Monday, May 1, 2017

5 Reasons Why You Need To Go To Your Local Circuit Meeting This Spring

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It's spring. It's post season. It's pre-marching band season. It's whatever time of year you want to call it, but the reality is that if your winter guard performed in a local circuit this past winter, then that annual circuit meeting is coming up sometime in the next few weeks and you know what, you have a responsibility to the color guard you are paid to teach to attend that circuit meeting. Chances are the meeting is within driving distance and chances are the meeting will only takes a few hours of your time, but that few hours say it bluntly...your responsibility to attend. 

Did you have a complaint this past season that you feel went unheard? Do you have an idea that could save the circuit money? Do you know who the board is? Do you know how judges are evaluated? Do you know why certain decisions were made that impact your color guard such as promotions, entry fees, or championship seeding? All of this and more can be and is often addressed at the end of season meeting and unfortunately, most circuits face a dearth of interest in attending that meeting. Let me be clear about something. I have served on a local circuit board for several years and in my 28 years of teaching, I have rarely missed the end of season meeting and because of that, I have little patience when instructors complain. If you as an instructor don't engage in the voting process, especially when each unit of a circuit gets one vote in most decisions, then what right do you have to complain when things don't go your way? There are many things that you can get out of attending a circuit meeting, but I've listed five that I believe are crucial to the success of your unit.

Knowing the Board of Directors

Do you know who is on the board of directors? Do you know how long they have been on the board or what their area of focus is? Do they have affiliations and if so, what are they? At the end of year circuit meeting, the membership (which is usually the paying units), gets an opportunity to vote for who will serve on the board of directors the following year. Some circuits have stipulations that you are voting a person in for a term of 1 to 3 years and others put each seat up for a vote annually. Regardless, you need to be there to vote. Those people make decisions that impact a lot of things that include money, judges, unit promotions, show schedules, staffing, show locations, unit education, and so much more. They are responsible for whether or not the circuit will flourish or flounder. They are the ones that advocate for you as a body at the national level. So the question is this. Do you know who they are and do you trust them? If not, then you need to get to that meeting and vote. If you think the circuit is doing great and you fully trust the board, then you still need to go to the meeting and vote. It's important to see if there are others who offer fresh ideas or who have different level of expertise. If for nothing else, you need to go to the meeting to see if the board even has a general respect for each other and respect for the people in which they serve. 


You, or I should say your guard, is a paying member of the circuit and you have the right to see how the money is spent. All circuits should submit a financial statement to their membership and give that membership a chance to ask questions. When you pay your $500 to join a circuit, then you are buying a product and that product is what helps you put your guard on the floor and offers them a chance at success. And let me be clear. When the membership doesn't engage, then the board doesn't have oversight and when the board doesn't have oversight, then they can do pretty much anything they want. Do they do whatever they want? Most likely no. Most people are ethical and on the up and up. However, it doesn't mean that the money is spent wisely and some nonprofit boards are simply apathetic. Some are poorly trained in the nuances of financial sophistication. Some have done illegal things. This is where you come in. You need to ask questions. 

How much money do we have in the bank?
Have we made money, lost money, or stayed the same over the past three to five years?
Have there been any capital expenses this year?
How much money is spent on non performance based line items vs. other items that are non performance related? Meaning, are there frivolous costs and if so, were those costs warranted?
Is there waste?
Has there been an independent audit of the financials in the past year?
What are the line items?


Do you know how the judges are chosen each season? Do you know how they are evaluated? What is the process for lodging a complaint? How do you know if the judging is getting better each season? How are local judges recruited and trained? How much is spent on judge travel? Here's the thing about judging. Most circuits, if not all of them, have a judging coordinator. That coordinator in many cases must answer to the board. Sometimes that position is a paid position. It's your right to know who that person is and that person needs to be able to answer these questions. 


What educational opportunities are offered to the member units? How are the instructors approached in terms of educational opportunities? Is there education offered to instructors at different levels? How much money is spent on education? I'll tell you right now and pretty confidently, that education comes up in every circuit I'm associated with and some circuits do nothing, while others are going out of their way to find different avenues to reach the different types of units they serve. The key to it all starts at your spring meeting. Who is responsible for unit education and do they have a budget for outreach and the different modalities required to educate Novice through World Class?

Class Structure and Unit Promotion

This is a big one. Huge! The way the classes are set up should change every few years as the circuit grows in number and/or skill level. The way the classes are structured and the way the guards are promoted directly impacts how judges evaluate your color guard. If your guard is in the wrong class, then you won't get the information you need to get better. Your circuit needs to have a process in place to evaluate the guards as they move up and down the local class structure. Do you know what that process is? The Regional A Classes for instance have a local flavor. The make up of the units that are judged on the Regional A sheet can impact your score. It is in your absolute interest to pay attention to the class structure, the make up of the classes, and how those guards are moved. This one gets under my skin, because during the season every has an opinion on promotion and class, but when the season is over, very few people use their voice for the good of the general membership if they use it at all.


When you go to your circuit meeting you need to come prepared. You need to have read your by-laws, which SHOULD be available to you on demand. You need to have an awareness of parliamentary procedure. You need to know what proposals are on the table to be voted on and speak only when the procedure allows for conversation. It helps if you know which proposals impact the by-laws and which impact policies. By-laws govern the association and are much like a Constitution. They are harder to change and should require longer and more thoughtful discussion. Policy can often be changed without a vote, but with thoughtful conversation and consideration. The two are very different and require different types of votes based on circuit rules. Try to find out the history of the issue you have before speaking on it if possible. Be professional and speak without emotion. Personally, I loathe comments that are out of order, off topic, and clearly emotional in nature. Make sure you speak for the good of the order and not for your individual unit when making a point. No one wants to listen to you bitch about your season, but if you can show that your concern is for, let's say an entire class, then chances are you will make your point and move people in your direction. Be inquisitive and be challenging, but please don't be catty and rude. Use data. Oh I just love data. Numbers don't lie, so if you can make a point through numbers then do it. 

"Last season we had 76 guards on the Regional A sheet, which made up 56% of competing units in the circuit. Two years ago we had 46% and our membership numbers haven't changed. Can anyone speak to why our units aren't moving up?"

"This past year we only had 10 units attend nationals. Only 3 of them made finals. We usually average 50% of our competing units in finals and our numbers of those in attendance at regionals and nationals have been declining for the past five years. Can we put together a committee to find out the reasons as to why we are losing our national presence?"

More than anything. You must show respect to those that are serving in a current board or staff position. You may not like them. You may feel as if they have steered the ship in the wrong direction, but you may not disrespect them. Most all circuit boards are volunteer run and the people who run them are doing their best. The purpose of the meeting should always be to help the board make better decisions based on the current needs of the membership. It is not a bitch session and should not be allowed to be treated as such. These meetings are just that...a meeting. If you really want to create change then run for a seat on the board. If you can't do that, then at the very least...go to the meeting and use your voice to advocate for your guard as well as your competitors.

Shelba is a board development specialist and youth development expert. She can be contacted at 

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Images of Broken Arm Bands, WGI Signs, and Oranges

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"Let me photograph you in this light in case it is the last time that we might be exactly like we were before we realized. We were sad of getting old it made us restless. It was just like a movie. It was just like a song. When we were young."--Adele

Dayton 2017 was my 29th year at WGI. I guess with 29 years I've probably attended more than most, but not enough to be in that first generation of trail blazers. I found myself somewhat sad and maybe less celebratory than those around me. I tried to figure out why and it finally came to me in a late Friday night cocktail sitting in the kitchen with friends, as I snapped the arm band off my wrist preparing for the finals arm band yet to come. 

