Aging Out – What Comes Next?
A peculiar thing about this sport we love is that once you reach a certain age, your role as an athlete comes to an end. In most cases, this happens at 18. As my daughter gets older, I find myself closely watching the older athletes navigate through this change. What does come next? For some, it could be going to college or entering the workforce full time. But for others, they find a way to stay within the sport and become a coach. But really…what happens when your life revolves around cheer, and it suddenly comes to an end?
To get some insight about what these athletes go through, I reached out to a very special person; Kassidi Weakley, an athlete that has recently aged out and transitioned into a coaching role. I remember when she joined our cheer gym, and how happy and grateful she always was to be there. On many occasions, I have heard her say, “this is my family, this is my home.” This is a girl that lived and breathed cheer, and would always give 100% on and off the mat, even with a broken nose. She was a natural leader in every way. I remember one particular practice that wasn’t going very well, and the morale was getting fairly low. I watched Kassidi simply place her hand on one of her teammate’s shoulders and give her a look that basically said, “I believe in you.” Instances like this touch my heart and stay with me forever. The way these athletes support each other is one of the things I love the most about this sport.
I remember her final season as an athlete. At every competition, my heart would break a little bit, because I knew it would be the last time she would perform on that particular stage. And each time she stepped on the mat, she performed with so much passion, you felt it in your heart. For somebody that loves cheer so much, I knew it had to be gut-wrenching to her. What was next for her? Coaching, of course. What better way to share her passion and love for cheer than to pass it on to the next generation of athletes? This is her story.
For your entire cheer life, what has been the best part? How has cheer prepared you for the rest of your life?
“Overall, the best part of my entire cheer career would be the times I spent as a leader and a role model. As the years went by, this sport showed me how to come outside of my comfort zone and be the real me. The real me is outgoing and someone who thrives to be a leader. It all started when I became a cheer captain my sophomore year in high school during basketball season. I really got to be a leader by guiding my team at practice and during the games of course. I was also a “senior captain” for two years at CheerXperience. These two years I was a senior in high school and a freshman in college. I was one of the oldest athletes and I took the role on because I really wanted my team/teams to do well. I led them at practices to give 150% and no less. I helped them through hard times when we were fighting and didn’t all agree. Being the leader on those teams was a very cherished part of my whole cheer career as well because I got the chance to be looked up to, not only by the younger ones on my team, but also by the little girls on the mini, youth, and junior teams. I wouldn’t take back any of these experiences as a leader because I learned that even when people don’t want to listen to what has to be heard, it’s a great opportunity to get to be in a position where I could help out in those ways. In the end, all my teammates taught me how to be a better leader. Having leadership skills will help me in any future career endeavors.”
Going back to your last year of competing, did you have the “this is my last year” thoughts from the very beginning? And what may have changed throughout the season?
“Going back to the second to last year of my cheer career, I thought this was actually going to be my last year. I was an 18-year-old senior in high school. Every moment that year (showcase, team reveal, competitions, and especially Summit), I thought those were all my last times as a cheerleader. May came along that next season and I had heard it was possible to be a “Super Senior” since I didn’t turn 19 until after August 31, which is the age deadline. After hearing this I knew I had to take this opportunity with the sport I love. I could never give up the chance to be a part of the sport that is my life. I had only ever been on one team per year before at CheerXperience and then Sarah Gilardi, the CheerXperience gym owner, offered me a spot on not just one but two teams and to also be a coach. I decided why not go out with a bang for my final year of cheer. That year I had the hardest time believing it was going to be all over and I could never cheer again. I didn’t really get emotional until it finally hit me at the D2 Summit when it all became real. When I stepped off the stage after awards, I couldn’t help but burst into tears. I hadn’t fully prepared myself for this moment and it was the hardest experience I’ve had to go through. All in all, I probably should’ve prepared myself more with facing the reality that it had to end sometime, but I enjoyed spending those last times with happiness and not tears all year long. All the people who were by my side made it such an amazing and memorable last year. I truly thank my amazing teammates, my coaches Geno, Raychel, and Sarah, all the parents in this program, and most importantly my mom. I definitely wouldn’t have wanted to spend my last year with any other people.”
Tell me about your thoughts and emotions during your last competition. And tell me about the support you received from your mom, and how important that was to you.
“Oh boy. My last competition was a very hard experience because that’s when it all became clear that it was over. It was also hard because we didn’t hit a zero deduction routine second day as my last cheer routine ever. It really made me think about what I could’ve done to make it better and make it the best thing to leave my cheer career with. I was a complete emotional mess when I fully realized I was done. In this last year, it wasn’t just hard for me, but it was hard for my mom too, because it was the last time she would be seeing me perform. When I became an emotional mess at my last competition, my mom comforted me and told me about the amazing things I had accomplished in my cheer career. She also told me that, in a way, it wasn’t all over, and that I still was going to be a part of CheerXperience as a coach. It really helped that she stayed calm to help me through all my tears. I’m so very grateful that she was by my side through my whole cheer career and still remains involved with me as a coach.”
