Tuesday, August 16, 2016

You are a Colossal Bitch!

You are a Colossal Bitch!

That was the phrase said to me at a rehearsal once. I can still hear it. I can still see the rehearsal site. I remember every single detail of that day. It doesn't matter where or who, but that's what a color guard instructor said to me when I was perceived as not paying attention to the staff. The reality was that I was and am a perfectionist and already knew what my mistake was and was already beating myself up for the error. They saw it differently, when I rolled my eyes at what was really myself and what I interpreted as a stupid mistake. I was exasperated at the error and rolled my eyes. They thought I was being disrespectful toward them. 

This post is about how we talk to performers and how they perceive us and if we aren't careful, how our outer voice becomes their inner voice...for life. Today I see color guard members I taught in a number of places back in my twenties and almost want to beg for their forgiveness in how I ran rehearsals, spoke to them, and some of the things I made them do. I was young. I didn't have anyone telling me I was wrong and when you've spent a lifetime being told that you are too intense and a bitch, well...you tend to become that. Kids don't need to be coddled, but they certainly need to be encouraged and most definitely don't need to be berated. I don't think we do that enough as youth coaches. I know I don't. Sometimes I'm so caught up in getting the show finished or the phrase clean, that I forget that somewhere in count 8, are kids looking to me to lead them. They watch me and they hear me. 

The adolescent brain is not developed at the level the adult brain is and a teenage brain's perception is often based on emotion as opposed to logic. This is where much of their drama comes from. This is where misinterpretation comes from. What we say is misinterpreted, because the kids respond to emotion first, while we as the adult are trying to use logic. It's a skill that adults need to acquire if you want to be effective while coaching teens. What we say, how we say it, and how we stand while we say it is all up for interpretation.

When I was in high school, I was a gymnast. It's Olympic season and we've all been following our favorite athletes or sports. Gymnastics always brings back memories of how that although I was a fairly decent gymnast, I hated my body. Kids at school often said that my legs looked like a man and once in marching band, a staff member said that I didn't look like most girls. As an adult, I realize that his comment was meant as a compliment of my muscular build. As an adolescent, what I heard was that I wasn't feminine. When girls walk onto the playing field of the marching arts, they carry with them a lifetime of insecurity. How we talk to them and what we say, sets them up for success or failure. How we costume them and how we present that costume to them is crucial in how they will feel when they stand in front of a crowd or even more important...their peers at the football game and within the band itself.

Have you ever thought of that? Most girls are more self-conscious at the football games than they are at a competition. We as designers and directors costume for the competition, but the girls see a costume as something they have to stand in front of their peers in. Does it mean that you change the costume to fit the football crowd? Absolutely not. It means that you show that you have an awareness that the costume you put them in, will be seen by their friends and community in places that aren't necessarily as friendly as a band competition. They will be seen in that costume in parades, pep rallies, and of course football games.

The words we use are crucial. It's beyond important here in 2016, where we now know more about psychology and the human brain than ever before. I follow coaches of all types and in sports I don't even like. I like to learn how great coaches get their players to perform by what they say and even how they stand on the sidelines. Some of them I completely disagree with and I don't care if they are coaching an NFL linebacker or Major League pitcher. Berating, humiliating, and throwing tantrums are not just unprofessional, but completely ineffective. They are foolish. One of my favorite coaches comes from a sport that I actually despise. Just because I hate the sport, doesn't mean that the coach isn't brilliant. His name was John Wooden and coached basketball at UCLA and he once said that you need to find little ways to show your players that you care. "Small gestures make a big difference," he said. He won multiple NCAA titles, but his life as a coach was one of compassion. He created a pyramid called, The Pyramid of Success. When one of the best coaches of all time gives you a model to coach by, well then...you need to follow that model or at the least...study it. So I did and I do. The model he used is too much to take in and not my place to replicate in a blog post, but there are important takeaways. He believed in building cooperation, enthusiasm, team spirit, and confidence. 

Confidence. Think about it. How well do you build confidence in your performers? Really think about it, because we all can't be the greatest color guard coach of all time. Sometimes we are great designers, but terrible motivators. Some of us are great techs, but awful leaders. Some of the best pageantry coaches are the ones we've never seen or heard about, because they stay behind the scenes and let their performers do the speaking for them. Some only coach at the local level, because that's where they know they can make the biggest difference. Not everyone can be a great designer or technician and many aren't great leaders. They are all skills independent of one another and being great at one does not mean you are great at all three. 

So I write this today to ask you to look at your coaching style and ask yourself what your outside voice is telling the inside voice of your performers. Are they overweight? If so, it is most likely a given that they are concerned about costuming. They probably struggle with conditioning. How do you approach that? Are they tall and somewhat awkward? Are they they only gay male in your program? What about the one girl who doesn't have the same skin color as the rest of the guard? 

When was the last time you said these phrases?

Great job. It's getting better.

Let's come back tomorrow and get even better. 

I'm looking forward to seeing you tomorrow.

I care about you and what happens to you in your life.

What about the pat on the back? When was the last time you went to that one girl who is shy and uncomfortable in her body and walked up behind her on the field and said, "You are doing great. Keep it up." What about the girl who can't throw the toss with the rest of the guard or the one that learns her work slower than the rest? Have you told her that you see her trying or see her progress? By doing this we aren't building weak humans who can't handle life, we are building young adults who grow to become parents, professionals, and coaches who take our activity to the next level, filled with empathy and compassion. With each new generation we learn a little bit more about coaching. The stories of throwing music stands, rifles, and calling names sound barbaric and ridiculous in today's world. It's because we are growing and learning. We have more information today. We take from other sports and other coaches and learn. Do you remember how at one point Bobby Knight from IU threw chairs and tantrums and we as the public ate it up as if that was how you best reached kids? Now...well...it is frowned upon, because we all learn and really...who in the hell has ever responded out of fear over compassion? When I went to boot camp with the Navy I expected to be yelled and and cussed at, because that's what I thought happened. That's not what happened. The military learned that yelling and cussing does not create a better soldier and does nothing for retention. They changed and grew. 

I am not a colossal bitch and never was. I believed it, though. I look back and I wonder how that day influenced my teaching. I wonder how it impacted my self-esteem. I wonder if at any level it impacted my string of bad relationships, especially the one that hit me and the other one that told me I was a fat cow. I wonder what would have happened if someone on staff, just one person, had asked me how I felt about myself. If they had, they would have found out that at that point in my life I felt like I had an awkward body and that I didn't feel pretty enough around the other women I was performing with. They would have found out that I was a perfectionist and was very hard on myself for every drop and mistake and believed that I alone, created the drop in score based on my pathetic mistakes. These are things kids think about and getting to know who they are is where coaching is at and where it is headed. 

I sometimes want to call that instructor who called me a bitch and tell them that I can still hear the words in my head. I'm still haunted at times when I'm teaching others and am very aware of how I may be perceived by the kids I coach. However, I don't blame that staff member anymore than I blame myself for the stupid things I said when I was in my early years of my career. It's called being ill-equipped. We lacked mentors. We lacked the science of coaching. We lacked the knowledge of how the brain works. We weren't aware that men and women have different societal influences that create who we are on the inside, thus creating different performers. We didn't know. Now we do and there is no longer excuses for not bettering yourself.  I don't care if I'm liked by the kids I'm in front of, but I do care if I reach the kids and I do care if my words resonate with them at a deep and internal level that will ultimately make them better people. I do care that they know I care, even if I have to raise my voice for impact.

