Training! What does It All Mean??

debaseinstallTraining and the Technician, Winter Guard

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“Individuals understand the introductory skills and achieve a consistent degree of uniformity in method and timing.”

“The choreographed vocabulary contains a good introductory/beginning range with variety and some versatility.”

Uh…huh. I’ve been in the activity a long time and I’ve taught and judged and taught and judged and used the judge words and put the numbers down and taught and judged. Today however, I was judging a unit that kind of stopped me. I looked at the sheet and then the sheet above it and I looked at the boxes and literally thought, “What the hell is an introductory skill?” What is it? If it’s so easy to put these words on to a piece of paper and use it as criteria to rank and rate units, then why can’t we actually define it? Why can’t I come into a show as a judge and say the phrase, “Well low and behold look at this. You have demonstrated that this is clearly not an introductory skill.”

What about this?

“The range of the choreographed vocabulary for this class is broad and well understood.” Broad and well understood. Broad and well understood. Broad and well understood. Say it ten times fast and you know what will happen? You still won’t know what broad and well understood really means. My personal favorite is, “Dynamic gradations of space, time, weight, and flow are usually achieved.” Ummm….o.k. How do you quantify a “usually?”

Have you ever wanted to take 20 people and put them outside of a gym and bring them into the gym one at a time and say the words, “Show me a basic skill and then demonstrate for me a basic phrase on any piece of equipment of your choosing and when you are done with that, explain to me the training process you would take to get performers to understand a good degree of physical and mental development for that phrase.” Now, what if 10 of those people were judges and 10 of those people were instructors of the Regional A and A classes, who were young and somewhat naive? What would we get? Now, what if those 10 judges were split between national judges and local judges? What would we get? Anyone want to play the game, because I’ll bet my next paycheck on the fact that we would see 20 different approaches and 20 different answers. Until we acknowledge the fact that we still have not come to a consensus on what we are asking the young guards to achieve, then how can we sit and use the phrases such as, “Your vocabulary range doesn’t fit the class or your training program doesn’t fit the book the kids were given.” I’ll tell you what I think. I teach at various levels and judge all over the country. I’ll tell you what isn’t introductory or beginning…a back hand on flag release behind the back into an immediate release of a 45 toss out of it. Something else that isn’t a basic skill…a quad with lower body contributions such as single foot balance or deliberate shift in weight, yet I see it all the time all over the country in the lower classes. However, when I teach my high school guard those skills and break it down and teach the techniques behind it, I start to think, “Well then…that wasn’t easy.” Am I a bad tech? Do I not know how to teach those skills? I’m not thinking that’s the case. I’m thinking that we don’t know what the hell introductory, beginning, and intermediate really are and the training process it takes to get them there.

I live in a world where everything we have to do is S.M.A.R.T. Anyone who has worked in the professional realm for longer than 8 minutes knows this acronym.


This is how our Regional A sheets should be created. A specific guideline that tells anyone who designs for and techs for these guards what is expected and the timeline for achievement. We act in this activity that if we were to say that a quad is an introductory skill or basic skill or intermediate skill or whatever, that somehow we would hurt the delicate sensibilities of the instructors and designers around the country. We go into these discussions that if we were to actually define introductory or beginning or intermediate that we would strip the design choices out of the hands of the units. Oh please. My philosophy is that Regional A is a training class and if your guard or you as an instructor needs to be in this class, then we need some more damn guidance than a sheet that reads like a toy given to a child on Christmas day that can’t be put together, because the directions are in Japanese. I’ll also tell you what isn’t a basic skill and not even intermediate. It’s equipment work that is manipulated by one hand that explores alternate angles by use of the wrist only. Have you ever seen a 15 year old girl who barely weighs 75 pounds wet try to manipulate equipment with one hand? Have you ever seen them disengage the body to just achieve? How do you train for that? Do we train for that? Do we really as an activity train to strengthen the wrist in this day and age of multiple one handed planal work? I said to a guard today while judging, that the wrist didn’t support the work and more training needed to happen before the kids could achieve. After I said that I thought, “Bad Shelba. Bad.” What I should have said was, “Take the damn thing out before one of those girls breaks their wrist!” But what does it mean anyway? It’s so easy as judges for us to sit back and say that a guard needs better training, but what does it really take for a guard to be truly trained in one handed, end of pole, multi-planal work?

I want to sit with every downstairs judge around the country at the national level and ask the question. Do you know? What is the training for one handed, end of the pole, multi-planal work? I am personally mad as hell that we are given sheets to work off of, but they lack such specific guidelines that it forces the guards at the bottom to struggle in writing and in training. We are so afraid to define it, because then it would force us to meet somewhere in the middle and say, “You know what? Maybe one handed, end of the pole, multi-planal work is something that we should only do if a guard is shooting for the top 10 of A class.” It also would force us to say, “To do that particular skill, we expect you to train the wrist in such a way that it builds the muscles around it to support in a healthy way the development of the wrist.” It would force personal trainers to be hired at the national level to evaluate the skills. It would force risk managers to look at the skills and say “No way. This is a lawsuit waiting to happen.”