Image may contain: 1 person, table and indoorDayton can be an unforgiving mix of ill timed tosses, a misplaced tenth, and people who always seem a little bit happier and a little bit more successful than you. Usually none of that bothers me, but this year was different. As my broken arm band lay sitting on the table, I saw my life and the story it told through the tan left over pieces of another season coming to an end. As I sat and pondered my life, I realized what it was that was making me sad. WGI and the winter guard activity as a whole is moving on into the future, but through the process of change is a systemic loss to who we are at our core and I believe we are being reckless with our past. When the announcement came down that there would be no more videos even for educational purposes, I thought that once again, we've lost a piece of ourselves. This isn't about blame. It's just a simple fact and with every change, we become a little more lost to time. Earlier this season someone asked where I marched and I said what I always say. "I marched Pride the kite year." Their response? "I don't think I know that show." Think about that statement for a moment, because I did. Think about being 6th place in World Class without anyone remembering what you did. Once my generation is gone, so is my show. I guess that's life isn't it. I can't even find a video of it and for that I am heartbroken.

While standing at the top of the tunnel waiting for my guard to make the decent to the floor, it was mentioned to me that equipment warm up use to be held in the tunnel. I didn't know that. Then there was a time when warm up was held in the tent and you prayed to not hit those beams with your rifle. The tent. Remember when most of the vendors were guards selling their tee shirts and buttons? History. In our activity we use words without explanation. The tent. The tunnel. Headquarters. Butter Jesus. Depending on when you marched depends on what those words mean to you. Will a current A class performer ever use the word "tunnel" one day? I remember when the Butter Jesus burned down and we all made light of it, but the Butter Jesus was when those of us coming from the south realized that we were truly in Ohio. Headquarters has been updated and it's different. Gone are the days of sitting on those old brown bar stools waiting for some friend you haven't seen in a year. Al is still there. Al is the bartender at headquarters and every year he gives me a hug and makes me feel welcome. Jesus is still there, but he no longer looks like a strange butter statue.

Many of us fear we are losing the Dayton experience with the A Class not getting a shot at the tunnel and finals shows that go on back to back in different arenas. Shows are being missed. Dayton is an experience and the experience my friends is changing with its commercials between shows and congratulatory sponsorships. Then there are the things that have gone to the past that some day, no one will remember. Triple Finals. Sunday finals. Buffalo. Bump Score. Open Class...the old Open Class. 

There was a part of me that hoped when I got to Dayton, the arenas would be filled with large posters of performers of the past and there would be a dedicated ballroom for those of us wanting to take a trip down memory lane with old shows playing on a large screen tv, recaps spread out on tables, and uniforms of guards long gone. As I went from arena to arena, I realized that outside of the visual reminder of signs that said, "40," there really wasn't much that connected us to our history. As video's played of guards of the past in the arena during world finals, it made me think of all of the wonderful shows that weren't featured and that didn't win. It made me think of the guards that gave us a memory and live in the conscious mind of those who were in attendance on any special night in April. What I learned this weekend is that life is meant to be lived in the here and now, because there might not be a tomorrow. Some remember Pride the kite show and those are the people that I'm most connected to, because we shared a moment. Performer to judge. Audience to performer.  

We get caught in a loop in our activity with the same names and same guards recycling themselves in our discussions year after year. With those discussions, we leave out people and shows that also made an impact and also gave us memories to last a lifetime, but might not have received a winning score. I think that's what makes those of us who are old a little sad at times, because all we want is to be remembered for our time and our contribution. I guess that's what makes us human and maybe that's what keeps us coming back year after year, to hopefully see a glimpse of ourselves from a time gone by.

There are guards that live in my personal memory and I want to give them a shout out, because they are everything to me. They are of my time and they keep me warm on nights when life gets rough. 

Forte' and Odyssey. Before Onyx did Bizarre and no one knew what to do with them was Forte' 1995, and no one knowing what to do with them, and before Forte' was Odyssey 1987, and no one knowing what the hell that all meant.

Everybody. Before Northern Lights stood on top of the world with Road to Perdition, was Everybody and their off the wall costumes that took the phrase production value to a completely different level. One year they were peacocks and another year they were also taking off clothes to the song King of Pain. 

Shaktai. I taught Shaktai and for six years we graced the World Class with five times in finals and with Aquarius, we saw fifth place and an undertone of the ending of the Renaissance of the activity. 

Millers Blackhawks. Will anyone ever really grasp the impact they had on the activity? They were the guard that high school kids wanted to perform at. Well this high schooler anyway.

Royal Guardsmen. Before Aimachi brought the house down, a little rainstorm made the Dayton arena shake with a roar that is rarely even heard anymore on the night of finals. 

Northview. Dr. Seuss. That is all. 

Northmont. Somewhere. It was beautiful. 

There have been others. 

Studio One. Thunderbolts. Chesapeake Cavaliers. Anthron. St. Ann's. Chimeras. Suburbanettes. San Marino Academy. Alliance of Miami. Escapade. The Knights. Northeast Independent. The Study.

Lest we forget our wonderful high school programs.

Chaperrals. Crestwood. Northview. Choctaw. Kaleidoscope. Overton. Coast One.

Standing in the tunnel on Thursday morning I just wanted to stop for one moment and take a picture, but as I once heard in Six Feet Under, "You can't take a picture of this. It's already gone." One day, the guards of 2017 will be only a memory to be only thought of by those in attendance. One day, 2017 will be 2037 and WGI will be celebrating 60 years. Many of us will be gone and it will be up to those left behind to tell the story of Aimachi's standing ovation and Onyx's Bizarre, Bizarre. How will the story be told? Will they be lost to grainy YouTube videos without explanation or discussion? How will history capture Onyx and something so unusual that not many could wrap their heads around? Will we remember the discussion? Will we remember how the entire audience leaned forward in their seats while they tried to process what it was they were seeing? 

I've been to 29 years of WGI World Championship finals and they are all like an old movie to me that runs in silence with the click, click, click of the projector, as I sit in the dark with only the light of the movie to illuminate my memory. With WGI signs torn off the wall, props thrown in dumpsters, and broken arm bands, I realize that some things never change. Every year when I make the final drive past the arena to I-75, I want so desperately to hold on to what it is I experienced that weekend. I want to hold on to my friends and hold on to the guards. There are dear friends I spend special moments with that only I know about and that I call Same Time Next Year moments. I always morbidly wonder who won't be with us next year. I think of my moment in the Dayton arena with my dropless sabre run. Every year I make sure to eat an orange at prelims and that my performers do the same. It's the only thing that hasn't changed. It's the only constant from arena to arena. The oranges are the level playing field and one of the most important aspects of our history and yet, I don't even know why we do it. All I know is that you have to eat an orange. It's tradition. It's history. 

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Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Independent Guards and the Problem with Dues

This post is a look at independent guard funding that comes from  21 years as a staff member with independent programs. It is a collection of conversations I have had with numerous directors regarding finances that plague guards all over the country. This is not directed at any program I work with as I work with many and it isn't directed at any one person or any one color guard. Additionally, this post is not intended to address the financial issues that plague high school programs, as those issues which may be similar at times is not the same and function under a different set of rules often governed by a school board or band booster program. 

I am not a director of an independent color guard. I have never been the director of an independent color guard and this post is the reason why. However, when I sign on to an independent guard I sign on for one, the long haul and two, to help in any way I can. When I'm on staff I absorb the financial pain that is faced by the programs through watching the directors fret and stress over every dime that comes in and goes out. With that, I try to not forcibly violate the unwritten code of the activity by asking for obnoxious amounts of money or making the program pay for expenses that I can easily incur. When I am on staff, I am budget conscious. With that being said, being budget conscious and giving up income to teach allows me to be a stakeholder in the program. This basically means that I actually give a crap if the performers pay their dues. 

