A smaller, more comfortable setting this year will allow applicants to show their personalities
Any coach will tell you: When it comes to making the team, there is one key action you must take first, one necessary step that will then allow you to make the most of your talent, enthusiasm and dedication.
Just show up.
"We're looking for somebody who can move, has rhythm and can entertain the crowd. We think this makes it easier for them. We're not looking for somebody who can do all these technical moves. We want to see the person in front of us."
That's a principle that Tampa Bay Buccaneers coaches preach to their prospective star players, whether its offseason workouts, training camp or game day. It's also the number-one piece of advice that Catherine Boyd and Melissa Valdez Fitzgerald have for any Bay area women who are considering making a run at the 2010 Tampa Bay Buccaneers Cheerleaders squad.
Tryouts for this year's Buccaneers Cheerleaders team begin in just over a week, on March 22. Over the course of three preliminary days and a callback session, Boyd and Valdez will help select a squad of 28 to 34 outstanding women from a likely field of several hundred applicants. Those two certainly understand the anxiety that such tryouts can cause; though Boyd is currently the Buccaneers' cheerleading manager and Valdez is the cheerleading coordinator, both are former NFL cheerleaders.
Obviously, both have been through the tryout process on more than one occasion. Boyd, who cheered for the Buccaneers for five years, urges any women thinking of taking a shot to just show up.
"That really is half the battle," said Boyd. "The unknown can be intimidating, but I don't think the women who try out are going to be intimidated by the setting. We want to see a smile, we want to see confidence. Just try it...you never know. Every year we have girls on the team who went into the process thinking they weren't going to make it - maybe even most of them."
Added Valdez Fitzgerald, who previously cheered for the San Francisco 49ers and Dallas Cowboys: "It's worth it just to get the experience of doing it. Trying out is an accomplishment in itself, just showing up and going through the process. It helps you grow as a person, just to walk in there and take a chance. And that chance just might pay off."
To that end, the Buccaneers have modified the tryout process in 2010 to make it more streamlined and less daunting to the applicants. Rather than a mass audition with hundreds of women performing a preset choreographed routine in a huge auditorium at the University of South Florida, the preliminary stage will be held in a much smaller room at One Buccaneer Place. Applicants will not need to know a specific choreographed routine. Rather, they will simply perform freestyle for the judges in groups of three.
"At this point in the tryouts we just want to see their personality, their showmanship, their basic movement," said Boyd. "We're not looking for a professional dancer at that point. We're looking for somebody who can move, has rhythm and can entertain the crowd. We think this makes it easier for them. We're not looking for somebody who can do all these technical moves. We want to see the person in front of us. This set-up enables us to be able to do that."
Women trying out for the squad will not have to spend an entire day on the scene, as in previous years where much of that time was spent waiting for a turn. Under the new format, there will be two call-times each - 3:30 and 5:30 p.m. - on the afternoons of March 22-24. Unregistered walk-ups are welcome but, as there will be only 50 audition slots in each call-time, Boyd suggests registering ahead of time.
Boyd believes the new format will help the applicants relax and will also help the judges locate talented women for the squad, polished or unpolished.
"We're able to see them better this way," she said. "We're not looking into a room of 300 women. It's a little more personal for everyone. We think they'll find this set-up more comfortable. We're trying to take away that long day where those who are trying out have to wait around for hours for their slot. They arrive ready and mentally prepared, they get in and do their thing and they get out. We think it's easier on them mentally and physically."
Women interested in trying out may also find the process easier if they choose to attend any of four voluntary workshops held at USF the prior week, on March 16 and 17. Again, please click here for more information.
Those who attend the workshops will learn choreography, though nothing they will specifically need to use at the preliminary auditions. They will also have the opportunity to interact with former Buccaneers Cheerleaders and learn more about both the tryout process and the opportunities that await those who make the team.
"It's a huge help," said Valdez Fitzgerald. "We're answering questions, we're teaching choreography, we're showing them what our style is like. They have the opportunity to interact with alumni and Buccaneers staff. They can ask questions and know what's expected. It should be very helpful, especially if you don't have a background in dance."
Boyd says the workshop attendees will have approximately 30 minutes to ask questions of her and cheerleading alumni.
"That's a big part of it, I think," she said. "We'll have about 30 minutes where they can ask us any questions, ask the alumni who have been through it before. Anything they're not sure about - what to wear, things like that - they can get that information and find a comfort level before they try out."
Aside from the information and the practice, there happens to be one other excellent reason for applicants to attend one of the workshops: At each of the four sessions, one attendee will be chosen to receive a free pass to the callback round. That means they'll be able to skip the opening auditions and go straight to the next level.
For the rest, those who perform well enough at the preliminaries will be invited to callbacks on March 27 at USF. They will learn choreography at this point and perform in front of a panel of judges. The final squad will be announced on Friday, April 2.
Despite the new format, of course, it's impossible to erase all anxiety about tryouts. However, says Boyd, it's well worth it to overcome that anxiety and take a chance. The possible rewards are enormous.
"A lot of the girls audition not really knowing what to expect, and when they make the team it far surpasses their expectations," she said. "Traveling overseas is a possibility. Some of our girls have never been out of the state of Florida, and now they're traveling to Japan and Guam and the Middle East to entertain the military. The impact that you can have when you walk into a hospital is amazing. Any citizen can do the same thing, and it's great, but when you walk in there with Buccaneers Cheerleader uniform on you can really see the impact it has on people. It's a special experience."
Buccaneers Cheerleaders make hundreds of community appearances throughout the year, both locally and abroad. They also serve as ambassadors for the team at events such as training camp, FanFest and countless others. And, of course, there is game day.
"Just being on the field is an electric feeling," said Valdez Fitzgerald. "Once you've had that experience, it's something you never forget. It's an experience unique to a very select group of people. You also meet people from all over and make some friendships that you'll have for life."
But first, you simply have to show up.