Thursday, December 15, 2016

The Best Way to Achieve Low Box 4 and Stay There!

I hate low Box 4. Let me tell you a story.

Every year at Premier I play a game and try to predict the opening score that my guard will have. You see, I'm somewhat of a psychic. I have these premonitions where numbers just come to me. No, I haven't chosen the lottery numbers yet. (If that was the case, I wouldn't be sitting here writing this blog. I would be on some island with Logan the hot cabana boy serving me cocktails with little umbrella's in them.)

I'm derailed. Anyway, I have a knack for being able to predict things with numbers in them. Flight numbers. Start times. Grocery bills. I do the same thing with scores. I can get really close, if not exact with scores and not even think about it. What will we score at Premier? 65.6. 

"And in first place with a score of 65.6..."

It isn't hard for me. In fact, It's somewhat of a mixture of intuition, experience, and remaining objective of my own color guard's strengths and weaknesses. Low Box 4 is the perennial score of early season shows as the judges try to fit 5,000 guards into this little sliver of the sheet that says, "Frequently Understands." Box 4 is the box that almost every guard ends up in by the end of the season, putting virtually every guard inside of a thirty point window. Most guards start close to or in Box 4 and stay there all season. The majority won't ever reach that little ten point section called, "Always Applies," and at some point during the season, guards that started in that heinous ass annoyance box called, "Sometimes Knows" ( dark music plays in the background), finds that by the end they frequently understand. Box 3 sucks and mid-Box 4 is like a mosquito that carries some exotic virus because you can never seem to get rid of it. 

Box 4 is easy to enter, but difficult to get out of. Most teams hover around the 62-75 range of the sheet the majority of their season and cannot figure out how to reach the 80.0 we all crave. There's something about that sigh of relief that comes from breaking 80.0. Once achieved, the world gets slightly more comfortable when it becomes clear you have left the majority of your competitors behind. To be honest, my guards tend to get stuck at 79. Then the next week we score a 79.3. Then the next week we score a 79.7. Then, when we think we're going to do it, the scores come out and it's a 79.95.

(The face I make when they announce a 79.95)

This post, however, is about low Box 4, specifically in the A Class. Low Box 4 the score that hovers somewhere around a 60-68(ish) and the message from the judges is that "you 'sometimes' achieve aspects of this sheet, but your aren't consistent." Many guards get stuck there. Most A guards on the A Sheet stay trapped in low box 4 well into March. There are four captions and five judges and your score is the sum of those five judges. It isn't difficult to achieve a 60.0, which is the opening number in Box 4, but to get past it takes hard work and discipline on the part of the kids and the staff...mostly the staff.

It's December and most of us have dismissed our kids for Christmas break with this phrase, "Make sure you practice over the holidays." With that expression, you have clearly placed expectations on your performers, but I ask you this. What expectations have you placed on yourself? What will you do over the holidays to make sure that your guard doesn't hover around a 63.0 all season? Are you watching videos taken of your technique program to analyze what skills are needed to be worked on once they come back after Christmas? Are you watching the 1 to 2 minutes of drill that's been staged to identify future problems? This is your time to analyze the sheets to figure out how you and your staff will take your guard from a 55.0 (Box 3) to a 65.0 to a 75.0 and beyond. 

There are words and phrases that you need to know that will get you out of the pit of hell called low Box 4 faster than others and while you spend this much-needed break planning for the weeks leading up to the first show, I want you to think about how you are setting your guard up for success.

Broad and Well Understood

How are you developing your book to coincide with the training and skills of the performers? This is two parts. Is your book challenging enough that will raise the score above a 70.0, but not so difficult that phrases with lack readability? What are you asking of the body in tandem with the equipment? Do you move underneath the equipment? Do you ever move into the floor or bend at the waist?