I started teaching independent color guard when I was 26 at the Shaktai Performance Company. It wasn't until I was about 36 though while teaching at Paradigm, that I started to really grasp what the directors of independent guards endure to keep the program afloat. I have taught at the Alliance of Miami and Fahrenheit and I remain in forever awe of the work that went on behind the scenes that allowed these guards to survive for as long as they did. I'm going to try to describe a directors life in the most accurate words I can possibly find.

An independent guard is run by volunteers who spend their days stressing over every dime spent. Their goal is to give the program they are working for the best opportunity for success by often times fronting money to cover the best staff, show, and accommodations they can find.  They listen to a crazy design ideas and then try to figure out how to build a prop that is reminiscent of the Titanic, while at the same time trying to figure out how to transport it and get it into a standard size gym while the design team says, "Yeah, but it will look great in Dayton!" They serve as vendor negotiators, cooks, prop builders, seamstresses, nurses, drivers, accountants, and collection agents. It's the last task I want to spend this time discussing. We have a problem in this activity and I would love to place blame squarely on one group, but I can't. There is quite a bit of blame to go around and the problem I'm talking about is one that the kids are not paying their dues in a timely manner, if they pay at all. 

The interesting part of the last statement is that at independent programs we aren't dealing with kids. We are dealing with adults. They are young adults, but nonetheless they are still adults as understood by the law and as adults, they sign a contract and are expected to live up to that contract. Where we go wrong as an activity is when we don't hold them responsible for that contract. If the contract states that by December you are to make a set of payments that total $500, then it means that by December you need to make enough payments that total $500. It doesn't mean that you blow off your financial responsibilities, because you (now pick one of the many excuses below):

  • Are waiting on your student loan check
  • Lost your job
  • Mom lost her job
  • Dad refused to pay
  • You can't find a job that makes you look cool
  • Have other bills that are more important
  • Can't get a job, because school is taking all of your time
  • Your drum corps payments are coming due
  • Your car broke down
  • Your hours were cut at the restaurant 
I've heard it all. The below list is the more honest ones that we all know happens:

  • The new iPhone was released 
  • Marijuana gives you a great high on Sunday night after a long camp of technique
  • Cocktails at the club tasted oh so good
  • Macy's had a sale
  • Star Wars was better in Imax than in the normal theater the rest of us went to
It doesn't matter if the excuse comes from the first list or the second list, because the reality is that a contract was signed indicating the responsibility is on the person that signed it. Independent programs barely survive even when the kids pay their dues in full. Rehearsal facilities is most likely the number one driver that kills an independent guard. Gyms are not cheap and very difficult to come by. Independent guards struggle with survival because of the lack of booster support that many high schools have, so fundraising is very difficult. An independent program usually cannot work a concession stand at a sporting event, because those events require a minimum amount of volunteers and most of the kids do not come from the community the guard exists in. Selling candles, candy, wrapping paper, or fruit is also difficult, because the nature of fundraising exists in a little known thing called a Rolodex. People fundraise by leveraging the dollars of the people they know. Who do broke young people know? Other broke young people. So needless to say, finding ways to get money that cuts down on the dues is a constant and full time job for directors that have other full time jobs. 

However, we still come back to this little problem. The people that audition for an independent guard do so with an understanding that they will have to pay a set fee and within that will sign a contract stating that they will be responsible for that set fee. I am a fierce advocate for kids marching color high school. I am not a fierce advocate for adults marching independent programs when they can't afford it or refuse to do the work necessary to live up to their responsibilities. It is not my job as a member of the pageantry instructional community to fund the dreams of a performer unless I actively seek out an individual who has done the work. I have more than once met a kid half way with their dues, but they had to meet me half way before a check was ever written and that check always went to the organization. 

The activity is expensive and I can't fix that. I can't fix the fact that to march drum corps will cost several thousand dollars a summer and I can't and will not ask an independent guard I teach to let a performer off the hook for dues, just because they happen to make a top 12 drum corps. If a performer wants to march drum corps and winter guard in a singular fiscal year, it will most likely cost them anywhere from $5,000 to $7,000 depending on where they go...and that is just in dues. That doesn't include other costs such as travel, team jackets, flag bags, and other things that usually come with marching in these programs. How many college kids do we know that have that kind of money? This is problem number one. Choices. They need to make a choice and we need to encourage them to make that choice responsibly. Additionally, we need to bring those costs down. Period. Do they really need a flag bag? Does the staff really need a retreat in Las Vegas to discuss show design? 

Problem number two. We are in a system that these young people are taking advantage of and we need to stop it. The drum corps and winter guards need to collectively say that we will not allow a member to abuse another program in the summer or winter just so our program can flourish. If we do, then what lessons are we teaching these people and if they do it to one, you better know that chances are they will try to do it to another. 

Problem number three. Not red flagging the performers that are behind early in the year. In independent guards, it's usually December that you can start to see the pattern. Once the pattern is identified the design staff needs to be aware, because that kid or those kids need to know that their days are numbered if a significant payment doesn't come in and soon. Red flagging allows the staff to look at how they stage that performer if the day does come that they will be cut for failure to pay. This part is where we often break down, because by the time the finances become critical, it's usually too late to change the show without significant rewrites. Sometimes it is our compassionate side that doesn't want to cut a kid and sometimes it's our ego. How many people have marched a program and failed to pay knowing they are the most talented in the guard? It's our ego that keeps that kid in that star role, and the reality is that we are doing that young person a disservice, because once he/she leaves the gym there isn't one single creditor out there that gives a rats ass that they can throw an 8 on rifle. 

Problem number four. The excuse that the activity is more expensive now than it was back in the day. Yes, I realize that middle class income has declined in the last 20 years and no, I couldn't have marched winter guard or drum corps at a cost of $4,000 for the summer and $2,000 for the winter. However, I can't fix that and I understand that there is privilege that comes with marching color guard. I understand that for many the dream of marching on the field in Indy and the court in Dayton is a big one and it's a worthy one, but just like all dreams it is up to the individual who has the dream to figure out a way to fund it. If they think they can do it with a GoFund me account then have at it. If it means they need to drop out of school for a semester so they can work then do it. A performers dream however does not give them the right to abuse a color guard by failing to live up to their responsibilities. I have had two life long dreams. The first is to write a novel and the second is to spend an extended amount of time in Spain. I ask no one to fund my dreams or give me a leg up. They will both happen one day, but it will be after a lot of hard work and years of saving money. In my time as an independent instructor I have heard amazing stories of sacrifice by performers to fund their pageantry experience. I've taught kids who were late night phone operators, McDonalds managers, dog walkers, web designers, lawn workers, and day laborers. I have even had those that stripped. Yes...stripped. I don't like to see that, but they took their responsibility seriously and paid their dues. I have had kids that have chosen to not march in one singular season so they can save money for the following season. I know numerous kids that had to choose between college and guard. Some, many in fact only get to do one season. On the other side of the spectrum I've known some that use the activity to hide out in and don't have as my grandmother would say, "A pot to piss in." It's about choices and planning properly for those choices. 

