Monday, May 29, 2017

Cheerleaders ~ Breaking Through & Challenging Change


Competitive Cheer Teams
(not your stereotypical cheerleaders) 


by: Mary Varville-Rodriguez
(pictured here with her daughter, Bella)



My child is a member of a competitive cheer team.  She joined last year after school started due to some family issues and participated in some of their activities.  Starting later than the other team members meant she was limited in competition, but was able to cheer for the various sports teams during side line cheers. She also experienced some of the training involved in choreographed cheers and additional tumbling classes. We were new to this sport and hung on for the ride, all the while observing and absorbing the tremendous dedication poured into the planning of the two time state champion team. This year we intend to step up our game and become more immersed in the competitive side of this sport.  That's right!  This is an intense sport that requires cardio- conditioning, strengthening core muscles that support the lifts, tumbles, and stunts, and stretching to improve/enhance range of motion plus flexibility.


Competitive cheer involves hours of conditioning and practice.  It places demands on each participant's time and energy.  The training never stops.  School just ended, but the cheer team practices throughout the summer.  Two training camps are already scheduled.  Weekend tumbling instruction is also expected at a premier cheer facility run by a multi-award winning coach.  Expenses can run high to compensate the instructors/coaches, use of a special training facility, uniforms, and travel.  There is a significant investment of time and finances when these athletes dedicate themselves to the sport of competitive cheer.


Fundraising for the students involved with the competitive team is a necessary aspect of the budget.  I am working with my child to find ways to manage this component.  We were given customer incentive cards to sell for $20 each.  The card highlights a local pizza business that has six locations.  There are three break away cards.  One has a BOGO offer that is good until next year for multiple visits and the other two include free food items equal to $20 total with no purchase necessary.  So the card really is a good deal if you love pizza.  Seems simple enough to sell, right?  Well, here's what we've discovered:



Fundraising Facts


1. Not many people keep an extra $20 in their wallet
2. Checks are also rare
3. People are willing to donate $1, $5, $10 without the card
4. Individuals are overwhelmed by requests for donations 
5. There's still a stigma attached to being a "cheer leader" even if  you're wearing your warm up
     pants  and the long sleeve shell with school logo versus the short skirts.  


Yesterday I helped my daughter with this fundraising project for her competitive cheer team. I watched as she walked up to an individual, handed her a flyer, and explained her intent. The woman thrust the flyer back at her and said, "I don't like cheerleaders." That got me thinking about stereotypes.  According to an article written by Maggie Marion, (August 22, 2016) https://www.theodysseyonline.com/cheerleaders-breaking-stereotype, when you search the word "cheerleading" for Google images you get pictures of choreographed sports team dancers in revealing clothing.  However, if you search "All Star Cheerleading" you will see competitive cheer leaders who train and fight for world titles and train for thirty hours a week.  I began to wonder if there is a need to re-name "cheerleaders" and update the image that it still represents to many individuals.


Alexa Waddock is a former high school cheerleader who is now majoring in Individualized Marketing at Emmanuel College in Boston, MA. She attended a Catholic High School in Manchester, CT and was the cheer captain for their competitive team.  She writes a blog that highlights the stereotypical images of cheerleaders versus the real, intelligent, and athletic individuals who break through the barriers associated with this intense sport.  You can read her insights at https://cheerleadingstereotypes.tumblr.com/ 


Melissa from OMNI Cheer wrote an article that debunks nine myths of cheerleading.(Posted on November 7, 2013 by Melissa in Cheer News, Cheerleading Safety) You can read her article at: http://www.omnicheer.com/blog/post/proving-9-cheerleading-stereotypes-wrong




Read more about breaking stereotypes!


(read this one to the end)

(Things everyone gets totally wrong about cheerleading)
 



These links offer a few articles I found and recommend them to anyone interested in this subject.  Given the challenges that competitive cheer athletes still face, I started to brain storm ideas for how to change the way we view cheerleaders.  A name change?  Here's an idea.  (Thanks to my years working as an Army Civilian where the titles and job descriptions were quite...creative.)



One idea for re-naming the term "Cheerleader"
Competitive Aerodynamic Team Athlete 
copyright 2017 mbvrodriguez


A Change is Needed!

It's not just a name change that's needed.  There needs to be a methodical way to change perceptions  of this intense sport while simultaneously revising the way we present these athletes to our communities.  Fundraisers are great opportunities to promote a different view of the traditional cheerleader persona.  This is also a perfect time to promote an athlete's skills for speaking, interpersonal communication techniques, negotiating, community outreach, marketing, and personal awareness.  The comfort level for fundraising at a football game where one is on familiar territory and feels safe is vastly different from approaching strangers and attempting to convey the purpose of your organization.  


