I am a member of a cheer coaches discussion board online, and one of the most common questions I see is, “I’m just getting started. How do I become certified as a cheer coach?” It can be a little overwhelming and intimidating to know where to start, but that is what I’m here for.
There are plenty of companies out there offering “cheer coach certification,” but not all of them are created equal. We are going to focus on the few courses that come from reputable organizations in the cheerleading and athletics world.
This post is geared toward coaches of rec and school teams, as that is what I am familiar with. All-star coaches will need specific certification from the USASF/IASF. If this is you, follow this link to learn more about their coach credentialing process.
Why do I need to have a cheer coach certification?
Good question. There are several benefits to receiving a certification in cheer coaching.
To start, these certifications will give you the base knowledge you will need to coach a team safely and effectively. This is especially important for those with minimal cheer experience who are stepping into a coaching role. It will also provide peace of mind to parents that you are qualified to be instructing their children.
Cheerleading continues to push boundaries, and with that comes the need for heightened awareness for athlete safety. However, no matter how safe you are, accidents can still happen. In the event a family may try to pursue legal action, having the proper certifications may provide additional liability protection for you.
Finally, credentialing is important simply because the training and resources provided are valuable. No matter how long you have cheered, there is always more to learn to make sure we continue building a safe and reputable sport.
Save this checklist for easy reference and keep scrolling to learn more about each course.
USA Cheer/NFHS Safety Certification
If you do nothing else, the most important certification you can get is the USA Cheer/NFHS Cheer Safety Certification (formerly the AACCA Spirit Safety Certification). USA Cheer is the national governing body for sport cheering in the US. As such, this certification is critical for coaches of sideline and rec teams.
The Cheer Safety Certification covers safety awareness and legal liability, medical responsibilities and emergency plans, safe practice environments, spotting technique, and athlete readiness and skill progressions.
This course is a bit of an investment at $75, and there are two ways to complete it. I completed mine through NFHS, because my school district also requires coaches to complete a few additional courses through NFHS. However, if you complete it through USA Cheer, it also comes with one million dollars of liability coverage.
Once you complete this course, you are listed in the USA Cheer public database of certified cheer coaches so anyone can view your certificate.
USA Cheer Rules Course
Also available from USA Cheer is the high school rules training. USA Cheer and NFHS have joined forces to put out one set of rules beginning in 2020. These are the rules that are used at middle and high school competitions across the country, and are also the rules that you should follow throughout the year at all practices and games.
There are two options for this – one that covers the full rules book, or a course that highlights just the rule changes for the coming school year. Both courses are just $15 for non-members, and I would highly recommend the full training if you have never taken it before. It is very helpful and provides video demonstrations for many rules. The system is not the most user-friendly and it takes a little over 2 hours to complete, but it is definitely worth it.
Having your First Aid/CPR certification is always a good idea, but especially so when working with students. There are so many potential injuries and emergencies that could occur during practices, games, and competitions, so you must be prepared for any situation. Use the American Red Cross website to find an in-person training near you or to complete the training online.
State-level and Competition-Specific Certifications
Before the season begins, be sure to check with the organization(s) hosting any competitions you plan to attend. They may have a pre-requisite credentialing process in order to participate. For example, any Varsity brand competition (UCA, NCA, USA, etc.) requires that the entire team attends summer camp and completes the squad credentialing program.
Similarly, to participate in the Indiana Cheer Championship hosted by the Indiana Association of School Principals (our state’s primary school competition outside Varsity brands), coaches must attend the summer coaches’ conference they host in July. Always check for these things as early in the year as possible – you don’t want to get to registration and realize you missed the necessary credentialing months ago!
Additional Courses from NFHS
If you are a school coach, check with your administration or athletic department to see if there are any additional certifications they would like you to have. My athletic director requires me to have three additional certifications, and I would strongly recommend them for all cheer coaches.
- Concussion in Sports – Though we try to be as safe as possible, the risk of concussion is always there. This course will help you recognize the symptoms and learn proper return to play protocol.
- Heat Illness Prevention – If you practice outside at any point, have a football game in the August heat, or even just walk in a summer parade, you should definitely take 20 minutes to take this course. It covers the risk factors, symptoms, and treatment for heat induced illness. My team participates in the local 4th of July parade, and it is almost always a scorcher. Nearly every year, we have a few team members who are really affected by the heat. The skills I learned from this course have helped me in being able to identify when the girls start to get overheated and get them safely cooled back down.
- Sudden Cardiac Arrest – Sudden cardiac arrest is the leading cause of death in student athletes. The thought of an athlete suddenly collapsing in the middle of practice or a game is scary. This course will teach you the signs to look for, how to help students identify if they are experiencing sudden cardiac arrest, and the steps to take should it occur. Being prepared to act, should it ever happen, could save your athlete’s life.
International Cheer Union (ICU) Coaches Credentialing
I would be doing a disservice to not mention the coaches course and credentialing offered by the International Cheer Union (ICU). The ICU Is the international governing body for cheerleading (provisionally recognized by the International Olympic Committee – woohoo!). This credentialing process covers every facet of managing a cheer program, and even includes hands on practicals.
While it is probably the ultimate cheer coach certification, I did not include it on this list because I don’t feel that it is a must have when you are first starting out as a high school or rec coach. If you plan to coach at a higher level, I would absolutely recommend looking into it.
It seems like a lot at first, but you could easily knock all of these out in a weekend or break them up and do one each day for a week. Also, don’t forget to check with your athletic director, admin, or gym to see if they will reimburse you for the cost of your coaching certifications.
The rules course is valid for one year, but after you take it the first time, you can just take the rules changes course each year following. For the rest, I would recommend getting re-certified every two years to keep the information fresh.
Don’t forget to save and share the checklist and to check in with your fellow coaches to make sure everyone is up to date on their credentialing.