Sunday, February 28, 2016

Training! What does It All Mean??


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"Individuals understand the introductory skills and achieve a consistent degree of uniformity in method and timing."

"The choreographed vocabulary contains a good introductory/beginning range with variety and some versatility."

Uh...huh. I've been in the activity a long time and I've taught and judged and taught and judged and used the judge words and put the numbers down and taught and judged. Today however, I was judging a unit that kind of stopped me. I looked at the sheet and then the sheet above it and I looked at the boxes and literally thought, "What the hell is an introductory skill?" What is it? If it's so easy to put these words on to a piece of paper and use it as criteria to rank and rate units, then why can't we actually define it? Why can't I come into a show as a judge and say the phrase, "Well low and behold look at this. You have demonstrated that this is clearly not an introductory skill."

What about this?

"The range of the choreographed vocabulary for this class is broad and well understood." Broad and well understood. Broad and well understood. Broad and well understood. Say it ten times fast and you know what will happen? You still won't know what broad and well understood really means. My personal favorite is, "Dynamic gradations of space, time, weight, and flow are usually achieved." Ummm....o.k. How do you quantify a "usually?"

Have you ever wanted to take 20 people and put them outside of a gym and bring them into the gym one at a time and say the words, "Show me a basic skill and then demonstrate for me a basic phrase on any piece of equipment of your choosing and when you are done with that, explain to me the training process you would take to get performers to understand a good degree of physical and mental development for that phrase." Now, what if 10 of those people were judges and 10 of those people were instructors of the Regional A and A classes, who were young and somewhat naive? What would we get? Now, what if those 10 judges were split between national judges and local judges? What would we get? Anyone want to play the game, because I'll bet my next paycheck on the fact that we would see 20 different approaches and 20 different answers. Until we acknowledge the fact that we still have not come to a consensus on what we are asking the young guards to achieve, then how can we sit and use the phrases such as, "Your vocabulary range doesn't fit the class or your training program doesn't fit the book the kids were given." I'll tell you what I think. I teach at various levels and judge all over the country. I'll tell you what isn't introductory or beginning...a back hand on flag release behind the back into an immediate release of a 45 toss out of it. Something else that isn't a basic skill...a quad with lower body contributions such as single foot balance or deliberate shift in weight, yet I see it all the time all over the country in the lower classes. However, when I teach my high school guard those skills and break it down and teach the techniques behind it, I start to think, "Well then...that wasn't easy." Am I a bad tech? Do I not know how to teach those skills? I'm not thinking that's the case. I'm thinking that we don't know what the hell introductory, beginning, and intermediate really are and the training process it takes to get them there.

I live in a world where everything we have to do is S.M.A.R.T. Anyone who has worked in the professional realm for longer than 8 minutes knows this acronym.

Specific...Measurable...Achievable...Realistic...Timely.

This is how our Regional A sheets should be created. A specific guideline that tells anyone who designs for and techs for these guards what is expected and the timeline for achievement. We act in this activity that if we were to say that a quad is an introductory skill or basic skill or intermediate skill or whatever, that somehow we would hurt the delicate sensibilities of the instructors and designers around the country. We go into these discussions that if we were to actually define introductory or beginning or intermediate that we would strip the design choices out of the hands of the units. Oh please. My philosophy is that Regional A is a training class and if your guard or you as an instructor needs to be in this class, then we need some more damn guidance than a sheet that reads like a toy given to a child on Christmas day that can't be put together, because the directions are in Japanese. I'll also tell you what isn't a basic skill and not even intermediate. It's equipment work that is manipulated by one hand that explores alternate angles by use of the wrist only. Have you ever seen a 15 year old girl who barely weighs 75 pounds wet try to manipulate equipment with one hand? Have you ever seen them disengage the body to just achieve? How do you train for that? Do we train for that? Do we really as an activity train to strengthen the wrist in this day and age of multiple one handed planal work? I said to a guard today while judging, that the wrist didn't support the work and more training needed to happen before the kids could achieve. After I said that I thought, "Bad Shelba. Bad." What I should have said was, "Take the damn thing out before one of those girls breaks their wrist!" But what does it mean anyway? It's so easy as judges for us to sit back and say that a guard needs better training, but what does it really take for a guard to be truly trained in one handed, end of pole, multi-planal work?

I want to sit with every downstairs judge around the country at the national level and ask the question. Do you know? What is the training for one handed, end of the pole, multi-planal work? I am personally mad as hell that we are given sheets to work off of, but they lack such specific guidelines that it forces the guards at the bottom to struggle in writing and in training. We are so afraid to define it, because then it would force us to meet somewhere in the middle and say, "You know what? Maybe one handed, end of the pole, multi-planal work is something that we should only do if a guard is shooting for the top 10 of A class." It also would force us to say, "To do that particular skill, we expect you to train the wrist in such a way that it builds the muscles around it to support in a healthy way the development of the wrist." It would force personal trainers to be hired at the national level to evaluate the skills. It would force risk managers to look at the skills and say "No way. This is a lawsuit waiting to happen."

Why are we so afraid to really discuss skill and training? I take pride as a judge the information I give to Regional A and A class units; specifically the ones not headed to Dayton or a regional. I love those guards. I love challenging myself weekend after weekend to make sure that what I say doesn't sound like I'm speaking at the U.N. to a group of delegates from China. Each week I strive to make sure that when I leave, the units in the lower classes get more than judge speak. I listen to a lot of audio files from many different judges and it makes me angry when I'm listening to an A class guard who clearly isn't a regional bound team and hear a judge say something like this, "The training doesn't support the dimensionality of the phrase when the body is in the bound position." Seriously? How about this? "Hey you guys, you are trying to constrict the body to create different efforts and I get it, but I if you want to do this phrase, the kids are going to need specific level body training in contractions to better understand breath and release." I know I know. We aren't supposed to be teaching the guards. However, I don't care what we are suppose to and not be doing. I don't care. Sue me. Don't bring me in again. What I care about, is that the instructor who is 25 years old on their first go round in the activity understand what the hell I'm saying and that when they hear my voice they get pointed information on what training means, so the kids are successful and feel good about themselves.

Being in the trenches is important. I pride myself on being in the trenches. I pride myself on not walking on the floor with 47 guards, but just one or two and building training programs that makes the kids feel successful.

