Last weekend I once again had the honor of traveling to Dallas to watch my daughter compete at the coveted NCA All Star Competition.
Brenna is a member of East Celebrity Elite’s J5 in Massachusetts. She has been cheering for the past six years. She’s worked her way up from a Level 1 half-year team, to a Junior 3 team, spent two seasons on Youth 5 and has been on J5 for the past two years.
In the past when I have written for CHEERMaD and the words came easily. I knew what I wanted to say and just how I wanted to say it. This time not so much.
I think because the topic is HARD and controversial. I’m asking you to look inside yourself, a parent, and think.
Brenna and I are so very different in every sense of the word. I am what some would describe as a "Type A" personality. I fully admit to being an overachiever and a workaholic. I always have to win and be at the top. Nobody loves a competition more than I do. So you would think that NCA is totally my thing. If I were an athlete, it would be.
But, in this instance, Iím just mom and I saw and felt a whole different side of things this weekend.
Brenna has always been the kid that has been perfectly content to fly under the radar. She’s well respected among her peers, coaches and teachers both on and off the mat. She isnít in the front for jumps, isn’t point dancer and doesn’t have a killer tumbling pass and there is NOTHING wrong with that. It doesn’t mean she doesn’t try as hard or is any less skilled than the kids on the team that do all those ‘high profile’ things.
In fact, I would argue this gives her a huge advantage and that some kids and parents have a lot to learn from the kids like Brenna. She has gone through a series of progressions through the years cheering on all different levels.
Brigitte during one of her many hospital stays
Brenna didn’t shoot straight to the top. She’s had injuries and growth spurts that have caused her to back up and rebuild. It’s made her stronger and she has never had anything handed to her. Through a series of life events the gym has become her refuge. Her soft spot to land where she feels safe. She has been taught the confidence to be herself and be happy with who that ‘self’ is. She has made her teams her family and has always referred to her teammates as her ‘sisters’ and her ‘brothers.’ She knows you win as a team and lose as a team.
I can’t think of a sport that relies more heavily on teamwork than Allstar Cheering. Every individual on that mat is an integral piece of a puzzle. One piece out-of-place and the puzzle cannot be completed. Last weekend at NCA, Brenna’s team had a lot of pieces out of place for one reason or another (After Day 1 competition, ECE J5 was in second place and finished NCA in third place; ACX-Crazy Jags finished in first place and Maryland Twisters-Supercells placed second).
It happens. Everyone has bad days. You win some, you lose some. As the old saying goes, you pick yourself back up, dust yourself off and get back in the saddle. You get your butt back in practice and WORK.
As I write this, it sounds as if I “know” Allstars. This couldn’t be further from the truth. I am lucky if I can find my daughter in the routine by the time the performance is over. I rely heavily on†cheerUPDATES†on twitter because I am so busy trying to find Brenna for two minutes and thirty seconds, I have no idea what happened in the rest of the routine. I still have to google what SF, SB, TD mean because I forget from week to week.† So, I don’t know anything about cheering other than it costs me an awful lot, I know my daughter has great coaches, and I appear as a jetsetter when my Facebook Timeline has me “traveling from Boston to Atlantic City to Dallas, to Orlando, to Nashville” every other week!
Last weekend, NCA had me in a tizzy because my cell coverage was so poor I couldn’t get on Twitter or FB and I couldn’t get my into my email to see the itinerary that the team mom sent so I had no idea where to be and when to be there...I was a HOT MESS! I had to rely on what the ‘moms’ were all saying and sometimes found myself in the middle of the negativity. Mistake. BIG Mistake. Quick reality check: NEVER get caught up in the mama drama.
At the end of the day, these are all kids we are talking about. I saw parents screaming at children of all ages for falling in their stunt, for busting their pass or dropping their flyer. I’ll give a pass on dropping the flyer because one thing I do know (Brenna is a base/backspot) is you NEVER drop your flyer. Anyway, back to the screaming and it was screaming...how and why does this happen? These are kids out doing something that they are so passionate about.
One thing I love about Allstars is that it isn’t the land of ‘everyone gets a cookie!’
