Letting Perfection Become the Enemy of Good

debaseinstallCoaching With Intent, Winter Guard

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This is a topic that I have struggled with much of my teaching career. I am without a doubt, hands down the picture in the dictionary of a perfectionist. I struggled with it growing up and I have struggled with it as an adult. At my job, at work, as a parent, as a wife, as a friend, and most certainly as a color guard instructor; I have struggled. I use the word “struggle,” because being a perfectionist is an internal struggle and it impacts everyone around you. Over the years, I’ve learned to contain it and harness the feeling of “it’s not good enough and that’s o.k.” There’s a balance though, and finding a balance of not good enough vs. it needs more work, is where I have done my most growth as a youth coach.

It’s March and the end of the tunnel is within reach and in the sights of all involved, but there’s a big job to do and to me, the hardest part of the season is upon us. This is where we as staff members must make some choices. Do we continue down the path we are on and just clean? Do we take out that one scary and not so successful moment? Do we water? This is the time to make choices and the choice is this. What is it that will make the kids feel most successful in the end and what design and cleaning decisions will get you the biggest bang for your buck?

The biggest question is this, however. How do you maintain high expectations, without compromising the original intentions of the program? Additionally, how do you do it without destroying the kids and program in the process? I believe March is what makes or breaks a program and I’m not just talking about the current season. You also have to think about the future of your program. I’ll be honest with you. There are moments in my past as an instructor that I regret how I responded to bad performances at a show or regional. I let the idea that this one particular moment we had been working on for a week get to me, when that one moment wasn’t at the success level of my expectations. As a young instructor and even as an old instructor, the balance in my brain is constantly fighting itself. I watch the guard from the top and have to divorce myself from the drop on the 50 or sabre feature that missed its mark in clarity, and find what’s right…while finding what we need to work most on. The clock is ticking and it’s ticking fast. This is the time of year we triage. What takes precedence and what part is bleeding the most?

If you don’t have a staff to bounce ideas off of after a show, then you have a much harder road ahead of you and I know some of you are out there. Most of us though, have someone on staff we can ask the question of, “What did you think?” If you don’t ask that question of someone else and get the perspective of someone else, then your brain will start to play tricks on you. What you saw as a catastrophe, might just be a rough moment. What you saw as great, could very well be what is denial. You need to talk to people and you need to ask. You need to listen to your audio files. Remember, the judges don’t always look where you do and they don’t know what you worked on the night before. Also remember that the judges want you to be successful. They are not your enemy and only want the best, so listen to them as a trusted consultant. If you are in it alone, then find someone…a trusted parent of the program,…a friend…a colleague and ask them. “What did you think?”

The next question you need to ask is this. “Did we set the right goals and do we need to readjust those goals?” Going forth into March without assessing your goals is foolish. Going forth into March without assessing the minds of the performers and staff is also foolish. Where are the kids at? What will make them successful? How far should I push them? What will break them? Should I try to break them? Should I coddle them?

Let me be clear about something, however. Sometimes performers need the tough love at this point of the season and it is necessary. Sometimes they need just love. I can’t answer the question for you, because this is where being a good coach comes into play. You need to know your kids and play to the place where their minds are at on the journey. Sometimes they get it into their heads that THEY are not good enough and their minds begin to play tricks on them. This is where the drops are beginning to come from. This is where we ask ourselves as staff members, “What do I do with the soloist that has everything riding on their shoulders to open the show with the sabre quad and she has now begun to drop it consistently?” I can’t say I always know the answer. I get just as perplexed as the rest of you, but what I try to do is think, “What would have worked for me?” I was a perfectionist and I never truly felt good about myself as a performer. I never felt the show was good enough. I missed a hand placement, a count or God forbid I dropped. When I use to tech in my early years, I missed so many great moments with my programs, because someone missed a hand placement, a count, or God forbid a drop. I missed the smiles or the great recoveries. I missed the energy or the kid in the back who finally caught her flag toss.

So this is my suggestion. Don’t let perfection be the enemy of good. Don’t! Find the good and assess the problems. Gage the energy of the performers as they come off the floor. Listen to audience reaction. Want to know a trick? After the show and after you have watched the show several times on video AND listened to your audio files; go back and play the video with head phones in your ear, close your eyes, and just listen to the crowd. Are they reacting the way you want? Many times, the audience will tell you what you need to fix.  I watch my video’s several times. The following system is the order I do it in.

  • Listen to the audio files…take notes
  • Watch the video for pure reaction
  • Watch the video for cleaning purposes…take notes
  • Watch the video for cleaning purposes…take notes
  • Watch the video for cleaning purposes…take notes
  • Watch the video to see where it is I’m irritated with the design (because well…it isn’t a good week until I’ve made a designer angry at least once)
  • Listen for crowd reaction
  • Send the video to someone else…listen to feedback without defense
  • Make a schedule that goes all the way to championships

It’s amazing when you follow my system, that you will start to see more good than not. You will start to see that the show wasn’t perfect and it never will be. Your show will never be perfect. It won’t be perfect at any show, at any time, at any point in the season. This does not mean that you don’t keep pushing for the perfect catch and the perfect flag statement. It doesn’t mean you don’t keep your expectations high. It means that you keep assessing and cleaning and assessing and cleaning, but you never let perfection become the enemy of good. You assess and you clean all the way until the last moment, in the last show at warm up and when it’s over, you celebrate the kids, your parents and your staff. You celebrate the good and then you assess for next season, but don’t let that drop in the last show of the year, be your enemy that carries your program into summer.

Keep your expectations high and the kids will rise to the challenge. They want to rise to the challenge. When it’s all said and done I want you to remember this. They are harder on themselves then you could ever be. As a perfectionist myself, no instructor was ever harder on me than I was on myself and I had some tough ones. I had Ping, David Baker, and Jeff Wroblewski. Great instructors all of them, but none of them were tougher on me than me. Let that guide you through March.