Problem number five. Just plain financial irresponsibility. I don't know how to fix the situation that there are kids paying their dues with student loans and putting them on credit cards with an interest rate of 27%. What is let's say $1,500 in dues, can become thousands when it is still being paid off years down the road. I believe that we have a responsibility to financially educate our performers on the danger of writing a dues check on the back of high interest based loans. We say all the time that the activity is here to help kids become responsible young adults. Well are we or aren't we? Because in that same breath you hear someone say how important the activity is in growing responsible young adults, is the follow up comment that we aren't here to raise kids. In the next comment you will hear the same instructor call the guard members "their kids" when referring to the performers in their program. Sometimes raising responsible adults is telling a performer to come back next year when they have gotten their shit together. If they are truly our kids, then we need to treat the with the same tough love a good parent does.

The problem we are facing with dues in the activity stems from ego and entitlement. No one is entitled to their dreams on the back of others and those that believe that has an ego that needs to be brought down by about ten notches. My son is 10 years old and in his short life he has participated in karate, gymnastics, baseball, and cub scouts. Not one of those activities has been free and not once have I been allowed to miss a payment and in fact, most private club payments are automatic. I don't have a choice in whether I write a check or not, because the payment is automatically withdrawn. In a recent Facebook post where I brought this up, I was able to calculate that there was over $75,000 in outstanding dues owed to only 7 independent guards. That's absurd. If you take the number of all the guards headed to Dayton (128) and just took a guess that only half of those guards had performers that haven't paid and put the number  at a modest outstanding amount of $2,000 per guard by the time we get to Dayton, that's approximately $130,000 in outstanding dues performing on the floor. However, I strongly believe that number is very conservative. Personally I don't care if it's $1 or $500 owed. If you have a guard where most performers have paid their dues in full by Dayton and a couple that have failed at their responsibilities, then the guard has then created somewhat of a welfare system where a person is being funded on the backs of the hard work of others. Except in this welfare state we are not talking about extreme poverty, homelessness, or meals on wheels. We are talking about color guard and as much as I love this activity, there isn't a reason I can find where color guard is a life or death scenario.

We always say that kids today are entitled and spoiled. Well then we need to stop feeding that entitlement. Life is hard. It has been extremely hard on me at times. I've had creditors harass me. I've faced layoffs and disappointment, but not once have I placed that blame at the feet of others. Do I think the system sucks? Yes ma'am I do. I lost my home during the recession and I didn't do anything wrong. In fact, I never missed a payment. Nonetheless, I lost that home anyway. It was a dream come true when I became a home owner and just four short years later I was no longer a homeowner. I learned yet again, that life doesn't offer guarantees even when I desperately want them. My kid has a learning disability and he learns most things backwards and slowly. If he chooses to perform in a drum corps or winter guard one day, learning choreography will be very difficult for him.  Life is hard. I have a friend whose daughter has severe autism. She'll most likely never get the privilege of spinning a flag. Life is hard. I believe that there are kids out there that deserve their one shot at the floor in Dayton as some people simply need to have hope and hope is what the activity gives us. However, when we put it all into context, the majority of the world goes through their day to day lives with struggles and they deal with those struggles by realizing that none of us are special and maybe that's the best lesson we can teach the performers of our activity. These young people need to pay their dues and we need to figure out how to bring those dues down so we truly can let kids live out their dreams, but we also need to know when it's time to play mama bird and push them out of the nest and say, "Go. It's time to fly on your own."

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Hope. It's What We Are Given

Have you ever wondered what sustains this activity of ours? Think about this for a minute. Color guard is an activity that when you step out of the gym and enter the light of the world, no one really understands what we do. To us, we are the activity that backed up Lady Ga Ga at the Super Bowl with lighted air rifles. To us, we are the reason people tune in to the Macy's parade every year. To us, we are the reason football players have something to do on Friday nights. To us, we are the reason the world turns. 

Let's be honest, though. With the many advances we have made as an activity, the reality is that outside of the gym we are simply just flags in a gym. Do you remember that phrase? I remember the first time I ever heard it. I was judging a local show when a guard instructor had a virtual meltdown in critique when he realized that his show was not going to be the work of art he had hoped it would be. He cried. He pouted. He even begged for more points. And in the not so distant distance, a GE judge said, "I understand that you are upset, but try to remember that it's just flags in a gym." Flags in a gym. That's all it really is when you think about it. Flags in a gym. Usually rifles. Usually sabres. Sometimes something really strange, but in all reality at the end of the day, it's just flags in a gym. But my friend, we know that it's oh so much more than that. Our little flags in a gym is really the way we as a tribe express hope.

Inside the flag that spins and the snap of the rifle catch is the reason we sustain ourselves and the reason we've been around since someone looked at a flag waving on pole and thought, "I wonder what would happen if I spun that?" Hope is what moves us from the football field to the gym; season after season. It is hope that brings us back in January after a defeating April and then allows us to focus on a field of silk during the crushing hot summer days of band camp. 

Hope is who we are and can be a lesson for those lost in life not knowing where to turn. If you watch Disney movies like I do, you see that there is a common thread that runs through all of them and sometimes that thread is painfully obvious, but other times there are hidden gems that make you hope for this two dimensional cartoon of a character to survive and find their way in the darkness of the world. Take Dori for example. Dori only wants to find her parents. She goes through great lengths to reunite, but the true hope comes when you see that her parents left seashells along the ocean floor to guide Dori back home. Their hope guided her home. Hope is the indescribable feeling that tomorrow will be better; that there is something out there that exceeds this moment that which you are experiencing right now. They say that it is when we give up hope is when our soul decides to die. When my grandmother was about 80, she met a man at church and formed a friendship to the point where she called this man her boyfriend. When he passed away, I could see hope leave my grandmother and it was then I realized that even the elderly need that hope of love that sustains our very essence of being. 

Hope is what pushes us during the pressure of March to get to the championships floor in April. No matter how bad things have gone, there is a hope that something at championships will go better than it has gone so far. That dream of what to come propels us to push harder and go beyond what we could have ever imagined. With hope, we stand up, stand proud, and look into the eyes of the judges and say, "Watch this."

When life goes awry and the skies turn dark on our lives, it's color guard that keeps us going. Among death, disease, sadness, and despair; it is hope that takes up back to the gym, because it is in the gym where we feel safe. We are among friends and those friends are who we call our family. Desmond Tutu, the great South African social rights activist once said of hope that there is a light despite of the darkness and hope lets us see that light. When our jobs aren't going well we have the gym. When our marriages fall apart, we have the gym. When we lose our faith in humanity, we still have the gym. 

We always have the gym. I write this today, because being in the gym makes me lose my sense of desperation happening in the world. Never in my lifetime have I seen such sadness and anger that embodies the country the way it does right now. I have worked in human services my entire adult life and have seen despair in the eyes of the homeless mother and fear in the kids sentenced to prison for minor drug offenses, but never have I felt so lost among my fellow man as it is a feeling we all seem to share right now. I'm afraid for our future and I'm afraid for my son. Will he ever have to go to fight an unjust war, because our leaders are preaching fear and lies? Will he have health insurance? Will he be properly educated? In the midst of the anger that builds up inside of me is hope that sits inside a gymnasium of kids waiting to be taught and waiting to be judged. They pour their hearts out while their hands sweat through worn tattered gloves. My hope stems from a new generation of instructors who just want to make their mark on the activity and I feel such joy watching them bring their show ideas to life. When I'm in the gym I lose all sense of reality of the outside world. I can go through an entire weekend from wheels up to wheels down and never once think about the hatred spewing out of Washington, because the gym is my oasis. On any given Saturday in March, I can feel like I have always felt with good friends and good times, because our pageantry activity is timeless. With the after rehearsal cocktail and long night chats about how to make the activity better, we lose ourselves with each others creativity and absolute passion. Over time, some friends have passed on and others we just simply moved on, but the memory is there and with that memory is those of us who won't give up creating until our time to pass has come. 