Our kids are brought up to be competitive. It teaches them so much. Respect for themselves and their bodies. Responsibility to their team and their coaches. Lessons on working hard to get what you want as we all know nothing in life comes easy. So why in one fell swoop would someone come in and rip that from someone, no less a child? Most of these kids are hard enough on themselves and don’t need us to compound it.
Stop rushing your kids to be on teams that YOU want them to be on. Trust in the coaches and owners that you are paying for a service that they know what is best for a team and a gym. Be their parent, not their coach. When they come off the mat after a tough performance, they need a HUG not a lecture. If they’ve just had the performance of a lifetime, celebrate with them, not for them.
I want to win too. I would love to have been able to post pictures on my timeline of my daughter sporting her blinged-out black jacket. Brenna got a big bite of humble pie at Dallas LOVE field when one of the Showstoppers from ProAthletics was on the same flight as us, with the GIGANTIC first place NCA trophy. Every kid in the airport wanted their picture with it. Brenna looked at me and said "Mom, that should have been us."
She was right. It should have been, but it wasn’t. It didn’t happen last year and it didn’t happen this year. They need to work harder. Teams that won worked harder and were more focused. She’s convinced it was because she didn’t do a "Random Act of Kindness" over the weekend and maybe she’s right. After all, I saw our C5 team jump all the way to second†place this weekend. It’s not the pictures of their second†place trophy you are seeing go viral, but pictures of them forming a human tunnel of well wishes for one of the Special Needs Teams. Maybe they are on to something? It is true that what you give out comes back. This is what this sport is all about. Being there for each other at every level: when you’re on top or when you’re on the bottom.
We, as parents, need to step back and look at the real reasons why we have our kids in this sport. The pressure I saw on some of these kids this weekend was heartbreaking and at what cost? The work truly is worth it, but with that work comes responsibility. A responsibility to teach, rather than criticize. There is a huge difference and every single one of us owes it to our children to know the difference and truly practice it.
I know I come from a different place than most. In addition to my Allstar, I also have three other children. My youngest has spent a good deal of her little life behind the walls of Children’s Hospital in Boston. I’ve spent my fair share of competition weekends troubleshooting problems with nurses over the phone and even flying back early to watch my little one be transferred to ICU after becoming very sick, very quickly. It has a way of putting things into perspective pretty quickly.
It has also allowed me to see the compassionate side of Allstars. Our gym has not only rallied around my little girl, but they’ve rallied around Brenna. Going back to “you reap what you sow” Brenna gives her all to a gym that has given so much to her and she’s been wildly successful. That success isn’t always measured in banners, jackets or rings. For me, seeing success was listening to her talk about all the things they did RIGHT instead of focusing on what went wrong.
Allstar cheerleading is a gift. There are so many opportunities that come along with it. Embrace it. Put it in PERSPECTIVE. Enjoy your kids and most of all: Be with them, not against them.
About Shannon: “I am happily married to Bryan and am mom to four amazing kids.† Brenna is 13. She’s my little Suzy. She’s cheered at ECE for the past six years. It’s her fault I’m in this crazy beautiful mess we all know as All-Star Cheer. Smack in the middle are my two boys. Jake, 12, and Sean, 11. They keep me grounded, both literally and figuratively at times. When not at the cheer gym, you can find me at the football field or on the basketball court. Nothing brings me more joy than to watch them play. Before I was ever a CheerMAD, I was a football mom. I never forget where I came from. Lastly, is my little Brigitte, or Brig for short. She’s 8 but has been through more in her short life than any of us can ever imagine. That little one has molded me to be the woman I am today. Because of her, when I am not at some gym or comp, on some field or court, I am a program coordinator for medically complex children at Boston's Children's Hospital and also a Family Leader for the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's National Center on Birth Defects and Development Disabilities' Saving Babies program. Brig taught me what fighting is all about. All of my kids have given me the drive and ambition to be a voice for those who donít have one or can’t find theirs. This is why when I speak, I speak the truth. I am a woman of convictions. Call me wrong or call me right. Hate me if you want to, Love me if you can. I am honored to work beside Lisa with CheerMAD and can’t wait to bring you to a whole new level of All-Star CheerMadness!