The Best Tryout Advice I Ever Got

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Back when dinosaurs roamed the earth and I was at the tryout workshop for my high school pom team, I got a piece of advice from one of the graduating seniors that served me well at that time and that I have passed along at tryouts for the many, many (many) years that I have been coaching. That piece of advice was one simple sentence: “Make your motions definite.”

So, “What exactly does that mean?”, you might ask. Well, to me, it has two interpretations, both of which are requirements for a great performance.

The first interpretation is to hit your motions full out. Not only does moving full out look better than doing things halfway, it lets you look as if you are sure of yourself and that you know what you’re supposed to be doing. This helps with the “memory” section of your tryout score sheet, as well as with the “performance” section.

The second way to interpret that simple sentence is to make your motions sharp. Whether you say definite, sharp, or tight, it all means that you tighten your muscles and hit your motions at exactly the correct angles at the correct time.

There’s nothing more obvious to a judge than loose, sloppy motions. The first thing the judges and coaches will look for (besides your smile!) is whether your fists and muscles are tight. There’s an old saying, “If you practice sloppy, you’ll perform sloppy.” With enough repetition and practice, you’ll get those movements into muscle memory, but you want to make sure that those muscles are remembering tight motions, not sloppy ones.

It all starts with good posture. When you walk in, be sure you start out standing up straight, with your head and chest up. It might help to imagine there’s a giant rubber band attached to your head and chest that is pulling you up to the sky or ceiling. Then take a deep breath to help calm your nerves, and smile!

Tighten your fists and straighten your elbows. This will help you to remember to tighten your arm muscles, too. If that choreography calls for having your hands in blades, make sure that your fingers are straight and there’s no space between them, and that your thumbs are as close to your index fingers as possible.

When you’re clasping or clapping, make sure your elbows are tucked in close to your body so your arms aren’t flapping around like chicken wings.

Point your toes when you’re jumping or tumbling. (I have said this so many times that I’ve often joked that I’m going to have it tattooed on my forehead.) This will help you remember to tighten your leg muscles and straighten your legs, too.

Work on your extension. If you’ve ever watched figure skaters gracefully gliding across the ice, you may have noticed how they seem to be stretching out past their fingers and toes when they reach out. Try imagining that there’s something you really want (a cute puppy, a hundred dollar bill, your favorite candy bar…) about 6 inches past your hand, and try stretching…out…to…try…to…reach…it. Got it!

Finally, practice doing all this in front of a mirror. You can’t be certain that you’re moving correctly if you can’t see yourself. Once you think you have the hang of it, have a friend take a video of you while you practice, preferably from several angles. If you see good posture, tight muscles, sharp motions, pointed toes, and a big smile, you’re ready for the judges!

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Marge Packman

Marge was a member of her high school pom team and has coached youth and school cheer for over 17 years. She has a BA in English from Northern Illinois University (Go, Huskies!). After graduation she joined the Peace Corps, met her husband, and moved to The OC. After cheer practice, you can find her watching football with her son or perusing the scrapbooking aisles with her daughter.

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