In Allstar Cheer your dreams may not be your destiny…

In the seemingly endless journey of Allstar cheer, as an athlete, there is only one goal. The goal is  2:30 of constant perfection. Not just you, the entire team. All 10 to 36 athletes in unison to be perfect, over and over again. There is an ebb and a flow. There is a time of struggle and a time to peak. Some teams hit stride early and ride a wave of certain perfection all year round. Some will peak at the very end. Some won’t peak at all.

During this journey, it is easy to lose sight of lessons you are learning along the way. You become consumed on the chase for perfection. The race to learn that next tumbling skill, the continuous work needed to take that elite stunt to new scoring heights. The concentration needed to make sure every teammate is dialed in to perform as one to astound the judges week in and week out.  All to achieve your dreams of winning that Cheersport National Championship, That elusive NCA Jacket, or to reach the pinnacle of winning that Summit or Worlds ring.

When it is all over, you may look around and wonder what just happened. I am entering college or the next phase in my life. Nobody cares that I can do a standing full. Nobody cares that I have dedicated my life to a team and a coach to chase one dream. No one cares that I am a World Champion. You may think, can’t I just fast forward through life? College is hard, how am I going to do this? The person I interviewed to get this job has no idea what is involved in learning a whip double.

It is at that point you may ask yourself “Why did I focus all my dreams on Cheer?” It is at this very moment I beg of you to consider that your dreams may not be your destiny at this stage in your life. It took you at least 8 to 13 years to learn and master every skill you have competed with. Why do you think the next stage in life will fall into your lap without working as hard as you have at Allstar Cheer? Every athlete will go through a valley of doubt and sadness in missing the one thing they loved. There will be an emptiness inside, as you miss the competition, the fight, and the quest.

It is at this time I hope you look back at the 8 to 13 years of hard work and think really hard about how you got to where you are in the sport you love. The dedication, the resilience, toughness, the loyalty the work ethic. The mental fortitude to never stop and to never give up… ever. To be coachable and to learn quickly and adapt when things aren’t going your way. When you need help, you are able to look towards a leader or more importantly be a leader for a person who needs you. It all matters, all of it. Teamwork is essential in life it is now time to apply what you learned.

The astounding thing that you may not get for a while is that the coaches you respected and idolized care more about the traits I mentioned above than your whip double. What the coaches truly hope you realize, is that in 5-10 years down the road when you finally find YOUR DESTINY you recognize that you have the life skills to achieve your dreams.

It will take a while, but you will get it. You just need to apply the important skills you learned along the way and apply them differently. Kinda like your first forward roll, back walk over or cartwheel. Sometimes the best gifts in life are achieved once you realize your Dreams may not be your destiny.  There is always something bigger on the horizon for you!

This post inspired by the Chapter 9 of the Podcast of Welcome to Mintland 

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Welcome to Mintland Podcast – Chapters 1-3

Hey everyone. Well I have submitted the podcast to iTunes and Google Play and a few other publishers in hopes they approve it. It may take a few days to go through. 

Until then, here are the first few episodes. I promise to improve on the production. It will get better as I go. I have been testing a few tools to make transitions and mixes easier.  

After listening to the first episode my daughter Kaitlyn suggested I should share a little insight into each chapter before I read it. I thought it was a great idea! So I am going to do it! I was also thinking I might want to do a few interviews of the 2015 Peppermints and maybe some of the coaches, who knows where this will go.

Hope you enjoy the first couple of episodes. Barring any problems you should be able to subscribe on iTunes or Google Play in a few days. If you could rate the podcast that would be  huge help ( once on iTunes) My girls seem to really like the audio versions much better. Let me know if you have any suggestions. 

After this things should automatically update once you have subscribed to the podcast in iTunes or your favorite podcasting platform.

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The Most Painful Gift is a Summit Loss…

There is nothing more painful than hitting your routine at Summit and not advancing or making it to day two, hitting and losing. It will happen to almost every team that sets foot in the ESPN WWOS. Specifically, about 95% of the teams that are fortunate enough to earn a bid will not get the ring.

As I reflect on the 2017 season, it is a bittersweet moment. It happened again, we competed, hit zero both days and lost…. this will be the third time. It will probably happen over and over again if we are lucky enough to make it back. I use the term “WE” on purpose. As you know, your entire village is part of a trip to Summit. The coaches, the athletes, the parents. The cycle of emotions after you come back from Summit and lose goes something like this. exhaustion, anger, guilt, reflection on what went wrong. After you make it through all of those emotions the final and most important stage

You begin to smile, you begin to understand the magnitude of what you just went through with your entire squad. After you make it through all of those emotions the final and most important stage hit you like a ton of bricks. The inevitable question. Was it all worth it?

