I’m going to tell you a story. There is a girl in your guard. She’s your guard captain. She’s strong. Smart. Ambitious. You don’t have to worry about her. She has a great, caring family. Her parents are supportive and have done everything in their power to make sure she succeeds in life. Somewhere in her upbringing though, she lost her sense of self. Somewhere along the lines she started to believe that the images she see’s in the media of beauty and weight, is real. What if what she saw around her gave her a sense of “less than,” because she can’t find her ambitions in the images of reality t.v. and the movies. You find out that she has been keeping a secret. That secret is that she dating a boy that isn’t nice. He doesn’t support her success in an activity few understand. He hates it when she’s at practice. He texts her constantly. He wants to know if there are any other boys she’s talking to. He never congratulates her when she wins. He never see’s her perform. He convinces her to quit. She believes that he is the best thing she can get, so she does. She tells you that it’s because she has too much school work.
What would you do? Would you recognize that she’s in an abusive relationship? Do you think her parents know? Does it even matter to you as her coach?
The story you just read is a true story and it’s my story, except it didn’t happen in high school, but as an adult and I didn’t quit, but almost did. This story plays out with teenage girls and women every day and most people have no idea, because we don’t talk about it and we keep secrets. It’s uncomfortable. It’s scary. It’s about the power partners keep over us and the self-esteem that society seeks to destroy through the unnatural expectations it has on women regarding beauty and sex. If you read many of my posts, you will see me in them. I veil much of it, but if you read closely, you can see the story of me reveal itself. In my career of color guard, I have endured a hell you wouldn’t believe. Strength is my game and strength is a misconception. We place strength on the top of the list of things we want our girls to learn from guard. I know I do. However, sometimes we forget to make sure that strength goes beyond throwing a really great toss. Through a lot of soul searching, I have found that I have had people looking up to me while I wasn’t even look up to myself…and no one knew. Well a few did, but they only started to realize after the game of secrets I was playing started to unravel in front of them, because good friends will always find their way around the secrets. When you don’t look up to yourself, you open a door to madness.
When a person is in a relationship that centers around power and control, the control reaches way beyond the home. Your photos on Facebook are monitored. Time frames of coming and going must be kept. Being on the computer late at night becomes a crime. Your whereabouts become about the control of your actions. Lies are told to cover tracks of things that aren’t even wrong to do. These were my guard weekends for years. Sunday nights were awful. Awful! I have had my keys taken from me to keep me from leaving for a weekend and had the mileage on my car monitored. I kept it all a secret. Color guard weekends for me were an escape to people who care, but the people who cared were kept in the dark. Why is that? Because I’m supposed to be strong. I’ve had men who were jealous of my success, so much so, they became verbally abusive just to manage me. Kept it all inside, because coaching young people to be strong does not lend itself well when you are the internal lie of strength.
So what does this have to do with coaching girls? Because, our girls face battles many people fail to recognize and we owe it to them to make sure we do recognize it. Because, a national dialog about who is teaching in our activity and who is performing in it needs to finally begin. The dialog on how we coach must start now. For the record, I know women in the activity (I also know men, but this post if about the girls) who have been hit by a partner. I know single moms who get no child support and who judge on the weekends just to make ends meet. Many women in the activity are techs. Techs get the brunt of the “bad cop” persona. With that comes the word “Bitch.” In many programs, the techs get little to no pay, while the designers get eat up the bulk of the instructional budget. There are girls performing who are told by opening equipment solo’s automatically going to boys, that they aren’t good enough. Watch the shows next year. Tell me if you don’t see a large number of solo equipment moments going to the males. Many of our girls don’t come to us with high self-esteem. In fact, we know that once a girl hits puberty, her self-esteem can drop by almost 50%, to make way for the change in perception of the body. This is why costuming correctly is crucial. This is why we must recognize that building their self-esteem must be an essential aspect of our coaching curriculum. You can be tough, without tearing them down.
We know that when women enter the workforce in male dominated fields that they speak less in meetings and get shut down more than their male counterparts. We also know that women when they do speak up, often times follow with an apology afterwards. This is researched and well documented. Women are a little over half of the U.S. population and earn 60% of all masters degrees awarded. However, they hold just 17% of Fortune 500 Board seats and although women control 80% of domestic spending, they are only 3% of creative directors in advertising. What girls see, is how many of them will be. We can break this, if at the least for our own performers if we are diligent in how we coach them.
Pat Summit of the Tennessee women’s basketball program is probably one of the best coaches of all time. 100% of her girls graduated college. 100%! She saw coaching as a means to help girls realize their full potential of self-worth. She’s a hero of mine. It’s Pat Summit that lived by the Teddy Roosevelt quote of, “They don’t care what you know, until they know that you care.” She has spoken publicly about the uphill battle women face in life. In her coaching, she positioned her players to manage life head on.