Today as you head out to the field to work with your young performers, what will your voice be?

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Sexual Predators and Our Youth Activity

Here's the elephant in the room. The question, the issue, the problem that none of us like to discuss. How many youth in the marching arts activity have been preyed upon by those who teach within the marching arts?

The answer is simple. We have no idea. We have no national data base of coaches, instructors, designers, or directors. Basically, we really don't know who is on the football fields and in the gyms around the country. We don't know where these people have taught or why many of them have left multiple programs in short time frames. We don't know how good they are and we don't have a mechanism of safety put in place for the reporting of suspected abuse. The answer we get when this is brought up is the phrase, "liability." We often are told that it's up to the local school districts to manage it. I understand this actually. I don't agree, but I understand. I guess then I wonder why other national organizations have these mechanisms in place. Why did they at least attempt the certification and identification process? As we start the Olympics, USA Gymnastics is on the front line of a scandal that has allowed abusive coaches to move from gym to gym, when USA Gymnastics knew of the abuse. Many will point to this case as to why we as the marching arts should not get into the business of policing the activity for abuse and coach certification. Why are we different? Well, we aren't different and mark my words, one day we will be on the front lines of this debate as other sports have been, because the more international we go, the more problems we will face and the more media attention we will get. Regardless of the answer, every one of us knows of the stories or even knows the person that preyed upon, got caught or is serving time for preying on the youth that trusted us most. Some of us have been around long enough to know first hand the skeletons of the pageantry closet.

This post is an attempt to address what has not been addressed at the national level in a public forum. It's the conversations we hear through the internet and text messages that start with,

"Did you hear about such and such?"
"No. What happened."
"Got caught sexting a girl in the guard."
"Wow. Eye roll."

Here are the stats from the U.S. Department of Justice

An estimated 60% of perpetrators of sexual abuse are known to the child but are not family members

It is estimated that one in every five girls and one in every seven boys are sexually abused by the time they reach adulthood

Only 30% of all sexual abuse crimes are reported 

15% of cell-owning teens (12–17) say they have received sexually suggestive nude/semi-nude images of someone they know via text

According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics’ National Criminal Victimization Survey, in 2012, there were 346,830 reported rapes or sexual assaults of persons 12 years or older.

Youth activities and sports are a breeding ground for sexual predators. For a predator to flourish, they must be able to gain trust of not just the youth victim, but their parents as well. They need access to the youth out of sight of other adults such as "voluntary practices," locker rooms, travelling, and special events off of school grounds such as after game gatherings. Predators know that most parents can't attend all events and will use that concept to their advantage. Sound like marching band?? Sound like winter guard?? 

Predators know that when children participate in competitive sports, their most trusted person is the coach. They know that the child seeks to please the coach through their performance. They know they are dealing with many hours together and the emotions run high. They know that the child longs to hear, "Great job today!" With that great job, comes a pat on the back, a hug, a whisper in the ear, a grope, or a fondle. It happens that fast and it's that easy. However, sexual predators are great at what they do. Chances are they have done it many times before. Predators are patient and methodical. They must first groom the victim, their family, and their community. They know what they are doing. 

So what is grooming?

Grooming is the art of slowly and deliberately gaining the trust of the child and family, so access of future time alone becomes very easy and difficult to monitor.

The whole purpose of grooming is so a coach earns trust. That trust then makes it difficult for the victim to report. If the victim reports, then they are told they will let the team down. The team in turn, blames the victim. When the trust is gained, the victim can believe they are actually in love with the coach. This allows the defense on the side of the predator to say that it was equal consent and although that's a weak defense and won't hold up in court in most places, it's still used. The grooming process can be so sophisticated that the adult parents of the victim or adult parents of other team members can start to believe the coach over the victim, thus leading to victim blaming and victim shaming.

"He's such a great coach. Everyone loves him. She must be lying."
"She is an amazing person and coach. This has never happened before."
"The victim was angry he didn't get the quarterback position."
"The victim is provocative and started the relationship."
"The victim is just as guilty."

These are actual statements from parents of teams where the coach was ultimately found guilty of predator behavior.

The following steps are used quite often in the grooming process:

1. Target the victim
2. Gain their trust
3. Fill a need (offer a ride home, an ear to listen, money, etc.)
4. Make the relationship sexual
5. Gain control

They most likely will attempt to fill a need before anything else happens. 

"I'm here for you if you ever need to talk about your problems at home."
"Don't worry about the money. I'll take care of it."

Grooming is a slow process, but it's extremely effective and often, the staff around the offending coach can see it, if they are willing to admit what it is they are seeing. If you are on the guard or band staff with someone who is grooming, then look for these signs.

1. Are they often talking to the same kids privately?
2. Do they state that they "understand" the problems of the kids, thus isolating the rest of the staff from access and from managing personal issues with the kids?
3. Are they sitting on the bus with the kids or the same kids...alone? 
4. Do they frequently state that they alone make the program what it is?
5. Are you starting to see a divide in the team dynamics for no reason and then the offender decides that "they will handle it?"
6. Do you get the creeps when you think that a grown adult enjoys sitting next to, hanging out with, and talking to the kids at shows, after show dinners, and other events more than the adults on staff?
7. Are they finding reasons as to why the rules of the program don't apply in "this situation?"
"But her mother was going to be an hour late to pick her up. She needed a ride home."
8. Are they offering to pay for, buy things for, and come up with reasons as to why a certain performer all of a sudden has the money for a particular item?
9. Are they having private meetings with kids without the rest of the staff, insinuating that they alone can manage this issue, because..."it's a confidentiality thing."

Now be careful here. Any one of these above items in isolation does not mean you are dealing with a predator. It's the patterns you need to look for. It's also not o.k. if one of these things occur for you to not bring to the attention of the person committing the act that it looks bad and could harm the kids or program. Their behavior puts you at risk as well. 

In the victims, the predator will often find that the easiest child to abuse, is the one who has family problems, low self-esteem, disengaged parents. You will start to see victims who are often isolating themselves from the team and who knows just a little more about the coach in question than they should. In these victims depression can set in. They may start to miss practice. They may quit the team, but say it's for personal reasons. Sometimes the victims will drop hints to their teammates. However, make no mistake. Fear drives their behavior. Predators exist in a world of power and control and that power can be intoxicating for the kids and even more so if the coach is successful competitively.