Typically, if you are like me, it’s the third day. I start looking at all the amazing photos of the weekend. The smiles, the anticipation, the preparation, the tension the amazing time with friends. The pain, the tears …I review it all.

Then there is that moment when you find a social media post from a few years back that puts everything into perspective. You were new to cheer, maybe a little less jaded, some may say a little nieve. I would say it summed up the biggest gift you can get from a Summit loss. It goes a little something like this……

Pardon me capturing this moment…..

The most treasured gifts one can receive in life are lifetime memories. Sometimes these are good memories, sometimes bad. As we got home from Orlando last night. As we always do, Kaitlyn and I snuggled and we talked about her 2nd place finish at The Summit.

While she was disappointed in not winning. I explained to her that as she goes through life this experience is a gift that she will be able to hold in her heart forever. As a 7-year-old she did not exactly understand what I meant.

I proceeded to tell her that what their team accomplished will never be taken away. She would be able to take this experience with her for the rest of her life and share the incredible journey with others. “It is a gift”.

As we walked through the entire journey. I also shared that Coach Ashley believing in them and giving them this incredible opportunity is something she should never forget. I also told her that the team overcame so many things to get as far as they did. She seemed perplexed. “What did we overcome? We were only doing our routine as we always do.” I finally told her that many people did not think they would do as well as they did. I finally was able to put into perspective exactly what they accomplished.

1.People stated that Peppermint was “too small” to compete in the Youth division. People said there was no way this team would be able to compete one time and get a bid, it was too much of a long shot. They should stay the course and go for the Triple Crown points race.

2. Some people said ” They would never give a Mini team a ” Youth Level at-large bid to the Summit.” They were right, your team did NOT get an at-large bid. They were awarded a “Full Paid bid instead”

3. People were nervous when Peppermint changed the routine they had all season. I was a risky change going into Summit. It was a huge challenge and at times did not look so good in practice. They said maybe it was a mistake to change it. You hit it flawlessly both days in competition.

4. People said there would be no way they would let a Mini team move on to day 2 at the Summit in the Youth Division. You made it to Day 2 Final and Finished in Second Place in the Nation in the Youth Division.

Kaitlyn then asked ” Why did our coaches not tell us all this stuff?” I responded well Kaitlyn that is the the Gift that I was referring to. Coach Ashley, Kelsey and Rupert believed in you so much that they knew you could do it all along without any doubt! That is the true gift! Coach Ashley told you all year you were the best Mini Team in the world all year and she was right….hold that in your heart forever. #miraclemints

This post was the inspiration for the book Welcome to Mintland. It is featured on the Welcome to Mintland Facebook page HERE.

 

 

The Announcement that Changed Cheer Forever.

This article appears in the January 2017 edition of Cheer.Dance.Lyfe magazine. To get a copy of the magazine click HERE.

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On Tuesday, December 6th 2016 The cheer universe was changed forever. The announcement that Cheerleading has finally been validated and recognized as a true Olympic Sport finally was announced. This was a huge announcement for the world of cheerleading.

The International Cheer Union (ICU) was granted provisional International Olympic Committee recognition for a period of three years by the Executive Board. More importantly, if everything goes well, competitive cheerleading can now be included in the upcoming Olympic programs. No longer will you have to defend the sport we all love as a “real sport”.

Founded in 2004 and headquartered in the United States, the International Cheer Union began its journey to be recognized six years ago when it first applied to the International Olympic Committee. The ICU's mission is to positively advance cheerleading throughout the world. The organization has steadily built its membership and now has 110 National Cheer Federation members.

Via the Press Release of the announcement:

"The IOC's actions have created a monumental milestone for cheerleading. We are truly honored to receive this recognition by the Executive Board of the IOC," said Jeff Webb, President of the International Cheer Union. "This decision will greatly assist us as we strive to create opportunities for healthy participation and competition for millions of Cheer athletes worldwide."

Many questions quickly arose, as this decision caught many off guard. The initial US news reports failed miserably in properly reporting that competitive Cheer that had just been validated as a sport. The old perceptions of Cheerleading prevailed and the news media did not properly capture the essence of competitive cheer. The competitive cheer community quickly responded. You could feel the collective heads raise and the welling up in pride from the cheer community around the world. No one has to argue anymore, Cheer is now a sport.