So what is an introductory skill? What is it in movement? When we blend body and equipment, when does introductory move to basic and then to intermediate? Picture this. I'm teaching a guard who is in let's say the Triple A or A3 type of class. Kids who can barely walk and chew gum at the same time. We now know we are on the A sheet. Intermediate is a word we will start hearing and exploring. However, when we came out of Regional A, no one really told us what introductory or basic constituted. I start writing harder work. Judges are telling me the kids don't have the training to support the new one handed, off center work. Except, training was never really defined for me. Now the work is harder and I still don't know how to adjust the training program or even if I should. All the clinics offered in my area is based on design. I now know how to create an effect, because my local circuit paid some high priced designer to come in to teach how to build effect and create production value. Well this is what I say to that. Whoop dee doo! My floor looks great. That $2,000 was spent well. Wow! The costumes. Look at them. The effects. They were built so well and now I understand how to build effects like a pro, but wait. While building into the effect, the kids passed through planes they didn't understand, used methods of travel that challenges them, because they really don't know how to jump in the air and then come out of that jump and continue with a nice flow through the lower body, and when they got to the big toss they just chucked equipment in the air and caught. YAY! They caught! Good for them, but unfortunately the toss was thrown wrong, different elbows, wrist energy, and free hands, but good for me...I built an effect and the kids caught! Now...I can build effect. I'm a pro. Congratulations to me. My guard has now been promoted into the Double A class. My kids still have underdeveloped lower bodies and they don't toss well. I have now learned as a designer the concept of smoke and mirrors. And the cycle goes on and on.

Specific. Measurable. Achievable. Realistic. Timely.

Specifically, there are skills that those of us on the true front lines know what is introductory and basic. We can measure it on a daily basis by the struggles of the young performer and the bad habits they build why we as an activity try to figure out introductory, basic, and intermediate. Achievement is confidence of knowing how to do your show with fluidity and breath. Realistic is setting goals of knowing when it is a young performer is to have learned and mastered a double, triple, and quad. Being realistic in knowing when to put in lower body blended elements. Timely. All of this should be timely in the fact that kids shouldn't have to wait until Championships to finally feel a small amount of success. It shouldn't take from band camp to April Championships for quads and leaps to become comfortable and achievable.

We are hurting the kids by not defining and having dialog about what these words mean and what training truly looks like. I'll tell you this, though. I talk about it. I talk about it all the time. I listen and teach. I teach how to read a recap for the  messages being sent. I teach instructors to listen to common themes on all 5 tapes. I teach on my tapes how to clean a phrase and what specific training exercises will help train the skill and one last thing. I have no problem telling them to take it out. It's about the kids and their feeling of success and to do that I want an instructor to understand how to create success and what success really means. Recently I heard someone say to an instructor, "All the criteria is on the sheet. You need to read it." Well how elitist of you, I thought. Later, I pulled that instructor aside and gave her my phone number. I told her to call me and that I'll walk her through the Chinese words written on the sheet and what they really mean.

Training. Criteria. Introductory. Basic. Intermediate. What do they mean and who are we serving by keeping these words in a nebulous of confusion?  When we decide to get in the mindset and understand the unique problems of these classes, then we will decide to have better dialog.


Sunday, February 21, 2016

A Technician's Internal Dialog



7e5c584a6083e94f0fdbfc7528e82ebf.jpg (236×286)Since sometime around 1996, I have been a loud and proud technician. Some years I have been a part of the design team and other's I have stepped back and let the design team do their business...as long as they let me do mine. I've never pretended to be a designer, although I certainly have had my share of design ideas. I've never written a phrase that anyone at WGI would say, "Wow...did you see that? How did they do that?" I've been on the receiving end of that phrase however, as I analyzed late into the night how I would attack the phrase, what muscles were engaged and every effort in between of every 'and count.' If I had to create the staging, it would make a design analysis judge's eyes bleed, but I can look at that staging and ask, "Ummm....was the intent to completely block your best phrase on sabre by a teenage boy on the other side of the floor throwing some high, over rotated 12 on rifle?"

Over the years, as a loud and proud technician, I've had an inner dialog that's pretty strong. The older I get however, that internal dialog is becoming pretty damn external. Let me tell you what a good technician knows. We know that the effects are crucial. We know that without a strong book that flows from one moment to the next moment guiding your eye across crucial points of the stage, then the score will suffer. We understand that the designer has a vision and their ability to design to that vision to maximize points is crucial to the success of the program. As a technician, I have to take it all into account and know that my job is to bring the design vision to life. It is my job to understand the kids and what they can do. It is my job to create a relationship with my designer and be able to say, "No. Absolutely not. If we go this route, with this skill, we lose 20% of our cleaning time, just focusing on this one moment. Is the effect worth it?" As a technician, it is my job to challenge the thought process of the designer when it comes to skill and the day to day work of bringing those skills to life. These are hard conversations to have. They are contentious and often times result in knock out drag out fights.

This relationship of tech to designer dialog, back in my early years, was something I didn't have the guts or the power to contend with. I played along. "Sure. Let's try a blade 5 on sabre with a tilt under it." My inside voice was telling me no, this risk won't be worth it in the end, as we risk the comfort of the mind of the performer as they struggle to get past it. Nowadays, I don't keep it to myself. I simply say, "I will give this 3 weeks. If they don't have it by then to the point that all we have to do is clean it, then it's coming out. I would recommend that you have a backup plan."

A tech's job is hard. There is so much involved with training the guard to be cleaned for the show. We fight idea's with the designers and often times listen to the audio files and sit in critique shaking our internal head back and forth as we say to ourselves, "I told you this wouldn't work." I've worked with a number of designers over the years on the field and in the gym. The good ones, listen to their technical staff. They bring the ideas to the table in the beginning and simply ask, "Do you think the kids can handle the character and skill?"

As a technician, I sit back and watch the creation of the design with intent. I know when to speak up and when to simply stay out of the way. I realize that laying out the design is a complex process, as complex as it is while I write my novel, hoping to get each character saying exactly what I need them to say. I watch the writers toil over the phrases that look beautiful, but often sit back shaking my head thinking, "Well that will last 4 minutes. What class again do they think we are writing for?" My personal favorite is when the kid...you know the one...the one that just started spinning yesterday, just MIRACULOUSLY ends up on the 50 in the middle of the flag feature...in the front. "Oh joy for us all this season," I'll think to myself. I'm convinced it's deliberate torture method by the design team to the tech team when they put that kid on the 50 and it's so ironic that it happens...every...single...year.

It's February and it's the time of year when we get to see if the design and technical team built a relationship with each other or if one took precedent over the other. Your score will reflect it when the kids can't pull off the big GE moments or they look as if the character of the show is beyond their maturity as not just performers, but of age as well. Sometimes I'll be the main tech for a show and just think, "My God. I can't even count this. How can the kids?" Sometimes I think, "Well, I'm so glad we get to listen to this all season. Does someone have a sharp implement I can stab in my ears?"

