Dear Mini Parent sitting at our gym during every practice:
I see you and I see your daughter and I’m so glad you both are here! I’ve been where you are many years ago and I’ve felt what you feel and my daughter has felt what your daughter is feeling now.
I remember the excitement of being new to cheer and I remember my daughter loving and breathing cheer to the point of exhaustion.
I remember being in awe of all the “big girls” and all their amazing skills. I couldn’t wait to have my child on those big teams. I couldn’t wait to have her do a back handspring and go to those “big competitions”! She couldn’t wait either. She looked up to those big girls and talked every day about getting to that next team.
We were obsessed with cheer, it became our life…. I wanted her to progress and I wanted to help her… I was there too at practice every time, watching, making sure she was doing well.
I get it, I get where you are but I want to share something that changed me….
I see when your daughter looks over at you for approval during practices and I see the frustration on your face after she has fallen from a stunt or hasn’t gotten that tumbling skill. I get it, it’s frustrating when you know they can do it!
But…. I see the defeat in your daughter’s eyes at seeing your face. Do you notice that in her?
I notice when she runs to you excited about something and I hear you greet her with an endless set of reminders and to do “tips.” Do you notice her grow quiet with stress at your response to her excited greeting?
I see you before and after competitions giving tips and critiquing her. Do you notice the stress growing in her face?
I hear you discussing with other cheer moms in front of your girls about the team’s chances of winning at competitions and I sometimes hear the negative comments about the team, certain girls, the difficulty level of the routine and so on. Everyone loves to win a competition but have you noticed the stress in your children’s faces when they hear your discussions?
I see your Facebook posts of her tumbling practice at home. Is she running and playing outside too? Is her life balanced so she doesn’t burn out in three years?
I hear you comparing your daughter to other girls. I know that your are just trying to motivate her but do you see that sad look in her face because she doesn’t feel good enough?
I even hear some of you put down girls/kids who aren’t as skilled as your daughter. Do you notice that your daughter is listening and is starting to copy you and treat those girls/kids poorly too?
I hear you complaining about your daughter not being “moved up” tumbling classes in front of her. How is that making her feel?
I hear you gossiping about the coaches and owner blaming them for holding your child back. How does that make your child feel about the coaches they look up too? Is it making her lose the joy of cheer? Is it making her resent her gym, her coaches?
I see your unhappy, unspecific social media posts about the gym, about practices that everyone understands. Is that causing stress for your daughter? Is it making your daughter an outcast because no one likes negativity and drama?
I’ve been there dear mom….. I understand… let me tell you Why…
I will share with you something that I don’t share often with others because it is embarrassing about my daughter’s time as a Mini.
We were at a different gym at the time. I WAS that Parent for a time. I coached my daughter from the sidelines. I critiqued her skills, I frowned at her from the bleachers when she wasn’t doing well. I lectured her when she messed up on the competition floor. I made her and allowed (yes some of it was her wanting to) her to practice for hours at home.
I caused that same defeated look in my own daughter’s eyes. I caused that same stress in my own daughter’s face before competition with what I thought was helpful “tips.”
I let my child’s life become nothing but cheer and forgot to make sure she balanced her childhood.
I will also admit that I compared my daughter to other girls and caused the same sad look in my daughter’s eyes and yes although I’m embarrassed to admit it… I was that mom who put down others in front of my kid.
To this day, I regret that I was that person.
I have complained endlessly in front of my daughter when I felt my daughter wasn’t being “moved up” in tumbling classes when I thought she should be.
I made her feel like she wasn’t good enough because she wasn’t being moved up. I blamed the coaches and owner of the gym. I made her lose respect for her coaches and gym because of my comments. I gossiped to other parents and blamed them for “holding my child back.”
I made her resent her gym because she felt like she was being cheated out of something. I posted on social media unspecific posts that everyone knew was about the gym just to vent my frustration. I made my daughter an outcast because I was seen as a negative and “drama” parent and no one wanted to hang around me or her.
Yes, I was THAT cheer mom and what was worse my daughter was learning from me!!!
Competition sure can bring out the worst in a person can’t it?
So dear Mini Parent….. I’ve been there…. I was you and I know that you don’t mean to and I know that your motivations are pure. You want to help your child. You want your child to succeed. You want them be happy. You want them to progress! We all want that for our children! I don’t blame you at all….
The thing is….
I share all this to tell you what happened next….. one day my daughter (after a particular bad practice at the end of her last year on mini’s, when I was basically berating her on the way home) told me very calmly and very quietly that she wanted to quit cheer.
I knew she was serious because of the way she said it and the way she looked at me. It took the air out of my lungs.
When I asked her why? The reasons she told me brought me to tears.
