AES Cougar Cheerleading

Coaching Youth Cheer teams

Coaching    Dance    Exercises    Jumps    Motions    Stunting    Tryouts   Tumbling

Tips for Managing a Younger Squad

Whether you are coaching Tinies, Minis, Pee Wee, or Middle School cheerleading, one rule stands above all others: You cannot be their friend. You can be friendly, but do not act like you are friends and part of the same social group. As the coach, you belong on a higher level in the social order of things so you need to act that way, otherwise your team will see you as a contemporary and will not follow your directions. After all, what kid lets another "kid" boss them around? So be firm about who is the boss and very clear from the beginning about the rules and the consequences for breaking them. Make sure they know if they tumble when it's not allowed and they risk running into someone and hurting them, then they have to ________. (Sit out for 3 minutes. Do ten push-ups and ten sit-ups, whatever is age-appropriate.) Consistency is the key. If you don't follow up you are sending an unclear message about what is and is not okay. You are also sending the message that it's okay to ignore the rules.

Be prepared for sulking, crying, foot stamping and so forth, but don't tolerate it. Calmly remind them of the rules for behavior and leave it at that. I had one who loved to run into the corner whenever she felt maligned. I learned that the more I tried to argue her back onto the mat, the more she fought and the more I gave up my power to her, thus making me weaker with all the kids. In her case, the best thing to do was let her have a few minutes to lick her wounds and get herself together, then say, "It's almost time to stunt (or tumble.) Only the people who are working now will get to do the fun stuff, so I guess Kid B will have to take Kid A's spot in her stunt unless she's ready to come back and finish her job." That always brought her running back in a hurry. So try to remember it's not about "winning" the argument with a child who has already reached her breaking point. It's about what will keep order within the group overall, and help the child to learn that if she chooses to sulk in the corner for half an hour, then she is also making the choice to miss out on something she likes to do.  (I am sure other coaches have many other effective ways of dealing with these problems, but this is the method that I have found works best for me and my program.)


Remember, these are little kids. They can only handle so much instruction time; one minute per year old they are at most, or you will lose their attention and the information you are trying to give them will just go in one ear and out the other. You can work longer with them when they are actually physically participating, but for sitting still and just watching/listening, keep it short and concise.

Because they are young, they are only so strong and coordinated. Don't be looking for fancy stunts because they physically can't do them yet. (Nor should they, without proper training in stunt progressions.) And don't expect perfection in motions. Not all of them are going to match positions or hit or clap at the exact same time.


Get them settled and focused on you by using a whistle, a special call and answer chant, or some other attention getting tactic. Once all eyes are on you, be explicitly clear when explaining how to do cheer skills, #1 for safety reasons and #2 to prevent frustration. Watch their faces closely when they are working. You don't want melt downs, and you don't want someone to go home hating cheering and vowing to never come back. With some younger kids, you may need to get behind them and actually move their arms and legs for cheers, jumps, or dances, until they get it on their own. You want each kid to have fun and be successful, so don't set them up for failure by not explaining things well enough to them and then leaving them to think it's their fault they aren't getting it. And if you do find yourself in that position, be sure to tell the kids it was your fault for not explaining better and making sure they understood what their job was, and then apologize for it. That way not only are you correcting a problem that you caused, but you are also demonstrating to the children how to own up to mistakes in a mature manner.

Watch out for a need to constantly correct them. They can only take in so much information at once, and to rattle off a list of things that need to be fixed just brings them down. So be sure that you only give them one or two things to correct, and follow up with something they are good at, even if it's just, "I love your enthusiasm", "You're such a hard worker!," or "You have a super smile for cheering!" (You have to be sincere when doing this. Kids know a throw-away "compliment" when they hear one.) Also be aware that they tend to take criticism very personally. You can plant a seed for learning to take it more gracefully if you tell them this: "If I come into your house and straighten out a crooked picture hanging on your wall, would that make you cry? Would it make you mad? Of course not! And the same should go if I or another team member straightens out your high V, or toe touch, or dance moves. Don't take constructive criticism personally, but please do listen to it and learn from it." (You may find it best not to let other kids do the correcting, but do it yourself to prevent problems with kids who don't like being bossed by their peers.)