When it's time to start really cleaning the show, sometime in early January (ish), I make a list of every skill in the show and what muscles and joints are engaged in that skill. There are times when I simply don't know how to clean it. I look at the skill and think, "Ewww....how the hell are we going to clean that?" I look at the speed of the show to assess potential stamina issues. I calculate risk and go ahead and start the process of planning my argument if the day comes we realize the risk wasn't worth it and we have to change that moment. I also calculate risk in terms of time. I make it very clear to the staff that if a particular moment is staying no matter what, that we will sacrifice other moments in the cleaning process and those moments might not get touched until close to the very end of the season. Risk doesn't scare me. What scares me, is a staff that doesn't understand how to calculate risk in terms of time and performer mindset. If both don't play into the formula, then the risk will result in a crap shoot at shows.

It's cleaning season folks and I ask this, "What was your process of preparing to clean your show, whether you are the sole designer or you have a team of people working with one program?"

As a technician, every count of the show lies at my feet so the vision can come to life. I take that responsibility very seriously. I've learned that I can impact the score by doing so much more than counts, but by making sure breath and effort change is not cleaned out, but enhanced upward. I don't make excuses for lack of time, because the design team had to fix a major moment. I just sit back taking notes and thinking about how quickly and in what ways I can make up the time.

For just a little tech humor on this warm Sunday mid-February afternoon, I want to share some of my favorite designer/tech moments with you and the internal dialog that went through my head.

Designer

"This year's show is a look into the mind of a baby in the womb of its mother in the aborigine regions of Australia."

Technician Internal Dialog

"Oh for the love of God. Can't just once we do a show on something simple like the color blue?"

Choreographer

"Girl this is going to be fabulous. I have written you the best flag feature you've ever seen."

Technician Internal Dialog

"Great. We have 12 females who weigh 75 pounds wet and the entire feature takes place at the end of the pole. I'll be moving that hand down the pole in two weeks."

Designer

"I don't have a clear vision on the ending yet. I want it to be just right."

Technician Internal Dialog

"Do we have the same calendar? You know it's February right?"

Designer

"I'm thinking that the ending flag feature needs some tweaking."

Technician Internal Dialog

"Tweaking my ass. This will be a total re-write resulting in me having to clean this in the parking lot of the Dayton arena before prelims."

Designer

"I don't understand why they can't catch their s***!"

Technician Internal Dialog

"Because you took all our technique time to spend 18 hours trying to figure out the opening pose."

Designer

"The judges don't understand what they are looking at."

Technician Internal Dialog

"Me neither."

Designer

"I want to open the show with an ensemble rifle 6, that builds into a major moment on the back prop where Johnny (the only boy) throws a 7 while tilting the body under it and the rest of the guard falls to the ground upon impact."

Technician Internal Dialog

"Great. You know he hasn't been consistent at shows in the past three years and our best girl is falling to the ground directly under his toss. I'll make sure 911 is programmed into my phone."

Designer

"You're going to love this year's costumes. They are going to have a white stripe down the arm to bring out the idea of peace on earth."

Technician Internal Dialog

"I could care less why the white stripe is there, but don't yell at me when the judges see every wrong arm position like a lighted beacon in the middle of a black ocean. Oh...peace on earth? Wth!"


This post is obviously all in fun, but I just wanted to send a shout out to all the techs out there that I get you and I've got your back. May we all endure on the road to championships and I'll see you in the parking lot in Dayton cleaning the newly written flag feature. :)

Monday, February 15, 2016

Training: A Return to the Old Days

dropping-like-flies.jpg (1280×1048)I had an interesting experience last Saturday. I took my guard to the local show here in Florida and had a miraculous and eye opening revelation. I'm watching the guard in warm up. High energy. Positive mindset. It was a beautiful night in the middle of Florida. What could go possibly go wrong?

This guard is a pretty good nationally based A guard, with a staff that's been together for over a decade in and out of world class, open, and A. We know each other. We can calculate the other's moves without blinking an eye. We aren't new to the world of color guard and in fact, we have easily 200 years plus teaching experience between us. That's a lot of years to get it right. It's a lot of years to learn and grow. Too be honest, it's a lot of years to become too confident. From the moment we walked into warm up, something changed in the guard. The energy fell flat and the body language changed. It was the sound of the first drop. One rifle hit the ground and then it started. A sabre went down. Then another rifle. A flag. Another rifle. The performers were feeding off of that one drop. They were dropping like flies so to speak. However, it seemed o.k. actually. I somehow made myself believe they would pull it together. I gave the right speeches. I mean, of course a speech would make the show go well. I'm that powerful. I'm the great and powerful Oz. With one flap of my gums, I can make the guard catch their equipment. We had trained them well. Phrases such as, "Trust your training," "Breathe," and the ever positive..."You go girl," flowed like syrup from my tongue.

Warm up ended and we headed to the gym. They would pull it together. I was sure of it. The gym was the size of my living room. It was like performing inside a box, with its 8 rows of stands and sound table practically serving as an additional prop. The crowd was loud and it made the performers excited. The music started and I was unusually calm. For some reason I just thought they would pull it together. I mean...I gave a speech. Then there it went. Our first GE moment...a sequential 5 on rifle. BOOM! The drop deafened the crowd almost instantly. Then another drop. "Here we go," I thought. The show had its ups and downs and in the end wasn't really that bad, but the guard never quite recovered from those initial rifle drops. There were other problems. Half catches, a sabre drop here. Flag sail there. The show was o.k. Well...except for that fun moment when that one flag fell out of the hands of a girl on the 50...in the middle of the flag feature...and rolled on the floor. Watching her crawl to get it was fun. I enjoyed that moment immensely. The crowed cheered. The crowd liked it, but remember that this gym was the size of a dog house. Three people screaming would sound like a Dayton standing ovation. We pulled the floor out of the gym and threw equipment on the ground. We thanked the 87 guard kids helping us off the floor and proceeded to talk to the guard. I thought about the words and tried to get the right blend of positive attributes and phrases for "room for growth." When it came time to speak, I opened my mouth and what came out was something that sounded like I was speaking in tongues. I don't remember quite what I said, but I do know the phrase, "...AND TOMORROW EXPECT AN OLD SCHOOL 1977 MEDIEVAL BUTT KICKING TO OCCUR!"  I was angry. Throughout the night and next morning I thought about what had happened. Mostly though, I thought about what training actually means today for the A class. How do you marry ideas of blended body elements with the equipment into one training program, with rehearsal time that pretty much hasn't changed in decades? We've been training these kids all season and our technical staff is strong. Many of the performers are veterans. So what happened and how do we keep it from happening again?

I thought about it and realized that yes, we had trained them all season, but we made one fatal mistake. Once the season got here and we got past Premiere, we turned training time into just warm up and the cleaning of the show took priority. I broke my own philosophy. Training is an ongoing process that never stops. You cannot do enough reps, because what we call muscle memory is also a training of the mind. When they needed us the most, we let them down. You never stop the training process. Never! Professional athletes never stop training, so why would we?

