When my daughter wanted to try year-round, competitive cheerleading, I have to admit I was a little nervous. Our family had never done a year-round sport, and, although I grew up cheering, I knew competitive cheerleading was a whole different ball game (as in, there’s no ball game involved at all). I mean, I had a feeling I’d love it because I LOVE cheerleading, but could my daughter hang with the commitment? Or would she start complaining about the practices after one month?
We started off slow. In November 2016, we chose the half-year team at Carolina Flipz as a way to see how committed she was and how well the sport suited our family of six. Well, turns out, she LOVED it – she never complained about practice and was always excited about what her team accomplished each week. We signed her up for the full-year, competitive cheer program the next year. We’re finishing up our first full year and have had such an incredible experience (I say “we’re” because I truly believe any year-round sport is a WHOLE-family commitment.). Her teammates are amazing young women, and it’s been great getting to know the other families. Watching how far the squad has come this year has been thrilling. I know our experience is because of today’s Smarty Mom – she’s created a gym where positivity oozes from the ceilings and enthusiasm shoots up from the mat.
Meet Carissa Sawyers. Technically, she is Carolina Flipz Cheer’s All-Star Program Director and Coach, but really she’s the heart and soul of the Carolina Flipz cheer program. She’s a ball of energy who works tirelessly (and I mean, TIRELESSLY!) to turn a group of elementary, middle, and high school girls from different schools and neighborhoods into cohesive, better-than-the-sum-of-its-parts cheerleading squads.
Cheerleading is not for the faint of heart – it takes discipline, tons of teamwork, strength, and dedication. Carissa and her coaching staff manage to instill all of those qualities in their athletes every single practice. Their genuine love for the sport and their cheerleaders sets them apart, and I will be forever grateful for what they’ve given my teenage daughter.
Enjoy getting to know Carissa, and if your child is interested in competitive cheerleading, definitely check out Carolina Flipz! Maybe I’ll see you at a competition – I’m the one in the front screaming her head off while simultaneously holding my breath. Don’t ask me how I do it – it’s an out-of-body thing. #momsquad 😉
Smarty Mom: Carissa Sawyers
Married to: Alex Sawyers for 4.5 years
Children: 1 daughter named Briley. She’s 19 months old and the absolute coolest kid ever!
Years in Charlotte: all of them 🙂
Hometown: Charlotte, NC
Area of Charlotte you call home: We recently moved to Denver, NC (Lake Norman) to be closer to family and the water.
Occupation: All-Star Cheerleading Program Director
Alma Mater: UNC Charlotte
Tell us a little bit about your background in cheer.
I started cheerleading in high school (Go South Meck Sabres!) and quickly transitioned into all-stars once I realized it meant I could cheer without having to watch other sports! At 17 I started coaching and never stopped. I was provided a life changing opportunity to run the All-Star Cheerleading Program at Carolina Flipz when it opened in 2014; I cannot imagine coaching anywhere else.
How would you describe the gym’s atmosphere?
Encouraging. There is such an air of positivity in the gym that everyone feels encouraged to try new things without much fear of failure.
One of my favorite things about the Carolina Flipz cheer program is how you and your coaching staff seem to really care about how each girl is doing – not just on the mat, but socially, emotionally, academically, etc. Tell us why this is important to you.
The philosophy I instill in our coaching team is to “love the athletes first and coach them second.” We have to coach the whole child, not just the cheerleader, to enable them to grow in confidence and become strong leaders for life. I truly believe that it takes a community to raise a strong child and Carolina Flipz is honored to be a part of that.
This is important to me because I see the world we are raising our kids in, it is scarier than ever. I want every child who walks through the doors of Carolina Flipz to know that when they become our teammate in cheerleading we become their teammate in life.
You work with a TON of middle schoolers. What’s something that surprises you about this age group?
I absolutely love to watch middle schoolers develop strong, long-lasting friendships and set big goals. I think social media and the overall instant-gratification culture we often find ourselves in has many adults fooled into thinking that this age group is lacking in those areas. I have found, at least within our gym, these athletes love deeply, think thoroughly, and are determined when chasing big goals.
What’s the best age to start your daughter (or son!) in cheer?
Whenever they are ready. Once your child expresses an interest in something new you should allow them to explore it, it may become their passion!
Where do you get all of your energy?
I have found a healthy obsession for the positive impact cheerleading has on athletes. I feel a deep rooted need to reach as many athletes as I can, to introduce them this amazing resource of positivity. My obsession fuels me with more energy than I know what to do with… now, turning it off… that is a whole different story!
Do you have any coaching mentors? People who might’ve coached you along the way that you’d like to emulate?
Sadly, I don’t know that I was ever coached by anyone I would like to emulate. Maybe that’s why I work so hard at continually improving my personal coaching style. Angi Davis, the owner of Carolina Flipz, is my strongest mentor. She is the most fun loving, positive person I know. I also have a few out state all-star coaches I look up to and call on for advice.
What’s the best part of your job?
The endless learning. My job description really covers a wide range of activities and connects me with many different people. Because of that I get to learn new things all the time.
The most challenging?
Navigating the sensitive challenges some children face in their personal lives. When we as coaches dedicate ourselves to loving the whole child (not just the cheerleader), that means we have made a commitment to love them and support them through their darkest hours. Finding the strength which enables a suffering child to lean on you is a challenging labor of love.
What do you wish others knew about cheerleading and cheerleaders?
I don’t know if there is anything I wish others “knew” about cheerleading, I just wish everyone could try it. It’s so much fun!
What’s your typical day like during competitive cheer season?
Wow, um… where do I start? Let’s just say there is a lot of parent communication, staff meetings, score sheet review, watching videos of performances, and lesson planning.
Do you have any tips for other working moms who might have a non-traditional (ie not 8 am – 5 pm) work schedule?
Yes, be greedy with your time. Once you have found a schedule that suits you and allows ample time with your kids you have to draw a hard line and stick to it! Most people don’t realize that once I drop my child off at daycare I don’t see her until the following day. Therefore, I am strict about not working in the morning and if I can squeeze in an extra day off to spend with my family, I do it!
When does the competitive cheer season start and how can parents get more information about Carolina Flipz’s program?
A traditional all-star season starts in May with summer practices and building new teams. August kicks off mandatory practices, which leads into competition season: November through April. For more information on our cheerleading programs you can visit our website at www.flipz-cheer.com, email me directly at cheer@Carolinaflipz.com or call the gym at 704-544-4511.
Now for the Smarty lightening round…
Favorite workout? Coaching! It’s a non-stop mental and physical work out.
Favorite date night? Top Golf with other couples!
Best place to take a toddler on a sunny Carolina day? A pontoon boat ride on Lake Norman to a small, sandy island with friends!
Favorite place to shop for kids’ clothes? Janie and Jack
Guilty pleasure? Watching Impractical Jokers
Favorite phone app? Ted Talks
Starbucks order? Triple Grande Non-Fat Vanilla Latte
Family’s favorite vacation spot? We try not to go the same place twice, so this is tough!
Thing you’re most looking forward to this spring? The warmer weather
Best piece of mommy advice you’ve received? That you don’t have to take everyone’s advice on parenting.