Everything I needed for success, I learned as a cheerleader

If you thought cheerleaders were just bubbleheads or mean girls, think again. Some of America’s most successful women, such as journalist Katie Couric and actress Meryl Streep, were once cheerleaders. Believe it or not, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wielded pompoms for her Brooklyn high school back in the 1940s. Nicole Lauchaire, V.P. of Corporate Marketing at Varsity Brands, Inc,. the umbrella organization for high school and college cheerleading nationwide, points out, “If you can get 80,000 people to their feet screaming 'Win!' for your team, you are definitely a leader.”

When Lauchaire was recently invited to co-host the televised national high school cheerleading championships for ESPN, a job well out of her comfort zone, she drew on her experience as a cheerleader. “I was terrified, but I thought of all the things I had done over the years that had made me nervous: my first high school game, my first college game, the first time I taught a group of 1000 cheerleaders a routine at camp.” She acknowledges that her television debut wasn’t perfect, “But you have to try things in life that make you a little uncomfortable. And now I’m getting better.”

Lauchaire says that cheerleading is “not just what you see on the sidelines.” Girls and women who participate in cheerleading are highly motivated and competitive while still being team players. According to Varsity Brands, they are more likely to volunteer in their communities than the average girl or young woman. Boosting their schools teaches them skills to represent businesses or organizations after graduation.

Claudine Chalfant, an anchor and reporter at News Channel 14 Carolina, says cheerleading taught her perseverance and leadership and gave her the confidence to pursue any career she chose. “It also taught me the meaning of ‘true family,' ” she says. “When a teammate throws you 20 feet into the air, you have to trust they will be there to catch you.”

So how did cheerleading’s ditzy reputation get started? Lauchaire suggests that professional football, especially the popularity of the Dallas Cowboy Cheerleaders, played a role. She has observed that high school and college cheerleaders tend to pursue careers in business, marketing, and communications and don’t generally aspire to work for professional sports teams. “Professional football’s dancers are called ‘cheerleaders’ but they don’t usually come from a cheerleading background or reflect the values of cheerleading.” Game on.

As for the question of whether or not cheerleading is a sport, Kellie Clements, an interior designer and former contestant on HGTV’s Design Star, puts it this way, “It’s like rugby except that 100-pound girls are thrown into the air instead of a ball.”

Clements, who suffered a crushed pelvis in an accident only six weeks after giving birth to her second son, credits the “drive and determination” she learned as a cheerleader for pulling her through. “There are times you have to keep it together for the sake of the team,” she says. “Only now, that team is my family.”

Cheerleading’s lessons for success

1. Focus on what you can do to improve yourself instead of on your competition. Cheerleaders rehearse routines for months before facing off in national competitions. In those few minutes in the spotlight, you can’t control the other team. You can only perfect your own team’s performance through hard work and practice over the long run.

2. Failure is not an option. Despite many rejections and little encouragement when she was first looking for a job in broadcast journalism, Chalfant refused to give up. Remembering the nearly impossible stunts her cheerleading team had been able to master, she believed that: “Few things in life that are worth doing are easy, but many are attainable.”

3. Learn to laugh at yourself. If you stumble in life, get up and keep trying.  Lauchaire was cheering at a college game when she spotted herself on the JumboTron. The cameraman kept inching toward her and she kept inching away—until she tripped backwards over a speaker on the sideline. She picked herself and kept cheering. “Great practice for future embarrassing moments,” she says. 

4. Step out of your comfort zone. Whether it’s performing in front of a huge crowd or balancing on top of a human pyramid, cheerleaders take what Clements refers to as “responsible risks” in order to complete and excel.

5. Stay optimistic.
A cheerleader’s job is to keep rooting for the team even when all hope seems lost.

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