Sunday morning came and as I drove to rehearsal I tried to get in my mind what an "old school 1977 medieval butt kicking" would look like. I texted a few friends and decided that we were going back to the old days. You know those days....like 1988. I call them the days of David Baker. David Baker was my high school guard instructor and had no problem putting us up next to a wall to spin or on our knees to throw quads. I even think I remember a rehearsal when we were told that we would toss until our hands bled. Awesome. In my mind I had images of David wearing the executioners mask, while he drank coffee on the side. Those were good days. So I went to my partner in crime Mike Palau and said, "Mike...we are going back to the old days today. I will need some pliers, thumb screws, and farm implements with sharpened edges." He asked me how far back in the old days we were actually going. I said, "Far. When we all walk out of the gym today, they will understand why catching is important." I told Ben, the designer, that we were going to toss today. Cleaning and design of the show would take a back seat to training...and so it did. We removed the flag line from the gym to go outside for a sectional and left the rifle line in the gym. I simply told them that they we were going back to my day and I dedicated the day to David Baker. We threw tosses for 2 and a half hours. We threw them standing up, on their knees in the bleachers, by themselves, and on their knees on the ground. We tossed and we tossed and we tossed. Nothing was off the table. It wasn't just about drops. Half catches were not allowed. Moving was strongly discouraged, hence the knee tosses. Free hands and timing were addressed. Fidgeting of the fingers was addressed swiftly and harshly. Subdivision of counts was mandatory. The bar had been raised and it wasn't being lowered. Two and a half hours of tosses. That's a lot of tosses.

Two and half hours of tosses does more than train the body. My goal the entire time was to train the mind. They needed to understand that catching correctly and with intent was always within their power. They had it the entire time, because there was nothing we said in rehearsal that they hadn't heard before. It was their mind though, that needed the training. So I proceeded. I took a risk. The risk was that we were giving up precious cleaning time in the middle of the season to go back in time and fix their hands and mind. I've said it before and I'll say it again, "The show is nothing without a strong foundation of training." With that philosophy we proceeded to go old school and stop the drops. That was the phrase I used over and over and over.

Stop the drops!

In this rehearsal there was, what I believe a good mix between constructive information and simply, "Do it again. It's not good enough." At one point I went behind the block and laid on my back and closed my eyes to simply listen to the clicks of the straps and aggressiveness of the catch. I cleaned by my ears only. I made them subdivide and when they didn't...I did it for them. When they got tired, I kept going. I say I, but it was a staff effort. Kara Brady the consummate tech, clapped until HER hands almost bled. Another thing I did...I eliminated that silly phrase, "You got it," yelled by the entire guard when someone drops. Clearly they don't "got it." I understand the team spirit behind it, but it forces a break in character and a break in the count structure. I told the performers to focus on themselves. The guard needed to be toughened up.

You can toughen up a guard without extreme anger.

When the sectional ended and we moved to cleaning the show, they threw the first big GE toss, the one that fell apart the night before, and low and behold...the equipment hit the ground. I was livid. Two and half hours wasted, but it wasn't wasted and that's what 200 plus years as a staff gets you. Perspective. The first thing that happens after a rehearsal such as the one they just had, is that they put so much pressure on themselves that they almost will always drop. The pressure is good. They need to put that level of pressure on themselves, so they understand what pressure really feels like...such as the type of pressure at WGI prelims. I just said, "Do it again. You are better than this." I got mad here and there, but for the most part we as a staff just kept saying, "Do it again. You are better that this," and you know what? They got better. You could see it in where they placed their hands in the air and you could see a count structure coming through the tosses. They weren't perfect, but their minds were stronger. I could tell.

I offer three pieces of advice at this point of the season for training.

Manage the Time

Only you know how much time you have a week to practice and only you know what your show schedule is. Manage the time based on those two criteria. In every rehearsal decide to devote a percentage of time to training. NOT WARM UP!  Warm up is not training. It's not. It's not. It's not! Train. Decide that one day will focus on body and one day will focus on equipment. Spend one day doing nothing, but tendu's. Spend another day doing nothing, but tosses. I don't know. It's your rehearsal and your show. Know what your kids do well and don't do well and go from there. Whatever you do and however much time you spend, the kids must know that poor training is not an option. When I don't have enough time, I choose one element of the training program and spend my time doing that one element. Sometimes it is body and sometimes it is equipment. Additionally, I don't waste time. Don't waste your time. Remember, the clock is ticking and whoever manages their time the best will win in the end. We all have the exact same amount of time between now and championships. Don't waste it. If you get snowed out of a rehearsal use technology and make the kids show you a particular skill through posted video's. Address technique from home if you have to.

Don't let perfection be the enemy of good

Your kids will never be perfect so don't ask them to be. However, expect them to raise their standards at every rehearsal and don't accept quality that is less than the day before. One of the strongest aspects of being a good coach is understanding that kids want you to raise the bar and they want to strive to reach it. Don't be afraid of raising the technical bar at each rehearsal. As the season goes on, you should continue the mantra, "It can get better." I love football and my favorite player is the kicker. I love hearing how kickers challenge themselves to get further and further back from the goal. So today they can do a 35 yard field goal, but tomorrow that won't be acceptable. Continue to force the kids to get further and further away from the uprights. It can always get better.

Technique is a game of the mind as much as it is of the hands and body

When you are training your color guard, it should always be intentional and direct. Ask yourself, "Why are we doing this exercise and how does it help the show?" When the kids stand in a basics block to throw tosses or do a set of spins, they are training more than the hands. They are learning to train to your expectations and they are learning to form a unison identity. In a nutshell, they are learning to think alike. Training programs don't have to complicated. In all seriousness, you can literally spend 20 minutes at a rehearsal focusing on posture only and the show will go up in points by at least 2 tenths in each caption. Why? Because now they are focused on control of body and breath. That will carry into the equipment and drill. They will be thinking about it. When I don't have time in a rehearsal to spend on in depth training, I gravitate towards posture. Posture can be worked on and focused on while you clean the show. You know all those kids standing around while you figure out how to get the three sabres off the ground without looking funky? Have the rest of the guard stand up straight and think about posture. Boom! Training in the middle of design. The worst thing you can do is say the phrase, "Everyone needs to be spinning while we figure this out." Why? Because, young performers don't practice well on their own. They reinforce their own bad habits. Give them something very specific to do from your training program.

