Raise your hand if you want to be coached by Monica Aldama.
The woman at the head of Navarro College's cheerleading team has become a special kind of star thanks to Netflix's docuseries Cheer, which showed off both her tough coaching style and serious love for the students she refers to as her kids. She pushes them hard, but they're happy to be pushed by her, and they're equally pushing themselves.
"She's literally like our mom," La'Darius Marshall told E! News during a visit to our office last week. "A lot of people don't say it but I will say it. She is like a mom, because she has helped a lot of us get to where we are now by just talking to us and not being just another hard coach like, ugh, so talented, but just a waste of a person. She literally will take you at 12 at night, drive all the way to your dorm, and she makes sure you're good. She makes sure she takes good care of you, and that's where our loyalty and our love for her comes from. She's a really, really good coach."
Throughout the series, a lot is made of representing the team and yourself well, and La'Darius says that's a huge part of what Monica is trying to teach.
"She always talks to us, making sure that we know that no matter whether we're on the show or not, like, you're representing Navarro, you're representing her, you're representing yourself, so you have to make sure you are good, and all your Ps and Qs are in order so that you know you can handle what you need to handle," he said. "You don't ever want somebody to be like, oh, I saw that cheerleader, they were out there vandalizing something, or they were out there doing something that they weren't supposed to be doing."
The show even showed interviews with former students who hadn't been on the team for years, but who still worshipped Monica Aldama and were still representing Navarro years later. She says she's heard from many students after she was no longer coaching them who said that her lessons resonated with them later on, and watching current students talk about what they were learning from her often drove her to tears.
"I've cried every time I watched it," she told us. "It's just emotional to me. I've had kids reach out to me—because I've done this for so long—years later and tell me they really maybe didn't appreciate the structure I was giving them at the time, but how they've carried that on to their job and all different things. Sometimes you don't think that when they're with you at the moment, because they're kind of young, that they really understand what all you're trying to teach them, so hearing some of those things was like, they are getting that, you know?"
While Monica does push those kids extremely hard, she doesn't want them to misunderstand what she's trying to do.
"I really love [seeing] that, because I don't want them to to think I'm just always riding their tails, because I do ride 'em a lot, but only because I want them to be successful, and not just cheerleading but in life. So I'm constantly giving them little tips or, you know, how to get themselves together," she said. "So it was heartwarming to hear them say those things, so that I knew that they were understanding now and not just years later when they grew up a little bit and really understood what I was trying to teach them."
One thing that a lot of viewers, especially those without experience in competitive sports, had some trouble with throughout the series was the number of injuries the cheerleaders dealt with. They not only got hurt a lot, but they had to push through a lot of those injuries and continue competing. Morgan Simianer was shown talking about a rib injury that she was advised to sit out with, but she kept on going because there really was no other option, while other times, there were injuries that took team members out for good. There was even a whole SNL sketch about it.
Sometimes it felt as if Monica and the other coaches were the ones pushing past what looked like limits, but the truth is a lot more complicated. We asked Monica, La'Darius, and Morgan to explain that aspect of the sport to those of us who might not fully get it, in the hopes that maybe we can.
"We filmed for four months, and you saw six hours of edited film, and so you obviously saw the injuries, but you didn't see all the precautions we take for safety, the progressions that we do, the times that the kids are sitting out, or they're getting treatment," Monica explained. "We have great trainers and we take good care of them and they do sit out. I mean, lots of people sat out to rest their bodies last year, you just didn't see much on the show."
"The thing about it is, when you're an athlete at that level, you have this passion to do whatever the sport is you're doing," she continued. "And you push your body to limits that just your average person doesn't do. And you see that in everything. The quarterback for Alabama, he had ankle surgery, and they rehabbed him for hours every day just so he could get ready to play in a really big game, and he was out there limping around near the end of the game, so you knew he was in pain, but at the same time, he's got top-notch doctors that know he was safe to be out there, it's just gonna hurt. And so that's why we say sometimes, you're either hurt or you're hurting. So if you're injured, you're going to have to sit out because it could injure you more, but sometimes, there's things like tendinitis or just an injury that you can safely go out there and do it but it is going to hurt to push through. And no one's ever forced to go out there and push through an injury. It's always up to them."
"It's jut a passion that you have when you play a sport, and you want to push through the pain," she continued. "I think it might be hard for some people to understand that, but maybe they could relate it to something else that doesn't necessarily relate to pushing their bodies, but they push themselves mentally for something they really believe in or they want to do, even though there's no big check at the end, it's just something that makes you feel good and you want to do."
If you don't believe Monica, Morgan and La'Darius had very similar things to say.
"Everybody's bodies are different, so like, someone's in pain because they got punched in the arm, that might be different than like another person getting punched in the arm," Morgan says. "So if we know our bodies, we know how much we can physically handle and all that stuff, so we know when to keep pushing or when to just take a break. We know our bodies down to a T at this point, so we can say when things are starting to bug us and all that."
La'Darius wanted to make it very clear that it's not Monica doing most of the pushing, even if that's what it often seemed like on screen.
"I'm going to tell you something that I wish they would have gotten on the show that they don't really know," he said. "Most of the time, it's the cheerleaders themselves, the athletes themselves that are actually pushing themselves...Me, with I don't know, I think it was some type of tendinitis thing with my Achilles, and every single time, I had to line back up because I know that I want to be better."
La'Darius says it's about way more than just one person in pain.
"I know that this is more than just, oh I'm hurting, let me just chill and take a break," he continued. "Like this is bigger than me. The legacy and the history is way bigger than what I could ever imagine. There is more to it than just what I'm going through right now. So the push is not only for yourself, it's for the people who did it before you, and that is where our passion comes from, because they worked their butts off and [Monica] has worked her butt off. It's like the least you can do is push, but when you know you dead, you know you dead. When you know that you can push, you're gonna push."
Anybody else feeling majorly inspired right now? If only we could even do a cartwheel...
Cheer is now streaming on Netflix.