Over the years I have been asked a lot of cheerleading questions. “How do I get over a mental block?” “How do I speed up my running tumbling?” I feel like I have spent a lot of time answering questions about skills, but one question I received this week was a little different. “What was it like to have your mom as your coach?”
First, here is a little background information. My mother, Donna Martin, was hired at a brand new school opening up in Lexington, KY the same year I was born. The school was named “Paul Laurence Dunbar High School” and in order to live out her dream of teaching biology to the world, she would also have to take the job as the cheerleading coach. As you can imagine, I spent most of my childhood at football games, practices and cheerleading competitions. I had no choice-Dunbar cheerleading became my life.
Before I knew it, it was now my turn to tryout for my mom’s National Championship team and everything changed. Instead of being the little rag doll for the high school girls, I was the new high school girl and all eyes were on me. Everyone knew who I was and most of the time, I wished they didn’t.
When you’re labeled “The coach’s daughter” everyone either hates you or they love you. Some people want to be your friend to “get in good with the coach” while others take joy in seeing you fail. I’m not going to lie to you, girls WILL talk about you more than normal. Some will be jealous of the attention you receive. Some will overlook that you’re talented and believe that the only reason you’re there is because of your last name. For me, it was very important to prove to everyone that I made the team based on my talent, so I harvested the anger or hurt I sometimes felt by teammates and pushed myself to keep improving.
I learned very quickly the value of silence. Instead of being a vocal leader, I focused more on keeping my mouth shut and leading by example. A lot of the time I think kids have an easier time talking back to their parents than they do to their coach, so this was what I really wanted to avoid. Don’t get me wrong, I made mistakes and my mom and I fought several times in public during my Dunbar days, but by my junior year I think we figured it out.
When one of us had something to express to the other, we used another coach, Saleem, as our medium. I feel bad for putting him in that situation, but it ultimately made everything better. I would definitely suggest using another coach as a “go between” if possible. Keeping my mouth shut helped the relationship with my mom and also with my teammates. By my junior year, they began to see me as a leader and I was then able to be more vocal once I gained their respect.
Besides dealing with your teammates, it’s also hard having your mom telling you what to do in one more place. She was “mom” at home, “Mrs. Martin” at school and “Coach” at practice. She was literally EVERYWHERE and at times I felt extremely suffocated. We were both at fault a lot of the time because we weren’t able to separate our different roles. Keeping my mouth shut worked most of the time, but then I just had to keep trying to see her as everyone else did. She was a very well respected, hard working COACH and I eventually decided that I could actually learn from her.
Having a parent as a coach is very difficult, but it can also be very rewarding. Now that I look back at my high school years I realize how truly LUCKY coach’s kids really are. A lot of people on my team have parents that don’t understand anything about cheerleading, and lucky for me, my mom knows it all. It’s now one more thing we have in common to talk about and it has created a very special bond between us. Also, my mom was not only able to be there and watch me be successful, she was a huge part of it and we will always have those precious memories together.
Now that I am over six hours away from home, cheerleading still remains a big part of our relationship. I don’t think we ever have a phone conversation that doesn’t bring up something that happened recently at our of our team’s practices. Cheerleading is a lot more than an after school activity for my mom and I and it always will be.
- Ryan Martin