To close, I offer this to you. If you have not trained your guard properly up to this point, then you have an uphill battle ahead of you. If you used time and snow and lack of space as an excuse to not train, then you have no one to blame when your kids make excuses for dropping. Many of us have had the same kids since band camp and the same problems of space and snow. Many of us have programs with 2 and 3 year veterans. Not every guard out there has 20 brand new, never spun members. Don't make excuses. Figure out who you have, the time you have left, and where you are at and go from here. There is nothing at this point that you can write into the show that will make your show better if they kids can't catch their tosses. Your score will flatline. With this, you have to know the difference between cleaning the show and training for the show. Many guards I consult with in critique don't know the difference. I always ask this question. Are your kids cleaned to the show or are they trained for it? The answer to your question should guide you for the rest of the season and if you feel you can't spend time training, then figure out where things went awry and learn from it for next year. I believe that you can train. I believe you can always find the time to train your guard if you are prepared in advance and know how to NOT waste time. With this final thought I say this. I don't make excuses for my guard. I don't make excuses for myself. I look in the mirror and figure out how to fix the bleed. I am calculated in my rehearsals and I'm prepared. I'm not always right and I don't always do things right, but I don't make excuses for their drops, bad catches, and dangly bodies lacking control. Are you sure you want to take me on as a competitor and just hope that your design beats mine? Let's decide as a nation to raise the bar and #stopthedrops!

Thursday, February 11, 2016

If You Could Read My Mind--The Show

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I was there. I saw it live. It was a time in winter guard that for me, was innocent and pure. I saw nothing, but flags and rifles, and my favorite piece of equipment was a sabre. It was a time when World Finals occurred on Sunday morning, except we didn't call it World, we called it Open and the arena didn't sell out in the round. It was a time when the arena had a bit more intimacy and I was so wide eyed I didn't even know what Headquarters was or what it meant. The show was haunting and left an audience spell bound.

We all have that one show. It's the one that cements our time in the activity and whether or not we choose to continue along the pageantry path or not, it's how we see our time on the floor. I didn't march this show, but my God I was in the stands that Sunday afternoon when it changed the activity forever. I've been around winter guard since 1987 and in all my years have only missed one WGI. Since my first year I've seen a lot of shows, but this was the one that changed it all and there hasn't been another since. This show had such innovation that it changed the way we designed, spun, and cleaned and to this day, nothing has lead such a charge. Guards have tried, but not to this level.

"If you could read my mind love, what a tale my thoughts could tell."

They were Blessed Sacrament and the year was 1989. When I think back to that time, I remember a 19 year old girl wanting desperately to march in any independent guard anywhere. I really wanted to march State Street but, I also loved Pride and Miller's Blackhawks. Oh and then there was Alliance and San Jose. It was definitely a year to remember. It was Blessed Sacrament though, that sealed my fate in an activity that has kidnapped my time and creativity; body and heart. I remember watching the show live and to this day, remember where I was sitting and the silence in the arena as people feared to take a breath, because if they did, they might miss a moment. I remember the standing ovation that covered the arena like a slow wave, because most of us didn't want to stand up and cheer. When the show ended we just wanted to sit in our seats breathless and just take in the moment that comes so rarely in life. I was sitting in section 222.

Sometimes when I hear the song on the radio, the feeling is so palpable that I really feel as if I'm back there in that seat, in section 222. As the song plays, images that introduce the moment of the perfect rifle catch with a leap under it or the entrance of the white flags that left thousands of people breathless, play through my mind. I sometimes forget, which I think many of us do, that there was another song that played before that. No one ever talks about that song. We just call it the "Read your Mind" show. The one with the white flags.

"Just like an old time movie, about a ghost from a wishing well."

"In a castle dark or a fortress strong with chains upon my feet. You know that ghost is me."

"And I will never be set free, as long as I'm a ghost that you can't see."

I'm really glad that I saw that show when I did and at the age that I was. I'm glad I saw it before I started judging, because I fear if I had been judging I might have actually "judged it." I'm glad I saw it before I marched, because I was able to see it before I became their competitor. Mostly though, I'm glad I saw it before I became a little jaded and taught too many kids, judged too many guards, and played politics with too many people. I was just young. I was 19 and it was a perfect time to be introduced to what many of us would call the Renaissance of Winter Guard. In my opinion, Blessed Sac's 1989 show started the Renaissance, allowing for a flurry of talent and creativity to rise to the top of our hearts and giving us memories that will last a lifetime. That show paved the way for many of my guards to succeed as well. I often tell the kids I teach, that they will never grasp what those guards back in the "day" did for them today. All that soft pretty music A class guards do now?Well...we can thank 1989 to that. Ending flag features? Yep...1989. Solid silk flags? Once again...1989. Many of those moments came before 1989, but Sac put it all in one show and stamped the activity forever.

"Just like a paperback novel, the kind the drugstores sell."

"When you reach the part where the heartaches come, the hero would be me. Heroes often fail."

"And you won't read that book again, because the ending's just too hard to take."

Sometimes when I hear the music or someone posts the show on Facebook it makes me want to cry. I would do anything to feel that innocent again. I sit back and wish time would let me go back to that seat in 222, before I had a career, marriage, divorce, domestic violence, and kids; before I saw the activity from the corporate view. I wish I could take a breath of that moment one more time and watch as those white flags enter from the back. Each year in Dayton I sit in my seat and hope for a moment of innocence. It's hard, though. I know too much. I know how to judge the guards and read the sheets. I'm critical of not just the units, but sometimes the instructors as well. We know each other, too well and for that, our somewhat jaded eyes block the beauty. We are a little bit too connected and sometimes too catty. I, along with many others, have seen too much to go back. We appreciate. We value. We credit. We understand that time moves us forward and with time comes change. I guess that's what being old is. We understand it, but we might not always like it. Our perspective that time has given us, has also robbed us of innocent moments. I guess that's why I look for it in the young performers I work with. That's why I like the young ones.

"I walk away like a movie star who gets burned in a three way script. Enter number two."

"A movie queen to play the scene of bringing all the good things out in me, but for now love let's be real."


Sometimes when I judge the younger units, the ones we call, "the baby guards," I often want to say to them, "If you could read my mind...what a tale my thoughts would tell." I want the kids to hold on to it and breathe in whatever moment is theirs to breathe into. Over time I would eventually get my own moment on the floor as a performer and teacher. I think though, it was that Sunday afternoon in section 222, that is the one that takes me to a place where kids are just kids and we really were just flags in a gym. William Butler Yeats once said that the innocent and the beautiful have no enemy, but time. Well, one day time will take us all away, the ones that were in the gym on that fateful and memorable Sunday and the activity will be left to those who have their own 1989's. Some of us, many of us actually, are already gone. As the song says, "The story always ends." I just hope in the story, a a nod is given to the innocence that once was us and that an idea of simple white silks changed lives forever. Color guard can make the world a better place. At least it did for me.

Monday, February 8, 2016

When Winter Guard Left the Kitchen Table for the Board Room

As of last weekend, the official start to the WGI regional season has begun. Before that though, guards started their season sometime back in August with the first drop spin on a football field or if you are an independent guard, the first press release announcing when auditions were. As an instructor, the regional is our way of figuring out if all the work was worth it. We do a lot of soul searching. We ask questions of ourselves. Where did we go wrong? Where did we go right? Is it really about the kids or are we happy, because we as grown adults have been validated by a panel of 5 who may or may not be the best at what they do. Still though, we have no problem justifying either way the score goes, be it good or bad.

