Cheerleading Shaped My Life

Cheerleading Shaped My Life

It really is more than just a sport.

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When I was in elementary school, I started cheering for the local youth football team. I always told other girls "yeah I'm a cheerleader," thinking it was the coolest thing ever. Cheerleading back then was simply fun. You did not really need to know the proper technique or tumbling skills. It was the most fun when your best friends were on your team.

You did not all need to match hairstyles, white socks, and no nail polish. It really was all just fun to cheer on the boys that were in your grade. The most fun was going to the high school football games on Friday nights with your friends, the girls in their cheer uniform and the boys in their football jerseys. How times have changed.

When I was in fourth grade, that's when I started to cheer at the competitive level. I only did it for one year until my senior year of high school. I learned basic tumbling during that time that carried over in my middle and high school years. When I was in sixth grade, I tried out for the seventh-grade cheer team and I thought the world would be over if I didn't make it. I made it for both football and basketball season. I tried out the next year and made it again.

In eighth grade, my one friend and I took turns calling cheers every game and would do standing back handsprings in our hello cheer. I would've called us the captains, but it wasn't really that important to us back then. It honestly was just us doing what we loved. High school came around and I was more than nervous to try out for the team. I knew that summer practices for middle schoolers were hard, what would they be like in high school? I made the team and went through a long summer of practice. I was scared of all of the seniors that year as they all tumbled and had high jumps.

We went to tumbling as a team every Monday and it was the best part about being in cheer. Tumbling is so much fun and a great work out as you're using all parts of your body. My sophomore year came, and it was my first year as a varsity cheerleader, so the expectations were much higher. My jumps had to be higher and my tumbling had to be better and cleaner than it was before. I was then on JV for basketball to make the teams even but that didn't stop me from wanting to progress. We started tumbling at a new gym during my junior year, which I was unsure of. I can never thank my coach, Kara, enough for that change. I learned more in my one year there than I did in the other 2 years at the other gym.

I was quickly learning new skills and strengthening myself. I was on varsity all of my junior and senior years. My senior year as a cheerleader was easily the best year in all the six that I was a cheerleader. As a senior, you are the captain. There were four seniors, so we all were considered captains, and our coach would argue that we were leaders. Not only during a game but in practice and just in general, we were always making sure that the younger girls knew how to behave and act. When you are part of a team, you are always representing that team wherever you go.

As well as a successful senior year of cheerleading at school, the coaches of the gym, Mark and Kara, urged me to try out for their all-star team in May before my senior year started. I was even more unsure of that because I only would be able to be on that team for one year and I did not know anyone. I went out on a limb and thought things wouldn't be so bad if I cheered all-star, so I tried out. To my surprise, I made their level three senior team and I could not have been happier. I quickly became a leader on that team because I was a senior and had a great outlook on cheerleading. Each practice was a chance to be better than the last and that's what I tried to instill in the young girls on my team.

The season quickly came to an end and I cried every single day leading up to my graduation, which marked the end of the cheer season. My coaches and all of my teammates wrote letters to me that I still have to this day. I occasionally read them when I'm in my feels. They all basically said how happy they were that they got to spend one year with me and how my leadership helped us reach our goal at the end of the season, going to The Summit.

Without cheer, I would not be as strong as I am today. It put me in the best shape of my life. It showed me time management with being on an all-star team forty-five minutes away from home and being a leader on my school cheer team. I made relationships with my coaches and teammates that I still have to this day. I will cherish my time as a cheerleader for the rest of my life. And if anyone wants to argue, cheerleading IS a sport. Don't "@" me. Sit in on a practice and a competition then tell me it's not a sport.

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To The Coach Who Took Away My Confidence

You had me playing in fear.
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"The road to athletic greatness is not marked by perfection, but the ability to constantly overcome adversity and failure."

As a coach, you have a wide variety of players. You have your slow players, your fast players. You have the ones that are good at defense. You have the ones that are good at offense. You have the ones who would choose to drive and dish and you have the ones that would rather shoot the three. You have the people who set up the plays and you have the people who finish them. You are in charge of getting these types of players to work together and get the job done.

Sure, a coach can put together a pretty set of plays. A coach can scream their head off in a game and try and get their players motivated. A coach can make you run for punishment, or they can make you run to get more in shape. The most important role of a coach, however, is to make the players on their team better. To hopefully help them to reach their fullest potential. Players do make mistakes, but it is from those mistakes that you learn and grow.

To the coach the destroyed my confidence,

You wanted to win, and there was nothing wrong with that. I saw it in your eyes if I made a mistake, you were not too happy, which is normal for a coach. Turnovers happen. Players miss shots. Sometimes the girl you are defending gets past you. Sometimes your serve is not in bounds. Sometimes someone beats you in a race. Sometimes things happen. Players make mistakes. It is when you have players scared to move that more mistakes happen.