In the past 5 years there have been three crucial moments that put me in a position to see my worth. The first was a class for adults being offered at my sons karate studio. It was cheap and sounded fun. It was called Krav Maga. I had never heard of it. Basically, the premise behind krav maga is to cripple your opponent so you can get away. One night we were learning how to get out of a choke hold from the back. Without thinking I reacted…strongly. One of the things they teach you is to use your voice to call for help, but to give you breath to continue. So I was choked (by a black belt mind you) and without thinking I turned around and flattened him and put my foot on his chest and screamed, “Get the f*** off of me!” It was a moment that was visceral and raw. It was a lifetime of feeling less than coming out and everyone cheered. The second and third were two movies that I saw almost back to back. They were the Hunger Games and Frozen. I watched Frozen first and was captivated by the message. As much fun that we make of kids and “that song,” have you ever listened to the words and thought about the message to girls?
A young girl is told to hide her magic. She keeps it all inside. She hides her true nature of internal power. Finally, the magic breaks free and she feels that she can once and for all explore who she really is. Sound like the teen girls you work with?
“A kingdom of isolation and it looks like I’m the queen.” (She’s hiding her true self)
“Be the good girl you always have to be.” (The old societal message)
“The fears that once controlled me can’t get to me at all.” (You are more than what frighten’s you)
“It’s time to see what I can do, to test the limits and break through. No right or wrong no rules for me. I’m free.” (Empowerment!)
“You’ll never see me cry.” (Standing up for yourself)
“Let the storm rage on.” (There will always be a storm. How you see yourself in that storm is crucial)
There is a reason why the movie was so powerful and it had nothing to do with Olaf. It empowered a generation of girls and I know women who use the song to get them through hard times and to inspire them. I did. I do. When I finally got to see the Hunger Games I started to see that the tides were shifting in America. Women were starting to once again, be shown as figures that could stand up for themselves and their families. As women we’ve always done that. Hollywood however, usually paints a much different picture…Sexy, Bitchy, Catty, and Needy. Most people can’t be what they can’t see, so they play out what they do and we see that in schools all over the country. We have a responsibility to show them what they can be and what they should expect in a partner and a job. There is a reason Pat Summit was so successful. She coached the woman first and basketball second. She was tough. She expected nothing, but excellence. She required discipline on and off the court. She expected that her players presented with a sense of class. The following is what I suggest:
1) We have to stop calling ourselves instructors and calling ourselves coaches.
2) We need to start using the word “sport” in describing what we do. Sport has a connotation that means competition, expectations, discipline, and practice. Stop using the word “activity.”
3) We need a certification system. Every sport has something. With that, we need conventions or conferences where dialog goes beyond how to write a good show. We need to discuss what it’s like to coach kids today. What do girls face? What do gay boys face? What do straight boys face? What do lesbians face? Why does that matter? We need to discuss the obesity epidemic and how to talk to the kids about their weight. We need to discuss the rising cost of the activity and how it’s pushing kids out. We need to discuss dating violence and what to do when we spot it, because we are an activity of teenage girls and dating violence is real. We need to discuss bullying. We need online materials and an expectation that anyone coaching at the national level understand those materials. Every sport…every single sport has something that is required of its coaches and we don’t even have the most minimal basics of risk management and youth development.
4) We need to actively recruit and retain young women to become leaders in the sport of the arts. We need to fill circuit boards, national boards, judging panels, and show coordinators with women. We need to show women that they too can design and choreograph. Most national programs are male designers as the lead. There are exceptions, but we have to be honest with ourselves here and look at the big picture.
5) We have to start collecting data. It’s the only way you can truly advocate and find gaps in your programming. We don’t really know who is performing and who is instructing. This sport is a multi-million dollar, international, multi-faceted sport. If you ran a private business that generated the amount of money the pageantry arts does, you bet your ass you would be collecting data on your users.
How did I, a strong woman, articulate and educated end up in not one, but three abusive relationships? Because no one told me that it could happen to me and the more I climbed the ladder of success in career and guard, the more I hid what was inside. It happens to our girls all the time and it’s happening in our programs, right under our noses. Many girls feel their power is diminished and we don’t even see it. Many of us don’t talk to our performers, but at them. I have. I did. And I regret it.
Finally, we must start telling the real story of the sport of the arts. We are a touchy feely group of people who fear honesty sometimes. The behind the scenes stories are the real ones and those stories are what brings us together. The personal struggle of the lives we lead keep us coming back to the safe environment of the gym and football field. We just have to make sure that we are looking out for each other and that the kids are being coached to be the best future selves they can possibly be.
I’ll never teach counts again. Those counts will be coached. What we are inside is who we present to the kids. Our ego’s and fears come across in our body language and tone of voice. We owe it to them to explore our own worth and then help the young people explore theirs.
As for me…
It’s time to see what I can do, to test the limits and break through. No right or wrong no rules for me. I’m free. I’m never going back. The past is in the past.
The cold never bothered me anyway.