 

Confusion and excitement quickly set in within the Cheerleading community as well. The many variations of competitive cheer began to ask questions. What happens now? How is this going to work? Is this going to change Worlds as we know it? How can I get involved to be an Olympic Champion one day?  

 

I visited The Stingray Allstars in Marietta, Georgia to get some insight from some of the Youth and Junior teams who are now in the middle of their competition season. A few had heard of the huge announcement, most had not. The look on the faces of the athletes once they learned they could potentially be in the Olympic Games someday was priceless. Many dropped the names of the famous athletes of the recently completed 2016 Rio Summer games. The teams shared names like

Simone Biles, Ali Raisman the Final 5, Michael Phelps and other athletes were shared. Needless to say the Allstar Cheerleading gym was buzzing with excitement of the news.

The Stingray Allstars Red Rays with Torch from the 2012 London Olympic Games
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Many in America and abroad are familiar with the Allstar format of Worlds and Summit. Olympic Cheer will be represented by the International Cheer Union. The ICU federation is based in America but will represent teams from all over the world.  

 

As a father with two daughters who has defended the authenticity of this sport vehemently, I decided to find out how all this works in hopes to educate all involved. I was fortunate enough to speak with some incredible athletes that have already represented The US National Team.

 

Below is a question and answer from my interview with Patrick and Julia Miller who have represented the US National Team. The couple has represented our country over the past few years and have been instrumental in paving the way for US National athletes for years to come. I wanted to share couples experience in hopes to share as much of the potential Olympic cheer experience as possible.
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Julia Miller- USA Cheer  2014-2016

Q: What was the cheerleading path that led you to compete on the US National Team ?

A: “ When I was younger I was a competitive gymnast for 13 years and always had a passion to compete. In college, I cheered at UCF.  While cheering in college and attending events such as the NCA and UCA College nationals. I learned about the US National Team. I tried out and made the Co-Ed squad and was on The team from 2014-15-16.”

 

Q: “ What was it like to represent USA Cheer at the ICU Worlds?

A: “It was one of the most incredible experiences in my life. It was so amazing to be surrounded by such amazing talent from all over the world. Each of the teams work so hard and are so passionate about what they do.”

 

Q: Many people will know about the talent from the US National Team. What are some of the International teams we should keep our eye on?

A: “Great question! There are so many incredible teams from around the world. With the popularity of Cheer growing at an amazing pace, the teams are improving all the time. If you are a young athlete you should certainly be keeping you eye on Team Norway, Team Netherlands, Team UK and Team Canada. There are so many teams to name. The talent is absolutely amazing around the world.”

 

Q: What does the US National Team tryout process look like?

A: “The process has changed recently and you can find that information on the US National cheer website. Previously, tryouts were held the day after the UCA College Nationals. You have to be ready to go immediately. It is important to be a well-rounded athlete and strong in all facets of cheer. You only get one shot to try a skill in tryouts. You either hit it or you don’t. The coaches will ask you to complete a stunt or tumbling pass. If you can’t do it the first time, they move on to the next. You have to be poised and ready. You are competing against the best athletes in the nation from many different disciplines.”
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Patrick Miller- USA Cheer  2010- 2016

 

Q:  What was the cheerleading path that led you to compete on the US National Team?

 

A: “In high school, I began playing football, but started Cheerleading in the 10th grade. I went on to Cheer for the University of Kentucky for one year and then transferred to cheer at the University of Alabama for four years. I tried out for the US National team six years ago and fell in love with it, and have been doing it ever since.”

 

Q: You have been on The US National Team for six years. What would be you advice to up and coming Cheerleaders who have a dream to compete on the USA Cheer?

A: “The most important aspect of cheering for The US National team as Julia mentioned,  is being a well-rounded athlete. While many may focus on being an exceptional tumbler or on stunting, it is very important to be exceptional in both. You have to be able to pick up things quickly as practice time is very limited. The competition is incredible and the emphasis on assembling the best routine in the world is imperative.”

 

Q: You mention limited practice time. Most reading this will be familiar with the Allstar gym practice structure. How exactly does that work?  I imagine you have athletes represented from all over the United States. How does the US National team practice?

