Navarro Cheer coach Monica Aldama shares her ultimate leadership advice

·6 min read
Photo credit: Courtesy of Netflix
Photo credit: Courtesy of Netflix

At the beginning of 2020 – before the pandemic raged – the world was overcome with Cheer fever. Millions of us binged the breath-taking, jaw-dropping world of the Navarro cheerleading team; the triumphs and tragedies of its star athletes and, of course, its determined, caring head coach, Monica Aldama.

Now, with the second series freshly dropped on Netflix, we are gripped once more to the highs and lows of Aldama’s Texas-based team. As the beloved head cheerleading coach herself releases her debut book on leadership, she sits down with Bazaar to share her ultimate tips on training champions and keeping your cool.

The three most important qualities for a good leader are…

“I think, first and foremost, it is leading by example. Because in order to lead anyone, you have to have their respect, and your respect is earned, not demanded. That’s the one thing that I've really tried to do, throughout my entire life. Anything that I expected from my athletes, I expected from myself even more. I think also self-accountability [is important], because that comes with earning respect. When you own up to your mistakes, instead of blaming others, a lot of respect is earned there. And then, of course, communication. You have to be able to communicate effectively with your team.”

Photo credit: Vincent Urrabazo
Photo credit: Vincent Urrabazo

My personal strength as a leader is…

“I think being empathetic. I definitely have high expectations for everyone and, for some people in my team, it could be the first time anyone's had any expectations for them. I think everyone will rise if they're set with expectations, but at the same time, I'm also empathetic and I try to have a loving heart and understand what each individual is going through. I don't coach everyone the same. Everybody needs to have something a little bit different.”

The biggest priority for my team right now is…

“Oh, my goodness. It's been a wild, crazy past two years. Right this minute I’m just making sure everyone's healthy, getting the squad back together and getting us all focused on the goal at hand. I'm really excited about 2022 because it has been a rough couple of years!”

I’m mitigating risk by…

“I mean, based on Cheer season one, they showed every single time we fell, so it looked as though we just throw people around. But we really don't! We are all very well trained at an elite level and when we are doing something difficult, we do progressions, where we start off easier, and then go more difficult, and we have people spotting at all times. So, from a physical perspective, reducing risk is a huge part of what we do.

Photo credit: Courtesy of Netflix
Photo credit: Courtesy of Netflix

“We also have study hall for those whose grades are below a B, and we do office visits to check in with people. So, we really try to be hands on in all areas that could be at risk, whether physically or mentally or with their education. It is definitely a full-time job. We basically are on call 24/7. I get text messages or calls sometimes in the middle of the night. Although it's exhausting, the reward is worth it.”

I keep my team motivated by…

“I definitely try to keep everything very positive - especially when we're going through difficult times, I try to be the calm in the storm. And, I mean, obviously, we're going to have our days where we just say, let's just call it a day and start over tomorrow. But even when we're struggling, I just point out the things that are going great. I'm not a yeller, I don't like to yell or try to intimidate. I prefer to uplift, and I think that’s the best thing you can do.”

Photo credit: Courtesy of Netflix
Photo credit: Courtesy of Netflix

The hardest decision I’ve had to make as a leader was…

“We've just gone through so many struggles, at a really big level. And once again, I think [I'm always] just trying to remain that calm in the storm, and not allowing my own emotions to take over. That's difficult, you know, sometimes when you are also feeling very defeated, and at a very low point, but you still have to be the person that people are looking to, to get them through it. That's a difficult task, because you're human too, and you have these feelings and emotions. And you just have to pick yourself up, move forward, lead by example, and get the team through whatever the difficult time is. You can go home and cry yourself to sleep if you need to, but you’ve got to keep that strong face for the team.”

The worst mistake I ever made as a leader (and the lesson I learnt from it)...

“I'm sure I've made plenty of mistakes over 27 years of coaching and, as a matter of fact, at the end of every single season, all these years later, I still try and reflect on what I could have done better in this situation or that situation. I don't always say or do the right thing. I think as we go through life, we're always learning and evolving and growing. I think it's just as long as we are acknowledging how we can grow and do better, then we're in the right place.”

An effective leader will always…

“Know that your own personal self-growth is what's going to allow you to be a great leader. You must always look at what you yourself bring to the table, what you could have done differently, what you could do better. And as long as you are continually looking at yourself and how you can grow, you're always going to be striving to be the best leader you can be.”

Photo credit: Courtesy of Netflix
Photo credit: Courtesy of Netflix

An effective leader will never…

“Blame others for their problems.”

My role model for leadership is…

“I think probably in the coaching world, I definitely admire Nick Saban. I think that he has a great formula for success as far as you know, having very high expectations, but also loving these athletes and wanting the best for them.”

The one piece of advice I would give to a new leader is…

“Don't give up! You are going to make mistakes, but that’s where the biggest growth is. Really take it in and learn from it and see how you can grow from that.”

'Full Out! Leadership Lessons from America's Favourite Coach' is out now

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