So what can you do? How do you protect the kids, the program, and yourself?
  1. Don't be alone with the kids behind closed doors without another staff member present. 
  2. Don't be afraid to have a parent or two at every one of your practices.
  3. During costume fittings, there is no need for you to be in the dressing room. Let them come out fully clothed and make sure all fittings have another adult present, especially if you will be touching the child.
  4. Report suspicious behavior. I don't care if they are your best friend from high school. A predator needs to be gone and brought to the attention of the authorities as soon as possible. 
  5. Know that if you feel that you cannot go to your direct superior, who is most likely the band director, report anyway. Let the police deal with it from there. This is difficult, but the victim of abuse will spend a lifetime recovering and you might have just saved other children from similar abuse.
  6. Document the behaviors that you find suspicious.
  7. Be vocal and insist that the staff follow the rules of practical boundaries and already set program guidelines.
  8. Don't text the kids. Don't text the kids. Don't text the kids. Don't text the kids. DON'T TEXT THE KIDS!  Find a different way. Just do. Text messages can go awry very fast and be misinterpreted for its intent.
  9. Find public ways to communicate electronically and make sure the parents know how that communication would take place. Additionally, once that method of communication is chosen, stick with it and make sure all staff follow that method of communication.
  10. If you are going to hire someone, check references. Physically get on the phone and check references. Do your due diligence. In these reference checks, you might want to call a program they marched at, a program they taught, and a professional reference. Put a procedure in place for reference checks and make sure it is used consistently for all hired staff members. Oh...don't forget to ask for a resume'. 
  11. When hiring a new staff member, ask questions about continuing education. How are they bettering themselves as a coach? Do they have any other certifications? These questions are important as the more CE's a person has or certifications, means that other governing bodies have engaged this person, which gives them more visibility. Predators don't want visibility. 
Recently, someone mentioned to me that youth sports have a bad habit of "kicking the can down the road." What does that mean? It means that we often take this tone of, "As long as they are not here, I don't care where they are." So the person never got charged, but they were fired and maybe even investigated. Good.  However, "They are no longer at our program. Our kids are protected." What about the next group of kids that person works with, because they will work with another organization. The argument exists within the idea that "well we couldn't prove anything." Ok. Let's go with it. So, they were fired at your program. You certainly must have suspected something for that firing to take place. "Well, we just didn't ask them back." Well then, shame on you for putting the problem onto some other program to subject another group of kids to predator behavior. This is where HR departments come in handy. Use them if you can. Protect yourself. Protect the kids. Document everything.

So what can we do as a whole? What's the answer? I'll tell you this. Youth organizations around the world have been grappling with this and putting safeguards in place for years. The horrific and disgusting situation at Penn State put everyone on alert. Most organizations conduct background screenings. The problem with this however, is that most predators haven't been caught as of yet, so they won't show up on the check. It's still a good start, though. Other organizations such as the National Council of Youth Sports, to which I'm a member, attempt to push out information on how to run a safe youth program. Virtually every national sports organization is a member from USA Cheer to USA Volleyball and just about every sport in between. None of the marching arts are a part of this impressive list of national organizations, but yet they should be. It shows that we as an activity understand that we are a part of a larger world of youth activities. If you go on any national sports websites, most (not all), but most have a portal to their websites just for coaches. USA swimming for example certifies its coaches as members through maintaining a database that says that at a minimum the coaches have been background checked, CPR certified, and have taken a number of courses on safety and coaching techniques. I looked at the Field Hockey national site, which is a sport I know zero about, but could find what it takes to become a certified coach and if my child ever decides to play that sport, I as a parent can find that there are steps coaches have to take to gain certification as an approved coach.

Will this stop the predator behavior? No. What it does do, is show that we care and make it our priority to get these people who prey on the performers out of the activity. The larger problem is our failure to address it nationally as an on going dialog. At the minimum we can put out white papers on the topic. Why don't we have conferences like every other sport once a year or once ever two years? Regionally? Why? And no...Spin Fest doesn't count unless it is turned into a half spin and half research based, speaker based, information based environment where coaches, kids, parents, administration, and vendors have an opportunity to present information that impacts the children on the whole from the standpoint of research, statistics, and best practices. 

If at any level you doubt anything I've said or feel defensive or challenged, then just Google the phrases, 

"Youth Coach fired for..." 
"Band director charged with..."
"Color Guard instructor charged in case involving..."
"Youth coach caught on tape..."

The list of pages goes on and on and on.

I've been training nationally on this topic for years and without a doubt someone always tries debate me. One of the most common arguments lie within the concept of, "How do you know that person isn't innocent? Aren't we innocent until proven guilty?" I always answer the same way.

"No you aren't innocent within the eyes of the press and social media platforms. Do you really want to test this theory while your face or the face of your program lies scrutinized on the front page of your local newspaper?" I then end with this, "Which is more important your friends and colleagues or the child you are responsible for and integrity of your program?" 

If you struggle with this answer, then maybe you should contact the ghost of Joe Paterno and ask him the question.  

For information about how to protect yourself, the Marching Roundtable has released a number of podcasts that discuss boundaries, ethics, and instructor insecurities. There is also a new Mentoring site for those looking to be mentored and soon, will come and ethics course. Knowledge is power and we shouldn't fear it, nor should we run from it. Making our activity safe is an undertaking, but it's a necessary undertaking, because it will catch up to us. It always does. 

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Drum Corps and My Late Night Jim Croce Album

This is for my Atlanta friend. 

I have an old Jim Croce album I found in a back alley record store years ago and sometimes late at night, I pour myself a glass of wine, turn the lights down, and play that old album, while enjoying the peace it brings me to hear the honesty of the guitar played through each crackle of the needle to the record. If it were up to me, everyone would have an old Jim Croce record so for a brief moment, we could all feel something besides anger. If you close your eyes you can hear the words that are untarnished by technology and media. You can see him sitting on a couch somewhere in solitude playing his guitar and singing, "There never seems to be enough time to do the things we want to do once we find them." Jim Croce's music is music that makes you feel something. He speaks to love and life. His words are simple, but they aren't ordinary. If you let him, he reaches into your heart and speaks to your soul.

I just returned from my yearly trek to Atlanta. It's the one drum corps show I get to see every year and I always come away from it with something I need to say. Maybe it's the inspiration from the shows or maybe it's the lifelong friendships or maybe it's the memories I hold dear from days gone by. I'm not sure what it is, but each year I certainly feel poetic after that show. When it comes to drum corps, I don't follow along like others do all season. I like to watch the shows with a fresh perspective, untainted by others opinions. This year though, I was fortunate enough to see the shows in Nashville the night before Atlanta. I took my nine year old son and 69 year old mother. It's refreshing to sit with people who don't know "the sheets" or know the history of the corps. My mom gets to see about one drum corps show every eight or so years and my son...well this was his first. He's been to WGI and countless winter guard and band shows, but this was his first summer show. If you ever want to see the activity in its purest form, watch it with a nine year old. What a nine year old sees is very different than what we see. A nine year old has an opinion that is natural and based on feeling, as opposed to intellect, but don't be mistaken in that. A child forms opinions and can speak to concept and costume. They just respond by emotion first and intellect second. A nine year old see's drum corps with their soul before their brain. It's how Robin Williams encouraged us to view poetry in the Dead Poets Society. Throughout the show, my son shared his opinions through his immediate reaction to the moment. He didn't analyze the guard work or technicality of the percussion. He could have cared less about transitional moments. He just simply enjoyed the shows for what they were and he found that he had some favorites and some not so favorites. He loved...LOVED...the Blue Devils. That shocked me and I'll tell you why in a second. His second favorite was the Madison Scouts. After they finished, he turned to me and said, "Wow mama! Wow! That was loud!!" I asked him if they were his favorite and he said, "Oh no. I liked the Blue Devils the best." I asked him why and he said that they looked like a Broadway play. He said they were weird. He said that they were fun. Those were his reasons and then he said that he wanted a tee shirt.

