at the age of 12 or 13 their ability to focus improves or they have a growth spurt and gain some strength and speed they didn’t have before. Maybe some of the most skilled players on the competitive team move on to an even higher level of play, resulting in some space on the competitive team for your child, who is now ready, to fill. That accomplishment is only achieved by staying in the sport, playing every season, even at the house league level, and giving your best to each team you’re placed on and your individual training in the sport. This is the natural progression of most youth sports.

Most hockey parents and players I know don’t go into a new season expecting their child to move on to a higher level of play simply because they completed a season at the house league level. If their child was one of the top players on their house league team, then it’s understandable to hope for a higher level of play. If not, they are happy to play at the same level for the sake of playing the game.

In cheer we need to start accepting this line of thinking in order to avoid disappointment or the harming of skill progression and self-confidence in our young athletes:

1. It is normal to remain at the same level of competition for multiple years.

2. Training and competing at the same level for multiple years allows for safe and meaningful skill development and progression.

3. Only those athletes (and it’s usually a minority of athletes) who are ready in skill, mental strength and maturity will move on to a higher level of play.

4. You have not “failed”, and your season was not a “waste”, if you don’t move on to a higher level of play each season.

5. If you love the sport – remain in the sport, no matter the level. You will progress, and learn; you’ll develop character, and gain experiences and friendships along the way. This is the point of youth sport, no matter the level of play.

It is up to parents to help shape your child’s perspective on sport and what defines success and failure in sport. Let’s be a community of parents who support one another in dismantling the harmful line of thinking…success = moving up a level, failure = staying at the same level. Instead let’s cheer our children and their teammates on no matter how fast or slow they progress. Let’s detach our own success as parents from how fast or slow they progress.

Progression is the name of the game in all youth sport. And the most important progression is that of physical development, social responsibility, good sportsmanship, and self confidence. Do not take away all your child has achieved each season of play by narrowly defining success and failure based on level progression. Let’s work together to celebrate everything they achieve every time they show up and give their sport their very best.

Hockey and Cheer parents alike want their children to stay in sport and hope that sport plays a role in their children becoming their best possible selves. This does not require a particular level of play; it simply requires that you stay in the game, you stay humble, and you celebrate all forms of progress.

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