I was in Houston this past weekend. It's the first time I've been to an out of state regional representing a guard outside of Florida in a long time.  Being in Houston was interesting. As a consultant for a guard, I was able to sit back and just enjoy the day. Teach a little. Watch a little. Talk a lot.

2000px-MaslowsHierarchyOfNeeds.svg.png (2000×1414)I find regional's an interesting test case of Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs. It's actually rather primal if you think about it and the more "actualized" you are, the more you are able to manage the stress. As least, that's the best analogy I can come up with. Everyone faces it. Judges, Contest Staff, Hosts, Instructors, and Kids. I'll be the first to admit that I would love to say I'm self actualized, but I've had my moments at a regional when I look at some volunteer sitting at check in and give her the stink eye, because she wanted me to wait for my entire unit, instead of just giving me my damn arm band so I could go to the bathroom. Those days, I'm glad to say are pretty much gone. Now I'm like, "Alright. I'll just go and pee at the McDonalds next to the school. Some french fries sound good while I'm at it. I hope there's a bar next to said McDonald's" Whatever. Rules are rules.

It has been an interesting season so far. While WGI's season just started last weekend, mine started last fall and will continue until Dayton...as did theirs. We forget sometimes that it's not just the guards that plan all year; the show sponsors do as well. The circuits plan. The boosters plan. We've all been planning and it's the first weekend in February where we all look at each other hoping the planning came together the way it should have. I've had a lot of conversations since the fall revolving around the concept of "where are we at as an activity?" It comes up everywhere. EVERYWHERE. In the stands. While judging. In critique. In the bar over cocktails. It comes up in rehearsals when we are trying to figure out what is it that really makes up an A class guard today. What is an intermediate or advanced skill? We'll ask ourselves, "Are we A or Open?" Everyone is talking about where the activity is going. "Why does world class look the way it does? Do I like it? Should I?" I just wish these conversations were more public. There appears at times to be a secrecy to the conversations. Why, I don't know. I was talking to someone this weekend and I said that my days teaching Independent World are most likely finished. Even the guards I'm involved with, if the day does come again that we reach World, I'm not sure I want to be a part of it. Making finals or not making finals doesn't scare me. Trust me on that one. I simply don't want to teach anyone over the age of 23. I just don't. It's not that I don't like 30 year old performers, I just don't want to do it. I think I have more to offer a 16 year wide eyed young person exploring the activity for the first time, than a late twenty something performer who has marched for over a decade in three or four different guards and drum corps. Some love being involved in the design process of World Class and others don't. Some would rather coach kids and others would rather develop the art. Neither is right or wrong and neither makes someone more or less talented than the other. In these conversations, I realized that the problem we have as an activity is the split in philosophy. At the heart of our soul, some of us feel that we are first a youth based activity and second a competitive art based activity and others see it opposite.

I'm going to say this out loud and put my cards on the table. It's something I wish more people would have the guts to do. I believe we are split as an activity and I believe that it will not get better until dialog, honesty, and humility become our mantra. Transparency is crucial to an activity trying to flourish like ours. People are being pulled in different directions and the secret text messages, public Facebook posts, and private bar room chats are a perfect example of it. There was a time many moons ago when you would hear stories of local circuits and even WGI counting the money from a show, while sitting at a kitchen table late at night hoping beyond hope that they at the very least broke even. I was teaching Shaktai, when it was the units that still hosted the regional's. I remember watching Ron Comfort count money at 3 a.m., hoping the gamble to host a regional was worth it.

We have changed. We have grown. We did what we all hoped would happen. We have truly become an international activity. We no longer count the receipts at the kitchen table. We are corporate based with high end sponsors, a lot of rules, and a lot of processes. With every season comes a new rule...A new way of doing things, but I'm not sure what the thinking should be or if we are on the same page with that thinking. Personally, I struggle to keep up. I've gotten to the point that I could care less how nationals is seeded or if we are going to have a black floor covering or tan one. I care about where we are headed and how we plan to get there. In the past decade, we grew faster as an activity than we ever did in the 30 years prior. There was a time we were smaller, people knew each other better, there were less guards, and at a regional you could smile and say hi to a judge without the judge or instructor feeling as if they had committed some major infraction. I get it. The more sophisticated we become, the more rules that must be in place. People though, a lot of people actually, miss those days. We know we can't go back, but many of us are trying to figure out how to have a marriage between the kitchen table and the board room.

Technology has changed the way we teach and judge. It has changed how shows are run and when there is a technology breakdown, all systems come to a halt. However, we know that there's no going back. Two weeks ago I judged in a local circuit and we laughed about the days you would get 50 tapes on two prongs and got excited as the night would go on and as the tapes became less and less. We know those days are gone and thank God for it. However, we still miss the sense of communication and togetherness.

Our split as an activity though, is not about technology or the fact that things happen at shows beyond the control of anyone's best intentions. We are split, because we are wondering how to hold on to the youth based, training base aspect of the activity, while embracing the growth of the art. I've worked my entire career in the nonprofit sector. I've seen nonprofits grow so fast that it fractures the organization and within that fracture is a loss of staff, volunteers, and oftentimes money. I've seen organizations have what's called mission creep. When I consult with nonprofits and see mission creep, I ask them if that's the direction they really want to go. I tell them that the money might be good, but they could lose their core base and the public attention might not be worth it. I ask them to be methodical in the communication process and strategic in how quickly or slowly they move. There have been a number of significant changes in the past 15 years or so that took us from color guard to international pageantry. We added percussion. We eliminated age outs. We added winds. None of it's bad, but with every significant addition, there has to be the infrastructure in place both nationally and locally to truly manage it and I see that we are at times functioning with a corporate mentality, but a kitchen table approach...hence problems at regional's that cause people to talk.

I spent last night looking around the web. I went on probably 10 different circuit websites give or take, as well as WGI's website. I read the mission statement of each organization...if I could find it. Want to know what I found? About half of the organization's don't mention the word "youth" in their mission. That is significant and it's huge. I make a living out of reading mission statements of nonprofits, because the mission is the core of what you're about. So I realized something. We are split as an activity, because we all didn't move in the same direction together. Is it the kids or the competitive pageantry? Is it both? It can be. WGI's mission statement doesn't mention the word "youth" at all, but it classifies itself as a "nonprofit  youth organization" in its "About" section. Does that matter? Some would say it's just semantics. As someone who works for a funder of youth services, the word "youth" damn well be in the mission somewhere. Some mission statements I reviewed mention education, while some don't. Some mention competition, while others don't. What struck me, was how "youth" was not a recurring theme that ran through all of them. North Texas actually had a great sentence in their mission and it included all stakeholders, such as band directors and parents. That was refreshing to see.