Generation after generation have taken the floor to have their one moment in front of the audience and later, when life's horrors knock on their door they use that moment to say, "No thank you. I think I'll spin my flag." That flag, whether it is the one that sits in the corner of their childhood bedroom or whether it's just the memory of the flag, will always be what moves us forward. The friendship. The tears. The sweat. The love. The anger. The stress. It is always a part of us and it is through those days on the floor that allows to keep moving on.

It's like that song.

To every thing
There is a season
And a time to every purpose under Heaven
A time to be born, a time to die
A time to plant, a time to reap
A time to build up, a time to break down
A time to dance, a time to mourn
A time to cast away stones, a time to gather stones together
A time of love, a time of hate
A time to win, a time to lose
A time for peace, I swear it's not to late.

When we are in the gym, it is our purpose and it is our time. It's our time to forget about the news of the day and to remember about hard work with good people. We have our fights, but we always have our love. We have hope. 

We have hope that the show will get better each night. We have hope that our score will go up at the next show. We have hope we will make finals. We hope that the kids will have a good run through. We have hope that we will win. We have hope the kids will come back next year. We have hope that next year will be better. We hope to make new friends in a gym we visit just once while we are helping out a good friend. We have hope. The entire activity is built around hope and that is our greatest gift that is rarely acknowledged in Facebook posts celebrating the end of a Saturday night full of youth filled performances.

In my life, in all of our lives, we have had challenges. I have had challenges. It was a cold day many years ago in March where my little color guard teenage world came crashing down around me. I remember thinking, "...but all I want to do is perform." And so I did. I eventually found my way back to the gym and after every life challenge through work, relationships, and parenting; I always found my way back. I have threatened to quit, but I have always made it back. Each year has landed me in gyms and on football fields around the country and in the end it has always been hope that kept me bringing me back for more. I am very grateful for the winter guard season I am having. I have made new friends and reunited with some very dear ones that go back decades. It was hope that brought old back together and it was the belief that there were people we have yet to meet that brought new friends together for the first time. It's always hope and my hope is that the rest of your season is one of friendship and love and that next year we will find each other again in a gym somewhere and share a hug, a laugh, and kind word.

Good luck as you push to the end. 

Monday, February 13, 2017

4 Things To Do When Your Rehearsal Facility Is Less Than Fabulous

This past weekend I had a lengthy conversation with a young instructor about how to make the best use of time in light of not having an appropriate gym for rehearsals. This problem is soooo familiar to me, as it is for most anyone reading this post. I've  gotten so use to not rehearsing in a gym, that I could practically run a rehearsal inside a box. (See pic at left)

I have recently re-entered the world of teaching at the Regional A level for winter guard. It's been a while for me and although I have remained active by teaching at the independent level, it's been about ten years since I've been in the gym with a high school guard as a full time staff member. Back in December I came to a realization of how important this season would be for my development as an instructor and a judge. After 25 years of teaching, I have found that I can still grow as an instructor and I can carry that growth into my skills as a judge and also as a writer. This is the first year since 2010, that I have taught at the Independent World Class level. It's the first year that I'm a true consultant at the Independent A program I've been with since 2004, and it's the first year since 2008 that I have taught full time with an indoor high school program. It's fascinating to to me to see how guards at different levels handle problems related to rehearsal space and time.

In this post, I want to talk about a problem that all programs face and how those of us who have been around forever have learned to manage the ability finish, clean, and train for the written show. In the past two weekends of judging, I have heard from a number of instructors about issues they are facing with space in the gym and fighting the clock in finishing the show. I get it. Rehearsal space is precious and if you are renting; it's expensive. Lacking space can spiral your perfectly planned show into chaos. It cuts down on the ability to write, fix, and train for the show. All three programs I work with this year has facility issues. All three. One program has the consistent use of a gym, but it's the size of my bedroom, forcing the staff to stand against the wall, while attempting to visualize what the show will actually look like up top. We move around a lot in that space as it's the only way to see everything. The second program changes facility venues from weekend to weekend, causing serious logistical planning behind the scenes and a diligent and constant focus on cultivating relationships with facility management (kissing serious you know what), while constantly praying that the facility person the relationship is built with doesn't quit or die, before the season is over. The third program, my high school program, has gotten the gym at most 10 hours since the season has begun. Ten hours and it's already mid-February. When we think we have the gym for an entire three hour practice, we really don't. We have been kicked out by the soccer team, a wrestling tournament, snow but not really snow, and some woman with really big hair. We also have to share this little auxiliary gym with the percussion line, who also has a show to complete and clean. We are not allowed to use the large gym, as the king and protector of gym floors fears sabre marks. One day, while we were folding the floor from a misunderstanding of who got the auxiliary gym, I walked over to the large gym and saw this full size space  (big enough to host a regional), completely empty and unable to be used by students who actually want to be in the school on a Saturday. Needless to say, this scenario is frustrating and it's all too common. There is nothing the guard director, band director, boosters, or I can do to fix this situation. Nothing. We have exhausted our options. So we as a staff have decisions to make. We can bitch and moan about it, or we can continue forward and make the best of it. We have chosen the latter.

1. Don't bitch and moan about it.

It's important to know that most programs in the country have similar issues with access to gymnasiums. Unfortunately, with all that we have achieved in the activity, many programs are barely acknowledged by their own schools.  In our own bubble we know that we are this great activity of athleticism, but unfortunately many school athletic directors hardly see it that way. "What! You want access to the gym? Where's the ball?" We can congratulate ourselves all day long for being a sport and an art, but when the school and community doesn't acknowledge your existence, it doesn't matter that as an activity we are gaining international recognition. So what do you do about it? The first thing you need to do is acknowledge that your guard isn't the only one with this problem. It is not unique and it is very common. Don't waste energy complaining about it. Spend your energy working the problem. Identify what space you do have and make a plan. Additionally, don't waste the precious three minutes you get with a judge in critique telling them about your rehearsal space woes. Nothing on the sheet states, "Give the guard an extra point for managing a lack of rehearsal space." 

If you feel the need to tell the judge that you have facility issues, then word it this way,  "We have very minimal gym time, what would you suggest we work on first once we do get into the gym?"

2. Make a plan.

Alright. You know that you only get two hours of gym space for the week and you know that there is a potential that something could happen to that two hours you do have. So what do you do? You make a plan. You make a plan that starts with the next show you have and work backward by asking questions. 

How many hours do we have TOTAL with the guard before the next show? 
What are the most important things that we must get accomplished in the categories of staging, choreography, and training?
How can we best use the non gym time space?
How can we best use technology to our advantage?
What will grow the show the fastest, enabling us to get the most possible points at the next show?

People who are successful at managing inconsistent gym space, know that asking these questions are a daily part of their rehearsal thought process. They first and foremost take advantage of the height advantage they get at a show. They have at least two people take videos from different angles so they can go home and take detailed and extensive notes on what is right and what is wrong. I break my notes into three categories: staging, choreographic flow, and training. I look at the show critically as a judge would. Then...I send the video to someone else and explain to them the situation. "I have only two hours of gym time this week. What in your opinion is the most pressing issue?" It's important that you look at your show objectively and take your feelings out of it. It may be that what you want to work on isn't nearly as pressing as what the judges think you need to work on. It may be that you really want to fix the build into the flag feature, but the your consultant friend thinks you really need to fix the flow of the sabre feature. It may be that you would like to address the ending, but all five judges at your last show have issues with the performers understanding of the choreography. Listen to your objective voice and leave your subjective voice at the door. 

