Tryouts should be quick, organized and free of hassle. So how come they never are? Probably because we have always approached them as a big, troublesome monster, instead of just another component of our program. If you keep your tryouts simple and logical they will run smoother. Some things to consider:

  • PLANNING: Well in advance of your scheduled tryout dates, secure your gym, organize announcements, make posters and gather helpers. Decide upon your requirements and judging criteria.
  • RECRUITMENT: Advertise in your feeder schools and in the high school with attractive posters and announcements. If you have a team website or Facbook page, post information there as well. Make sure that your athletic department has all of the appropriate information in case anyone calls with questions. Use caution when you have previous cheerleaders who need to be talked into returning to your team. My philosophy on this is that anyone who is not 100% sure they want to tryout will never see fit to give 100% to the team. Plus, if their coach had to beg them to return, they have a tool for manipulation all year long.
  • INITIAL MEETING: Have a mandatory parent and athlete meeting to discuss your rules, costs, fund-raising plans and tentative agenda for the season.
  • JUDGES: Bringing in judges is an archaic concept. My advice is for you to choose your own team. Every other coach in your school does the same. The drama teacher makes her own casting decisions for the play and the band director chooses the drum major. You have the right and the responsibility to hand pick your team. You empower yourself and your program by doing so. That said, if there is a reason you must have judges – make sure they are qualified individuals who know what they are looking for.
  • CRITERIA: Choose the skills that are most basic and important to you. Do not require skills that are more advanced than your kids are at this time of the year. Look for potential and strong basics. I do not favor teacher evaluations simply because kids are often different in class than they are on teams. Consider attitude as an important part of the selection process. Most skills can be taught to students with great desire. I favor a Goal Statement from each athlete. This written explanation of why someone would like to be a member of the team helps me evaluate her workability and attitude. Remember to follow an academic criteria, either your school policy or your own.
  • VISITORS: On tryout day the only people in the gym should be the kids trying out, your graduating seniors and you.
  • TEACHING: Enlist your graduating seniors, alumni or a cheer camp staff  to help teach material and skills. It’s important to get back to the basics! Do a group warm up and explain each skill carefully. Some kids trying out for the first time might not know that the splits should be entered in a squat position with hands in fists touching the ground. Start at the beginning with everything. This will also help avoid injuries.
  • For tryout cheers or chants use material that you have used all year. It makes it easier to determine how newcomers will fit into your existing program and preferred style of cheerleading.
  • Be specific in your directions for the material they need to create. Tell them how many lines a cheer should have and what kinds of skills you are looking for.
  • DRESS: Have the students dress alike for tryouts. It is easier to see how they will fit into a team unit. Make sure they are wearing cheer appropriate shoes the entire time (especially during tumbling) and are following safety rules: hair up, no jewelry, no piercings, appropriate nail length, etc. If you enforce this at tryouts, it sets a precedent for future practices.
  • TRYOUT PRACTICES (CLINICS): Safety rules should be followed at all times. Your clinics should be organized in a way that students can rotate into different areas to learn or perfect every skill required. You can make use of your graduating seniors and your returning juniors. Overspot all stunts. If someone is trying out who has never done a back handspring or other intermediate to advanced skill, this is not the time to teach it.
  • CONTACTING THE NEW TEAM: Personally, I don’t favor announcing the new team immediately after tryouts. It is embarrassing and uncomfortable for those who don’t make the team to have to pretend to be happy for others and not bothered by the news. It can be equally uncomfortable for those who make the team, if their best friends do not. I prefer sincerely thanking the kids for their time and efforts and sending them home with the knowledge that those who have made the team will receive a call or an e-mail by 7:00 p.m. This way, they can handle the news (or lack of it) their own way, in the privacy of their own homes.
  • Many coaches choose to call every athlete and let them know if they make the team or not. It is your preference.
  • Set in place a “no contact” time period during which parents and students are not allowed to contact you about the tryout results. Generally a day or two is sufficient. This gives tempers time to cool, and often people who had questions or concerns immediately following the tryout will find that they no longer need to discuss those issues after a day or so.


  •  As a coach, you do not need to entertain calls from athletes or their parents who demand to know why they did not get a spot on your team. If you have explained your policies and procedures and chosen your team carefully, then the only explanation you will have is that the athlete simply did not possess the necessary skill level to make your team.
  • In rare cases, it may be beneficial for you or your administration to have a written statement by you addressing the issues regarding the tryout procedure and outlining why someone may not have made the team. You should not have to keep your score sheets, but some administrators may feel better knowing you have them in your possession.
  • For many years, tryouts have been a source of contention in schools. My former principal once surmised that he believed parents and society could not let go of the ‘cheerleader image’ and what was attached to it: popularity, success, beauty, a feeling of the elite. That was his explanation for the many problems following tryouts. If that is true, it makes a good case for choosing your own team, not bowing to the pressure of parents. Treat your program as an athletic entity.
  • METHODS: There are many ways to judge the tryout process. A standard scoring sheet can be used:

        Forward Roll         1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  10

Splits                               1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  10


Toe Jump              1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  10

Herkie                    1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  10


Handspring            1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  10

Cheer                     1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  10

Chant                     1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  10

  •  Or, you might want to use the ranking system. On note cards write your required skills and call the girls out in random order, again and again, until you complete the ranking process. As you compare the cards, the same names will begin to pop up near the top and at the bottom. Choose the kids who are consistently at or near the top.
  • To speed up the tryout procedure, call the athletes out in groups of three to five. Some coaches choose to call in all of the juniors in one large group as they tend to be students with whom you are already familiar. Others like to distribute experienced athletes in with new athletes in order to have some leadership in each group. They should know the order of skills they are to perform. It is not necessary to allow them to start over and over when they make a mistake in their cheer. If they know in advance that this will not be allowed, they will make sure they know their material quite well. If someone does make an error or forgets where they are, ask them to start from that point. Stress a proper warm up on tryout day to avoid injury.

Again, make sure all of the candidates understand what is expected of them. Make each one feel appreciated by thanking them many times for their time and interest. Give your undivided attention to everyone trying out.





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