Competitive cheerleading is a tough business with a lot of competition. There is a definite emphasis on looking perfect, but a great deal of skill and athleticism required as well. How does that all fit in with a teenage girl’s self esteem?
Laurin Kobie, from Anthem, Arizona, has been involved in competitive cheer for more than 12 years – first as a competitor and now as a coach. She explains what is important in competitive cheer, whether it’s on par with other organized sports, and if she’d want her own daughter to be involved.
What are competitive cheer competitions like? Is it like football teams pre game with a lot of adrenaline and competitive energy?
Competitions are an extremely charged atmosphere, filled with competitive energy, drama, determination and some anxiety! Unlike most sporting events, our teams only have two minutes and thirty seconds to display a routine they have been preparing for weeks! I think that is what makes our performances so exciting. When your chosen team is up on the mat, you end up holding your breath through the entire routine hoping all their hard work translates into a winning performance and all the skills they’ve been trained to do go off without a hitch! I know this sounds like a lot of pressure, but if most cheerleaders are like me there is nothing like the adrenaline rush, and more reason why we do it!
There has always been a controversy over whether competitive cheer is a sport. What do you think and why?
I ABSOLUTELY think competitive cheerleading is a sport! Prior to competition season, athletes spend 4-6 months conditioning to endure such a physically demanding routine. In comparison to gymnastics, cheerleaders must also train to exhibit skills found in the floor exercise. Our stunts require athletes to use leg, arm, and core strength to lift, spin, flip and throw girls their own size into the air for very complex skills. Our flyers must condition muscle memory including balance, core strength, and flexibility to perform skills appealing to the eye of the audience. If that doesn’t sound tiring enough, each routine tests an athlete’s endurance with high energy dance and jumps sections which require a certain grace and refinement of a professional dancer! I am excited just talking about all these wonderful opportunities for athletes to excel and be confident in their skin!
Has competitive cheer changed over the years?
I wouldn’t quite describe the competitive cheerleading world as changing, because most competition score sheets and formats have remained the same. I can say the sport is rapidly growing in size and evolving to be even more challenging. The skill level of athletes continues to grow each season, and coaches ability to invent routine components that have never been seen before. Innovation is an important quality of a winning team!
When I have watched competitive cheer, I think it is amazing what the girls can do. But there also seems to be a lot of pressure for the girls to look perfect. Can you talk about how competitive cheer works for or against girls' self esteem? Would they be better off playing more traditional sports or do they get the same benefits as say, being part of a soccer team?
I have had an interesting perspective change in the last few years on this subject as I transitioned from athlete to coach. I could write my own short story about the positive influence cheerleading has been in my life as a young woman and young professional. Being on the cheer mat really encourages girls and boys to project confidence and feel comfortable in front of large groups. This helped me through college, professional interviews, and my new athletic ventures in bodybuilding and figure competitions. In practice and throughout each season, I learned lessons in accountability, conquering adversity, working as a team, and practicing flexibility in difficult situations. You learn how to be a person that your friends, family, and teammates can depend on; prove you will always show up and give your best effort.
I do think there is pressure on these athletes to achieve perfection, as this is the goal of our score sheet. However, the way in which the adults and coaches of these teams promote an atmosphere of camaraderie and teamwork to achieve perfection should be the louder theme. Only when athletes work together and show accountability for their part in the overall effort will success be achieved. Most importantly, these athletes absolutely love what they are participating in and have so much fun being on the competition mat! The passion, determination, and happiness is written all over those cheerleading faces!
I know you are just getting married this year! But down the road, if you have a daughter, would you encourage her to try out competitive cheer, and why or why not?
I know I will encourage my daughter to try out for competitive cheerleading down the road, but also try a larger variety of things. I would love for my daughter to one day be as passionate about this sport as I am. But more importantly, she will be able to decide what she wants to focus her energy on. If she loves and puts her time into anything as much as I have into cheer these past 10+ years, I will be extremely proud. I really believe participation in any type of athletic program is an irreplaceable asset for young children and young adults.
Tell a little bit about your background with competitive cheer (why you got involved, how long you've been doing it, what drew you to it).
I joined my first competitive, All-Star Cheerleading program in spring of 2003 and participated in two programs in Arizona through 2011. I originally started athletic activities of this vein including competitive dance and gymnastics at a very young age and in middle school was introduced to the world of competitive cheerleading by a close girlfriend.
She had participated in competitive cheerleading for one season, and I begged my mother for that entire year to let me join her! What was so appealing about club cheerleading is how it combines gymnastics, dance, and acrobatics such as stunting, into one activity. All my favorite particulars of the sports I was participating in at the time, were combined into a thrilling two-and-a-half minute routine. Another appealing quality of cheerleading that I did not realize at the time, was a child’s desire to be a part of TEAM and create friendships as opposed to the individual sports I had been involved in up until this time.
What kind of skills do you need to have to be successful in competitive cheer? How much do you have to practice? How does it differ than regular cheerleading?
If you want to be successful in competitive cheerleading, fundamental techniques learned in tumbling and dance classes are very helpful. I strongly believe my background in these areas helped me transition easily into cheerleading. I was also involved in school cheerleading programs, which gave a great foundation in basic cheerleading techniques of motions, dance and stunts!
Other cheerleading programs, which are usually experienced in pop warner football, middle and high school teams, and collegiate teams seem to have a different purpose. Though some teams do get a chance to attend competitions, they are few and usually end within a season. I am a fan of athletics including football and basketball, and did love supporting my school teams as a cheerleader on the sidelines. Competitive cheerleading became my primary focus as I grew older because it tested my personal athletic abilities and allowed me to perform at a higher level.
Like any high level sporting activity, passion and commitment of your time in practice truly reflects how successful you will be. Because cheerleading is reliant upon up to 36 functioning parts to achieve an end goal, your attendance to practices consistently is incredibly important. Currently, cheerleading is divided into six different levels, dependent upon age and difficulty of skills performed. At minimum, our cheerleaders are at practice five hours a week. At the peak of my cheerleading career, I was in the gym up to fifteen hours a week, perfecting my craft!
Finally, a history test question: Where did pom-poms come from?
I must admit I had to look this one up! I read they were first created in the 1930’s to improve showmanship in cheerleaders at high schools and universities. A little more appreciation was just created for the keepsake pom-poms I have from my high school! You learn something new every day.
Interview by Suzette McLoone Lohmeyer