For a great many reasons, it may be a good idea to begin an active campaign to turn your team gymnasts into local heroes. Many gymnastics teams lose team members to high school and even Jr. High School cheerleading programs. Many gymnasts have friends who can’t understand where and why they disappear everyday for hours on end and can’t hang out. Some gymnasts eventually wonder why they are working so hard everyday and getting so little reward in return for all that time and work. Each of these is a reason to put a little reality into the picture and get your gymnasts the respect and attention they deserve.
Gymnasts Lost to Cheerleading
Gymnastics teams traditionally have lost excellent team members and even future potential champions to regular cheerleading programs. This is not because the gymnasts expect to learn more there. It is not because they think they will learn new skills. Let’s face it, most gymnasts could go through the whole try outs on a beam and make the squad easily with their current skills and never need to learn any new tumbling. Gymnasts can develop friendships in either a gym or a cheerleading program, so that is not the reason.
The primary draw of cheerleading is that it gives the gymnast peer recognition on a regular basis. Every week at the game the whole school sees them perform, if not at a high level, certainly extremely competently and in one way or another that gets them noticed. Peer respect and recognition is one of the tenets of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. After basic survival needs are met, humans crave recognition. Cheerleading gives gymnasts recognition to an extent that they are not currently getting in a regular team program.
Recognition is Often Sadly Lacking in Gymnastics
While they may have the respect of their teammates on the gymnastics team, that pales in comparison to recognition throughout their whole school. Even a gymnast’s closest non-gym friends often have no clue of the level of work, commitment and skill level the gymnast has committed to. Even national and international success sometimes does not receive much more coverage than the local softball league, where the most athletic accomplishment is not spilling your beer while you try to catch a flyball.
Recognition is a Primary Motivator
Gymnastics, in the long run, might seem to provide obviously more self-fulfillment in the hierarchy of needs, but self-actualization is the highest level and the lower levels must be met, before the higher levels come into play. So if gymnasts are not getting sufficient recognition, they may opt out to a lower level program in order to first meet that need. And, unfortunately, this is a choice they may ultimately regret making, even if the regret is some years down the road.
Help Your Gymnasts Earn the Recognition They Deserve
Enough of the theoretical basis for doing it. What practical ways exist to provide gymnasts with the recognition they rightfully earn by training year-round, 5 – 6 days per week, for hours per day and for reaching a high percentile of athletic success? If you are losing gymnasts to cheerleading, can that cycle be altered?
Begin an Active Campaign
The solution is to actively create a campaign to raise the exposure of your gymnasts in the local community and media. One of the most successful and productive methods of doing this is to sponsor and regularly participate in gymnastics exhibitions. Exhibitions in a school setting are the best – high school basketball half times, school assemblies, PTA meetings and events, school fundraiser events and the like are ideal. They target the same peer group that cheerleading does.
Gymnastics exhibitions at school related functions put the gymnasts in front of their peers in a positive situation as the focus of attention and show off their relative high competency level. Even at other school sport events, like half-time exhibitions, the gymnastics is the complete focal point for a significant period of time. Gymnasts may get even more temporary attention than the cheerleaders get, working primarily around on the sidelines, as they do and at a lower level of skill.
Cheers for Your Gymnasts
In fact, it is not uncommon for cheerleaders to eventually become support for your gymnasts to stay where they are. Cheerleaders know more than most about the difficulty level of skills gymnasts are doing. They are doing low level gymnastics and have tried to do more and been comparatively unsuccessful as compared to your team members. They often will go out of their way to congratulate gymnasts and share how they wish they could do what your team members are doing.
Do Basketball Half-Time Shows
You should actively work to do a high school basketball half-time show at each of the high schools in your area every year. Work to get on the schedule of the games when the biggest rivalries, especially cross town rivalries, happen. There may be thousands of people watching your gymnasts at a game like that. That certainly beats Mom and Dad and Grandma being the sole cheering section at a local gymnastics meet.
Do Mall Exhibitions
At least two shows per year should be scheduled at the local malls, especially during the busy Christmas shopping season, where it is easy to draw a crowd. Block off a big area in the middle of the mall and set up for tumbling, trampoline, mini-tramp, etc. At the mall, unlike a half-time show, you have time to set up an extensive amount of equipment. This means you can do more and your exhibitions can be longer (45 minutes to an hour).
Do Smaller Exhibitions
While high profile exhibitions are great, there are plenty of opportunities to perform on a smaller scale. Exhibitions give your gymnasts an opportunity to perform in situations where it becomes obvious that they can do what almost no-one else can do. 99.9 % of the people in the world can not even begin to do a back handspring. They will all be impressed if your gymnast does.
Help Out Other Organizations
Smaller crowds can be found most anywhere if you look. Local indoor and outdoor events, gym classes, church events, other non-profit organization fundraising events, etc., etc., etc. All of them are looking for entertainment and gymnastics is entertainment. Help out others and give your gymnasts a chance to shine at the same time.
And the Crowd Goes Wild
In a gym or meet situation, everyone can do back handsprings and more and it is difficult for a gymnast to gain a true perspective on their relative skill in comparison, not just to gymnasts, but to the average person in the world. No one is going to be sitting and deducting for minor performance errors at an exhibition. They will be cheering wildly for a long series of back handsprings. This is actually a truer picture of their relative skill than is their score at a gymnastics competition.
Show Off Your Gymnasts’ Strengths
Exhibitions and shows give you the chance to highlight your gymnasts’ and team’s strengths. You can concentrate on presenting what they do well and look good doing without having to perform particular compulsory elements and optional requirements. They can look their best.
It’s a Lot of Work, But Well Worth It
It’s a lot of work, but an effort should be made to perform n an exhibition on average once every month. Enlist team parents to do the heavy work – moving equipment, transporting the gymnasts, etc. They will become a strong workforce once they see the smile on their child’s face they get from participating. As they continue to see the benefits their children receive from exhibitions, they will gladly and regularly help out. They may not even mind telling a few people in the audience, “That’s my daughter.” and get a little recognition themselves.
Actively Seek Media Coverage
Convincing the media to cover gymnastics on an ongoing, regular basis could be a full-time career on its own. Regardless, every opportunity should be taken to promote your athletes and special promotion efforts should be undertaken. This is not intended as a marketing seminar but the following types of campaign strategies should be undertaken and every naturally occurring opportunity should be taken advantage of.
- Professionally prepared press releases.
- Press kits with gym, coach and gymnast information.
- Early notification to all media outlets about every local and national gymnastics event.
- Availability for special interest stories about individual.
- Generate and publicize your own internal gymnastics awards.
- Publicize meet results.
Good for the Gym, Good for the Gymnasts
All of this “publicity” is good marketing for the gym, also, but special effort should be made to gain for your gymnasts the recognition they have earned with their time and hard work. With a year-round exhibition schedule and media plan, your gymnasts can become well-recognized local athletes. This can stimulate them to giving even further effort toward the sport.
Recognition Builds Competition Confidence
Psychologically, exhibitions give gymnasts a better perspective on their own talents and abilities than only a comparison to other competitive gymnasts can give. Gymnasts are better than people, at least better than normal people at a very demanding and beautiful sport. This improved picture of their relative self worth can pay dividends eventually in improved confidence. And confidence pays in competition.