Additionally, don't waste time. Make the kids move fast and eliminate the chatter both on the floor and among the staff. Get rid of the dramatic speeches, temper tantrums, and push ups. You don't have time for that nonsense. Turn your cell phone off and focus. Have a notebook in hand to take notes, because if you don't know when you'll get in the gym next, you will want to remember the problems that are popping up in the time that you do have. 

3. Stop saying you don't have time to train.

I hear this a lot in critique. "We just simply don't have time to train." One of several things is happening when you make this statement. Either the person making the statement doesn't understand that they can train when they aren't in a gym, train even when they are limited with gym time, or they simply doesn't use time wisely. If you know that you only get two hours of gym time this week, but get four hours in a concourse, then you clearly don't want to waste time while you are in the gym standing in a basics block and stretching to Adele. Have the guard arrive early even when not everyone can be there. Training with some of the guard is a whole lot better than not training at all. While working on the show reinforce already understood concepts such as posture, method of travel, breath, and performance. If the majority of your time occurs in hallways and band rooms, then use that time to not just clean the choreography, but to focus on very specific issues that were spotted on the video from the previous show. If your movement judge stated that the guard has issues with jazz runs, then work them during the non gym moments. If the equipment judge says that you have issues with negotiating concepts of blending, then take time to work on and discuss how to use peripheral vision and focus on blending the timing of others around them.  

Non gym time is also the perfect place to work on concepts related to mental concentration and focus. So much happens around non gym rehearsal spaces. People come and go. Janitors walk through your basics block. Gawkers like to make fun of the performers. Rehearsals constantly get inundated with noises and unexpected distractions. Make the kids focus. "Ladies, keep eye contact with me. Ignore them." 

Be creative with your non gym space because if you aren't, your competitors will and I'm your competition. I once had to spend three hours in a hallway where we only had room to do spins on weapon and dance basics. Soooo....I took advantage of that time. I saw it as a gift. I put the entire guard in a line and worked on plies and tandues. Then I spent two hours on right/left hand spins and single/double tosses. Yes, even singles and doubles do a world of good help your quads. I worked on posture. I worked on dips. I forced them to look at the person in front of them and use the same level of energy as that person. Want to know what happened? We got better by points. POINTS! Keep in mind that those who win don't waste matter what situation they face. Winners ask questions, listen to feedback, and make plans.

4. Know where your hits will come from at the next show.

If you don't get enough gym time, then you must be intellectually and emotionally prepared to know that your score will be impacted in all five captions. There is no getting around the fact that the kids are unable to do run throughs at every rehearsal and spend time on the performance tarp that the performance actually occurs. This impacts their ability to understand space. It impacts their confidence in knowing how to manipulate the equipment while on the move and to fully understand major moments of effect that may impact them. As an equipment judge I can often spot a guard who doesn't get consistent gym time, because the performers look as if they are uncomfortable moving through space with the equipment. The reality is that to be successful you need to be in a gym and the kids need to get comfortable with the drill and staging. When the kids can't do run throughs, then they aren't able to fully build their stamina. They will fumble with props when they don't learn how to move in and around them. They will often having longer recovery times than guards that do have consistent rehearsal spaces. Judges will comment on all of this. These issues are not your fault or the fault of the judge, so take your ego and emotion out of it and work the problem. 

Use video as much as you can. Watch the last show video with the kids and ask them to look at their role in the drill. Do mental run throughs. Ask the kids to listen to the music over and over and over to visualize the performance space. Do run throughs with music with just the body and then with just the equipment. Even when you don't have gym space you can do run throughs. It's not perfect, but it's helpful. 

When you do get gym time I offer this to you. Start your gym time with a full run through without any equipment. I have been doing this for years and it works very well in getting the kids focused on movement and staging when they haven't been in a gym for a while.  Do this twice. It gives the performers a chance to get their mind focused on their responsibilities within the stage and gives the staff a chance to identify the problems that the performers are having. It also highlights movement deficiencies.  I've been saying for years that you can write the best equipment book in the history of equipment books, but if the kids don't understand their bodies and they don't understand the drill, then the equipment book is pointless. 

Finally, it's important that when thinking about what you have to do to finish the show, you must not mix up concepts of time and space. If you have six hours of time this week to rehearse and only 2.5 hours are in the gym, then that's space issue. If you only have three hours this week to rehearse, but you have all three of those hours in the gym, then that's a time issue. How you manage time and space dictates success and the confidence the kids exhibit while at a show. I encourage you to be creative in how you use time and space, but also think outside the box in terms of when you have practice. Can you practice on Sunday afternoons after church? What about later on Friday nights? Be realistic and realize when time and space inhibits the guard overall. That's when it's time to make tough decisions and go down a class or change your competitive goals. Either way; be smart and creative, because if you aren't your competitors will. 

For those of you who are struggling with these scenarios or it's your first year as the director of a guard, I highly encourage you to find a mentor. Mentors use objective eyes to help you work these problems and are a great sounding board. You can find a mentor at through Marching Roundtable.

Monday, January 30, 2017

You Are Enough

To be human, is to constantly wonder if you are enough. The very essence of humanity is to daily press on to wonder if we have done enough. Some question if they have done enough for their families, while others wonder if they have done enough for themselves. We move through our days asking ourselves, "Am I enough?"

As a mother, I never lose that feeling of "enough." Could I have done it differently? Could I do more? Am I enough for him? What about that time I yelled at him? I have found that in life, there is no greater adversary than the expectations I have set for myself. My biggest fear is to never reach the potential I have inside of me or in other words; to die knowing that I wasn't enough. The problem with feeling as if you aren't enough is that you can begin to despise the one thing that gives you hope and then you begin to turn your back on that hope. You can turn your back on your dreams. Not being enough brings about bitterness of the outside world. It attacks your self-esteem. It creates self-doubt and self-doubt is an unabashed assault on your dreams. What I'm talking about is that feeling you get when you start looking around and wondering if you are simply enough and the questions you should ask yourself are, "Enough for what?" and "Enough for whom?

People in the pageantry arts regardless of their role share very common traits. We are creative. We are competitive. We are perfectionists. We crave attention. This makes of a disastrous combination for our self-esteem. When we feel we have given life our best and life doesn't seem to want to reciprocate, then we fall into a rabbit hole of doubt. It attacks our sense of worth and when our self-worth drops, so does our ability to teach youth appropriately. It doesn't allow us to judge objectively and it doesn't allow us to govern effectively. Not feeling as if you are enough causes a chain of events that is based on emotion over logic. Consider this scenario.

Premiere happens. Score is not what you thought it would be. The chain begins.

"I suck." (At everything in the world.)
"The judges have always hated me." (All the judges. Everywhere.)
"My kids aren't as good as their kids." (No proof this is even a thing.)
"The show sucks." (I must fix the show. I must fix it right now!)

The process begins. You start to unravel the show without logic. You start listening to people you don't trust over those that you do. Rehearsals become a nightmare for all involved. Changes and yelling becomes the norm. The feeling that you aren't enough begins to be felt by everyone around you and then all of a sudden, you become the worst version of yourself. Your feeling of enough is wrapped in your ego and the two start battling each other and when that happens, everyone loses...including you.

Here's another one. This battle is an internal one and we play it over and over in our minds.

Judge A gets to judge World Finals. Judge B was passed over. The assault of our confidence begins.

"This isn't fair. I've worked so hard this year."
"Why me? Why can't anyone recognize me?"
"What have I done wrong?
"Who have I pissed off?