Why are we so afraid to really discuss skill and training? I take pride as a judge the information I give to Regional A and A class units; specifically the ones not headed to Dayton or a regional. I love those guards. I love challenging myself weekend after weekend to make sure that what I say doesn’t sound like I’m speaking at the U.N. to a group of delegates from China. Each week I strive to make sure that when I leave, the units in the lower classes get more than judge speak. I listen to a lot of audio files from many different judges and it makes me angry when I’m listening to an A class guard who clearly isn’t a regional bound team and hear a judge say something like this, “The training doesn’t support the dimensionality of the phrase when the body is in the bound position.” Seriously? How about this? “Hey you guys, you are trying to constrict the body to create different efforts and I get it, but I if you want to do this phrase, the kids are going to need specific level body training in contractions to better understand breath and release.” I know I know. We aren’t supposed to be teaching the guards. However, I don’t care what we are suppose to and not be doing. I don’t care. Sue me. Don’t bring me in again. What I care about, is that the instructor who is 25 years old on their first go round in the activity understand what the hell I’m saying and that when they hear my voice they get pointed information on what training means, so the kids are successful and feel good about themselves.

Being in the trenches is important. I pride myself on being in the trenches. I pride myself on not walking on the floor with 47 guards, but just one or two and building training programs that makes the kids feel successful.

So what is an introductory skill? What is it in movement? When we blend body and equipment, when does introductory move to basic and then to intermediate? Picture this. I’m teaching a guard who is in let’s say the Triple A or A3 type of class. Kids who can barely walk and chew gum at the same time. We now know we are on the A sheet. Intermediate is a word we will start hearing and exploring. However, when we came out of Regional A, no one really told us what introductory or basic constituted. I start writing harder work. Judges are telling me the kids don’t have the training to support the new one handed, off center work. Except, training was never really defined for me. Now the work is harder and I still don’t know how to adjust the training program or even if I should. All the clinics offered in my area is based on design. I now know how to create an effect, because my local circuit paid some high priced designer to come in to teach how to build effect and create production value. Well this is what I say to that. Whoop dee doo! My floor looks great. That $2,000 was spent well. Wow! The costumes. Look at them. The effects. They were built so well and now I understand how to build effects like a pro, but wait. While building into the effect, the kids passed through planes they didn’t understand, used methods of travel that challenges them, because they really don’t know how to jump in the air and then come out of that jump and continue with a nice flow through the lower body, and when they got to the big toss they just chucked equipment in the air and caught. YAY! They caught! Good for them, but unfortunately the toss was thrown wrong, different elbows, wrist energy, and free hands, but good for me…I built an effect and the kids caught! Now…I can build effect. I’m a pro. Congratulations to me. My guard has now been promoted into the Double A class. My kids still have underdeveloped lower bodies and they don’t toss well. I have now learned as a designer the concept of smoke and mirrors. And the cycle goes on and on.

Specific. Measurable. Achievable. Realistic. Timely.

Specifically, there are skills that those of us on the true front lines know what is introductory and basic. We can measure it on a daily basis by the struggles of the young performer and the bad habits they build why we as an activity try to figure out introductory, basic, and intermediate. Achievement is confidence of knowing how to do your show with fluidity and breath. Realistic is setting goals of knowing when it is a young performer is to have learned and mastered a double, triple, and quad. Being realistic in knowing when to put in lower body blended elements. Timely. All of this should be timely in the fact that kids shouldn’t have to wait until Championships to finally feel a small amount of success. It shouldn’t take from band camp to April Championships for quads and leaps to become comfortable and achievable.

We are hurting the kids by not defining and having dialog about what these words mean and what training truly looks like. I’ll tell you this, though. I talk about it. I talk about it all the time. I listen and teach. I teach how to read a recap for the  messages being sent. I teach instructors to listen to common themes on all 5 tapes. I teach on my tapes how to clean a phrase and what specific training exercises will help train the skill and one last thing. I have no problem telling them to take it out. It’s about the kids and their feeling of success and to do that I want an instructor to understand how to create success and what success really means. Recently I heard someone say to an instructor, “All the criteria is on the sheet. You need to read it.” Well how elitist of you, I thought. Later, I pulled that instructor aside and gave her my phone number. I told her to call me and that I’ll walk her through the Chinese words written on the sheet and what they really mean.

Training. Criteria. Introductory. Basic. Intermediate. What do they mean and who are we serving by keeping these words in a nebulous of confusion?  When we decide to get in the mindset and understand the unique problems of these classes, then we will decide to have better dialog.