School Athletic Coaches
 

In a world of athletes where males still tend to receive the lion's share of attention and accolades over females, it becomes increasingly important for schools to have an awareness of how attitudes affect sports programs.  Cheerleading is a legitimate and competitive sport that deserves recognition. When a school does have a stellar cheer team who has earned a state title and other awards, it is critical that athletic coaches and school administrators acknowledge these accomplishments in a very public way!  Perceptions can be changed when there is a sincere plan of action. 



Ways to Make A Difference

1. Fair practice times - Make sure all athletes have the opportunity to experience practice times that are reasonable for their schedules and upcoming competitions. This includes your competitive cheer team!  Requiring them to stay at school or return at a later time impedes their progress and jeopardizes their ability to maintain school work, sleep schedules, and ability to effectively compete. Sabotaging a team's success is unprofessional and sends the message to teams that their sport is not as important to a school as other sports.

2. Recognition - Allow opportunities for teams to show case their skills to other students and within the community. Make sure they receive adequate representation from other athletes, administration, and coaches.  When a competitive cheer team goes out of their way to support other sports teams but do not receive the same in return, that is absolutely unacceptable and unsportsmanlike.

3. Media Coverage - Make sure competitive cheer teams receive coverage for their upcoming events and successes! Highlight what types of training are required, time invested in that training and preparations, and even the emotional/social costs of being involved in this dedicated sport.

4.  Squash rumors, inuendos, and disrespectful speech associated with competitive cheer teams. This includes inappropriate accusations of uniforms being "too short" or "too revealing".  Seriously? A collar bone being revealed or sports shorts under a skirt are not the reasons people make poor choices and get into awkward situations. Do we criticize football players for the tight pants they are required to wear or the midriffs that show when they lift their arms to throw the ball?  No!  Sports related uniforms are just that...uniforms designed for a specific sport to show case and highlight the skills required for competition.  So let's just stop with the idea that cheer teams reveal too much.


There are so many other ways our school communities can be a part of debunking the myths of a competitive cheer team. Parents need to speak up when something is amiss and unfair.  Schools need to become more inclusive and understand the implications of their actions or inactions, and our athletes need to develop their advocacy skills to include communication, negotiation, and community outreach.  You can make a difference in how competitive cheer is perceived! 




I would love to learn how you have overcome stereotypes, developed fundraising strategies for your children, and what your role has been in teaching your athlete about advocacy both on and off the competitive field.


Thanks for taking time to read and I look forward to having you visit, follow, and share at:







(The picture of Bella at age 19 months was a glimpse at the strong,
 independent young person she is becoming.)


copyright 2017 mbvrodriguez

Thursday, May 4, 2017

The Motherhood of Worries and Fear ~ It's Part of the Deal

  
 
 



Even though I worked in the Child Development field for many years prior to becoming a mother, the amount of emotional and physical stress that accompanies this role was still way more than anything I had ever experienced.  I knew it wouldn't be a stroll on the beach at sunset.  Years of managing large groups of Infants and Toddlers prepared me for the crying, never ending feedings, diaper changes, illnesses, teething, and clothing changes after diaper blow outs.  I embraced the joy of witnessing milestones for each child.  I loved learning about the personalities, quirks, and adventures during each precious developmental stage.  It was my calling, and I appreciated being able to offer encouragement and support to families.

My experiences expanded when I became a member of an amazing team of therapists.  We worked with children who had developmental challenges and medical conditions that required specialized interventions.   It was eye opening and provided a well rounded education for me as I witnessed the beauty of each developmental gain.  I saw the struggles and strengths of each family and felt humbled by how little I actually knew prior to my employment.  Even with my years of experience in early childhood programs, nothing adequately prepared me for some of the heart breaking moments we encountered as a team.  I grew, I learned, and I became increasingly frightened by the daunting tasks associated with parenthood.  