The questions are haunting and fill your mind with a barrage of negative thoughts. Your thoughts become a race toward the pessimism and can lead you down a path of sadness, depression, alcoholism, and sometimes even suicide. People don't commit suicide, because they feel good about themselves. When successful people die of suicide we always wonder why. I often think it's because they feel that they simply aren't enough. What the world sees on the outside is success. What they see on the inside is failure. "Yes I made this movie, but it didn't make enough money. It didn't win enough awards. I wasn't good enough in it. I could have been better. Maybe I shouldn't have played that part. Someone else would have done it better. I wasn't enough."

When I question my own enoughness most, is when someone else reaches a summit that I have failed to reach. Some call it jealousy, but I don't think that's it. To me, jealousy is when you simply don't have what someone else has and there is no rational thought as to why you really care to need what it is you covet. When you feel as if you aren't enough, you start comparing resume to resume or looking across the street to success that doesn't seem to be real. In our activity, it's likened to comparing medals, finalists positions, or consulting gigs. When I question my enoughness my brain will jump to the extreme and when it does I forget about the uniqueness that is me. "What is it about me," I will often ask.

Why do I always come so close, but never seem to make it?
What am I doing wrong?

Why am I always 4th and not 3rd?
What am I doing wrong?

Why can't I win?
What am I doing wrong?

Why is my guard always smaller than my competitors?
What am I doing wrong?

It has taken years, but I've learned to stop those thoughts and if I can't stop them, I've learned to shut them down quickly by simply saying, "Shelba. You are enough."  I'm old enough now and to be honest, have been through enough therapy to understand that my fear of not being enough cripples my ability to move forward. I now see the signs. I can now stop the thoughts, because I am enough.
To question yourself and your process is important, but to question yourself on what is wrong before looking at what is right, is when the feeling of not enough begins to surface. You use words such as always, never, and everyone.

I will never win.
Everyone else has succeeded, but me.
I will always be a failure.

Those thoughts if cultivated and given room to thrive eventually turn into feelings of grandiose doom.

Maybe the Universe hates me.
Did I do something wrong in another life? 

You have to stop the thoughts, because you are enough. Say it. "I am enough."

I dropped the toss.
"That's fine. I'll practice harder. I am enough."

 I didn't win.
"O.k. I'll try again next year. I am enough."

I didn't get the job.
"O.k. I'll try for another one. Somebody will want me. I am enough."

My kid isn't the smartest in the class. He doesn't win awards like the other kids.
"He is enough. I am enough. We are enough together."

Say this, when you start to question the kids you teach and the staff you teach with. Say it. Do it now.

"They are enough. I am enough. We are enough together."

The kids we teach need you to say that phrase everyday, especially the ones that seem to have it all together. They feel that their individual show wasn't good enough. They didn't catch correctly or they dropped, which in their mind is a tragedy beyond compare. They missed a count. They weren't a great exchange partner. None of it is enough for them. They aren't enough in school. They aren't enough in life. They are not thin enough. They aren't pretty enough. They aren't smart enough. The very essence of adolescence is not feeling that you are enough. We have to stop the kids from going down that rabbit hole. We need to tell them that they are enough and there is more right with them than wrong. We need to help them find their uniqueness. We need to tell them to not compare themselves to someone else, because we are all fighting the battle of enough. No one ever told me that. No one. Growing up, no one ever told me that I was enough, so I kept searching for more. I kept wanting more. I worked and worked and worked. I wanted to be enough, but I was never enough...even when others thought they weren't enough compared to me. I couldn't enjoy the now, because I wasn't constantly striving for more. Yes. I wanted recognition and I wanted leadership positions and when I didn't get them, I felt as if I wasn't enough and that feeling is discouraging.

In the song, "Hallelujah," there is a line that speaks to me and my journey.

I saw your flag on the marble arch, and love is not a victory march. It's a cold and it's a broken hallelujah. 

The song goes on to say,

Maybe there's a God above and all I've ever learned from love was how to shoot somebody who outdrew you. And it's not a cry that you hear at night. It's not somebody who's seen the light. It's a cold and it's a broken Hallelujah.

Have you ever just listened to the words of that song? It's an eerie love song, but it reaches inside to where love often takes us. All I ever learned from love was how to shoot somebody who outdrew you. Not feeling enough, is what makes you shoot somebody who outdraws you. It closes you in and locks you away. It puts up barriers, but if you remember that you are enough then the barriers wash away like sand.

For many of us, the pageantry arts is as strong of a love than any, because if it wasn't the pageantry arts wouldn't be developing into the art it is and the art it will become. Love is not a victory march. And neither is life. There is no real victory in life and the only game we play is inside our minds and the game is called not enough. So enough. Enough! You are enough. Your kids are enough. Your staff is enough and together you are enough. You are enough.

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Training. Let It Define Who You Are.

This past holiday season I had the opportunity to see and be involved with three different winter guard organizations. All three organizations are different in their membership, regional location, and competitive class. All three organizations have set high goals for their relative class and their staff is working hard to achieve said goals. These guards are World Class, A Class, and Regional A Class and all three have challenges that they have to overcome to achieve the goals they have set before them. Watching and teaching these three guards between November and December, allowed me to witness the different approaches and philosophies of training that spanned a distance of approximately 1,100 miles. I learned a lot. I thought a lot. I talked a lot. I asked a lot of questions of the staffs and performers involved. This blog post is about what I learned.

Training is important to all organizations. You never talk to a staff member who doesn't believe in training as a driving force to their program. When you speak to the performers they feel the same way, but there's an interesting side to the entire conversation and after years of teaching and judging, I believe I have found somewhat of an answer. In fact, I believe this is where we need to start.

We as an activity have not defined what training really means. We use various words interchangeably as if we are all speaking the same language. What is clear to me is that we are not speaking the same language and because of that, we create an environment where people are not really understanding what the other is saying. There was a time when WGI use to hold conventions. How many they held I'm not completely sure, but I know that back in the nineties I went to a convention in New York City, where we talked about ideas and listened to speakers who were experts in their area of the pageantry activity. We haven't had a convention since. Conventions and conferences help professionalize an industry. They open up dialogue and give people something to think about after they head back to their corner of the world. It's time again for us as an activity to dialogue about ideas and philosophy and no...the yearly conclave in Vegas with the white smoke after the proposals are discussed is not what I am suggesting. We need to sit down in a room together and talk about what it is we are doing in our gyms around the country. We need to find a common language that helps us find common ground.

When running flag block last week I realized something very important (at least it was to me). Training is not a statement, but a question. The show is the answer to those questions. Let me say that again. Training is not a statement, but a question and the achievement of the show is the answer to the question. It is an ongoing, continual question that the staff and student should always be asking. What are the questions? Well it starts with the big one. "Am I doing this correctly?" That is then followed by many other questions such as:

Is my body in alignment?
Are my muscles lengthening enough?
Are my hips correct?
Is my back straight?
Are my hands in the right place?
Am I breathing?
Where are my feet?
How is my flexibility today?
Is my flexibility better today than it was yesterday?
Where is my head?
How is my posture?

Training is a series of questions that get to the heart of what the body is doing. Training is how we hold the equipment and how we move with that equipment and at the heart of it all, is the question of what the body is doing to achieve the programs given technique. 

In my quest to understand training better, I asked performers what the difference between warm up and training was. What I found was that the performers got it right. Even those performers at the Regional A level got it right. The staff also got it right. Within 1,100 miles and three classes, everyone for the most part agreed on the difference. However, what we as staff members know to be right does not always translate into action. There are five words that are used interchangeably by performers, staff, and judges and these words must collectively be understood. To understand them, will allow for color guards to achieve at higher levels across the country and as they transition from summer to fall to winter. The five words are as follows:


So let's break it down.