I really liked the Blue Devils, but more so on an intellectual level. I spent their entire show analyzing it and to be honest, I didn't get it 100% in its intent and I don't really know anyone else who did either. Josh however, didn't care. He didn't try to get it. He just simply experienced it. Driving to Atlanta the next day I realized that is what most of us old timers do. We analyze the shows until the very essence of art is sucked out of them. I don't completely blame us...the audience that is. For so long at the national level with WGI, BOA, and DCI...so many teams force us into intellectualism over emotionalism. That's blatantly clear at Independent World Finals for WGI. The books and shows have become so "artistic" that many times the designer has forgotten that art is supposed to move us. Art should make us feel something. As human beings we want to feel something. Human beings want to laugh. We want to cry. We need to cry. Reflection and the need to reflect is another human emotion we don't always give enough credit to. Anger and love. Sadness and happiness. That's what art is ultimately supposed to do. It is to make us feel. Our need to express gets suppressed so often by a world asking us to think way too much.

When I left Nashville for Atlanta, I hadn't really formed an opinion on any of the shows. I would wait for Atlanta to do that. I thought about Josh on the way up and his reaction reminded me of my Jim Croce album. Jim sings a song called Operator. It's one of those songs that everyone with any human soul can say they have experienced. He was left by the one he loved and calls to speak to her, but decides that he's better off without her.

Operator, well could you help me place this call
'Cause I can't read the number that you just gave me
There's something in my eyes
You know it happens every time
I think about the love that I thought would save me

Oh my those lyrics. Who hasn't wanted to have Jim Croce playing that on guitar in the background while we laid in bed at night crying our eyes out over the love we lost to another? The lyrics. The guitar. It makes me reflect. It makes my eyes water. You see, when we listen to music in the silence of our homes, we let it wash over us like the ocean Josh saw with the Blue Devils. I decided that when I got to Atlanta I wouldn't analyze anything. I would watch the shows in the way I listen to Jim Croce or the way a nine year old experiences music. I was either going to like it or not. I was going to absorb the colors and engage in the sound. I would analyze nothing. Ironically, I found that little experiment was harder than I thought it would be, but as the night went on I got better at it. When I did that, I found that my favorite drum corps were not necessarily in the top 5. I let the Academy make me laugh. I let the Blue Coats take me to what I saw as the coolest playground ever. I experienced a western shoot out with Crown. I listened to the Scouts in a way that made my son say, "Wow!" At times I closed my eyes and just listened. 

When the night was over, I found that I didn't really know who did what in terms of guard work or the best drill. I didn't care. To be honest, once I let go of the idea that the corps have become so homogenous to the point identity is no longer a driving factor for many, I was able to relax. Once I decided to not judge, but enjoy...I found the art inside the intellect. I found that my favorite corps was not first or second or even third. It was Santa Clara. Oh my how I loved that show. The word I used at the time was "lovely." It was simply lovely. They did a show that was somewhat simplistic in concept, but in no way simple in its presentation of the four seasons. That concept has been done...and done...and done...and done. They however, had a way of conceptualizing it so it made you feel something special as the seasons moved from spring to summer and summer to fall, but you had to let the seasons happen, just like the leaves change and fall from the trees in the autumn.  I barely even acknowledged Santa Clara the night before. The night before they were just a show about the seasons. In Atlanta, I saw art and I saw it in the form my nine year old son saw it. As I watched the show, I thought of the many seasons I've spent in Atlanta with WGI, BOA, and DCI. The before show drinks and after show conversations are many. I thought about how many performances were held in that dome and how many people missed the artistry being presented, but I also thought of the moments designers missed to move an audience, because their version of art is hidden within ego and competitive drive. I will certainly admit that I've missed a moment or two, because of my need to "judge" the teams surpassed the need to feel. I thought of my friends and the special moments we've had in Atlanta at the Omni and through conversations in parking lots around the dome. I thought of the thousands upon thousands of kids that have walked into that dome as an artist, but left the audience feeling let down as we couldn't get out of our own way as an activity and just let them be the art. I thought of the times when I dropped my guard and let myself just feel love through the friends I hold so dear. It's the same love I have in my old music albums that take me into a realm devoid of politics, intellectualism, and the weight of all that is wrong in the world.

I attend a lot of concerts and plays. I have a ritual in the moments leading up to every event. I drink a glass of wine, listen to the music of the band, read about the play, or listen to an interview with the artist. I try to get in a mindset of art. I love art. Being originally from Music City, I especially love music in all of its forms. I let it flow over me like Josh let drum corps flow over him Friday night. So, I can't help but wonder what happens to us that doesn't let us enjoy the art of pageantry. We all admit we appreciate it. We value it. We see it,  but I'm not sure many of us truly see it for art that makes us feel. While sitting in the dome, I wondered what the placements would be if a poet was the only judge and the only criteria read, "Make the audience feel." I wondered who would win. I wondered how the poet would rank and rate. My guess, is that the poet would throw out the rating, throw out the ranking, and just enjoy the night. She would come home and write verse upon verse of her experience. She would put on some Jim Croce and let the night speak from soul to paper, without thought. She might hear him sing, Walkin' Back to Georgia.

I'm walkin' back to Georgia
She's the only one who knows
How it feels when you lose a dream
And how it feels when you dream alone

She might come home and think about an old friend or two and look back on the trip as the sheer joy it was with all of its laughs, conversation, and love for something that has been a part of her life since she was 14. She would think of the community she is a part of. She would think of how it has made her a better person, because the art made her feel as in this classic verse that will stand the test of time.

If I had a box full of wishes and dreams that had never come true. The box would be empty, except for the memory of how they were answered by you.

I write this for all of us out there who crave to feel, crave to love, crave to touch, and crave to be human.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

A Young Woman's Body Image--A Basic Primer for Guard Instructors

I remember every player-every single one-who wore the Tennessee orange, a shade that our rivals hate, a bold, aggravating color that you can usually find on a roadside crew, "or in a correctional institution," as my friend Wendy Larry jokes. But to us the color is a flag of pride, because it identifies us as Lady Vols and therefore as women of an unmistakable type. Fighters. I remember how many of them fought for a better life for themselves. I just met them halfway.--Pat Summit

It's band camp time. Thousands upon thousands of kids across America are taking to the marching band field for the very first time. Those in the color guard are holding this odd thing called a flag pole. Many are stretching and finding muscles they never knew existed for the first time in their young lives. Others have never taken a dance class...much less been asked to leap, jump, and move across the floor with grace. Most of these kids who make up the color guard are girls. They are young women who just a couple to three years ago got their first period. Their breasts are still developing. Here are some other things you should know and consider, before the first ensemble drop spin is  even attempted.

