Girls and the Sport of Guard Part 3: Their Health and Weight

debaseinstallCoaching With Intent

The elephant in the room. How are we as an activity going to address the growing obesity and weight problem among youth in America and more specifically, the documented and well researched growing sedentary behavior of teenage girls in America? Do we have a responsibility and if so, what is that responsibility?

Let me start here. I work in the non profit industry on the government side. We have the money and the non profits want the money. I often get asked how a pageantry organization can get their hands on that money and my response is always the same. Stop thinking about funding your program and think about who in your program should be funded. Most guards are made up of girls. Girls have specific issues. Girls are on the high level of funding priorities right now. So what would I do? I would go after the money tied to the obesity epidemic and it’s impact on women. Why would I do this? Because, colorguard in most nationally based programs and even most locally competitive programs are physically taxing and require just as much physical strength and endurance as any other sport women participate in. In my last blog post, the second in the series about girls and the sport of guard, I mentioned that we must stop calling ourselves an activity and call ourselves a sport. Calling colorguard a sport brings up images of discipline, fitness, and teamwork. Calling it an activity allows the parents, the kids, and the school to think it’s just some run of the mill after school program.

So why the obesity epidemic? Currently in America, when it comes to females, more research is being conducted on physical activity and weight, than almost any other form of research being conducted on the genders and its impact on the future health of the country. It’s a huge issue right now. Here are some basic stats from the Women’s Sports Foundation Meta-Analysis on girls health released in April 2015:

