I was sitting on the couch flipping channels when I see the lovely Julie Andrews singing with the VonTrapp children. They are sitting in a flower field by a mountain in their green paisley “curtain play clothing” and I pause. Her voice sweeps over me and I am transported back to 1999 and blue crushed velvet, being the youngest on the team, and an abundance of butterflies clipped to my heavily hair-sprayed hair. It brings me back to some of the my “favorite things” and probably one of my most notorious beauty mistakes.
I’ve said for years that if I leave the house and look bad and you don’t tell me - you are not my friend. I reserve that I must not have had many friends that year. I mean really…I was 16 years old after all on a team of college students. Because no one told me there were too many butterflies in my hair; I thought I looked cute.
It’s that time of year again, folks. The OFFICIAL BEGINNING of WINTERGUARD! It’s a time of great joy and excitement for a new show, new friends, new uniform, no more summer heat, and of great misery getting rid of weird tan lines, expectation pressures, and time frames. DCI and their Finals have been completed for some time now. Congrats again to all those serious summer warriors on their amazing tours. Summer days are long over and schools are finishing or finished with football season. Marching color guards are hanging up their field shows and are ready to embrace their indoor excitement. Independent programs all over the nation have finished auditions and are already putting their shows together. Everyone is getting ready for that mad dash to Premier.
But the question is - are the performers really REALLY ready to take the floor for competition?
“Let’s start at the very beginning… A very good place to start….”
The terms “basics” and “training” are used in daily communication from staff to student then from judges to staff then back to student. The definition of basics is “the ESSENTIAL facts of principles on a subject or skill”. The definition of training is “the action of teaching a person or animal a particular skill or type of behavior”. Every staff member is responsible for the training aspect of a member. The staff member sets the standard to be executed by the performer. Every judges tape I have ever heard always comments on the success or failure of the training program. Are the hand placements the same on the flag feature? Do the release points match on the weapon tosses? Do all the members understand the weight shifting footwork under the equipment phrase? Do all the members achieve the upper body strength to complete these skills? Do they have stamina to finish the show? All these concepts and more are directly effected by the success or failure of the training program.
The perfect example of the importance of basics and proper training are major athletes preparing her/him self for the Olympics. Some of my favorite Olympians to watch are Michael Phelps, Kayla Mahoney, Misty May-Treanor, Kerri Walsh-Jennings, and Gabrielle Douglas. Many of them have the same routine 7 days in a row to focus mind and body as one. My students and I last November had the honor to listen to Gabrielle Douglas - London 2012 Olympic All-Around Gold Medalist - speak in Orlando when she was on her book signing tour . She spoke of the self commitment to her sport and her appreciation for the opportunities to fight for her dream. She spoke on how her skill and stamina were the results of hard work and perseverance and that it takes years of physical and mental training to prepare for the pressures of being an Olympic hopeful. If it wasn't for her routine training and preparation and her mother’s support, she would never had been ready for the pressure of the Olympics.
We can look to all sports actually. To name a few : Every basketball team does laps and lay-ups before a game. A football team does quick steps and throws or blocks every practice. A dance team does the same stretch sequence every time before rehearsing their competition piece. A hockey team does sprints and stick work before a game. A volley ball team will run and volley the ball back and forth.
I immediately ask then - If training and basics are the key components to success, why do so many color/winter guard programs skipping over this aspect completely? Why do so many staffs allow their students to “warm up themselves”?
The majority of the success or failure of a program starts on the first day. While no staff can control the performers personally, a clear tone and expectation is set by the staff members and how they dictate the initial process. If the energy is focused and clear, the return response will be precise, positive and energetic. If the energy is frantic or random or undisciplined, the membership will respond with the same energy. In my experience, the membership will ALWAYS follow the level of energy and focus that the staff members are putting out.
“When you read you begin with A B C … When you sing you begin with Doe Rei Me..”
Colorguard basics can be universally compiled into 2 simple things: drop spins and a 3 count wind-up toss. Every color guard member in the world should start by learning the drop spin. The simplicity of the up and down motion can teach a new member many things: hand eye coordination, wrist control, speed, timing, arm placement, hand placement, posture, strength. The list goes on. The 3 count wind-up toss can teach actual fearlessness in releasing of the flag, release point, body control, self confidence, etc. Without these things, on a consistent basis, success to these skills and any others that follow will not happen. Another example is that if you don’t teach basic dance such as arm placements, tendus, and plies, then they can’t be expected to do a barrel turn and not expect them to get hurt badly. They don’t understand hip turn out and weight shifting - they are not prepared for it. But once they understand the “Basics”, you can teach them anything - EVERYTHING - because they will understand how to develop the knowledge they have into those advance skills.
I always felt physical pain when a staff member would suggest that the guard warm up on their own before the first equipment run. Members ALWAYS immediately start tossing before warming up their wrists properly. They will immediately start doing leaps or high kicks without stretch enough. Or worse - they will just stand around talking and start the day completely cold. It falls on the staff member(s) if they fail or get hurt for lack of proper warm-up. It is our responsibility as leaders to teach them properly. How do we expect them to spin together if they are all over the place doing their own thing when ever they feel like it? One of my favorite quotes when I teach is, “A group will never look like a whole if they remain a bunch of pieces“.
