I recently accompanied the University of Maryland Cheerleading team to the NCA College Nationals competition in Daytona Beach, Florida. This was my first visit to College Nationals, and it was an absolutely amazing experience. For anyone who is unaware, NCA Nationals is the pinnacle of college cheer competitions. The best collegiate teams in the nation descend on Daytona Beach, to battle for the coveted NCA banner and ring. I saw some awesome routines, and I also had the opportunity to expand my network of collegiate coaches and 'cheerlebrities' from across the country. Most importantly, I had the opportunity to witness what it takes to be a successful collegiate cheerleader. And, I want to share some of that information with you.
Collegiate warm-up rooms are vastly different then high school and All Star warm-ups. At NCA Dallas, one of the premier All Star competitions, the nerves are palpable: As soon as you step into warm-ups you can feel the anxiety. The warm-up room at UCA Nationals, one of the premier high school competitions, feels like the first day of high school. The NCA College Nationals warm-up room, however, had a practice-like milieu. Experience and maturity combine to create a fun, relaxed environment. Now, don't get me wrong. The college athletes still warm-up with maximum intensity and focus. They just seem to lack the overwhelming fear manifested in high school and All Star athletes prior to stepping on the floor.
So, what can you do to prepare yourself or your athlete for the collegiate level? My first suggestion is incorporating an at-home cardio regimen. I watched the University of Maryland team go full-out two times in a row. Nobody was laying on the floor afterwards. I didn't even see the girls breathing too hard. I spoke with one collegiate coach who said their team has gone full out 126 times (not including competitions) this year. So, I would highly suggest that you invest in a good pair of running shoes and endeavor to run 30 miles a month (i.e. 1 mile/day). The discipline associated with running consistently will not only carry over on the cheer floor, it will also carry over into the college classroom. I matriculated through Michigan State, as a member of the Honors College, and I can attest that waking up early to workout and study granted me with a competitive advantage over my peers.
Many colleges/universities are offering scholarships for cheerleading. As with most, if not all, scholarships, academics play a huge role. So, I encourage athletes to strive for a 3.5 (or higher) high school GPA. I also HIGHLY recommend that athletes study diligently for their standardized (i.e. ACT, SAT, PSAT) tests, and they take the tests multiple times. I took the ACT, for the first time, in 7th grade. I then took it three more times over the next couple years. My score rose from a 26 to a 30 because the more I took the test, the easier it became.
Finally, collegiate-bound athletes need to practice their tumbling on 'dead' floors: A dead floor is simply a cheer floor without springs. Many All-Star athletes become too dependent on spring floors, and they have a difficult time transitioning over to dead floor due to bad joints, lack of technique, etc. So, I suggest that athletes tumble on hard floor at least once a week. Very few colleges practice on spring floor, and even less compete on spring floor.
In the words of wise man, if you stay ready, then you will never have to get ready!