3 Questions that Must be Answered to Determine an Athlete’s Level
Welcome to the fourth in a series of posts designed to educate the competitive cheer parent! My goal is to provide clarity by increasing knowledge and understanding of the sport. I believe parent education is the first step to improving the parent experience.
This week we are answering a common cheer parent question, “What Level is my athlete?” We are going to build off the concepts presented last week in my Understanding the Leveling System post. Our goal is to help parents understand how an athlete’s Level should be determined.
Team placements have been announced. Coaches and gym owners brace themselves for the flood of emails, Facebook messages, and phone calls they know are coming. A typical message goes something like this, “Why was my child placed on Level 1? They can do a back handspring. I want them on a Level 2 team.”
When speaking to a parent regarding their athlete’s Level, many parents default to their athlete’s tumbling level. In our sport, tumbling is the one area where we can judge an athlete independently. It is an individual skill set where the athlete is not relying on their teammates to perform.
For the purposes of this post, let’s assume tumbling is the only determining factor for Level placement. Even when focusing solely on tumbling, there are several questions that must be answered before we can properly determine an athlete’s Level.
3 Questions We Must Answer
The three underlying concepts behind the USASF Rules that create the Leveling System are safety, progression, and fair play. When we are answering the question, “What Level is my athlete”, we must actually answer three questions:
What Level would be safe for the athlete? Our top priority should always be the safety of the athlete. Asking an athlete to perform skills at a Level they are not properly prepared to perform creates the potential for unsafe situations.
A safe skill is one the athlete is able to perform consistently with proper technique. In the case of tumbling skills, the athlete should be able to perform the skill on a competition surface, a spring floor, without a spot.
Consistency is important. The athlete should be able to perform the skill in a performance situation which means taking into consideration the pressure of choreographed counts, music speed, and not being completely fresh.
Technique is key. Performing the skill with great technique increases both the safety and the consistency of the skill. Under pressure to perform, athletes may attempt skills they have not been properly trained to perform.
Which Level’s skills has the athlete mastered? There is a difference between performing a skill and skill mastery. One concept we must understand is the ratio of time spent teaching versus training in team practices. Teaching time is spent learning and acquiring new skills. Training time is spent perfecting and mastering acquired skills. Team practice time cannot be strictly teaching time.
A significant amount of practice time should be spent on skill mastery. For skill mastery to develop, practice time must be focused with high-intensity and repetition. It cannot be spent attempting to bring athletes up to speed with the minimum skills of their level.
Once a skill is mastered, it can be performed safely, consistently, and with great technique.
At what Level would the athlete be the greatest asset? In today’s competitive environment, successful teams are performing the maximum skills allowed at each Level by the majority, if not all, of the team members. Because of this, an athlete will be the greatest asset to a team where they can perform the maximum skills allowed.
This means competing on a Level where they have perfected and mastered the skills not a Level where they are still learning or acquiring the skills. For example, if an athlete is learning Level 3 skills, they should have already mastered Level 2 skills. Having mastery of a skill set allows the athlete to perform the skills comfortably, under pressure, safely with great technique. This athlete will be an asset to their team.
The Big Picture
An individual athlete’s tumbling level is an easy place to begin the conversation, but we must remember that it is not the only factor in determining an athlete’s Level. In addition to tumbling skills, the athlete will be expected to perform the building skills, stunts, baskets, and pyramids, allowed at their Level. As we’ve already discussed in previous posts, skipping Levels can be detrimental for an athlete because they are missing out on crucial building skill sets that must be mastered.
Parents, while tumbling ability may be the most obvious way to discuss your athlete’s level, understand the whole picture, support proper progression, and realize your athlete’s tumbling skills may advance quicker than their building skills. Our goal is to place an athlete at a Level where they will be safe and an asset to their team.
Check back next week for “How to Set Up a Team for Success”!
Question – Do you find your athlete’s tumbling level progresses faster than the Level they are truly ready to compete at?