Time passed quickly, and at the age of thirty I still hadn't found anyone with whom I felt the kind of connection I desired to become a partner and parent.  I was afraid of what could happen during pregnancy and child birth.  I had seen the trauma.  I watched families struggle in the aftermath of what might happen when a child is born with a disability or severe medical condition.  I  held a still born infant after becoming connected to a family whose first child was in our program.  We grew to know that baby even before he was born, knew his name, understood his family's love for him, and looked forward to his birth with the family.  The morning of his birth, I arrived at the office to check in and was greeted by our office manager.  She told me the baby had been born.  Before I had a chance to express excitement and joy for the family, I was told that the baby didn't make it.  I stood in front of her desk in shock.  How could this have happened?  Everything seemed to be going so well for the family.  I immediately went to my desk and made a few calls to find out where she was.

I wanted to be there for the family.  It was important.  I rescheduled my other visits for the day and called the hospital until I figured out where she was located.  The family was no longer in the maternity ward.  They were in a separate part of the hospital and already assigned a social worker who was also their grief counselor.  She met me at the entrance to that section of the hospital and informed me about what happened and what to expect.  The baby was in the room being held and loved by family.  Pictures were taken.  It was the first time I had witnessed this type of grief up close and so very personal.  The family wanted me to hold their beautiful baby.  It was a moment I will never forget, equally precious and heart breaking.  I remained with the family throughout the day until they were released to return home.  

When these unexpected tragedies occur, it can become difficult to see beyond the event.  I saw challenges every day as the result of my work.  I experienced traumatic moments with families who were trying their best to be parents.  Day after day more referrals came in and we had long meetings with families to discuss resources, options for assistance, and home visits.  It seemed like everyone had a developmental delay, medical condition, or severe disability.  Some children graduated from the program, some transitioned to the school system, and others had shortened life spans.  I once commented to an Occupational Therapist that I was scared to get pregnant and have my own children after hearing some of the birth histories.  She calmly reassured me, "That's because it's what we do.  It's all we see.  We don't get to always hear about the births that are successful or the children that are doing well."  I appreciate how understanding and comforting those words were at the time.

I realized that as much as I loved children, it was possible I could face whatever happened when it came to parenthood.  My work did allow me to face a few things.  When I did meet my future husband and the father of my three children, we discussed my experiences in child development.  I wanted him to be aware of risks, complications, and what we would do if our children had special needs.


Here are some of the points we discussed:


1.  The only birth plan I wanted was one where the baby was born with minimal to no complications.  Just get the baby out safely.

2.  I did not want any invasive testing that might compromise the baby's or my health.  

3.  I would want to know if the baby had any medical or developmental concerns.

4.  Even if there were complications, conditions, or diagnoses that were concerning, I would want us to face them together and love the baby as long as we were given.  

5.  I wanted us to know the gender of the baby and give the baby a name.  I couldn't get it out of my mind that the still born baby I held had a name, was known by his family, had a personality, and was loved even before his untimely passing.  I wanted to make sure our children had a name and identity in the event something happened prior to or at the birth.  



http://4.bp.blogspot.com/-5M0eEaB411U/UZP7xMmbksI/AAAAAAAAEpo/uy_MQ_4IKjI/s1600/motherhood.jpg
Graphic Attributed to:



Everyone deals with parenting worries and fears in their own way.  Some of the things that might impact your coping strategies:

1. Your experiences in child development and taking care of children

2. Your birth order in family of origin

3. Knowledge of anatomy and physiology during pregnancy

4. Exposure to children with special needs and how to manage resources

5. Support systems in place


No matter how prepared you want to be, there will always (and I mean ALWAYS) be things that are new and unexpected.  It's normal to be scared.  It's normal to worry.  It's normal to have fears.  The best we can do is make sure to reach out for help when needed.  Find the resources and supports that work for you and your family.  Talk to other parents and share stories.  It's incredibly powerful to realize you are not alone in your journey.  The adventures and memories are worth the time and energy.  You will be exhausted both physically, emotionally, and mentally.  But those moments will pass.  There are also plenty of fun, happy, and crazy awesome memories to share with your children.  So hang onto that hope.  You're not alone!





How to Find Early Childhood Intervention Services in your area:



(State Part C Coordinators)











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I have over 20 years of experience in Early Childhood Development Birth-Age 5 including work in classrooms and as an Infant/Toddler Program Manager.  I have several writing projects in progress including a resource book for parents of infants and infant room teachers in a full day child development (school) program.  The book will provide families with information about what to expect and how to monitor their child's progress in an Infant room.  My second book project involves how to cope with family challenges, lessons in forgiveness, dealing with a spouse's addiction, and reinventing yourself along the way.  I am excited about all of these projects and am currently accepting comments regarding experiences my readers have had placing their child into a full day child care program.  I would also like to hear from Infant room teachers.