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Monica Aldama: Life Lessons from the Queen of Cheerleading

Monica Aldama: Life Lessons from the Queen of Cheerleading

Last January, Netflix aired the six-part docuseries “Cheer,” which follows the brutal journey of the Navarro College Bulldogs Cheer Team under the direction of head coach Monica Aldama as they tried to secure the top spot in the annual National Cheerleading Championship in Daytona, Florida.

In the pilot episode of the docuseries, one of the Navarro cheerleaders said their head coach is “a quiet person, but she’s stuck in your head and with you for the rest of your life.”

If the fashion industry hangs on to Anna Wintour’s every word, the world of cheerleading has all eyes on Monica and her squad of 40. Her mindset and discipline allowed her to rise as the Queen of Cheerleading.

Let’s pick her brain for lessons that apply in and outside of cheerleading:

Lesson 1: Make the most of what you have.

“That was not my plan, you know? I had a business degree. I wasn’t gonna teach cheerleading… But I definitely took everything I learned in business school and used it to build a program.”

Monica dreamt of making it big in New York City, but her situation brought her back to Corsicana, Texas where she used her skills and experience to build a formidable cheerleading team. The same thing applies to us. We won’t always have our dream job and life may take us down a different path, but we should never give up. Instead, we must look at the bigger picture and focus on our personal and career growth.

Lesson 2: Be objective when you’re making decisions.

“It’s all business… If I’m coaching, I don’t have time to worry about if I’m hurting someone’s feelings. I do feel bad about it, but I don’t ever let that affect my coaching decisions.”

It’s all too easy to let our emotions get ahead of us.But just like that one quote that keeps appearing on my Facebook and Instagram feed goes, never make permanent decisions on temporary feelings. You must detach yourself from whatever situation is in front of you. Otherwise, your judgment may be clouded. No emotion and no person has the right to interfere with your choices.

Lesson 3: Playing safe will only hold you back.

“You’re not gonna fall if you go 100… It’s when you try to hold back, that’s when you hurt your ankle. You have to build up your confidence… Once you get your confidence built up, it’ll be fine.”

In one episode of “Cheer,” a cheerleader kept failing to get her stunts right because she was scared to fall. Monica confidently reminded her that things can never go wrong if you give it your all. Rather, it’s when you start to hesitate that things become uncertain. You may think that playing it safe will keep you steady. But you’ll missing out on so much more if you don’t come out of your shell.

Lesson 4: Know what you want and go for it.

“He’s being too nice, and that’s just his personality. He’s not gonna be the one that jumps in front of someone else, when he should… You gotta earn your spot. You gotta think about yourself.”

As Navarro moved closer to one of the greatest cheer events of the year, Monica and her team decide who among their 40 cheerleaders will compete in Florida. She was waiting for one of the boys to be assertive about what he wants, but he was too nice to do so. We should be kind to everyone, sure, but there’s a fine line between being nice and allowing people to step on you. Sogo after what you deserve.

Lesson 5: Success never happens overnight.

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“The hard work and the sacrifice that y’all put in all year long, take that into life after cheerleading because if you work hard in anything you do, you will be rewarded. You will be successful in life.”

Monica knows what it’s like to lose. But she knows not to dwell on that. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose. That’s just how life is. The sooner you realize that and try again, the closer you are to success. Even BTS, the world’s biggest pop group, had to pay their dues for years before they gained recognition. Don’t expect good things to come to you in the blink of an eye. You must work hard to succeed.

Lesson 6: Stick with your beliefs and stay loyal.

“I will debate you up one side and down the other if you talk about my boys, I will… I won’t budge about my beliefs at all. I’m not doing it. Those are my kids. I’ll fight tooth and nail for them.”

Monica didn’t become one of the most respected cheer coaches because she compromised. She knows what she wants, she knows what she believes in, she knows her priorities and she sticks with those. You, too, must defend your stance even if others don’t agree with you. And if they don’t, then they aren’t the people you want to surround yourself with. Surround yourself with those you love and protect them, too.

The Most Important Lesson: Just keep going.

“Keep going until you get it right. And then, you keep going until you can’t get it wrong.”

“It’s not the last time until you do it right,” Monica reminds her cheerleaders as they sweat it out on the mat and go through their routine another time. And even then, they don’t stop when they get it right. Navarro built its reputation because they keep going until they can do every tumble, flip, and basket in their sleep. There’s no room for people who feel complacent as soon as they get one thing right.

Similarly, it isn’t enough that we get something right. We must keep going until we’re confident that we can’t get it wrong, until we’ve perfected our craft, or until we’re sure that we’re going down the right path.

What about you — what other lessons have you learned from Monica?

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