A: “Many of us are already practicing on a daily basis with our respective teams in college. We actually will share ideas in the team GroupMe. The coaches will send out concepts they are thinking about or asking us to perfect. The coaches spend months coordinating flights and practice facilities for the team. We will all share our ideas and work to perfect them multiple hours in the gym during the week. Once we get closer to the ICU Worlds, the entire team assembles two weeks before and works to perfect the routine. It is an extremely grueling and exhausting process, but that is what it takes to create one of the most competitive routines in the world.”

 

  1. What is an international team other than the US National team that has impressed you?

A: “All of the team's Julia mentioned earlier are amazing. The group that always impresses me is Team Chinese/Taipei. The coed routine they assembled that won them the Gold a few years back was absolutely mind blowing. I also love watching Team Thailand they continue to amaze the world with their incredible stunts and pyramids. I look forward to watching them year in and year out.”

2016 USA Cheer  Coed Premier

As more information about this announcement emerges one thing is for sure. The announcement that Cheerleading is now recognized as an official Olympic sport has changed cheer forever. The announcement will raise the bar for every aspiring athlete who dares to dream big to be an Olympic champion. We can now close the book on the debate of the sport being valid. Although we are not naive enough to believe there will not be skeptics, we can now use our athleticism, work ethic, and execution to continue to prove the doubters wrong.  

 

The Stingray Allstars- 15 Year Tribute Video

When you step back and think of the thousands of lives The Stingray Allstars  program has touched over the past 15 years, it can be overwhelming. What started out as a vision, has turned into an amazing culture that feeds off of love, hard work, dedication, sacrifice, but most important family.

While it is true, the program has been blessed with amazing success on the mats. From top to bottom,  no matter the age group or level, the amazing leadership within the walls of Stingrays sets a tone for our athletes from tiny all the way through our worlds teams. It begins and ends with the leadership we are blessed with.

The coaches are too humble to take recognition and will pass the success on to the athletes and families. Out of respect for the coaches and entire staff, I will not single you out, but we thank you and appreciate everything you do for our children. The coaching and support staff of the gym sets an undeniable tone and an expectation to do your best at all times and do it with class. This expectation defines the Stingray culture and builds normal athletes into extraordinary young men and women. It makes our little gym in Marietta, Ga truly “One of a Kind”

While it is simply impossible to capture 15 years of amazing in 4:54 secs. I hope you enjoy the hype video. Let’s have a great year and may we always keep the Stingray culture alive. Here’s to the next 15 years. You may want to turn this video up!

I present the Stingray Allstars 15 Year Tribute Video

The one thing Allstar Cheerleaders need from their Dad.

The different trials in life are always interesting. As with many families, it typically starts with a few activities. Little Susie or Tommy starts to tinker with a group activity here or there. It may start with soccer, move on to dance, ballet or gymnastics. All fantastic group activities that build lifelong skills. During this time of self-exploration and self-discovery, it is common to dismiss things while your child finds their calling or passion. It is also typical for us dads to lose interest in supporting our young ones as they bounce from activity to activity because they can’t seem to stick to anything. Then it happens… they walk into the Allstar Cheerleading gym.

As I enter my fourth year in an Allstar cheer gym I have seen the complete cycle of dad interaction. During the first year of Allstar Cheerleading,  dads will cautiously approach the building, scan the area, scope out their territory etc. As they gingerly tip toe into what in their mind is a scary place. No matter what team the child is on, the father will ultimately find the furthest, quietest corner in the building and plop a squat. As they begin to scan the room they are desperately seeking another dad.

Upon observation dads normally have this sequence of emotions.

  1. Well, this is not the type of Cheerleading that I imagined.
  2. This is a very disciplined organization.
  3. Why do we spend so much time/ money here?
  4. The coaches are not playing here are they?
  5. HOLY MOLY did you see that? How did they do that? and so on…
  6. Now I see why we spend so much time/money here.

If you are fortunate enough to have Worlds team in your building the mere sight of what that team is doing on the mats will peak a new dad’s interest. Typically, it starts with them shooting up out of their seat and possibly uttering something inappropriate under their breath. Then the first competition starts and things get complicated for dads. I have seen many responses and you can typically place a dad in each one of these buckets.

  1. The overwhelmed dad– This Dad is intimidated by the entire experience. He is not sure how to respond to the competitions, the practice schedule, the intensity level, the overall commitment. He simply does not know where he fits in.
  2. The Dismissive dad– This is not my thing. I am a hardcore Football/ Baseball/ Hockey/ Basketball Dad and Allstar Cheerleading is not my thing but I will go, and duck out quickly.
  3.  The Passive dad-Who is busy being focused on his career and providing for his family. Will listen to the trials and tribulations, but will come to a few competitions if any. Certainly will be supportive but from afar.
  4. The All-In dad– You will find this Dad front and center. Probably knows more about the score sheet and rival teams than he should. Decked out in gym attire and may occasionally over-compensate by wearing a silly costume or make an over the top sign. In the severe cases, has written a book or writes a blog (Ahem..)