I came on to your team very confident in the way that I played the game. Confident, but not cocky. I knew my role on the team and I knew that there were things that I could improve on, but overall, I was an asset that could've been made into an extremely great player.

You paid attention to the weaknesses that I had as a player, and you let me know about them every time I stepped onto the court. You wanted to turn me into a player I was not. I am fast, so let me fly. You didn't want that. You wanted me to be slow. I knew my role wasn't to drain threes. My role on the team was to get steals. My role was to draw the defense and pass. You got mad when I drove instead of shot. You wanted me to walk instead of run. You wanted me to become a player that I simply wasn't. You took away my strengths and got mad at me when I wasn't always successful with my weaknesses.

You did a lot more than just take away my strengths and force me to focus on my weaknesses. You took away my love for the game. You took away the freedom of just playing and being confident. I went from being a player that would take risks. I went from being a player that was not afraid to fail. Suddenly, I turned into a player that questioned every single move that I made. I questioned everything that I did. Every practice and game was a battle between my heart and my head. My heart would tell me to go to for it. My heart before every game would tell me to just not listen and be the player that I used to be. Something in my head stopped me every time. I started wondering, "What if I mess up?" and that's when my confidence completely disappeared.

Because of you, I was afraid to fail.

You took away my freedom of playing a game that I once loved. You took away the relaxation of going out and playing hard. Instead, I played in fear. You took away me looking forward to go to my games. I was now scared of messing up. I was sad because I knew that I was not playing to my fullest potential. I felt as if I was going backward and instead of trying to help me, you seemed to just drag me down. I'd walk up to shoot, thinking in my head, "What happens if I miss?" I would have an open lane and know that you'd yell at me if I took it, so I just wouldn't do it.

SEE ALSO: The Coach That Killed My Passion

The fight to get my confidence back was a tough one. It was something I wish I never would've had to do. Instead of becoming the best player that I could've been, I now had to fight to become the player that I used to be. You took away my freedom of playing a game that I loved. You took away my good memories in a basketball uniform, which is something I can never get back. You can be the greatest athlete in the world, but without confidence, you won't go very far.

Cover Image Credit: Christina Silies

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Sports Photography Changed My Life

Giving Friday night lights a whole new meaning.

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As I was growing up, I had an inexplicable adoration for taking photos on my mom's phone. They were blurry half the time and never really had a particular subject, but I found so much joy in every terrible photo. At some point in my flip phone photography career, I think my mom got tired of me clogging up all of her storage with useless pictures. So, she bought me a camera. It was red, had automatic settings, and it was my baby. I used it for years, it went everywhere with me. Looking back on it now, I think I should've named it. Too little too late, I guess.

The summer before my senior year of high school, I got an upgrade. It was a "graduation" gift that came before I had gotten anywhere near putting on a cap and gown. A Canon Rebel t5. My mom and I went to the store, picked it up, and my passion for photography only grew from there. Do you remember the way The Grinch's heart grew in "How The Grinch Stole Christmas"? Yeah, something like that.

A few weeks later, I decided I would email the coach of the football team at my school to see if I could take pictures for the season. There was never a girl on the field, and I wanted the opportunity to expand my portfolio. Long story short, as you can tell by the photo above, I was the photographer for the season. I researched and researched until my entire brain ran on only caffeine and sports photography settings. Friday night lights are the time where students come together, usually to freeze for two hours and cheer on the team. Or the band, or hanging out with friends, or whatever purpose being at the game served them. Friday night lights to me was a time where I got to do what I loved. From that season, I photographed the hockey team. I continued to do photos for both sports for the year afterward, as well.

I learned a lot in my two years of capturing the seasons of these two teams. The first being that being the only female on a field, or in a penalty box, surrounded by teenage boys and adult men - you are going to be underestimated. You will be seen as fragile. I learned a lot about being confident from these two years. I learned that sometimes, despite the opinions of others not mattering one bit, you have to show people that you're stronger than they believe. Similarly, I learned a lot about girl power in those two years. The future of sports photography is female if I have anything to say about it.

I also learned a lot about passion. I have never had so much adrenaline coursing through my body, or excitement in my body until I started photographing sports. Especially when it's hockey, which was already something I knew I loved. The warmth and joy I get from sports photography is one I never want to let go of. I am grateful to the coaches, the boys, the experiences, and the memories I have from the last two years of photographing high school sports. From all of that, I found something I adore more than I knew was physically possible. I found a passion I want to pursue for a very long time to come.

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