Does all this matter? Hell yes it does! It matters, because that's where the split in mindset is coming from. Some of us see our jobs as youth coaches, while others see their jobs as a financial venture to offer performers the opportunity to be successful in this wonderful and creative art. Neither are wrong and you can actually do both at the same time. We just have to recognize that there are two sides to this. There are kids involved in this activity and this activity costs a lot of money and manpower. There are people making a lot of money from those kids and off the backs of their parents. I'm not just talking here about WGI or consultants of programs. The money is also made by costume companies, equipment sales, and travel agents. This isn't new to youth sports by any means. Just look at little league baseball. Millions of dollars are funneled through little league baseball. Corporate sponsorship, private coaches, and travel teams changed the sport forever. They've learned to adapt, but it took a long time and there are people in that world who are still unhappy about it, because with the corporate sponsorship's came a loss of community based baseball.

In what I see in my participation in the activity as a judge and consultant, are a lot of young instructors struggling to survive in an era that's very different than when I was their age. Risk management is a lot different now then it was when I was a twenty something. For example, I wasn't background checked when I taught in the early 90's, but now we are all background checked, because a little girl was kidnapped and Penn State hosted a youth camp where boys were molested in the showers. When I came up in the activity, the design wasn't as sophisticated, so I could spend more time thinking about the program and technique. Things have changed, but we don't always address those changes and the impact it has at the local level. Some people think it's WGI's responsibility as the "premiere" pageantry organization to lead the charge for this new movement of pageantry. Some believe it's the circuit's job and instructor education should occur at the local level. Some feel that it's the programs themselves that should take their own responsibility, thus making this a true dog eat dog world. Whatever the answer, there are a lot of opinions on this right now and organizations are working against each other without maybe even realizing it.

This is what I would do if I were in charge. I would pull every mission statement of every circuit and color guard that had one and look at them for consistency. I would look to see how far apart or how close together we are in our thinking. I would ask through well conceived survey's of director's and circuit boards, where it is they see the activity headed and how they would go about it. I would get feedback. I would send a survey out to every judge, every director, every WGI staff member after every regional and start tracking what went right and what went wrong. Take the fear and ego out of it and carefully analyze what is working and what is not and just because a show on the front end ran well and the scores were just perfect, does not mean everything ran well for all involved. A well structured survey might identify that the staff of a guard did not read their packets and let's be honest; that's their own damn fault. However, if we know that enough young guard instructors don't know to read a packet or how to really read through the packet, then that's where we start the education process and this was just a simple basic example. If through the survey's we find out that everyone was pissed off at the sound system, such as the case in Houston, then the surveys give a good outlook on how to manage public relations so the gossip is stopped in its tracks. By the way, I would do this at the local level as well.

To think that we as an activity are not on different pages is naive and if we are truly in this for the kids, then we owe it to them to figure out how we went from the kitchen table to the board room and what that really means for the next 30 years of the activity. There are ways for most everyone to get what they want. We can go international, make money, and keep a side of the activity that is truly based on the competitive aspect of pageantry for those that want to win and keep the youth side for those that just want to stay local and build a little guard program that attends one or two regional's a year. We can do this. We just have to acknowledge it first and for the love of God...we've got to have open dialog with open minds and open hearts.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

A Parent's Perspective: When We Write That Check


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The parents. Friend or foe?

If you read Facebook long enough you can start to believe that all kids are entitled brats and their parents sit at home all day long allowing their kids to throw knives at them during dinner time. I’m a parent. I’m also a guard instructor; with this little thing called a professional career on the side. Sometimes I’m great at doing all of them and sometimes I’m a total basket case, while trying to figure out how to be a good mom, effective coach, and trail blazing career woman. The reality is that I’m human and most of the time struggle to hold my head above water. Reading Facebook though, it would appear that as a parent I’m not doing enough. I’m not engaged enough. I don’t fundraise enough. I don’t read to my kid enough. I don’t visit the school enough. I visit the school too much. I don't discipline my kid based on the values of generations past. In the end I guess, my daily life is an internal battle of trying to give my kid the best life I can afford, while trying to stay afloat of the changing demands of this 21st Century, post-recession, post 9-11, post Sandy Hook, standardized testing sort of world.

So what does all of this have to do with this blog and color guard? I’ve been thinking a long time about writing this post and have gone back and forth on how to approach it. In my professional career we have a lot of conversations on the topic of parenting. In fact, I bet the topic comes up in meetings at least once a week. It’s so important, Pinellas County Schools and their partners brought in a high priced expert on the topic a couple of years ago to figure out how to get parents engaged in the education of their children. It was a one day workshop and for the most part was a pretty good day filled with great information, except for one slight hiccup. The information never made it out of the building. Like most conferences, the information went nowhere. Money wasted.

a313c1389bdedaf97bdc1c9dc3f663a3.jpg (736×552)Almost nothing makes me angrier than decisions that are made for the good of the people, without the “people” who are impacted having a voice in the decision. It happens in politics all the time. We all know that. It happens in education. There is a clear divide on what parents are saying vs. what the system is saying. In my field of government and youth funding, we often make decisions on programming. Every so often I raise my little hand and ask a simple question, “Has anyone included the parents of the kids in this discussion?” When I ask that, I often get the stank eye from my boss. 

In the world of the marching arts, it’s actually rather rare to hear the phrase, “I wonder what the parents would think of this?” Now, I don’t believe that every decision should go through a parental vote, especially in show design or training, but I do believe that parents have rights that we don’t always consider, thus leaving out of the decision process probably our most important asset and literal backbone of the organization…the parent.

If I had one piece of advice to give my long gone 25 year old self; it would be to befriend the parents and make them your partner. Give them a voice. Give them a well-structured, well controlled voice. I didn’t truly understand the parenting piece until I became one myself. Even then, it wasn’t until my own kid was participating in his own extracurricular's that I truly started to get a handle on what I believe is happening out there and what is happening, is that there are a lot of parents doing a tough job and doing everything they can to survive. 

Looking back, I don’t think I really ever considered the parents of the performers I taught. I considered the performer. I considered the band director. I even considered the administration. I think, if I were to categorize it, I saw the parents as this fundraising entity who did the back breaking labor I either didn’t have the skills or the desire to do. It wasn’t my job after all to drive a trailer. My job was to teach their kids. It wasn’t my job to build the props. I designed them. It wasn’t my job to raise the funds. It was theirs. My job was to get their little darlings into the highest placement possible and avoid the parents at all costs, praying none of them ever call me. THAT…was my 25 year old thinking.

I’m 46 now and my thinking has changed…significantly. Now, I can’t hear from the parents enough. I want them to call me. I want them to text me. I want them to engage, because the more they are engaged the more they will advocate for the program and the more they will be willing to raise the money we so desperately need. When a parent walks into one of my rehearsals I don’t see it as a threat. I see it as an opportunity to build a relationship and find out more about their child that they have entrusted me with. When they walk through the door, it is my opportunity to ask the question, “So how is your daughter doing at home and in school?”

