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Coaches' Corner: Win Generously, Lose Graciously, Develop Character Constantly

Rik Feeney
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The crowd roars with approval as your squad strikes the finishing pose of a flawlessly performed routine. Screaming and hugging are the order of the day as everyone celebrates the performance. The next and final group to perform, the only one with a chance of beating your squad to win the championships, passes by you on their way to take the floor. One of your younger squad members calls out to them, “Good luck, you’re going to need it!”

Later, while watching the performance from the audience you actually hear parents and some of your cheerleader’s saying things like, “I hope they fall during their pyramid so our squad wins.”

Wow! What’s going on here? Is this good sportsmanship?

I wouldn’t want any squad I coached to ever win by default or to publicly display such behavior. The point of entering a competition is to test your squad against another competitor of equal or even superior abilities. When you win, your squad really has some bragging rights. Defeating a weaker squad does nothing to test your preparation and training skills or demonstrate your squad’s competence.

However, when you lose, negative comments are always inappropriate, especially from cheer “leaders.” It is always disturbing to hear otherwise very nice people wishing negative consequences on worthy rivals. Sport psychologist Kimberly Lannon states that, “Even though cheerleaders and their coaches are the very definition of great spirit, energy and optimism, the emotional difficulty that arises after “not winning” might rear its ugly head in outward expressions of disappointment directly related to the perceived value of the competitive experience.”

Many athletes, parents and coaches may attempt to justify some negative actions as strategy, and some of their unfortunate comments as “letting off steam,” but the witnesses of such an experience might not be so accommodating in their judgment. Dr. Lannon asks, “How then do we encourage winning and losing in a healthy way? The disappointment that comes from the “win at all costs” mentality can be the complete undoing of a cheer squad if not addressed early and often.”

What does it mean to win?

W.I.N?
W.I.N? Stands for What’s Important Now? The answer is adopting the mission statement “win generously, lose graciously, and develop character constantly.” That is what is important now and at every competition.

Winning generously simply means that you coach your squad to always do its best in any competition, respect and learn from your competitors, and appreciate every performance remembering that every athlete is doing the best she can at the moment – in other words, every winner was once a beginner.

Losing graciously means congratulating your opponent for providing a competition that gave you an insight into areas that need improvement. A loss to an impressive opponent can still be chalked up in the win category if your squad achieved a personal best or simply demonstrated a higher level of performance.

,b>Developing character constantly is demonstrated by not giving up, by overcoming obstacles, and keeping a good attitude whether your squad wins or loses. Your athletes will look to you for clues on how to respond. A quote from Ken Blanchard and Don Shula in The Little Book of Coaching , says it all, “Victory if possible, integrity at all costs.”

The primary role model in cheerleading According to sport psychologist, Dr. Kimberly Lannon of Game Face Consulting , “Coaches are incredibly influential in the lives of cheer squad members. Coaches are on the front line and often become the primary models of good, bad, or indifferent attitudes and behaviors. What a coach says or doesn’t say, productively or negatively, through words or non-verbal gestures and even posture will be mimicked and reproduced by cheer team members.”

Dr. Lannon cautions, “As the coach, you have a responsibility to model appropriate ‘manners and behavior’ on the floor before, during, and after any event, including practice.” Lannon suggests the cheer coach ask him or herself this question, “What impact will my behavior have on my cheerleaders if I say or do this?”

The storyline of the movie Rocky is appropriate to this topic. A down and out boxer in Philadelphia is offered a chance in the ring to box the world champion Apollo Creed. Didn’t Rocky win just by standing toe to toe with Apollo Creed even though he lost the fight? Although Apollo Creed won the fight, didn’t he lose in his own estimation and in the eyes of the public and the boxing community by not being able to convincingly and overwhelmingly win over Rocky? Have you and your squad had some “Rocky” moments?

While the definition of winning is, in part, determined by the goals of the competitive system, the desires of the athlete and coach, and the scoring/judging system used, it is mostly a byproduct of attitude and a belief in the ability to constantly improve. No single competition or performance ever defines a squad. Any performance is simply that, a one-time presentation of skill, not an albatross of shame to carry with you to the next competition.

Sportsmanship is something all children learn and model by watching the significant adults in their lives; Mom and Dad, relatives, teachers, and coaches to name a few. As a coach, you must model the behaviors you expect from your squad, however, specifically educating parents and squad members before the competitions begin can prevent some difficult situations.

Sportsmanship Guidelines
Educate parents and athletes on the rules and scoring system.

Judge the outcome of the performance from the child’s (and the squad’s) perspective, her personal goals, contribution to the squad, and current ability level.

An athlete’s performance should have no impact on parent’s self-esteem or the athlete’s self-esteem. A performance is a momentary demonstration of skill; not a label defining the whole child or her upbringing.

Set goals for the squad with input from the cheerleaders and their parents. Make everybody a part of and responsible for the achievement of a worthy ambition.

Behavior is always a choice for which your team members must take responsibility. Be supportive, acknowledge disappointments, but maintain zero tolerance toward unacceptable behavior.

By your actions, model appropriate behavior at practice and at competitions. Demonstrate genuine concern, interest, and appreciation not only for your squad but also for competitors, even if they are your archrivals.

Tailor competitions and performances to fit your squad’s age and abilities, but also teach them rebounding skills. In basketball, a player might miss a first shot so the ability to remain focused and rebound or follow through and take another shot is important. Role-play winning, losing and developing character daily by hosting mock competitions and discussing your athletes’ feelings about being in each position and how to deal with it. Go into any gym and look at the wealth of trophies lining the walls. The very icons of achievement fought so hard for in one brief moment of time are literally put on a shelf and forgotten until they are covered with cobwebs and dust. Memories, character and the shared experience are all that count in the end, so teach your squad to win generously, lose graciously and develop character constantly.

Rik Feeney, author of Gymnastics: A Guide for Parents and Athletes, is also a former gymnast, coach and private gymnastics club owner. He condenses over thirty years experience working with gymnasts from novice to elite level into easy-to-read books and reports for gymnasts, cheerleaders, parents, instructors and coaches. His latest book, Back Handsprings: The Secret Techniques is available at:

www.GymnasticsTrainingTips.com Feeney recommends the following additional resources: An interesting and enlightening new survey sponsored by the Josephson Institute and titled, The Ethics of American Youth available online at www.josephsoninstitute.org/reportcard

A great position paper titled, “Coaching the Parents” with several additional resources listed for developing sportsmanship in your program on the AAHPERD site at: Coaching the Parents.pdf and the following Web sites: www.charactercounts.org and www.kindness-counts.org




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