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From athlete to sports mom: Seeing sports through my daughters’ eyes

People always assumed my girls would become cheerleaders. I remember taking Sophie to my college homecoming when she was six months old, dressed in a cheerleading uniform. When we stopped to say hello to the cheerleaders, the coach spotted her and said, “Oh, are you going to put her on one of those little ankle-biter [competitive] squads when she’s 3?”  

Well, Sophie is now 8 and just getting into cheerleading. As I write this, she and Annabelle are at a cheerleading clinic at a local high school, and they’ve started a cheer fundamentals class at an all-star gym.  

Having coached college cheerleading for the better part of two decades, I have tried to recruit a number of athletes who experienced intense competitive schedules at a young age, and were too burned out or beaten up to cheer in college. I swore I would never push my kids into any sport, and definitely not into cheerleading.  

Last year I became sports mom. Sophie hadn’t been interested up to that point, but she wanted to play on her school soccer team in the fall rec department league.  

And then … the girls became football fans. Oh sure, we had dressed them in Dallas Cowboys (my team) and Baltimore Ravens (my husband’s team) gear since birth, but they developed a genuine interest. I mentioned to Sophie how at her age, I’d wanted to be the first woman to play in the NFL.  

Oops. That stuck.  

Long story short, Sophie became a two-sport athlete, playing flag football and soccer last spring. Annabelle joined the sports ranks on the cheerleading squad that ran along with flag football, and had no hesitation when she started kindergarten this fall about wanting to play rec soccer too.  

After watching the summer Olympics, the girls fell in love with gymnastics. They had always been fascinated by cheerleading, watching my squads, but suddenly they were obsessed with learning tumbling and flexibility and stunting and … here we are.   

One of my friends, a self-professed “childless millennial” and fellow retired cheerleader, asked me what it’s like to see my sport through my children’s eyes. And how would I feel if they fell in love with a sport other than cheerleading? So for all my fellow retired athletes and/or coaches, some thoughts and advice: 

  • Be open to letting your child try different sports. For all that Sophie looks just like me, she’s not a clone of me. There are a lot of sports out there, and cross-training is helpful. And please, don’t let your own biases affect what sports they try.  
  • Your child may not excel at your sport. This is OK. 
  • Your child may be better than you at your sport. This is also OK. I experienced this because my younger sister was a better cheerleader than I, and now my kids are way more flexible than I ever was, and I’m sort of jealous. But I’m proud, too. 
  • Know your own limits. You don’t have to volunteer to coach just because you played the sport. I, quite frankly, lack the patience to coach the littlest ones.  
  • Know your child’s limits. Yes, for all I preach about not burning your kid out, I let Sophie do two sports in one season. The practice and game schedules didn’t overlap, so she wasn’t overtaxed. Now she’s asking about adding lacrosse this spring, so she’d have to give up soccer for that season. 
  • Don’t worry about college scholarships. Let your child try different sports and don’t specialize early because you think that will make them stand out. If they truly fall in love with a sport, that passion and dedication will carry them far.

Will I be disappointed if neither of my daughters continue cheerleading? Honestly, no. I want them to find something they love as much as I love cheerleading, and there are so many opportunities out there. Whatever path they find, I’ll always be their biggest cheerleader. 



Jen Deinlein
Jen Deinlein is a self-professed “Jen of all trades and master of none.” She’s a SAHM to 8- and 5-year-old daughters, a freelance writer (you can also see her work in CPBJ) and head cheerleading coach at Penn State Mont Alto. She and her family live in Guilford Township, Franklin County, with a golf course in the backyard where they frequently rescue lost golf balls. You can reach Jen on Instagram: @groovypq; Twitter: @jlbd77 or by email: [email protected].

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