What are some things you have to say to those that are still competing? And what if you know of somebody that may quit before they age out?
“One thing I would definitely say to those still competing would be that if you love this sport and have a passion for it, you should never give up on it and definitely do it until you can’t (AKA until you age out). As to this day, I wish I was still able to cheer and would jump right in if there was a possible way. I’ve heard from different people who have taken a year off that they totally regret it because they missed out on amazing opportunities. This competitive sport is definitely like no other. It really breaks my heart to see people quit because one day they may look back and regret the decision they made. So if anyone has one hard day in the gym or even has a tiny thought of giving up, think about what will happen after all this hard work pays off. It can all lead to so many good things, such as getting to be a leader, making lifelong friendships, winning competitions, getting Summit bids, and maybe even winning at Summit and bringing home a ring.”
How did you transition into the coaching role? And tell me what you love about it.
“Moving into the coaching role was somewhat hard because I had to learn to be a leader/role model in a different type of way. Instead of dealing with girls my own age, I had to deal with much younger athletes ranging from 5-12. It’s very different because they have a lot more energy and not as much focus all the time. It really helps me to get this practice in on how to coach these ages. It will also help me in the future if I become a gym owner and will definitely help me when I become a mom (in a very long time). There are many things that I love about coaching. One of them is seeing the excitement on their faces when they’ve accomplished something. When I see them full of joy, it makes my heart happy. I love being a leader for them by giving them pep talks as if I were on my own team. It really helps them to understand that I do believe in them and know that they can do great things. Another good thing about coaching, especially just coming from being an athlete at this gym, is that they look up to me and know what I have accomplished and that they can reflect on that and do as I did by giving this sport my all. I love spending time with each and every athlete and learning who they are, whether it’s their skills, their flaws, their insecurities, and even what they do outside of this sport. Coaching is an amazing way to watch how people grow in this sport.
Wow! What a great time it was when my team, Echo, got a bid to Summit last year. I was on two teams. My two teams, Zelus and Nikolina, had already gotten bids earlier in the season. It was hard for Echo to get a bid and they knew that they had to work super hard for it. The last competition came along and it was the last bid opportunity. I knew I could not leave my team that I coach behind. I was on the plane and wished I could have been back in Rancho Cordova watching the bid reveal with everyone else. I started watching the reveal as we were boarding the plane. I got in my seat and was just on my toes hoping and praying that I would see their name under the list of bids given out. It finally got to the screen with the bids awarded and it was there, CheerXperience Echo Small Youth 2. I couldn’t help but scream. I had to be held down and have my mouth covered by my friend Shannon. I was full of excitement because I got the travel to Orlando, Florida to the D2 Summit with not one, not two, but three of the teams I was a part of. I told myself I wanted to go out with a bang and bringing all my teams was the best way to do just that.”
How does it feel to give back to the sport that gave you so much?
“This feeling is like no other. I love that I can look at my experiences, whether they were good or bad, and show these younger athletes who they can grow into themselves. It feels like I have the opportunity to lead, assist, and mold these athletes into who they will be when they move up to Junior and Senior teams. I can’t wait to watch what all these kids grow up to be. I hope to see some of them as leaders just like I was.”
Do you still miss competing, or does coaching fill that void?
“To this day and many days after today, I will forever miss competing as an athlete. And not only that, I will always miss competing as an athlete at CheerXperience. My time spent at that gym as an athlete was the best part of my life. I watch all the teams, especially the ones with my old teammates on them, and feel so happy for them. I’m so happy for all that they accomplish and that I get to be there watching them. It’s also hard to watch them because I used to be up there with them and I would love to still be out there with them. I would go back on that mat and start cheering again if there ever became an opportunity. Hopefully, Sarah Gilardi will one day decide to have an International team, because I would be so there for that!”
Coaching doesn’t fully fill the void of competing because I can’t do anything while being on the sidelines. It’s very hard when you want your team to succeed on the floor but you have no power when they are competing by themselves. To fill this void, I really try and focus on the importance of what I do as a coach before and after they take the stage. That’s where I can make an impact now.”
I can easily verify that she does make an impact. A very large impact. When a person is filled with so much passion and dedication to a sport, it is so easily spilled onto others. This results in a very positive and encouraging environment, which is exactly where I want my own child to be. – Brandon Caylor, CheerXperience Cheer Dad, Heart of Cheer Bloggerhttp://www.heartofcheer.com/blog/aging-out-what-comes-next/http://www.heartofcheer.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/04/aging6-400x268.jpghttp://www.heartofcheer.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/04/aging6-300x300.jpgBlogCheerleadersParentsall star cheerleading,cheer coach,cheerxperience,super senior