Reps for Warriors: cheerleading team

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<em>Previously in </em>Reps for Warriors<em>: <a href="http://uwimprint.ca/article/4794-reps-for-warriors-womens-hockey">women&#39;s hockey</a></em></p>

In this edition of Reps for Warriors, Imprint joined the university’s cheerleading team during one of their practices. Held three times a week, the team meets upstairs at PAC blue north for three hours. Likely one of the few teams with such specialized equipment, the team literally rolls out their mats and tumbling floors to practice their skills and formations. 

The atmosphere at the training session was very energetic: warmups last over 30 minutes with various stretches on the tumbling floor or mats, as well as a brief run around  PAC. Should there be too much moping around, head coach Samson Yan isn’t afraid to extend the warm-up, or make it a little tougher. 

Imprint attended two sessions: the first focused on tumbling while the second focused on pyramid formations. The cheerleading team was incredibly friendly: at the first practice, a friend and I were encouraged to join in the warm-up with smiling faces and optimistic cheers (no pun intended). Awkwardly, we looked at each other and joined in, despite being underdressed in jeans, T-shirts, and boots. 

The stretches the team used for their warm-ups are tough for someone lacking flexibility. I was in hysterics for how poorly I was doing compared to the team, who honestly made it look pretty effortless. A girl next to me, however, did comment on how she hated one particular exercise, so it’s not all fun and games. 

Near the end of their warm-up, the squad broke up into groups of two or three to practise a quick routine of jumps and kicks. The group dynamic of the team is clearly visible in these kinds of situations; while one does the routine, the other watches for any possible improvement, be it pointing their toes or facing their head forward. 

Once everyone was warmed up, the team moved on to their main practice. The schedule for practice varies, depending on the time left until competitions. With competitions in both fall and winter, time moves pretty quickly: this semester, tryouts were in January and the team competes in March. Thus the team needs to plan what they will do for their routine and start working on skills. 

“It becomes a basis of how quickly are sections being learnt, and then how much time do we need to focus on different elements,” Yan said. 

The cheerleading team has a roster of over 40 people, split into two teams: varsity and junior varsity. The varsity team consists of the more advanced, veteran gymnasts, and the junior team has newer members — some who had never previously practised the sport prior. The two teams are often split up during practice, and since Yan cannot be in two places at once, he is assisted by skilled alumni who work with the junior team. 

On top of three practices a week, members of the cheerleading team work out by themselves. Yan only gives the team a few additional exercises instead of an entire workout because most of the athletes already have their own training program; this is to ensure they are doing exercises specific to cheerleading. 

“There’s a lot of cross training that’s useful for them to do,” said Yan. “And give them ideas of exercises that are good to balance their body … I like to give them the freedom to be able to do their workouts the way they will. It also speaks to the fact that we are a co-ed team — different people doing different jobs.” 

When asked how he motivates his athletes in the gym, Yan said they will see their workout improve their performance at practice, “They know this by looking at the people that go to the gym more often — they are more successful.” 

In practice, Yan said he likes encouragement to come from within. Each practice ends with the team coming together and sharing — called ‘goals and appreciations.’ “[It’s] a chance for any athlete to raise their hand and if they want to they can just appreciate something that they saw a fellow athlete do or set a goal for themselves.” 

Krystina Lau has been a member of the cheerleading team for four years. She enjoys how close everyone on the team is and how “we literally lift each other up.” She credits the trust between everyone to perfecting the stunts performed: “Because, y’know, a girl is putting their life in your hands.” 

Aiden Gallagher, a fourth-year engineering student, enjoys practice as a distraction from his academics. 

“It balances out the engineering lifestyle,” he said. “[It] takes your mind off things, so you just focus on things here, not worrying about everything outside of it.”