Always end the practice with a team meeting. Don't let them run out on you at the end. You need to make sure that they are responsible about cleaning up, and you also need to check in with them. Did they learn anything new today? Did they do well with something? (If you have a pretty small group, feel free to go down the line and tell each child what you saw them succeed at. Keep notes during practice if you think you will forget. You can also ask the kids what they saw their teammates succeed at that day.) And ask them what they need to work on. I've never had one seriously say, "Nothing." They have a pretty good idea of at least one thing they can be working on alone or as a team. Team meeting is also the time to hand out papers because usually parents are there to take them.

Planning Practice

Always come prepared with a written plan. I like to suck them in with some fun stuff like watching a cool routine on video or playing games before putting them to work, or make them have so much fun they don't know that they are working. For warm-ups you could just dance like you are at a party. Or you could do relay races which develop their skills, like these. You could also teach them Little Sally Walker (lyrics). Be sure to always give them a good stretching session. I like to push a teeny bit more than you normally do for a regular stretching before exercise because I want them to gain flexibility. No more than 10-15 minutes for the warm-up and stretching combined.

If you are cheering for a sports team you need to get right on motions, jumps, and cheers. Teach them the basics like standing clean and how to suck in the gut and the butt, roll the shoulders back and down, lift the chin and squeeze everything tight. Show them buckets, candlesticks, and blades. Point out how the thumb lies on the fingers, not sticking out away from them or curling up under them. Show them what broken wrists look like. Show them how to roll their shoulders back in their motions so they don't have flyaway arms or shrugged shoulders. Do hands on hips, claps, high and low V, T and baby T, and whatever else your most common cheer motions are (which should be really simple or you will lose them fast.) For jumps I start with the motions and counts, but we do pencil jumps for the first few times to concentrate on timing and arm position. I personally skip tucks and spread eagles and go to toe touches, pikes, and 9s. If you think that is too hard, then do tucks and toe touches.  I think that spread eagles make it harder for them to learn a toe touch later on, because they always throw their legs to the side instead of rolling their hips under.  5-10 minutes for motions, 10 minutes for jumps.

For their cheers plan to do maybe 5 or 6 max in one practice, say the words for one in chunks and get them to echo back to you. Do this a few times, then just show the motions for that cheer. If it's one with hand and foot motions, just do hands first. If it looks like it's giving them trouble, skip the feet. (Our cheers have gotten more and more basic as my team keeps getting younger and younger.)  Be flexible and ready to revamp something you are teaching them. It's more important for them to be successful at a level they can handle than fail at the level you wanted them to be. 10-15 minutes for cheers. Watch them for bored or fussy faces and lazy motions and cut it short if you start losing their interest.

For stunts, start with explaining what a stunt group is and each job, then do board and fall-back drills (on the mats so if someone falls they don't get hurt.) After that do a few spotting drills like wind in the willows and really emphasize how they should only catch from the armpits up because catching from the waist down just swings the flyer's head into the ground that much harder. Then you can slowly explain how to do a kneeling thigh stand. Check their positions, make sure everyone knows the counts, then do a few hands drills until the timing is perfect. Ask the kids where the weak points are in the stunt and how they can protect the flyer so they are thinking and evaluating the safety issues for themselves. I always back stunts when training new cheerleaders to make sure it doesn't fall and that everyone stays on time. After you get the bases, flyers, and fronts trained, then you can train the back spots and step behind them while they stunt. 20-30 minutes to stunt. (Videos really help kids learn faster because it's hard for them to translate cheerspeak into a visual. If you can bring a laptop you can use videos from the 'net to help show what to do. Remember, if you use videos you'll probably want to stunt for 30 minutes instead of 20.)

If you have any time left you can teach tumbling skills such as forward rolls, handstand kicks and clicks, and cartwheels. At the first practice send them down the mat one at a time and watch them carefully so that you can evaluate them. You may need to spot here and there because even a forward roll can strain their necks if not done correctly. Once you know who can tumble and who is a beginner, you can sort them out at future practices with beginners on the first mat strip and the rest spread out on the others, with the most advanced ones farthest away from the beginners. Don't believe them if they say they can throw a handspring or tuck. If you know how to spot then spot them so you can feel whether or not they can really do it safely on their own. If this is not comfortable for you, then have them get their tumbling coach to sign a note saying that they are ready to do them on the floor alone. 20-30 minutes to tumble.

Finally, end with cleaning up and a team meeting. This plan should more or less fill a 2 hour practice. If you have extra time and feel you would be pushing it to teach them more, go back to playing games or sit and talk or play ice breaking games to get to know each other and bond.

Need more information on how to coach a youth team? Don't miss these helpful resources.