Monday, May 16, 2016

Beyond the Confetti Cannons and a Sold Out Arena

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 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. Many people are wondering why the world class has a semi-finals show that takes place in the arena, when there really isn't a justification for said show.

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 the activity it serves? 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 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 a city we've grown out of and an activity that has grown up that reacts before it studies. 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? 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 and not independently done by a friend of a friend of someone that marched in the activity? A true independent study. 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.

Friday, May 13, 2016

To All Parents As We Start A New Marching Band Season...Let Us Do Our Jobs

Let the band director, guard instructor, marching staff, and music staff do their jobs!

Here's where this post comes from.

Last night, my son who is 9 years old played in the first play off game for his baseball team. Josh is an average player. He's a really good hitter, but can't catch a fly ball, if the ball was lobbed at him from one foot away and by his 92 year old great grandmother. I love my kid, but I don't see a future for him as a baseball star. I didn't sign him up to learn the skills of baseball. My goal and my only goal has always been to teach him the lessons of what it's like to play on a team and follow rules. Everything else to me is secondary. He has been playing for three years and over time I've seen him go through a number of changes. Some good and some bad. However, I make sure he learns from all of them. I've been watching Josh for years in a number of activities...mostly karate and baseball. I've learned that at his own detriment, he is a perfectionist. He gets angry when he doesn't get things right the first time and sometimes acts out. He has gotten in trouble at karate and baseball. When I was his age I was a gymnast and acted the same way. I acted that way when I transitioned to marching band and acted that way when I transitioned to drum corps. No one was harder on me than me, but it doesn't excuse poor behavior and poor Josh has inherited my perfectionist and anal retentive competitive personality. He's going to have to learn and it will be a hard road for him I have no doubt. However, he will learn.

Last night, Josh struck out at bat and in a fit of anger at himself...threw the bat. That is a big no no in little league baseball and the first thing that happened was that the umpire gave him a warning. The second thing that happened is the coach lowered himself to his level so he could talk to Josh eye to eye and told him that throwing the bat is against the rules and could hurt someone. He then added this phrase, "...and it makes you look like an ass." I heard this. A mom sitting next to me said that she couldn't believe he said that. I told her that I think Josh deserved it. Later on after the game, the coach apologized to me profusely. He went on and on telling me that he just got angry and that is what he would have said to his child. My response, "It does make him look like an ass. Thank you."

I signed my son up for baseball so he could learn what it is like to Not Act Like An Ass In Public! So why would I at any level not back the coach up? I don't care if my kid is 9 or 19. If you act like an ass, then you need to be told that you are acting like an ass. I'll be damned if my kid grows up thinking that the rules don't apply to him and that his little temper tantrums are acceptable behavior. My child is not special and no one else's child is either. In the car, I told him that I was proud of how he played the game, but wasn't proud of him throwing the bat. I told him that I supported the coach. There will be no mixed messages in my household. I then told my husband. He being dad and an e-Army sniper made sure Josh knew that wasn't o.k. behavior in his own "ex-Army sniper" sort of way. (No he didn't shoot the child)

So I write this today for all parents signing their children up for the up coming marching band season, but this could go for the parents signing their children up for football, soccer, volleyball, dance, or theater.

The first question you as a parent should ask is this. "Why is my kid doing this activity and what do I hope they learn?" We as coaches and staff members should ask the same thing. "What lessons do I hope to teach this year?"

If the first answer is, "I hope we win or I hope they learn how to play music or I hope we design the best show ever," then the answer is wrong. The answer should go something like this.

"My hope for this marching band season is for my child to learn discipline and with discipline comes rules and consequences. I hope my child learns that sometimes consequences come from others on the well as the coaches. I hope my child learns that although he is an independent and strong individual, that adults still set the guidelines and he needs to follow them. Period. I hope my child learns what it is like to work as a team and with being a team comes winning and losing as a team. My child is not special on this team. I hope my child learns to understand that in life comes disappointment and he may be on the receiving end of unwarranted and unfair disappointment, because welcome to the real world. I hope my child is not coddled, because life doesn't coddle you. In is damn hard. Life will eat you up and spit you out without warning. Life demands that you have a thick skin and that skin is grown in the hot sun under the watchful eyes of a good coach telling you that it isn't good enough and you need to do it again. I hope that at some point this season my child learns the lessons of karma. If you put good toward the team, then good will come back to you. If you put bad toward the team, then bad will come back to you. I hope my child learns that when you practice hard you reap the benefits and when you slack off, complain about the heat, the rain, the sun, the long hours, and the physical pain...then you go to the back of the line of those teams that don't complain about the heat, the rain, the sun, and the long hours. I wish for my child to learn to manage time, because early is on time and on time is late...and if you're're dead. I want the staff to come down hard on my child sometimes, because he will learn what it's like to be a good employee and to basically...shut up and do what you're told. I want my child to know that in life his opinion is not always asked for or desired. In fact, I can't think of the last project I had at work, where my boss gave me a choice on whether I wanted to complete it or not. I hope through working as a team and under coaches; he learns how to have a valid opinion, but learns when it is appropriate to share that opinion. I don't want him to be a opinion-less drone incapable of forming an opinion, but I also don't want him to be so arrogant that he doesn't know when to just shut up and just listen. I hope my child learns to think abstractly and creatively, because he has to find new ways to work through problems and hard situations. I hope that my child cries because it is too hard and celebrates when he sees the fruits of his and the teams labor. I want my child to know that he is valued, but at the same time not valued over anyone else on the team. Finally, I want my child to have fun, because fun is so much more important than winning, but winning is a blast and if you work might just win. I want my child to make new friends from different backgrounds and learn that diversity is a good thing. I want him to learn to stand up for those weaker than him through the inner strength he gains by a strong and personal work ethic; taught to him through marching band. I want my child to take the lessons of the team and carry them into school, college, marriage, parenting, and the work force. I want my child to shine, but at the lessons of what it's like to be a team...not because his is a star. My hope as a parent is that I can back up the coaches, directors, and instructors in any way possible to help my child learn these lessons of life."

This is my hope for my child as a parent and as a guard instructor my hope for those I coach.