Fact: Without extreme core training, long hours of repetition, and intense focus, there would not have been the success of the famous Paradigm 2005 floor flag feature.
The membership would not have been able to achieve the physically and mentally demanding feature without having the endurance to sustain it. The staff developed a body and flag warm up that taught us to utilize all the muscles, physical and mental, that were necessary to complete the challenging drill and twirls. The body warm-up consisted of 5 songs which included stretching, strength, dance basics, guiding, performance, and more. The flag warm-up which included basic drop-spins, ab work, weight shifting, attention to detail, length of phrase, and more were called the Hurricanes. The Hurricanes warm-up was aptly named after the 3 hurricanes that hit central Florida that year. We started on our back spinning between our legs like the eye of the storm and through the warm-up made it up to standing on our feet. We said we wanted to be a force to be reckoned with, a force of nature. I personally remember thinking we were a fabulous fierce Category 5 every time we did it.
And at times, I felt we did the Hurricanes more than our show. It was, however, a routine like our show that was done consistently. We did it every rehearsal; it wasn‘t even discussed. There were not questions on if we were doing it that day or just a part of it or did we have enough time to do it. We just knew what to do. Our captain called us to the floor and the music that the warm-ups were choreographed to begun. We clicked in immediately. On a show day or a rehearsal day, the team started together - as one. We did our official body warm-up that was the same every time. We did our across the floors, which all came from moments in the show. And when we picked up our flags, we set for the Hurricanes. The weapons split off and did their warm-up.
Every rehearsal. Every time - we were together.
It didn’t matter what else was going on - bad days, rehearsal space issues, an actually hurricane - nothing stopped us from doing this first. The day always started this way.
Even in 1999, we had a consistent warm-up, which led to our consistent growth year after year. Training and focus led way for our staff to teach us the skills needed to achieve greatness. And in the end, the results of that consistency and focus spoke for itself. I am honored to be a 2 time Medalist with Paradigm and Paradigm 2005 was not only a WGI IW Finalist but also a WGI Fan Favorites. People to this day still come up to me and my fellow members of that season asking to learn that feature. It is an honor. All involved are very humbled by the nod and the passion for the show to this day. It was a lot of work, sweat, tears, repetition and technique that only comes from consistency and drive. And I couldn’t be more proud to have been a part of that exceptional experience.
“When you know the notes to sing…You can sing most anything…”
Basics training is not just limited to just the physical. A fellow staff member has said to me several times how her favorite part of marching wasn’t always the actual shows. She loved basics block and it wasn‘t because of the physical activity. It was the time to mentally sync together with a group of people with the same goal and feel the electric energy of focus and determination all around her. Looking back now, there was sort of a magic that happened in warm-ups, especially when we were really clicked in. The intensity of the groups’ energy sent little electric pulses through each of us. We knew when we were together and we could feel when someone wasn’t locked it. It’s that electricity that has pulled the attention of other members and staff alike when walking around competition sites.
How often at shows have you walked by a guard and stopped to watch? Or just power walk on by?
Did you judge them based on seeing their warm-up deciding if they were competition or not?
Worth running into the gym or not?
Excited for their show or not?
Did they become your favorite based on their intensity?
How many times as a staff member have you looked at a student and said “pay attention to me not that people walking by” or “What’s so important over there? The only person you should be looking at is me!”?
How many times as a performer have you been told either of those things?
Winterguard International has been called by many the Winterguard Olympics. I bet no Olympic hopeful is looking around into the crowd while preparing for their turn to compete. It’s a matter of training and focus. It’s about training and basics.
In the most recent years, with the complete cuts or lack of finances to the art and performance programs nationwide, programs and/or band directors are hiring younger and more inexperienced staff members than before due to money or scheduling. The new staff members are not having the much needed guidance from experienced staffs to know the right and wrong ways to teach. And the new members are not being taught the skills needed to truly achieve in a Sport that gives back so much.
So - Let’s start at the very beginning -
If you are a new or young instructor, you ARE the driving force in the success or failure of your student’s skill set. You need to make sure you are prepared to truly teach the basics and the proper training before accepting a position. Don’t expect them to ‘figure’ it out themselves. Don’t think because you have this great show in mind that you will get them to do it without training first. That is not possible and not fair. If you don’t know how to teach basics, there are several good instructors around that will be happy to teach you how to teach. Don’t be afraid to ask! One of the greatest part of this Sport is the family aspect to give and help each other. Everyone wants everyone’s students to succeed!
If you are a performer or member, you have the right to get the proper training. You have the right to seek out opportunities to learn, to improve your skills, and grow. You have the opportunity to make yourself better everyday by rehearsing yourself. Take a dance class. Study videos and try it. Make new friends who have the skills you want to learn. If you have the desire, find the information you seek.
If it were not for the training that I received in high school then all the amazing Independent level training that started in 1999 and continued on and the self discipline to go out and take dance classes on my own, spin basics with my friends, and work to be the best I could be, I never would of achieved the Guard goals I have.
To the staff members out there: I highly encourage that if you haven’t already started a basics program with your team- IT IS NEVER TO LATE TO START! It can be as simple as drop spins and speed spins or peggy spins on the right and left hand. Develop a body warmp up! Just make it consistent! You will see the change in them . They will feel great and so will you.