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  • Writer's pictureMWronska

Are the substitutes athletes the best?


Małgorzata Wrońska trener cheerleadingu

As I mentioned on Facebook, the last Polish Nationals inspired me to write this text. During competition I have watched the substitute athletes, waiting in full readiness for the opportunity to perform. There were many questions here that kept troubling me. Leading NEXT CHEER Generation, I had no such problem because the commercial team has slightly different rules. If a performance contract was signed, it did not include a substitute. A team like NEXT had about 20 choreos during a season, and basically every dancer needed to know most of the "spots" in the choreography. This, among other things, solves the age-old "mystery" why "match" choreographies are much simpler than competitive ones. Firstly, by their multitude, and secondly, by the fact that they must be constructed in such a way that it is possible (basically freely) to modify the number of dancers/athelets.

In the case of competitive teams, things are a bit different. Thinking of a functioning of the substitute athlets, a lot of questions came to my mind, as well as curiosity about the situation of a substitute player in different teams. Sometimes a substitute athlete is treated as someone who will perfome to cover an empty spot in a formation, after other's athlete's injury, but he/she is not essential for competing. And sometimes, performing without a substitute athlete is impossible, because we don't have of the statutory number of athletes to compete. It also came to my mind that the substitute atlete has definitely the worst situation. First, his/her chances of compteting are pretty weak. Secondly, he has to be able to "jump" into almost any spot in the perfomance, so he/she learns different "places" in the choreography without having as much time as other athletes during training. Thirdly, let's face it, while creating the best choreography ever, often specific people, with certain skills, are set up in specific spots in the formation to show more a given skill. Ideally, the substitute should be able to perform all elements of the choreography in all "spots". So isn't the substitute athlete the best one, with the smallest chances to compete? As the topic of substitute athletes is not very close to me, I decided to ask experts whose teams are competing, and this is their "daily bread". My questions were answered by:


Shiva Dance Studio

The first question was whether the above-mentioned coaches have substitute athletes in their teams at all. In Shiva Dance Studio, the senior and junior teams rarely have substitutes because they compete in large teams, so they don't have more people; although recently it so happened that additional support can be counted on up to two people per team. It is worth noting that here the function of a substitute athlete is not always assigned to one person. You can take it when you are absent from trainings, an injury that is not fully healed, or you are simply in a worse shape than the rest of the team. The athlete must know the entire choreography for the one spot. Moreover, also needs to be able to quickly learn the choreography of another athlete. In Honorata Dance Studio, there are no substitute athletes, because everyone who gets into the main squad has a guaranteed place in the competitive team. This is partly because the parent who pays for classes fees is reluctant to hear that his child is not yet full member. If such a person (substitutive athlete) joins the team, the Studio do not spend much time learing them the choero. This person can replace any squad's athlete in the formation during a training when someone is absent or has an injury only. In Baltica Cheerleaders, choreographies are usually built in such a way that some places overlap, and the substitute athlete learn the "areas" of the choreography, ie the left or right side. There are about 5 substitutes in a large team, and when the size does not allow it, then the choreography is created so that it is easy to "rearrange" the athletes without losing the attractiveness of the presentation, but missing spots.

Cheer NS

I wouldn't be myself if I would ask cheerleading coaches as well. The situation of substitutes in Cheer NS is very simple. The coach - Mirosław Haczek builds squads at the beginning of the season and each squad consists of about 25 people. Substitute athletes account for about 1/5 of this number and they are people who do not have all the skills yet and are in a process of an intensive education. During the season, if a promising person appears, he/she can be added to the squad, but only as a substitite athlete. I asked this question also beyond the borders of Poland - to the Austrian team Rangers, where there are about three substitute athletes for a team of 15-25 people. These are athletes who did not make the main team, but are able to support it when needed. Substitite players are also former players who cannot train regularly throughout the season, but are able to join training three weeks before the competition. Substitutes learn many "positions" from the program, as well as being in tune with the team, so that they can adapt quickly to the performance. Sometimes they train harder than others, sometimes there is no need for them to appear (which is rare).

So I come back to my, probably quite controversial question - Does the substitute athletes have to be the best if she/he has to be able to replace almost every athlete who made it to the main squad? Of course, it all depends on whether it should only take its place in the choreography, so that there are no "empty spots" in the choreography, or whether it should be properly replaced with all skills well executed. How mentally strong an athlete must be to train many choreography options, knowing that he/she may not perform at all? Moreover, in extreme cases the a substitute athlete has only a few minutes to get into the choreography.

Baltica Cheerleaders

Alicja Płonka from Baltica Cheerleaders believes that the substitutes are in the worst situation, because they sometimes have to work harder and their performance is not guaranteed at all. Therefore, if she makes an opportunity for substitute athlete to perform. Sometimes, she changes the athlete in purpose, e.g. in final and semi-final, so that everyone has the same motivation to train, but both athletes know it in advanced. Jowita Wilowski from Shiva Dance Studio believes that the substitute player is the weaker player who saves the start of the team. Fortunately, she does not have to use them, although, as she mentions, she had to perform once, because one of the athlete could not start, and without her, the team would have an irregular number of people. But who, if not the coach, knows the entire choreography best?

Studio Tańca Honorata

Honorata Włochy-Kowalczyk agrees with my thesis. Moreover, she has a similar approach to starting in the semi-finals and the final of various people, so that every training in the squad can appear (like Alicja Płonka said). Here I will allow myself a quote from Ms Honorata: “Yes, I agree, a substitute player most often doubled one of the dancers. If there were 2 dancers of a similar level in the team, they learned the same position. Their diligence and progress during education gave them the opportunity to perform in the main line-up. While it was possible to put one of the athlete in the semi-finals and the other in the finals, the coaches could use it to make each substitute athlete take part in the competition. I agree with the thesis that the substitute player should be the best player because he/she has to replace every dancer in every position and here comes the question, why should the best player become a substitute? " In Cheer NS, the substitute is the weakest player, otherwise he would be in the main squad. Nevertheless, it must be a quick-reaction and dynamic person who is able to replace another athlete. I will only add a fairly obvious thing, but it seems to me that it is worth emphasizing that in performance cheer the substitute athlete in the worst case (colloquially speaking) will "dance badly", and in cheerleading, a not well prepared athlete in a given place can cause a lot of danger to himself and others athletes.

Rangers Cheerleaders

Therefore, Elisabeth Jenauth rightly points out that in cheerleading it is not entirely possible for everyone to be able to replace everyone. Will base replace flayer? There may be a problem with that. However, in the base group, everyone learns each role, including backspots. In Rangers, she takes the longest to learn a substitute athlete the dance part of the program. Here I must add a very important thing. Almost all the Coaches asked about the substitute athletes emphasize that it must be a person with a strong psyche, who will not break down, will not panic that suddenly needs to perform.

Both Mirek from Cheer NS and Jowita from Shiva Dance Studio claim that the institution of substitute athlete does not work with children, because it is difficult to explein the them, that probably they will not compete still training. Not only for kids have problem with understanding - also parents who pay for classes, don't want them kid to be "in case" athlete. And what about the reserve players in your teams?

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