  • In 2008, the CDC reported that 36% of high school girls reported strong and persistent feelings of sadness and hopelessness in the past year. 19% seriously considered suicide, 13% made a suicide plan, and 9% actually tried to kill themselves.
  • Female athletes experience concussions differently and take longer to recover
  • By the age of 5, children have absorbed a cultural bias against overweight people and females take the brunt of this bias (Musher-Eizenmean, 2003)
  • The media is a multi-billion dollar industry aimed at shaming women into being unrealistically thin, unrealistically beautiful and unrealistically super human.
  • The CDC reports that approximately 17% of adolescents are overweight or obese and the lower the income, the higher rate of obesity.

Did you know that according the the Geena Davis Institute for Women in Media, only 31% of all speaking roles go to women? Only 23% of all films feature a female protagonist. Only 23% of all action films have females speaking in the films and almost all of action films have set the male up as the hero. This is why movies such as the new Ghostbusters and Wonder Woman is so freaking important. This is why the movie Frozen was so groundbreaking. She chose her sister over a man. She was not an evil queen and she empowered herself to use her internal strength. Oh and one more thing. Women highlighted in sports in the movies and on ESPN are less than 4%. Less than 4. Freaking. Percent! Intelligent women who are portrayed strictly for their talent and brain are visually hard to come by on television and in the movies.

Why is this important? Why did I start with it? Because, by the time you get these girls to spin their first drop spin, most of them are dealing with some sort of self-esteem, body image, or inferiority complex that you can never see, they might not even be aware of and it goes back to the beginning of time. We as women have a long history in this world of subjugation that we are just now coming out of. In fact, our right to vote is still less than 100 years old. 

When you coach a female you have a responsibility to them as women. Now this is no different than any youth you may coach. Males are just as important, but for this post we are talking about females, because females make up the majority of all high school color guards in this country. Without any proper data on the pageantry arts, it is probably the single largest sport for girls in the country. I have and many of those I know, have taken immense pride in our activity that we...for the most part...take the girls that many won't, because we take all shapes and sizes. We give them a shot at the 50 yard line solo. 

So here's the problem. When you coach a guard with the pure intent of designing a show and getting a score, then you lose the reason the girls need us the most. When your focus is only on the design of your amazing costume, then you may forget to design to body image. When you put your emphasis on design over proper training and conditioning, then your females lose out on possibly the one opportunity life has given them to pull themselves out of this pit of hell called the objectification of the female body. When your single goal in life is to choreograph equipment phrasing better than Crown...(well first of all good luck with that), then you have made it about you and not them. Here is something else. Teenage girls are not you. They do not have the wrist strength of a man or self esteem of a developed woman of power. How you speak to them and build their sense of self is more important to those girls than your costume design. How you condition them...if you even do...not just builds their strength to achieve your not so good Crown Guard rip off show, but helps them respect the health of the body for life. YOU are building life long habits. You yes you! It is not just that early is on time and on time is late. Their self esteem and health will be with them until the day they die.

Does this mean that we don't push them to be better every day? Absolutely not. Have you ever heard of the sandwich approach? This is a phrase coined by Dr. Robert Smith that states that when we make a correction, we will get better results by commending the effort first, addressing the technical mistake second, and encouraging future progress third. This technique is not just an idea. It is a well researched method of coaching that yields higher results in performance than just yelling. Athletes and performers are waiting for the negative comment, but what makes this method effective, is that most athletes are already beating themselves up for the mistake. They are mad at themselves for not performing up to par, letting the team down, and most importantly letting the coach down. So why beat them up again? A compliment on effort goes a long way to building the trust in themselves to try something new. Remember, if the stats are right and these young women are walking into your program doubting themselves, then basic psychology would naturally dictate that the emphasis on the positive effort is more effective than the negative.

"Oh but Shelba...kids today are so soft. Back in my day our coaches carried pistols and shot our hands off if we dropped." Oh, but reader...keep an open mind to science and psychology and try not to scream, "Get off my lawn to the kids on Halloween."

Here's something else to think about. Women have had their bodies objectified by the media, men, and even other women all of their lives. "You aren't thin enough. You're too athletic. You're too fat. You're hair isn't blonde enough. Your skin isn't soft enough. Look at your body. It's so sexy. Your breasts are so supple. Your ass is so round. Your ass isn't round enough." Think about the messages these girls have been seeing and hearing their entire lives.

"Here little Suzy. Here's your first Barbie Doll. Oh and by the way...don't forget that you will NEVER, EVER look like her."

"Oh look at how beautiful your daughter is dad. You're going to have to lock her in the house until she's thirty." 

The messages are real and they have detrimental impacts. When girls stretch in front of their male staff for the first time in their lives in a second position, with their legs wide open...it matters. When we have them bend over to stretch out in front of the band...it matters. When we put them on the ground to work leg stretches, while their legs are in the air...it matters. When we put them in uniforms that are too tight...it matters. IT MATTERS and there are easy fixes, such as how we ask them to dress in rehearsal. Some girls need more time to anesthetize or get comfortable with the idea of a second position stretch. Some need more time to acclimate to a world where showing skin in a rehearsal setting is common. Also remember, at least one of your girls if not two by statistics, state they have been date raped. Giving an option of rehearsal attire that covers the top parts of the legs around the thigh area helps in the acclimation process. Some of your young women may have never worn a sports bra and need encouragement to wear one, because all women participating in high impact sports should be wearing breast protection. It helps in their becoming comfortable with their growing chest and reduces soreness after practice. Only a woman can truly know this, hence the reason for this blog post. And one more thing...when costuming girls, please think of the large breasted girls. Fashion designers screw this up all the time. Most of us simply are NOT a B cup with a tiny waist.

Finally, I would like you the reader, the coach, the director, the designer who is reading this to consider how you approach punishment in terms of exercise. We need girls in this world to exercise for life. We need them to love exercise as to cut down on a number of diseases such as diabetes, breast cancer, and high blood pressure. Exercise for conditioning and health is a much better approach than exercise for punishment..not to mention that if you yourself are overweight, eating french fries and barking orders from a tower...all you are doing is building a guard that doesn't trust you. Put the fries down and pick up an orange and tell them to do the same damn thing. 

When I coach I have a simple philosophy. It took me years to grow this philosophy. I had to go through the yelling phase, ego phase, and arrogance phase. I'm now in the "leadership" phase. I want to lead them to lead others. I want them to love who they are, because it took me way too long to love myself. Sometimes it takes domestic violence, sexism in the workplace, and being called a bitch, cunt, whore, and tyrant to come to the realization that you are none of those things. I am and you are a strong, powerful, unstoppable, and once in a lifetime woman. My philosophy is to build young women who know who they are faster than I ever did, so finding that man who hits and berates them is not even an option in their lifetime.

Coaching women is an undertaking that if done right can build leaders of our country. Standing in front of them is an awesome responsibility and part of that responsibility is the undoing of generations of women being told they aren't good enough. It is your job to say, "You are good enough. You are a leader. You will make it. I believe in you."


