Cheerleaders come in all shapes and sizes and it is important that we embrace all types of bodies and looks. Promoting positive body images and warning against the dangers of extreme dieting and eating disorders should be a priority for every coach. Becoming a cheerleader tends to come with a heavy burden to look a certain way and it is important that we teach our athletes how to deal with this pressure in a positive manner.
The first step to addressing positive body image is to let your team know that everyone is built differently and thankfully so… if everyone was exactly the same it would be rather difficult to effectively do many of the skills required of cheerleaders, such as stunting. Embrace the skin you are in! Do your best to ensure that your uniforms are not making any of your cheerleaders feel self-conscious. This is sometimes a challenge when a school utilizes the same uniforms each year and each year you have different squad members. If you are in this situation, there are several ways to order uniforms so that future squads are adequately accommodated. Uniform professionals such as the sales staff at the Cheerleading Company can guide you through this process with ease. Click here for contact information for the Cheerleading Company’s sales staff.
In addition to encouraging your team to embrace their body and image as is, educate your squad on health and wellness. Athletic activities such as cheerleading are a great way to develop healthy habits that can be carried on throughout a lifetime. The two main areas of health and wellness that should be stressed to your team are exercise and healthy eating habits.
Exercise should be an easy topic to tackle because there should be an adequate amount of exercise and conditioning occurring throughout your regularly scheduled practices. You can also provide your cheerleaders with at home exercise schedules to complete on the weekends or days when you do not have practice. The key to exercise is consistency.
The American Heart Association makes the following recommendations in regards to exercise:
• Get the equivalent of at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity aerobic physical activity (2 hours and 30 minutes) each week.
• You can incorporate your weekly physical activity with 30 minutes a day on at least 5 days a week.
• Physical activity should be performed in episodes of at least 10 minutes, and preferably, it should be spread throughout the week.
• Include flexibility and stretching exercises.
• Include muscle strengthening activity at least 2 days each week.
Share these tips with your team and remind them frequently of the benefits of exercise. Another way to help inspire a lifetime love of exercise is to introduce alternative exercise methods that your athletes enjoy. This task again should be easy. There are many ways to use stunting, tumbling, jumping and other aspects of cheerleading for exercises purposes. For instance, have your team break up into stunt groups and put up a prep or first floor (flyer is standing on two legs at chest level of bases). Then have the bases do ten deep squats with the flyer still in the stunt and finally cradle when finished. When the flyer comes out of the cradle immediately have an exercise ready for them and repeat. It is also smart to encourage exercises that are not related to cheerleading, so that during the off-season and post-cheerleading your team can stay in shape. Swimming is a great example of a full body exercise that can be fun and relaxing.
Encouraging healthy eating is equally important. Eating the right food is necessary to have the proper energy and strength to be at your best during practice and games, so ensuring that your team is eating right not only benefits them, but you as well. There are many theories on what healthy eating entails and there are often trends that come and go such as low carb diets, non-diary diets etc. Stray away from encouraging restrictive diets of any kind. You don’t want to restrict food from your athletes. It’s all about choosing better quality foods, eating a balanced diet and eating in moderation when indulging in “not so good” foods.
Here are a few tips for gaining healthy eating habits:
• Drink lots of water. There is no magic number of exactly how much water a person should drink. This is largely dependent on how active you are, your health and where you live. But keep in mind approximately 60% of your body weight is made up of water and every system in the body is dependent upon water. Lack of water can lead to dehydration and a number of other internal issues. In general, doctors recommend drinking 8 to 9 cups of water a day.
• Avoid foods and drinks with high sugar contents. Unlike most foods, fructose or sugar, doesn’t adequately communicate to your body how many calories you’ve taken in, thus there is no immediate message sent to the brain saying that you are full and need to stop eating. Pairing your sugar with fiber will prevent this from happening. A great example of a fiber and natural sugar combination is fruit.
• When you can avoid fast food, do so. Many times food on the go lacks adequate nutrients and is high in fat, sodium and/or sugar.
• Moderation is key. Avoid oversized portions. When fixing your dinner plate make sure that at least half of the plate is made up of fruits and/or vegetables.
• Remember that good old food pyramid? Go back to it and try to actively incorporate the appropriate portions into your daily meals. The United States Department of Agriculture offers a great web site to help you establish a balanced daily diet. Check it out at www.choosemyplate.gov.
Following these steps to establish a healthy diet and a positive body image are sure to make your team stronger both physically and mentally. Rest assured that by educating your athletes in these areas you are inspiring healthy habits that will forever impact their lives for the better.