Trust. Now that’s an interesting concept. When a parent allows their child to join a sport or activity, they are trusting that the coaching staff has been well vetted and their child will have a somewhat positive experience. I use the word “allow,” because the parents have to give permission first. Once they allow their son or daughter to join the band or winter guard, they then…as many parents do…become absolutely shocked at the time and money it will take to be a participant. It takes a savvy director to be able to explain this to parents, so they won’t go running in fear screaming in the opposite direction. It takes a director who understands the life of a parent and doesn’t take for granted that the parent’s life does not in fact exist for that particular winter guard. In my own world, I think about my son's activities somewhere between the five minutes I drop him off and the five minutes before I pick him up. I also have a life.

Money. When this current school year began, I signed my son up for the Cub Scouts. I did my research and found what I thought was the best pack for his personality. He and I both were very excited at the first meeting. I envisioned him lighting fires with sticks, camping out, learning to build little racing cars, and saying the Pledge of Allegiance in his little blue outfit. Let me tell you what I got right in that scenario. It was the Pledge of Allegiance. That’s it. My image of what he would do from week to week was very different than what actually happens and you know what…it pissed me off. Why? Because I spent money on dues, a uniform, and a book they rarely use. I was unaware of the constant fundraising I would be asked to do. I was not informed of the hours that would be asked of my son to contribute on the weekends. I have been nickel and dimed to death. Sound familiar? Needless to say, next year he won’t be coming back. It’s not that I don’t value what they offer. It’s that they don’t seem to value what I offer, which is my time and money. They weren’t up front. Now on another side of the coin, he plays little league baseball. Before sign-ups and try-outs even began, I received an outlined list of what is expected from each parent in terms of money, time, and volunteer hours. I can go with that. I can schedule and plan. I know they will be doing two fundraisers and I know where the money is going and how much my family is expected to raise. If you can't tell me where the money will go, then don't ask me to raise the funds. Period.

Time. Oh my God if I could only go back and apologize to every parent that entrusted me with their children when I ran high school guards in my 20’s. I never truly grasped how it could spin a family out of control at the simple “suggestion” of changing rehearsal time. Last year my son’s baseball team was pretty good. They made it all the way to the play offs. Yay! Good for them and their little 8 year old selves. However…this is what happened. The coach…understandably so…wanted to have a couple of extra practices going into the playoffs. I get it. Sounds good to me. However, I had to work those nights. My husband was working overtime. Thus enter the dilemma. We got it worked out, but it was less than easy and not as easy as just saying, “Why don’t you just find him a ride?” I couldn’t imagine if I were a single mom, a parent with unreliable transportation, a family with two or three kids all in their own activities or worked at a job doing shift work from 3-11. This is why respecting their time is crucial. Schedules to parents are crucial. Show them that you respect their time and they will give you every extra minute they have to make sure your program succeeds. When rehearsal is supposed to start then start and when it is supposed to end…then it needs to end. Those parents have other duties and their nights don’t end until the last child is in bed. We have to stop thinking that their world revolves around ours and their lives look like ours does. It's naive to live in a world of "back in my day," because back in my day was very different than the world of today in terms of economics, family structure, and education.

Safety. When it comes to the safety of my son; I am a mother bear protecting her cub. You will not get in the way of his safety, whether it be physical or emotional. When my son plays baseball I expect that the coaches are trained in best practices of safety such as the protection of head and mouth. When you don’t take safety into account, my pocketbook is impacted. Just because you ask if I have insurance, doesn’t mean I want to use it because you are under trained as a coach. I expect that his experience is a positive one and not abusive. I expect him to be yelled at and corrected, but I’ll be damned if he is abused. I watch. I listen. I don’t sit in a posture ready to pounce, but I also don’t sit back and wait for the problem. He is my son and he loves baseball. He deserves the right to play under coaches who are well trained and who care about him. I will not budge on that one and I just like most other parents are watching and what we are watching...is you.

Respect. The biggest lesson I ever learned in parenting and extracurricular's came from my son’s participation in karate. In a nutshell, I should say that I was “schooled” in what coaching means and how to involve the parent. Upon the moment we signed him up and every night after, the owner of the dojo shakes the hand of every parent that walks through the door. He asks how the parent is doing and asks if there is anything new they should know about the child. He built a relationship with the parents and in return, built a true relationship with the children. We stay out of his way and he respects our time and money. He doesn’t shock us with added expenses. When the kids get in trouble at school, we as parents use him as our support in reinforcing discipline. For the respect he gives my family, I promote his business every opportunity I can. It’s a partnership. I’m his ally. It's his business and he knows that word of mouth is the best advertising you can get. 

When it comes to my son and his needs, I ask the same questions. When I sign him up for activities I evaluate the need based on the following criteria. First I ask, "Will he enjoy this?" and "What will he learn?" Second, I look at the coaches and organization and determine if they are trained well enough and have the capacity to use MY money in the best way possible to answer question number one. The third question I ask is, "How much will this cost me?" and finally I ask the question, "How much time will it take?"

When we coach kids in color guard or marching band, we often times forget that our biggest ally are the parents. When we forget that fact, then our allies become our adversaries. When I was younger and before I had kids, I use to hate interacting with the parents. I hated their questions and felt that since they signed their kid up for MY color guard program, then they must listen to my rules. Well, let's just say that I had a child and then I started to understand. The parents don't have to do anything. They simply could just sign them up, pay the dues, and move on with their lives. In the end, it's their money and their kid. They raised that kid, changed their diapers, was there when the child broke their arm jumping off a bunk bed, and was there for every success and failure the child ever faced. It is their money and that money is guarded closely. It's their time. Parents have jobs...sometimes two and three jobs, they have other kids, cook dinner, go grocery shopping, manage marriages, date, continue their education, and a million of things in between. Respecting that fact goes a long way in building your parent base and a long term program.

At the age of 46, I no longer fear the parents. I cherish them and thank them for bringing their child into my life. I thank them for raising respectful children who can be coached. I thank them every time I see them organizing carpools, fundraisers, and taking time off work to bring their child to an unscheduled practice. I reach out to the parents I never see and most of the time the reason I don’t see them, is because they are working or dealing with life beyond my little color guard. You will never see me post anything on Facebook bashing parents of today or the kids they raise. It’s because I am one and I’m walking in the daily shoes of full time employee, carpool mom, fundraiser, wife, writer, daughter, and mother. When I coach color guard I always try to remember that yes there are bad kids and yes there are lazy parents and parents who don't enforce the lessons taught, but most of them care deeply and want to give what they can, even if all they can do is make sure their child shows up on time.

My mantra is that if it weren’t for the parents and the compassion and love they have for their children, then we wouldn’t be here coaching at all.