The Marching Roundtable is producing a series of podcasts focused specifically on how to coach young women. They are also putting in place a mentoring program and diversity program. I encourage you to check out their site to sign up here to mentor young women or men, so we can start building coaches, directors, and designers who know the how of the young people and not just the what.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Dear Band Director...

An open letter to all of the band directors out there from you guard staff. 

Dear Band Director,

I am your guard instructor. I want to tell you a little about myself. First I want to say that with me, you have hired a professional. I was unable in college to major in color guard like your percussion instructor or woodwinds section leader. For my education, I had to start learning my craft in high school and then carry that into different realms of development through winter guard, drum corps, and even dance and acting classes. I may have a degree in education, psychology, or engineering, but I don't have a degree in color guard. This however, does not make me less intelligent, less educated, or less knowledgeable about the section you have hired me for.

I know that you have hired a drill writer. You might have even hired a designer or program coordinator to help you build your program to a level of excellence, that is competitive on the national music stage. I want you to know though, I am also a designer. I have ideas about what show should be chosen and how that show should be staged. I have ideas as to what equipment should be used and where. I can also fix the drill if we find it isn't working. You know what else I can do? I understand music. I can read it and my sensitivity to musicality allows me to create moments of beauty we call art.

I am a coach of young women and men. In the way I talk to them and coach them, can make or break their self-esteem, body image, and absolute enjoyment for their future in the activity we both love. It can even make or break your program. I can hinder and stall the success of your bands name just by my decision to NOT make your program a priority. What I have to know to make your color guard successful ranges from the mechanics of body conditioning, dance, equipment fundamentals, performance techniques, judging score sheets, an understanding of staging, components of colors and even the building of props. My very expertise can impact your General Effect, Design Analysis, Guard Caption, and sometimes even your music caption if just one judge decides to venture out of said caption. I am a professional.

I know that you have spent a lot of money hiring drill writers, music arrangers, and consultants that come to your band class and teach the nuances of music. You hired me, too. You want me to teach a daily class. You want me to stay up late at night designing costumes and then ordering those costumes to precise measurements, that will allow beauty to flow from the performers bodies just by the very essence of the way they stand on the field. You desire to hear, "...and in first place for color guard is...your guard." With that first place score will most likely come with high marks in general effect and ensemble analysis.

When the design company you hired has been paid their final check and your music consultants have flown back home...I will still be here. In fact, I will most likely be planning for the winter season on top of the planning for the fall marching band season. One thing I realize in color guard, is that we as an activity have failed in the promotion and advocacy of the training of proper conditioning, certified dance teachers, and even certified technicians specializing in the use of equipment. I know that you realize that there are guard instructors out there who have failed in keeping with their end of the bargain. They used the activity as a stepping stone to their ego. Some have even been fired for misconduct with students. Some are in jail. Some have been caught stealing funds from the guard itself. We know this happens. It also happens on your side as well. Our activity is fraught with issues of accountability. This however, does not make us all unprofessional and uneducated. I am not a neophyte to this activity, nor am I corrupt. I have honed a skill that is unmatched by the sheer way I've learned to lead young women into excellence beyond the pageantry arts. I am building the performers to be leaders of the nation they are about to inherit. Am I worth the money, when we take into account the absurd responsibility you have handed me night after night after night?

This is what I ask in return. I ask that you respect my work as much as you respect the work of the design company you hired for $10,000 that raped the till of finances for your day to day guard staff. Without proper pay, I cannot dedicate my time fully to your program, as I have bills to pay as well. So I will have to split my time, find a full time job, or just simply fit you in when I can. That is not what I want to do. I want to build a program and not just call it mine, but call it ours. To do that, you have to trust me. You need to include me in the design side of the program and not just hand me drill charts and say, "Here...write." I would like to be included in the pre-season...very pre-season discussions on show concept. I'm not an afterthought. I should be the first thought. You see, in this activity and in many, many programs, the design of the show and who should design that show comes first and those that will be around to bring that show to life comes second. I need you to reverse your thinking. One...this will cause you less stress. If you put the correct day to day staff in place...people you trust...people who are professionals and who can grow your program together, then the design will come easy. Programmatic issues will be handled in house and with less stress. It's easy to write a check. It's a lot harder to build a team and a team is what will make your program successful in the end.

There are no quick fixes and easy answers. To build a program takes dedication and decades. When your day to day guard staff is a second thought or the bastard child in your mind, then we will leave and move on. Your band will become just money to us. The reality is that you can hire the best names in the country to design your show and arrange your music, but without me...that great design becomes average and forgetful. Your first thought should have been, "Who will train my color guard to be the finest in the nation?" You would expect nothing less from yourself as a band director in front of young musicians, so why would you expect less and pay less and communicate less and trust less of your guard staff...We who are your day to day staff. We are the people who are in front of your guard, mostly young women, and the kids that are trusting you to bring in the best, as they stand with a flag in their hand waiting to hear the words, "...and 5,6,5,6,7,8."

We must not forget that with the very way I add nuance to effort changes in let's say the slight tilt of the head, in a moment when that one note, from that one soloist is heard off in the distance; I could make an audience weep. I can make them laugh by the way I train for performance. I can bring your show to life. I do bring your show to life! So I ask you to consider all of this as the nation begins band camp and the start of the fall season. Who is more valuable to building the name of your program that the community will cheer for as your band loads the buses to some far off show to earn trophies to be shown on the local news? Who is there sweating and laughing and crying with your students? Is it your day to day staff or the far away designer who posts pictures of their feet by the pool, while they write your drill and calling the kids in your band...dots?

Never forget that we know the names of every kid and they are more than just dots to us.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

The Very Essence of the Term "Technician"

What is a technician? What does it mean? The text book definition for our practical purposes in the activity states that a technician is an expert in the practical application of a science, art, or craft. Let's see if I can make sense of this. An expert. This would mean that a technician for a color guard would need at the very minimum an awareness and demonstrated proficiency in the areas of conditioning, dance, muscular dynamics, performance concepts and equipment principles. The practical application of color guard is the demonstration that the technician has the ability to coach youth with intent, while using modern teaching principles. They would need to exhibit that they understand behavior modification for the coaching of sports to achieve the highest results. This expert in turn for their diligent hard work, would show results in the realms of competitive success, growth in membership, retention of veterans, and increased success following the current class structure the program exists in. Meaning, the program will get better each and every year.

Now, that is just the general job of a technician. What if they write choreography? What if they have to change drill when there is a mid season glitch a judge pointed out at a show? What if they are the person who makes on the spot design decisions, when the chief designer is only on staff as a contracted employee who is seen maybe two or three times a season?

Now, what about the technician who is at rehearsal every day, every show, football games, parades, and concerts? What about the one who has the skills to clean the show from the perspective of all captions including, but not limited to General Effect, Ensemble, Music, Movement and Equipment in general? What if this person has the skills to help write the show? 

Think about it. What is a technician in today's high paced, highly competitive, and high priced world worth? If you were the band director or director of an independent guard, how do you calculate the cost of a designer at let's say...50% the staff budget, while the rest of the staff fight over the other 50%? What do you think happens to morale, commitment, and desire to grow as an instructor? What do you think happens to the desire of a technician to stay and build a program if those in charge of the money choose to put their technical role below that of the other side of the sheet? When you look at the sheets in any of our pageantry activities, I often ask, "Which side is more important? The what or the how?" Because dammit, there is no what without the how. They don't exist separately and we need to start paying a hell of a lot more attention to those whose jobs are to make the what come to life through the expertise of the how.

