Over the past 25 years, competitive cheerleading has changed and evolved. 25 years ago competitive cheerleading did not have levels, there was no such thing as mega gyms or D1 and D2, MGA was just 1 of about 5 or 6 cheer gyms in the state of Georgia, and to be honest, parents simply wanted to get their kids involved in a fun activity to keep their child busy. Fast forward to today; cheerleading has become a highly competitive sport, with multiple progressional levels, D1 and D2 splits based on the number of athletes in your gym, there are mega gyms, and post-season events, and all of this has created a shift in cheerleading from a fun activity to a highly competitive sport.
MGA started in 1996, and was founded on 5 core values: Commitment, Determination, Discipline, Effort, and Family. We were proud to tell people our gym did not focus on winning. At our new team orientations, we would simply state “if you are looking for a gym that focuses only on winning, then MGA might not be the place for you.” 25 years later MGA still uses the art of cheerleading to teach kids our 5 core values. It really wasn’t until I learned a valuable lesson from a former MGA athlete, who later became a coach at MGA, that made these core values truly stick with our athletes today.
In 2014-2015 I remember sitting in my hotel room with Jessica (my wife) and one of my coaches and former MGA athletes by the name of Crystal Ayer. We had just competed at Worlds, hit a solid routine and for the 3rd time we did not advance to finals. I wasn’t upset because we did not advance. I was upset because of the looks on our athletes’ faces when they realized they did everything we asked, and it still was not good enough. I blamed myself. I was ready to sell the gym and give up coaching. I was at my lowest moment as a coach when I heard these words: “I told you people like to win!” and “Winning is fun!” I don’t know what my face looked like, but I am sure my face was turning red and steam was coming from my ears as I shouted, “do you not think I am trying to win? We are the only program from south of Atlanta here at Worlds!” The response that Crystal said next was like a dagger piercing through my heart, “YEA, BUT SHOULD WE?”
On the way home from Worlds I did a lot of soul searching, and I am sure I still was not speaking to Crystal. When I got home, I read the MGA mission statement over and over again. It was that moment and those words that pierced my heart, that I realized that for 19 years we had not been following our mission statement. Our goal was to build champions both in the classroom and on the floor. I quickly realized our mistake and why those athletes who had just attended the most prestigious competition in our industry were so upset.
For the first time I realized that for 19 years, we have talked about MGA’s core values, but we were not using them to teach our athletes. I realized that while I required our athletes to commit to a bare minimum standard, we were getting bare minimum results. While we always said we were determined to reach our goal, we were not determined enough to come in extra when stunts where not hitting or tumbling was not landing. We were disciplined and wore the same clothes, but not disciplined enough to to focus on the small details that we needed to be successful. While we always gave the effort that was asked at practice, we didn’t give the extra effort of stretching and practicing at home. While we said we were family, the head of the household was simply rewarding people because how long they had been at MGA and not based on what they had earned.
In 2015-2016 I committed myself to take a chance and change how we had been doing things for 19 years. The first step was to tell the athletes on our Worlds team that they had not been committed enough to be a Worlds level athlete and would be competing level 4. When asked “For how long?”, the response was “until they could show the commitment, determination, discipline, effort, and to hold each other accountable like a family member should.” By doing this we realized that kids that were simply placed based on time in the program, not based on their commitment, determination, discipline and effort. So, athletes would be asked to compete down from the level they were before. While we lost some very talented athletes who felt like they deserved to compete at a higher level; we quickly learned, by truly using our core values to teach kids, we were able win our first CheerSport National Championship since 2004. To see the excitement on the kids faces when they were called National Champions, made me realize that it wasn’t the winning that made them happy, it was realizing that winning was the results of the lessons they had learned.
Fast forward to today, MGA still teaches using our 5 core values. We expect our athletes to be committed to the goal that the organization sets out to accomplish. That means if an extra practice is needed to make sure the team is prepared, then they are expected to be there. If we have practice over the holiday break, they have to be there, or they will sit out for that competition. MGA teaches our athletes to not just be determined enough to hit their stunt, but be so determined that you practice until you can’t miss your stunt. We teach them that you must be disciplined enough not to just do that tumbling pass, but that you will not compete that tumbling pass unless you are disciplined enough to master that tumbling pass. MGA athletes are taught from the beginning the effort the day of skill evaluations isn’t as important, as the effort you give all season long. This consistent effort determines when you are ready for the next level. As a family we teach our MGA athletes to support each other, to make practice fun so that everyone enjoys coming to practice. We teach them to build relationships so in the event you need to call someone out for not living up to what we call being #MGASTRONG, then they realize it is out of love. It is only when everyone in the whole program understands and applies the 5 MGA Core Values, that winning becomes a result of their efforts.
It was those 4 words, “YEA, BUT SHOULD WE!” that made me realize just how important it is for kids to see the results from the lesson that we teach.