Ginevra is a third year Linguistics student and Anastasija is a second year Economics and Business with EES student, together, they are Project Leaders for the UCL Helping Children Discover Cheerleading student-led project as part of the UCL Cheerleading Club.
Tell us a little bit about your project.
Ginevra: This project was aimed at helping children discover cheerleading, so we organised weekly training sessions for the GCSE students at UCL Academy. Some of the volunteers, us included, got a coaching qualification. We did a total of 7 sessions, coaching children from year 7 to year 9.
Anastasija: The children really enjoyed it, I think the volunteers did as well, because they were quite dedicated. We had stunt groups, so groups of four children and one or two volunteers with them to show them how the stunts work and to help them so that everything was safe and there were no issues with falling. We also did a fun warm up session with them at the start to make sure everyone was warmed up.
We both organised the project. We would come up with the ideas of what we wanted to do in the sessions together, and then one of us would take the lead. The volunteers helped with the stunt groups, so there was one main coach for the whole session but then the volunteers helped with specific stunt groups. This was much safer.
Can you say more about your Project Leader roles?
Anastasija: Me and Ginny had different roles. I was in charge of organization, so I emailed all the volunteers about DBS checks, made sure volunteers signed up, made sure all the courses that were mandatory were completed by the volunteers, like the Volunteering with Children training. So, I was constantly doing all the organization, planning and communication.
Ginevra: I took charge on the physical training side because Ana had a lesson clashing with the hour that we scheduled for training every other week, so I was the lead coach during the sessions. I would also prepare a plan of what we were going to do, and then I would talk about it with Ana and the other volunteers.
We had 14 volunteers, but not all of them were always present. This is because during the first session we were too many, and we realized that it was a bit too much. So later on, we decided that volunteers could take turns coming to training sessions depending on their availability.
Then, because cheerleading is actually quite difficult to get started, and at first the stunts were very hard to hit, we realised it was really hard for the kids and we wanted to help them more. So, we decided to put some volunteers in the stunt groups to help them work better, make them safer and stronger. This way, the kids could get at least some satisfaction from doing the stunts.
Why did you want to become a Project Leader?
Anastasija: Me and Ginny both were this year's volunteering secretaries of the Cheerleading Club, and we just wanted to do a project that was more long term because we did a bit of volunteering here and there, like one day sessions. But we thought there's not that many kids that have an opportunity to try cheerleading until university. I haven't tried cheerleading until university because it's an expensive sport. So, I thought it was a good project to go with.
Ginevra: Also, it was easier to plan in a way, because the Cheerleading Club trains at the UCL Academy. So, we're already familiar with the structure, and they are already familiar with the club.
Also, the school has the Self-Directed Learning (SDL) programme, which offers students the opportunity to engage in learning and skill development outside of their curriculum for one or two hours per week. So, we were one of the sports that was offered as part of the SDL.
What difference do you feel you’ve made by leading your project?
Ginevra: We taught children what cheerleading is about because most people think about pom cheer, which is like dancing, and it’s also very stereotyped into a “sexy” thing. But we do stunt cheerleading, which is a mixture of dance, jumps, stunts, and it's more acrobatic. So, I feel like we definitely made a difference into changing the stereotype.
Also, cheerleading is a sport that involves a lot of team bonding and discipline. We tried to keep the same groups in the sessions, so that each stunt group could really bond and learn how to work well with the others within their group. Everyone needs to do their part, and everything needs to be perfect for the stunt to work.
So, it was a challenge, we tried to teach the kids as much as we could, and we are very happy with what we achieved.Ginevra
Anastasija: I think it was quite nice because, for example, we had a few children that wanted to try flying but were quite tall and flyers are usually smaller. So, we stepped in as volunteers to give everyone an opportunity to be in the position that they were keen to try.
Also, cheerleading is seen like a girly sport. So, we had a guy volunteer who was really into cheerleading, he was there early to every session, so excited and ready to learn. That was pretty nice.
What impact has volunteering, and leading a project had on you?
Anastasija: I think I definitely grew as an individual. There was quite a lot of organization involved, as working with children takes quite a lot of steps in order to prepare the project and keep everyone safe.
Also, I think working with children gives you experience in teaching and coaching, and because cheerleading was something that I only learned the year before, it was quite interesting. I enjoyed it a lot and I learned how to properly coach and work with younger people.
Ginevra: For me, I have done other volunteering with kids in the past, but they were much younger, between two and seven. So, what I learned is how different the interaction can be depending on age, and that's something that was challenging at first because at that age it’s harder to keep children interested, engaged, and focused, so you really need to step in and make sure that they listen to you. I think this helped me improve my patience, and I learned how to coach in a different way.
How has your network developed whilst being a Project Leader?
Ginevra: Our club has 4 different teams, and most of the volunteers were from the beginner teams, so some of them I hadn’t met before. Actually, one of these volunteers is going to be the next Volunteering Secretary and hopefully Project Leader, and she will carry on with this initiative.
Anastasija: In terms of connections, we met a few other volunteers and project leaders who were doing very interesting projects when me and Ginny went to the Project Leader socials and it was great to interact with others that have similar interests.
We were also working with a lot of people at the school. I was mainly in contact with the person who oversaw the SDL, and she got children to sign up for our project. There was also a teacher that was present with us and was helping out.
What was the biggest challenge you encountered? How did you overcome this challenge?
Anastasija: The first one was in terms of organization. Some people said they wanted to get involved so we had a questionnaire to see how many people would be interested, but then it was quite hard to actually get those interested and turn them into actual volunteers, make sure they all have DBS checks and qualifications. So, it's quite a lot of forms, administration, and consistent contact.
Ginevra: Another challenge was the first session. There were too many volunteers, and we did not know how it was going to be, we did not know the reaction the children were going to have towards the sport. It was very awkward because they did not know what it was all about. Also, most of the volunteers were from the two beginner teams of the club and it was their first year doing cheerleading so when I was the only Project Leader present it was hard for me to spread out between the different stunt groups. So, it was definitely a challenge to manage the way the volunteers were coaching while I wasn’t there.
Anastasija: But the volunteers have learned a lot as well. For example, most of them were flyers, and of course each position has its own technique, so as a flyer it’s hard trying to explain what the bases are supposed to do.
In the end, they all learned from the different positions, what to do in each, and learned new technique.Anastasija
Tell us something memorable that’s happened to you whilst being a Project Leader?
Anastasija: The first time the stunt group that I was teaching hit their stunt, which was in the second session. They were very happy and motivated, saying “I want to go again, let's try this again”.
Ginevra: Same for me. The youngest girl of the group got up in a lib, which is a one-legged stunt. She put a lot of effort, so it was definitely very nice that she managed to hit the stunt.
What is the best piece of advice you would give to someone thinking about being a Project Leader?
Anastasija: Plan a lot! When we started the project, we didn't realize how much organization and planning was needed, such as all the paperwork and the preparation for every session. So, make sure that you can allocate the time for it, especially before the project starts, because once it starts it gets better as you get the hang of what you are doing.
Ginevra: I agree. And definitely being two Project Leaders rather than one helped a lot. I don't know what we would have done with just one person because sometimes you might not have the time to do everything that is needed. So, I would definitely advise someone who wants to start a project to find someone and do it together. This way you can have each other's back and make sure everything is done properly.
Want to start your own Student-led Volunteering Project? Find out more and share your ideas with us here!