With all this being said, if how equals the what, then why do we as an activity spend more resources focused on the what

Let me give you some examples. Drill writers. How many drill writers out there are writing 20 and thirty and 40 drills over the summer for marching bands all over the country without once stepping foot on the field of the band they wrote for? How much is that drill writer worth over the most talented technicians on your field? "But Shelba, if it wasn't for the designers, you would have nothing to clean." Very true. I can't argue that point. I'll offer you this though, "Without the great technicians of the activity, your design can't flourish and you won't be able to put your name on this program." I mean come on people. We all know that when a designer lands one great band or winter guard gig and if that band is successful, they in the end puts their name on it. Because it's the designer that wrote it right? However, what if that brilliant technical staff walked off the field in mid-October and said, "Clean this shit yourself." Would you want your name on that program then?

Here's another one. Choreographers. I once looked at a budget that had a separation of designer, writer, and then technical staff. The technical staff were at the bottom of the pay scale. I looked at the staff budget from a percentage stand point and realized that the line item percentage for the day to day staff was significantly lower than the percentage for one designer and one choreographer to come in and wave their magic design wands around. This my friends, is not uncommon in our activity. The phrase, "We need to hire such and such to boost our programs standing in the pageantry community." (fill in the blanks of someone you pay to put their name on your program for saying that blue would be a good uniform choice)

Well...this is what I say to that. BULLSHIT! Spend the bulk of your budget and hire a brilliant technician who has the skill set to work with an average designer and writer, whose job is to set a three year goal and move your color guard/band up through the ranks...then build your budget around that brilliant technician and your staff around them. What would happen? Maybe, your program would grow so well, that you could then hire the big named designer to put their name on your program to just say the uniforms should be blue. Simply put, what if we reversed our thinking all together?

"But Shelba, we can't find any good techs who have the skills of what you are talking about." Yes. I would have to agree with that statement....maybe. A great technician is NOT a dime a dozen. Not everyone can clean a well written phrase with the finesse of breath, musicality, and effort changes necessary to reach the pinnacle of the how. Or is it, that you have ignored the how and the people that do the how for so long, that no one wants to work with your program anymore. It also could be that your people are actually pretty brilliant technicians, but you refuse to pay for their services so they put your program on the back burner and come in when they can fit you in. I've done it. If I find out I'm working for a program where my services are undermined or devalued, I will stay for the kids...to a point, but I will start the process of moving on and that may come in the form of moving completely to another program or moving your program to the back of the line and I'll fit you in when it works for my schedule. Why do I do it? Because designers and writers most of the time won't design page one for free. So why would I do the same as a technician and as a woman? We do this activity for the kids, but I won't be used and no one should ever feel that way.

I have another example. Local circuit and national focus clinics. I would love to know how many go on each year all over the country that say, "Hey guess what you guys! We are paying this great designer to come and teach you how to design a great show." The fine print of that clinic or workshop says, "By the way, we'll teach you how to design, but we won't teach you how to clean it. We won't offer workshops on time management, coaching with intent, or cleaning for effect." The fine print of that workshop will be so small that you won't even realize it's not being offered. The result, is a lack of attention to the importance of the technicians of the activity. 

Why am I writing this today? It's because I received an email from a band asking me to consult...for free. FREE.  Let me say that again. FREE. When I gave them my price they told me they didn't have the money. They had already hired a drill writer, but the drill writer is expensive. My response? So am I. "But Shelba, you don't write drill or design world class shows." I don't? Have you ever seen me or any other expert technician work THEIR magic? Have you ever seen me take a mess of design and rework it to make sense? Have you ever seen me clean efforts into a phrase written without the thought of musicality? Have you ever seen me kick total ass when I've been given one day to write and clean an entire song for a show, when the drill came in late? I'm that good and so are many, many others.

I have one more. Oftentimes, so much money is spent on the production value side of the show, then when it comes time to pay for the day to day staff, all that's left over is money for a young, inexperienced person with no resume to speak of. Costumes, silks, props, floors, make up, hair, designers, and writers all make up the what. When you budget first for the production of the show, without figuring out the day to day staff who will make sure the make up is worn correctly or the silks go around together, then my friend...your program will ultimately remain average and forgettable. You will spend your time wondering why staff turnover is so high and you can't ever seem to make it to the top. This pattern will set you on a path of bitterness and the feeling as if it's everyone's fault besides yours. 

"The staff don't care."
"The boosters don't want to pay."
"The judges are bad."
"The kids never practice."

No...those are excuses. The reality? No one wants to work for you because you put the what before the how.

The moral to the story...Start paying your technicians equally and in time we will see more devotion to programs and more experts will come out of the wood work who make the what truly come to life, because they will devote their time in the activity in honing a skill that is valued both financially and visually.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Beyond the Confetti Cannons and a Sold Out Arena

Cavaliers2015_WGIexpo.jpg (960×539)

It's that time of year again. It's proposal time. Now I'll be the first to admit that in my 20 plus years in the activity I've only submitted one proposal. Proposals I submit, if I have anything to say, occur at the local level where I feel I can make the most difference. Most of the time I do what most of us do. I sit back and watch to see what happens. I'm not afraid to put in proposals, I just can't be there to defend my ideas and I don't want anyone speaking for me. I think there's a lot of people out there like that. I also don't get a vote. I'm allowed to speak my peace...any of us can speak our peace...but not all of us can vote. Actually, most of us can't vote. This year however, I do have something to say and the really great thing about this new age of technology we are in, is that any of us can take to social media to voice our concerns. We can write blogs and create petitions. News travels at the speed of light and secrets don't really exist anymore, when those at the meeting can text those of us not at the meeting. This past weekend, I got to listen to and participate in a pretty heated discussion about the WGI proposals that specifically impacted the A Class. Many different voices were heard and many of us had little fear in expressing our voice. At the end of the day however, I don't get a vote as to how MY A Class guard is treated at the national level and most of the people in the room don't either. Our trust is in those representing us, who often have conflict of interests. I don't get a vote in how WGI spends MY guards money and I don't get a vote on where MY guard performs. I don't get a vote on what age the A Class should be capped. Whether it's the age of 20, 25, or 45...I still don't get a vote and to be honest...no one ever asks me or my colleagues before many decisions are made. So with this, I would like to spend this post voicing MY opinion on the proposals and as they make me say at work on my Twitter account...

"The opinions expressed in this article are mine and solely mine and don't represent any organization I work for."

Every year it seems that the proposals at the WGI level take on the same tone. They are worded differently, but always seem to have similar ideas. How will we seed prelims and semi-finals? Are we going to change the age out rules? How many do we take in finals? Who should or should not get promoted and how will that happen? Who should be allowed to judge a power regional? Can the World Class drop flying turkeys from the ceiling on their abstract idea of great sitcoms of all time, to an obscure piano concerto written by Prince?