I could go on and on about the different types of dads. The Dads listed above are all equally important no-one is any better than the other, and all have a role to help with the success of their son or daughter in this incredible sport. No matter where you fit in the Dad spectrum in Allstar Cheerleading, overwhelmingly there is one thing that I would ask you to give your athlete no matter what age or level.

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The one thing Allstar Cheerleaders need from their dads is a CHANCE. Give them an opportunity to win you over and share their amazing experience. The Allstar Cheerleading community is a very tight-knit group. Once you enter the inner circle, the life lessons you will observe (once you give this sport a chance) will live up to any perceived expectation you could ever dream of. Our sons and daughters only need one thing from us and that is an effort to show genuine interest in their team and passion.

Some dads can be very intimidated by this and that is ok. If you are not sure how this whole thing works, I would ask you to do one simple thing. Take a moment and ask your son and daughter how this whole Allstar Cheerleading thing goes down. I promise, you will not understand what a full-up, a half or a smush is, and that is ok. The mere question you ask will mean so much to them. You will be a hero in their eyes. If you feel more comfortable sharing old war stories when you were a kid and persevered in a sport, even better.

Every minute you spend with them rubs off on them. Every story, every moral, every hug, every kiss, every time you discipline them, every time you make them go to practice when they don’t want to, every time you wipe away their tears, every time you buy them dippin dots at the competition, every time they see you show compassion when things don’t go as planned on the mats– it all rubs off. Your kindness, your wisdom, your examples, your lame jokes. They all rub off. We have some pretty amazing dads in our gym. We like to recruit more.

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Remember, you’re molding a little life here, a very impressionable little mind, and you are your kid’s role model. Their hero. Show them how it’s supposed to be done in your own way. You do not have to be over the top or costume dad. Just give them a chance to show you what they have with their team. You will mess up a lot. (as I certainly have).  As your child grows older, you’ll be amazed at how you two wind up having so much in common both in success and in failure. Why is that? Because he or she is just like his/her dad and you knew enough to give them a chance to include you in their journey.

 

 

The blessings of taking risks and trying new things.

One year ago today, encouraged by some special parents, I released the book trailer to Welcome to Mintland. I remember being so scared and intimidated to share it with everyone. It was important for me to set the tone of what the book was about and the magic I hoped to capture. I still even now agonize about the details of everything. I knew once I released the trailer there was no turning back, the book would have to be released. It was a very scary time for me.
The day I released the trailer. Welcome to Mintland was over 3/4 of the way completed. I had no idea what I was doing or how I would actually get this book published. I still to this day do not know what compelled me to write it. I needed to take a break from writing and decided to create the book trailer (again a first for me). It took me many many hours to get it right in my head and then transferred to video. After I created what I thought captured the essence and tone of the book. I gathered up enough courage to share the video with a trusted friend. After watching the video my friend said nothing, she just covered her mouth and broke down in tears. It was then I knew, the story of this magical team needed to be completed. Her reaction validated my instinct that this team and this story was something that may not happen ever again. The team being so young and naive had no idea what they had accomplished together. Looking back it all just seemed like a blur as everything simply fell into place as it was meant to happen.
As this story ages, it will continue to live on. My hopes are a few kids and parents read the story and are inspired to try new things. Hopefully, the message they take from the book is that if you believe in yourself and others you can accomplish ANYTHING no matter what your age is. Set a goal and go for it. If there is a bump in the road set a bigger goal and go for it! If someone tells you every day that you are special, that you can be the best in world and you dare to believe it, special things will happen.
The Finished Trailer From the Book Welcome to Mintland
For the next few weeks, we are donating all proceeds of sales of the book to the Louisiana Cheerforce GoFundMe Campaign. If you would rather donate straight to the cause in lieu of purchasing the book please do!
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Many of the former Peppermints ask me every day how many books we have sold for the flood victims. As I mentioned earlier, my hope was that the story would live on to build life long memories and create inspiration. I always tell them every little bit helps, but they will never know the devastation that happened. They feel good knowing their little story is helping people and that was the intent, as the spirit of the book will live on through them for many years to come.