My Son Wants To Be A Cheerleader, And I Have Questions

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Jan 16, 2011
My son is turning 6 in May, and has wanted to cheer for the last 8 months. He's a huge Top Gun fan, however we don't live in Miami. Not even close, lol. My basic question is this, how on earth do I pick a gym? I've looked at the USASF member gyms around here, and I'm planning on going to a local competition this coming weekend to look at the gyms in action. I have a few more specific questions, as well. Mostly because I'm really not sure if he's ready for cheer. Thanks in advance for putting up with the paranoid future cheer mom.

Question 1: What should I be looking for technique-wise? I can tell when timing is off or there's something REALLY wrong with a routine, but that's about it. What are signs that an athlete is being pushed to throw skills they're not ready for? What are signs that the stunting/tumbling is safe/dangerous?

Question 2: My son is diagnosed with PDD-NOS (it's an Autism Spectrum Disorder). Sometimes, being in a group of people can be really stressful, and cause him to act out. Generally, a few minutes of time in a quiet area is enough to calm him down and get him back in the game. Is this even reasonable to ask a coach to put up with? I have no way of knowing how he's going to act on any given day. I understand that practices might get hectic, and that there just may not be time for this. We do have him in therapy to help with this, and the problem is slowly getting better. His therapist would like to see him do a group activity, but I want to make sure cheer is the right one for him (I'm debating just giving him a few more years, but my son has been begging to cheer, so he may just want it bad enough to fight to keep it going). If any coaches could shed light on if this is reasonable/what their approach would be, I'd really love some input.

Question 3: He also has some delays in motor skills. How big a problem is this at that age, and how might a coach approach this? The problems are mostly fine motor, but he does have some balance problems.

Question 4: Would taking a tumbling class at a gymnastics gym be a good addition to cheer, or just too much? We have a really great gymnastics gym close to our house, so I know he'd learn correct technique, but I don't want to overdo it.

Question 5: What can we do to prevent injuries? I know that a good cheer coach will do what they can, but is there something we should be doing at home?

If you've read all of this, you deserve a gold star. Thanks!
I'd say look into some gyms in your area. Visit each of them, take a tumbling class there if possible, see if you can talk to a coach or owner about the situation then make your decision. Where do you live? There is a list in the Wiki (link at top of page) of lots of all star gyms in the states with their websites. You could always try emailing specific gyms with your questions, you'll probably get better answers.
As a mom to a boy (but not a cheerleader), a teacher and former gym director....this is my advice. Ease him into it by signing him up for a once a week tumbling class. There is A LOT going on in the gym at once, and it may be way too much stimulation for him....there are coaches and kids talking, music playing, bodies flying, people jumping. Not to mention, some of the kids themselves are total spazzes (imagine an 8 year old girl sleep over...only there's 30 of them)...the squealing etc could send even the most patient person over the edge!
You don't want to sign him up for a team and have it be so overwhelming that he backs out and wants nothing to do with it. This also gives him the opportunity to build his skills and work on his motor skills.
I'm assuming with his diagnoses that he has either an IEP or a 504 plan at school. Make a copy for the gym. Many people don't share this info with their kid's coaches, and it can be a HUGE help to them! If it works for the classroom teacher, it will probably work for the coach. Also, if he's getting OT/PT at school, share those goals with the coaches as well.
Many kids who learn differently find that a sport is a great outlet for them, and gives them success where they may not always realize success in school. Also, sports are a place for them to be "the same" as everyone else....often times they are always the "different one" at school.
I really feel that easing him into this with a once a week class is the best thing. Also, if it doesn't work out-you didn't spend a ton of money on fees and uniforms etc and have him decide he doesn't want to do it.
start at a small gym ... that way you can always be personally helped :).. i started in a small gym ,, so its not a bad thing... just go to local gyms .. if your scard about autism .. try a special needs team .. there is nothing wrong with anything i have jus mentioned .. hes only 6.. he has almost 12 years to know where he need to be and learn skills :) goodluck
btw i read THE WHOLE THING.. my eyes hurt
Since I'm not a coach I can't answer all of your questions, but I can help you with questions 1, 4, and 5

1: With tumbling the main way to tell if a kid isn't ready to throw their skills is by how in control they are when doing it. If an athlete has mastered a skill then it should look completely in control. It's also easier to tell as the skills get more difficult, especially once they begin doing back tucks, layouts, fulls, etc. Another way is to look at their basics. Are their cartweels, roundoffs, and backhandsprings done correctly. Also make sure you watch the team as a whole to really judge their skills. Stunting is actually very similar. If the stunts are unsafe, you can often tell just by looking at the flier's face. If they look terriffied then they probably aren't ready to do the stunt they are doing and most likely neither are their bases. Control is also a good judge as to whether or not the stunt is safe.

4: Personally I say go for it. I started out as a gymnast and the technique that I learned has helped me so much when it comes to cheer. Also a gymnastics gym will probably focus more on strength then most cheer gyms, which will help him in doing his skills safely and prevent injury. A gymnastics gym will also teach him the values of perfection before progression which will help in the long run. Plus the tumbling classes might be a place to start before he starts cheering, it might help him get more comfortable in the type of atmosphere that he would be in.

5. At his age I'm not sure if there is something you could do at home, but as he gets older strength workouts would be beneficial and help prevent stress related injuries.

I hope all of this made sense and helps you make your decision. I wish you and your son the best of luck :)
Since it is currently midseason (try-outs and team placements usually take place in May), I would recommend taking advantage of the next few months to take some tumbling classes. While you can take them at a gymnastics gym, taking them at a cheer gym may give you a good opportunity to check out the atmosphere of a given gym. As far as gym size, just make sure there are enough children to support a Mini (age 8 & under) team at that gym. An age appropriate team will benefit your son the most. Make sure to visit the gym and observe the younger kids practicing, make sure they are having fun while practicing (the best mini-age coaches will do this).
I would start out at a small gym. I have ADD and issues like that. Being at a small gym helps. Try talking to the coaches you never know what they'll say!
I am not a coach-just a Mom. My son is 4 and this was his first year with allstar. My daughter is 11 and he's been watching her for the last few years and we finally let him do it. He absolutely LOVES it. I would definitely find a small gym that is willing to let him try it out, see how he does...maybe even over the summer to see if he really enjoys it. We are members of East Coast Majestic in Maryland, and we love it there-they care more about the kids than about anything else-including winning. It's been a great experience and my son is always asking "when do I have cheerleading?" Some competitions have gone better than others, but he always gets out there and does the routine! Best of luck!
Thank you to all for your thoughtful responses! Miss Bee, I never would have thought to give the coach a copy of the IEP, thanks for the idea. The top two gyms on my list both have youth teams, but only one has a mini team. One does have a non-competitive team that's month-by-month that I might look into as well. I think it's time I start visiting some gyms, and then I'll get him signed up for a tumbling class.
For question number 4, I would say go for a session or so of gymnastics/tumbling lessons.
They help ALOT.
I after leaving competitive gymnastics, and going into an all star gym the first cheer gym was teaching useless techniques that you could say "outdated" because they had no affect on girls there. Also after girls didn't have correct tumbling, and the coaches really needed it in the routine they would just say "whip it!" which is one of the worst things possible to do when you can't tumble a correct pass. And it taught addictive awful habits.
Definitely go to the gyms. Talk to the coaches, other parents. Watch a few practices. Putting him in a tumble class is a great way to get his feet wet. He might be better off on mini's (less stress, more kids his age) than a youth team. Best of luck, and welcome to this crazy world!