Alison Arnold, Ph.D. and Sara Robinson, M.A.
What does it mean to be "All In" at practice? It means you are 100% there, not just physically, but mentally, emotionally; you bring all of your energy and spirit to the day. A cheerleader who walks into practice “All In” is 100% present for yourself, your coaches, and your team. To be able to do that, you need to be able to leave all of the stress AND even excitement of your day, at the door.
As cheerleaders, you have very busy lives and often jump from one responsibility to the next which can make it hard to be 100% focused on the current situation like practice. Think about it- What takes you out of being present at practice? Both good and bad things can take you from “All In” to “Mostly In” or even “A Little In”- That boy you like asked you how your weekend was, you have a HUGE test tomorrow, you and your mom argued again over which homecoming dress was the "perfect" one. These things can take your head right out of the game, and when your head is out, that's when mistakes and injuries can happen. You and your squad can’t be at your best when heads are outside of the gym but bodies are on the floor. So, what can you do?
Personalize this routine and do it every day- add music, an important quote, or an image that’s meaningful. These steps should help to create a clear, confident mind that is ready to focus on practice. However, once you’re at practice if you find yourself going back into the stress of the day, do your routine during practice as well, to get you clear, confident and refocused.
Some athletes find it difficult to clear out the thoughts unrelated to cheer. An additional tool that may help is finding a way to release all of those thoughts from your mind. Before you step into practice, find a way to empty your brain, or dump all of those thoughts that could get in your way during practice. Try taking your phone and writing down everything that’s in your head: the good, the bad, the things that could take you from 100% to less. Or, picture a box in your mind, putting all of those thoughts into the box and locking it up. However you contain those thoughts, they’re out of your head for now, and you can deal with them later, when practice is done.
Lastly, an important aspect of leaving it all at the door is realizing how you affect your team. We all have felt how a person's mood affects the entire squad. It's contagious! When you’re able to leave your distractions at the door and come into practice being a leader, you are giving your squad one of the biggest gifts possible. Being able to shift your focus to be “All In” is a key to mental toughness and your whole squad will be inspired by you.
Remember that your mental skills are like your cheer skills- they need to be practiced and consistently executed in order to see improvement. By taking the time to try these tools, you’ll find you can leave your day at the door and approach practice like the cheerleader you want to be.
Tools to "leave it at the door".
Create a routine that you do every practice as your walk from the car into your gym. Your routine should include 1) Breathing: inhale confidence and exhale stress. Do this several times. 2) Self-talk: create a trigger statement that tells you that you are ready for practice. Try something like "game on" or "here we go.” Make it personal and meaningful to you. 3) Body language: Use an action like clapping your hands or shaking it off to signal you are ready to shift 100% into focus. Lastly, walk in with confident body language.