Training is what is asked of the body in order to achieve the chosen technique of the program. If I auditioned for a dance company such as Martha Graham, my body and mind would be expected to know and understand her chosen technique. Without understanding her technique, I would not be able to perform her choreography. Training is where we have gone wrong. We have created flag blocks and called them training, but to be honest, many are just grandiose warm-ups. We have taken for granted that a drop spin is a basic skill that once taught can be glossed over. We must always ask of our students, "Are you doing this correctly?"

So, when asking the question, you are also getting to the fact that training is also about the mind. Training is a process of body and mind. It is slow. It is deliberate. It is thoughtful. It is intentional. It is not standing in a basics block doing drop spins on the right and left side and then calling it a day. Training requires hard work on the part of both the student and staff. When you blow off the questions of technique, then you will be in a world of hurt when you try to clean the show. You will waste time and eventually it will show. Training is not the time for the staff to sit back and take a break. It's one of the hardest things you can do. Proper training sets the show up for success and cuts down on injuries. Training is your flexibility and stamina. It is training the mind to focus and pay attention to what the body is asking of it. Training is crucial and cannot be passed over. I once described training to a group of judges once as the Sunday to your Saturday. We see on Saturday what they have been doing since Sunday. However, many guards treat training like it's Wednesday. It's just something to get through to make it to Saturday.


Warm-up is a process of the mind. Warm-up is the act of preparing the mind of the performer and the guard to think alike in the environment they have been placed into. Some might disagree with me on this, but it is not the time to train. If a quad is not understood in training, then it won't be understood in warm-up. When a performer drops a quad multiple times in warm-up before a show, what's going on there? Is it that they never could truly do it well or is it that their mind is playing tricks on them? The answer to that question lies in how you have taught them to train themselves. If a staff member allows half catches, catches in wrong body positions, and catches that are just plain wrong during the training process to get to the idea that catching just to catch is important, then what you get in warm-up is the performers body and mind questioning if they can really achieve under pressure. The performers should be trained to do the skills correctly, but also trained to handle the pressure. If they can't, then someone has fallen down on the job.

While I'm here, let's discuss stretching. Stretching is probably one of the most important things that you do with a color guard. Yes. I said that out loud. Staff members blow off stretch as a "take a few minutes on your own to warm up your body and then set it up in flag block," are missing valuable teaching time. Most of us have done it. Stretching if done correctly is where flexibility comes in. It's the movement of the muscles based on YOUR chosen technique. However, most programs take one approach or the other. It's either "stretch on your own," which most kids are not fundamentally trained well enough to do or it's a musical stretch routine where the staff often walk away to drink their coffee or check their Facebook feed. If done right, stretching should go under the category of training and can actually change your movement score for the better.

That 15 minutes of stretch could be the movement class you never have time to do.


Technique is your program's chosen identity. What was that word? Identity? Identity is what sets your guard apart from the guard next to it, but if you look around you will see a very homogenized activity. Ask yourself this question. When was the last time you went to a guard show and saw a significant variation in the look of the units as the classes progressed? Did they spin differently? Did they move differently? If you looked closely, chances are they even had the same choreography. If your answer is, "For the most part everyone looked the same," then part of the reason lies in the technique programs within each organization. No one has ever said that a drop spin must be done with the hands at the naval, elbows out, and feet in first position. No one defines the tempo of those drop spins. The way you choose to teach your students drop spins is what is considered your program's technique and nothing says that it has to look like the guard across the street. No one has ever said that you even have to do drop spins. What makes drop spins important is how you as a technical director define them and how you want to use their purpose in the context of your show. Personally, I do drop spins as a focus on body alignment. That's me. That's my purpose. What's yours?

Your technique is your identity. When you send kids out into the world to audition for other programs they take with them your technique. As an instructor of independent guards since 1996, I've seen the result of poorly taught technique through training programs that were ineffective. Kids have walked through the doors with medals and finalist patches, but cannot stand up straight or understand the purpose of the "and" count. World finalists have walked through my guard's door and don't understand the concepts of basic flexibility to achieve kicks and leaps. That is a result of undefined technique and half ass training programs. 

*I understand that the judging community plays a hand in this. When we as judges allow poor technique, then we perpetuate the concept that as long as they "catch" then it's o.k. Judges reward what often should not be rewardable and then the audience cheers for it.


Cleaning is simple. Cleaning is the staff's job. Cleaning is done at rehearsal and requires the staff to analyze and consider all aspects of the phrase and the ability for the phrase to be achieved by all performers equally. 

As instructors we often mistake cleaning for training. We spend time in rehearsal fixing a quad of an individual, when that individual should have been trained well enough in the program's chosen technique to achieve during the cleaning process. Designated cleaning time must be used for just that. Cleaning. If the staff or students have fallen short of training, then rehearsals get cumbersome and confusing as the staff try to fix what the performers weren't trained well to do. Fixing posture during the cleaning process? Why? Why don't they understand posture at this point? Taking time to address flexibility of a battement when you should be cleaning the hip angles of that battement? It all comes back to training. If you know that there are three battements in the show, then they must be a part of your training program. Period.

As a judge I often hear staff members say that they didn't have enough time to rehearse for the show, but I often wonder if that's just their excuse for not using their time wisely and correctly. The evidence of that should be a well trained guard, but poorly executed show. That's a guard that didn't have enough time to rehearse for the show. Technique can always be practiced whether the guard is together or not.


"Practice at home."

I agree. But what the hell does that mean? Is practicing at home the same for you as it is for the kids? Practicing is the act of an individual performer working on a specific skill or phrase to the point of personal achievement. If the performer practices correctly and often, then the staff should be able to clean the show during rehearsal and move through that process faster. 

Most performers need to be told what and how to practice. Take a football player for example. Do you think that in the good programs the coach just says, "Go out in your back yard and throw the ball a bit?" I doubt it. My guess is that there is a program set up for the player to work on body conditioning, strength, speed, and agility in his off hours. Dancers will often work their technique in their bedrooms while holding on to a make shift barre. A gymnast might work the flexibility of a specific muscle at home as the coach has prescribed for higher achievement. 

Practicing should be required of all students who want to participate in a competitive program and should be prescribed by the staff. Blanketing a statement of "Go home and practice," does not give guidance. However, saying that you want the performers to spend 15 minutes a day on their hip flexibility, 10 minutes a day on triples and 15 minutes a day going over a specific phrase, is prescribed and sets expectations for the week. If you want to go even further, set individual goals. Not all kids come to the table with the same skills. Some need flexibility. Some need strength. Some need stamina. They all need to work on something.

My suggestion is this. Talk with your staff. Are you all speaking the same language? Define the language you use and then define your technique. Talk about each exercise and ask why you do it. If it isn't beneficial to the show, then throw it out. Stop wasting time on what doesn't bring you greater results. Go to critique and talk with the judges and ask them what their definition of training and technique. Be able to describe your process and back it up with results. Stand out from the other guards in your class. Be better trained and then back it up with results. Don't make excuses. All guards have gym problems, weather problems, and yearly performer turnover. Find new ways to train the body and mind and then back it up with results. All guards, especially at the Regional A level struggle with time and personnel. Not enough time in the gym and the students don't always stay more than one year. Stop that as an excuse and you will succeed even with turnover and limited gym time. When the kids understand their technique and are trained well in that technique, then the show naturally comes together and guess will begin to have an identity that looks different than every one else and that identity will be called "well trained."

Thank you and good luck this winter.