  • Among students in the 9th-12th grades, only 17.1% report being physically active and only 30.3% are getting daily physical education in schools
  • Among 12-year old children, girls were found to be less physically active than boys. Puberty increases obesity in girls more than it does boys. 
  • A study examining trends in physical activity starting in 1988, demonstrates that the number of adults reporting no leisure-time physical activity increased greatly over two decades and the number is higher for woman than for men. 
  • Among children and adolescents aged 2-15, almost 17% of all children are considered obese (CDC)
  • 1/3 of all U.S adults are considered obese
  • in 2014, there was approximately $147 billion spent on medical costs associated with obesity in the U.S. 
Think about that last number. $147 billion. Long terms studies conducted on health in America show time and time again that if a child learns healthy behaviors in diet and exercise from birth, they are more likely to grow to be healthy adults with less medical problems, less likely to smoke, and less likely to be sedentary leading to diabetes, cancer, and osteoporosis. 
What does this have to do with guard, band, or drum corps? Because, out of that original number of 17% of active high school students, how many of those kids are band and guard kids? This is how we advocate our worth! Think about it. If we talked to the kids about eating healthy and proper exercise, more than just, “Hey…you dropped the toss do push ups,” then we are setting our kids up for life. LIFE! Factoring in how many steps are taken in one marching band season, frequent changes in tempo, which changes the heart rate keeping the metabolism always questioning, physical endurance exercises such as running the track, push ups. planks, jumping jacks, and whatever else we make them do, we are most likely one of the most physically active sports in the country. Core strength has become the buzz word in fitness circles all over the world. Your core is the essence behind your posture and building those core muscles has health implication well into middle age. 
What does this have to do with girls? Girls have a higher rate of being overweight once they hit puberty than the boys do. Girls have body image issues that are tied to societal expectations of being thin. Often times when working with girls, you face one of two issues in regards to their bodies. There is the, “I’m so fat.” When if fact they are not fat or you get those that are overweight, but fail to see a life of sedentary behaviors and diet as the cause of that. Both work against a guard program. 
So what do we do about it? First we have to recognize that in an activity of teenage girls, that body image is a true issue and it’s not a game. We have to next recognize that other sports may or may not monitor weight, but there is an expectation that they come into the program with an understanding that physical fitness will be the cornerstone to the program. Early morning conditioning is often a requirement, as well as control of diet. Soda’s, fast food, and sugar are discussed in pre-season meetings and dietitians are often contracted with. We are an activity where the look of the performer is a factor whether we admit to it or not. Many of the girls in the activity join colorguard without an awareness of the physical nature of it. Many come into it over weight and that has inhibited their participation in traditional activities and sports intended for girls, such as cheerleading and volleyball. Many girls enter into their freshmen year of color guard having been sedentary much of their lives. They simply don’t have an awareness of what they are getting into. I watch it every year. That look of total surprise when they have to run a mile around the track….just to warm up. It takes four laps to cover a mile around a high school track and many kids can’t make it around in under 15 minutes. In traditional sports, running for warm up is just simply an expectation. A conversation and exercises about the core is a necessity and will go a long way in saving you time in the end bitching and complaining about “standing up straight.”
Every year at band camp I watch the girls and how they dress for the heat and what they drink. One girl a couple of years ago showed up to band camp with a Mountain Dew in her hands. My response? “Do you understand how your body reacts to the amount of sugar in those drinks and the heat?” She didn’t know. I told her to go home and research it and come back and report to the rest of the guard. I finished with, “I don’t ever want to see another soda on this field again.” These are the things they don’t know. Before we teach the first count of a show, we must talk to the kids about their health. We have to go beyond drinking water and wearing sunscreen and talk to them about their bodies. 
What about the overweight girls? How do you discuss what is probably the most sensitive topic for girls today? Start with an expectation upon entering the program that a healthy lifestyle will be a cornerstone to the program. Engage the girls in conversations about what they ate for lunch. Talk about water and how water doesn’t just keep your body from dehydrating, but can help boost the metabolism. Create a Facebook page for the guard and on that Facebook page encourage the performers to post how they conditioned their body in their off time. Encourage friendly contests between them regarding to fitness. Talk with them individually if you need to. Ask them how they eat at home and what they eat when they snack. Teach them that almonds are great for a snack, but chips are not. Tell them you are concerned that they will not be able to manage the intense physical demands that the show will bring if they don’t take better care of themselves. Show concern and compassion. Tell them when you see them lose weight or gain time in the morning run. Can’t do more than 10 push ups at the beginning of the season, but in the end they can do 30? Tell them you are proud of them! Keep the understanding in the back of your mind that if the parents are overweight, chances are they aren’t being encouraged at home to be physically healthy. There’s a possibility that you will be working against a familial lifestyle. This goes into the next part.
Don’t ignore the parents. If parents think that little Suzy is joining a cute little activity, then they will treat it that way. Parent meetings are crucial in laying the foundation of the program from a health perspective. Work with the parents, not against them. Parents only want the best for their children and if you approach it that way, then you will get most of the parents on board. Here are some other ideas:
  • Create a county wide initiative with other guards. Friendly competition so to speak. Something like, “How many miles did your guard run this season?” 
  • Work collectively as a community pageantry environment and share dollars in bringing in a personal trainer or dietitian before the band season starts and get as many kids in a gym as possible to listen to them speak.
  • Get the kids to keep fitness journals. Sports teams do it all the time.
  • Create a push up chart or plank chart. How long can the guard collectively plank? What’s the average push up before the first person falls? Increase that number as the season goes on. 
  • Make every kid in the program buy a pedometer and wear it. It’s a physical reminder of the importance of motion.
There’s a million ideas that don’t require money or a lot of time. It is incumbent upon us as an activity to talk more about health. This physically demanding activity of ours, becomes more rigorous as the years go on and can start resulting in more injuries such as broken wrists, dislocated knees, and concussions as we explore more tricks and blind tosses. We are more than what we spin and we owe it to the kids to create a health based dialog. Finally, what about us? Shouldn’t we as instructors and coaches model positive health? We have to ask ourselves, “What do the kids see when they see me and am I an adult that’s a do what I say, not what I do?” We don’t have to look like the model of health, but we should at the very least strive to better ourselves.