It's seriously a circle without end and each year most of us sit back and wait until the middle of summer when the board meets to find out how our individual color guards are impacted. When writing this article I found that I wish I could go and reference past proposals and tally up how many different ways we have seeded nationals and changed who makes finals and why. I wanted to find out how many different times we have discussed the age out rules. Mostly though...I wanted to find out how many proposals comprised the A class; voted on by the World Class. I don't have that information though and my guess is that no one has that either which is a shame, because I bet history would tell a very interesting story. So, I offer a recommendation.

Stop making decisions that impact the A Class, without first testing the waters through "well written" surveys, feasibility studies, financial impact studies, or a well planned A Class caucus. Wait a year or two while you study and pilot new ideas. Create greater transparency when making large sweeping changes that impact most of the activity. Right now WGI has a perception problem. The perception is that many...MANY...A and Open units feel disenfranchised. Many feel that in recent years the World class is hijacking the activity for reasons that vary depending on the person you speak to. This year for example, many guards felt screwed by being at Millet Hall, as well as having finals at the Nutter Center...back to back to Open Finals. I have yet to find anyone who thought that was a good idea that isn't on the World Class Board, but I speak only for myself. I'm sure those people are out there somewhere. Many people are questioning whether or not there was a financial gain or loss to the system this year. 

What's interesting is that when you look at World Finals, everything seems so happy and good. The confetti cannons are fun. A sold out arena, with undeniably amazing guards. Is it, though? Is everything good or is it getting a little harder to survive both competitively and financially each year? When you look beyond Saturday night, what do you find? Do you find well trained judges and guards at both the local and national levels? Do you see an increase of safety concerns as we increase skill base at the lower levels? Do you see a stressed out A system with too many units travelling on small roads to Millet Hall or to Cincinnati? Do you see an increase of young people instructing in a world where risk has increased? Do you see an arena where police officers are screaming at young people, because the arena no longer fits? Do you see a trust in the system or have we turned a blind eye to those that built the activity from the ground up? 

When WGI took away the age out back in the late 90's (ish), many people felt we would lose the youth aspect of the activity and we did to an extent. I don't think any of us could have seen though, how it would filter into the A class in terms of the yearly incremental increase in skills expected and demanded as the A Class started to populate itself by highly designed and expensive shows taking its lead from the now ageless World Class. I don't think anyone could see how the demand in skills would then filter down to the local level Regional A units. When the rule was changed to allow for 40 individuals allowed on the performing floor in the World Class; many people saw that by giving the World Class and extra 10 people, then good kids would get sucked away from the Open and A units, where many of those kids might have gone; thus impacting the Independent A bottom line as well as their skill base. Additionally, I'm not sure anyone has truly asked the A and Open units if there was an impact? We then took away one thing that all of us certainly love. We took away the arena. Now some people say that this was done to accommodate the A Class units ability to serve more guards in finals...maybe. I'm not sure that's it though, especially when you look at how World Class guards get a semi-finals show, without a significant number of units to truly warrant a semi-finals event and if we were to be honest; Why 15 in finals in World Class? The numbers don't truly warrant that either. However, the answer for that will be that everyone wants to see World and no one wants to see A or Open. (I wonder about that as well) People would say that it's World Class that draws the guards in. Is it? I've also heard that the World Class guards can now only fit in the arena since they write for the arena only...and by the way...they aren't the only ones who write for the arena. To be honest...I don't know the truth and no one seems to know either, as the answer is different depending on who you ask on the Board. I will tell you though, the perception of it all looks bad out here in the real world. 

So I'm forced to come to a conclusion. It seems that we have a history of increasing the benefits for the World Class, while eliminating the benefits for the lower classes...to accommodate the World Class. If I'm wrong then I'm wrong, but perception is a bitch isn't it? I also must conclude that the activity at both the local and national level is growing too fast for the system we have. The arena, city, and system is no longer working for the amount of units we have nationwide. We can't even come to a conclusion as to what A and Open Class should really look like. Hell...we don't even discuss it openly. We probably have too many guards coming to Dayton. We might need to look at capping it or placing a score that you must reach before you are truly eligible. We may need to look at another city. We may need to look at putting World Class back on Sunday. We may need to look at moving A Class to a completely different weekend. We may need to look at starting on Wednesday. We may need to look at a complete restructure of the Board of Directors. (now that's scary isn't it?) I hear a lot of people complaining, but the real problem is not this faux issue of how we seed semi-finals or whether or not the A Class should perform on Friday night. If we want change, then we have to look at change over the course of time and not from season to season and be willing to change. You can't make a change with a multi-million dollar organization like WGI, without taking into account the entire make up of the activity. The issue we truly have, is an activity we've grown out of and an activity that has grown up. It is not just international, but being touted as a reach into China. China? We can't even fix our home yet. Do we have the capacity to expand at the rate we are expanding at? If I could write a proposal and be in Vegas this weekend to defend it; it would go something like this.

Let's cap all proposals and expansions for two years, while we hire an outside and independent consulting firm to take the pulse of the activity through a well designed and totally transparent study of the bylaws and make up of the Board of Directors and all affiliations. The financials of the activity will be scrutinized for waste and Board approval of capitol expenses, staff raises, and raises in membership dues. It will look at the education process for new board members, judges, and instructors. This study will take a hard look at the make up of the Independent Classes in terms of who is designing, teaching, and performing. It will analyze data and survey/interview staff. The study will look at local guard budgets and talk to circuit boards to find out about what works and what doesn't work. Judges would be interviewed without fear of reprisal. Scholastic unit directors and instructors would be interviewed; along with their parents to gauge the impact of the financial and rehearsal burden on the family unit. There would be a strong look at the diversity make up of leadership. The independent research firm would then submit recommendations for changes going forward.

Financial Impact: A lot, but a hell of a lot cheaper than this constant revolving door of changes in how, who, and where we compete; along with a stronger base of trust throughout the nation.

This however, will never happen. I'm living in a dream world, because we all know that if my proposal were to pass, then we would all have to sit back and wait to see what came back. I work for the government and I see it all the time. "Let's spend a million dollars, because this looks cool without testing the waters of the public first!" People want "it" and they want "it" now, regardless of long term impact. However, there are some really great nonprofit's out there that do what I'm proposing about every decade or so. They look at where they were, where they are, and where they are headed. They put the breaks on, before moving forward. It's simply smart business.

In the end, many of us might not like what is found and the changes recommended, because change is hard. Everybody would lose something and in the end we might find that A Class is best suited for the Nutter Center or we should completely remove A class from Dayton all together, but at least we would know. We might find the bylaws and Board make up no longer fits this international activity of ours. I ask this all the time as I live in a data based world...Wouldn't you like to know what is really happening out there by the numbers? Wouldn't it make you feel good? It's comforting to see real studies independently done. There's a peace to it. However, that peace comes from mature thinking and the understanding that all stakeholders would have to make some hard choices and then live with it. 

I'm willing to give it a shot and try, but I know as I write this I'm in the minority. We should never fear change, especially when we as an activity are growing so well. In the end, we should all want what's best for this wonderful activity of ours and right now what is best is taking a breath to assess before we respond.