With tears in her eyes she told me that she’d felt like she’d never be good enough, she told me she just wasn’t a good cheerleader. She basically told me in her nine year-old words that she felt like she would never meet MY expectations. She also told me she wanted a life beyond cheer.
In that moment I realized that I had stolen the JOY of cheer from my child with my endless critiquing, endless comments, endless drama (yes it was drama) and endless coaching….
It was in that moment, dear Mini Parent that I realized that I had spent so much time trying to “push” my child to be the best that I had stopped being her parent and doing what I was supposed to do.
I realized I had become a person and parent that I had never wanted to become.
It was my job to motivate and encourage– not to critique and coach.
It was my job as her parent to keep her spirit up, to smile at her, to hold her even in her tears and tell her she is wonderful.
It is my job to help her keep the JOY of cheer leading alive.
I realized that to me my child always IS good enough and should always see that in my face when she looks over at me in the middle of practice or comes off the competition floor.
She should always hear that she is good enough in the words I say. I shouldn’t be coaching her from the sidelines when she runs to greet me. I should be greeting her with the same excitement that she greets me!
She should ALWAYS know that I support her and that no matter where she is or what skills she has that I am proud of her.
My child should be allowed to be a child too because of course we all know the stage of childhood is ever so short and goes by so fast…
It is my job as her parent to make sure her life is balanced so that she does not become burned out by any one thing.
It is my job to support her real coaches, her gym and their choices not to question them constantly. They are the ones trained to do this job. I learned that they do truly love my child and have her best interest at heart.
It is my job to lift up the other girls on her team and teach my child to do the same.
It is my job as a cheer mom/parent to help her LOVE cheer with all of her heart and soul NOT to suck the joy from her sport.
So… the day my daughter told me she wanted to quit cheer was the day I stopped giving her tips from the sidelines. It was the day I stopped asking her to practice at home and started requiring her to be involved in more activities other then cheer. It was the day I stopped sitting at practice every single time. It was the day I started smiling at her when she looked over at me during the times I did stay. It was the day I started telling her what she did right even when she messed up on something on the competition floor.
It was the day I started leaving the coaching to the coaches and I started being a cheer parent. I started being positive about her coaches and gym. I started praising her teammates and encouraging her to do the same. I was optimistic and not pessimistic and when others complained to me, I shut it down quickly with positivity.
It was hard at first and it took real effort because the ugliness of competition wanted to rear its head especially during every tryout season and I can’t say that I’m perfect.
There are times when I still become frustrated but I can say that over the years I have learned more positive ways to problem solve my frustration.
Sports and competitive sports are hard dear parent and it only gets harder from here as the level of competition gets higher.
I can promise you though, that if you make an effort to get a handle on the “cheer mom/parent” thing you will see a lasting positive difference in your daughter/son and in yourself and you will gain amazing things from this sport.
My daughter? After a long talk and a lot of tears from us both…. I convinced her to give me one more try at this cheer mom thing and she did.
It took time for my daughter and I. It took time for her to trust me again as a sports mom, but I started seeing a change in her confidence level and do you know what? She actually started progressing faster with the new positive me then with the old “negative cheer mom” me!
My daughter is thankfully still cheering and guess what? She has all the skills we desperately wanted her to get as Mini. She got her back handspring and several skills after that. She made the team we wanted her to make and she’s even been to Summit twice!
My daughter has found the JOY in cheerleading again and I have too because I have learned to be her parent and NOT her coach. She is happy, I am happy. Practices and competitions are WAY more fun and we are so very close as mother and daughter.
Oh and by the way….. I am also a lot less stressed out 🙂.
So dear Mini Parent, I see you and I understand that this sport is exciting to you and your child. I understand the pull of wanting your child to do well and to get that next skill. I understand wanting your child to be the best, I’ve been there.
Trust me, from a parent who has been there, I promise you, given time your child WILL get that next skill and your child WILL move up to that next level or class.
Eventually, your child will make that team and go to those big competitions. (And truth be told- you will miss just going to those little local ones because those big ones are exhausting and soooo expensive! LOL)
I can tell you after they have become senior aged….. There will be lots and lots of days, you will look at your photos from these Mini days and cry and just wish you had one more competition with them as a mini.
So don’t rush them dear parent. Let them be little and let them do it in their time. Let them be proud of that back walk over and forward roll for awhile longer. Most of all, let them cheer with the excitement, JOY and passion that comes with being this age and not with stress and anxiety that comes with being pushed too hard to progress and to be the best. It will pass all to quickly and one day you will wish they will be this little again.
Relax and just enjoy your child fellow cheer mom/parent. After all, this sport is about so much more than winning and being the best isn’t it?
A senior cheer parent
This post written by a friend of mine, a counselor who has several children that cheer. She is an amazing person with a great heart.