Mental Development

I often call this mental stamina. Let me ask you something? Can your kids stand in a basics block without looking around or fidgeting, while you count 5,6,7,8? Can they get through longer phrases without forgetting the book or lacking the ability to recover in a count or less? Can they all focus on an entire run through or just a few? What about their ability to stay on the floor needing fewer and fewer breaks at each rehearsal? Do you ever challenge your kids with random choreographic exercises to challenge their thinking and ability to memorize?

Training to Support 

How are you training the kids? Did you use your time wisely this fall or blow off training and turned that time into a grandiose warm up? Did you let the kids warm themselves up, while you drank a Starbucks latte' and called it training? Are your kids flexible? Do they understand the core strength it takes to stand with good performance posture? Do they move well? How often do you make them do across the floor exercises? Are you developing their muscles throughout their musculoskeletal structure to include the latissimus, shoulders, trapezius, and gluteus maximus or are you only focused on doing a few push ups, because it seemed the right thing to do? Do they have strong or weak wrists? How are you working their stamina?

This stuff matters! If you can't answer, "Yes...I do have a plan to truly and genuinely train the guard every sing day of the season," then you will stay in low Box 4 and possibly Box 3 for a very, very long time.

Effort Change

Does the choreography that has already been written and in the planning stages have written effort changes in them? Your choreography should explore changes in effort. Speed changes are the easiest to write in, but with a little planning, you can add changes of weight and flow. As an equipment judge, I get excited when I see effort changes consciously written into the book and if achieved; I reward it. Not many in A class think about efforts, which will make your guard stand out in a field of hundreds.

Pacing and Planned

Have you planned the effects to a point that they offer variety to create interest? Do all of your effects involve equipment moments such as tosses? Is your show one long run on sentence without breath? Are you actively planning to create moments of pause to create interest? Think of a movie that you like or a book that you can't put down. What makes it interesting? What makes you want to read that book again? Without knowing it, the author has put you the reader on edge while you wonder what is going to happen next to the characters you love so much. A writing coach once told me that to create interest in a novel, you have to put the characters into positions that make them uncomfortable. You have to challenge your main characters and give them choices that go against their moral grain. Katniss in the Hunger Games had to make choice after choice that went against her belief system. It's why we all held our breath when she and Peeta chose to eat the poison berries at the end...forcing all of us to hold our breath and pray. That is pacing and no doubt it was planned well before the book was finished. You can bet that Suzanne Collins didn't just stumble on her effects. She planned them out and she kept the audience questioning every trap Katniss fell into in the games. You too can do this. Through your planned effects you can keep the audience questioning and wanting more...even in the A Class.

Logical Transitions

I would like to give you a hint. If your ultimate desire is to stay at a 62.3 the entire season and only inch up to a 65.0, just because it's championships, then put very little thought into your transitions. Better yet, if your goal is to end the season with a 59.95, then just run the kids from one end of the floor to the other to exchange equipment. Make everything you do functional. God, I hate that word. When I hear functional on an audio file, it's as if someone put a Michael Bolton song on repeat and glued headphones to my head...for life. A functional transition has no purpose. It doesn't set up the next section or phrase and often looks like an afterthought that the design staff threw together just to get to the next section. Don't be functional.

So here's the thing. I get asked every year by countless instructors across the country why their score is stagnant and hovering in the low 60's and without a doubt, the reasons I listed above are almost always the reasons why. Training. Poor transitions. Overwritten choreography. Inability to focus. You know what it's usually not? The color of the floor. The special zig zag you put at the top of the uniform that only you know why it's there. Dark blue flags vs. light blue flags. What many people think matters isn't heavily weighted in Box 3 and low Box 4. It isn't until your show exhibits good training, seamless transitions, pacing, and a color guard that can come out onto the floor without dropping their equipment and looking as if someone stole their equipment for three weeks and only returned it during their official equipment warm-up, when the color of the floor and the zig zag on the uniform starts to matter.

Happy Holiday's everyone and make sure you use this break wisely. I know I will. :)