You are a Colossal Bitch!
That was the phrase said to me at a rehearsal once. I can still hear it. I can still see the rehearsal site. I remember every single detail of that day. It doesn’t matter where or who, but that’s what a color guard instructor said to me when I was perceived as not paying attention to the staff. The reality was that I was and am a perfectionist and already knew what my mistake was and was already beating myself up for the error. They saw it differently, when I rolled my eyes at what was really myself and what I interpreted as a stupid mistake. I was exasperated at the error and rolled my eyes. They thought I was being disrespectful toward them.
This post is about how we talk to performers and how they perceive us and if we aren’t careful, how our outer voice becomes their inner voice…for life. Today I see color guard members I taught in a number of places back in my twenties and almost want to beg for their forgiveness in how I ran rehearsals, spoke to them, and some of the things I made them do. I was young. I didn’t have anyone telling me I was wrong and when you’ve spent a lifetime being told that you are too intense and a bitch, well…you tend to become that. Kids don’t need to be coddled, but they certainly need to be encouraged and most definitely don’t need to be berated. I don’t think we do that enough as youth coaches. I know I don’t. Sometimes I’m so caught up in getting the show finished or the phrase clean, that I forget that somewhere in count 8, are kids looking to me to lead them. They watch me and they hear me.
The adolescent brain is not developed at the level the adult brain is and a teenage brain’s perception is often based on emotion as opposed to logic. This is where much of their drama comes from. This is where misinterpretation comes from. What we say is misinterpreted, because the kids respond to emotion first, while we as the adult are trying to use logic. It’s a skill that adults need to acquire if you want to be effective while coaching teens. What we say, how we say it, and how we stand while we say it is all up for interpretation.
When I was in high school, I was a gymnast. It’s Olympic season and we’ve all been following our favorite athletes or sports. Gymnastics always brings back memories of how that although I was a fairly decent gymnast, I hated my body. Kids at school often said that my legs looked like a man and once in marching band, a staff member said that I didn’t look like most girls. As an adult, I realize that his comment was meant as a compliment of my muscular build. As an adolescent, what I heard was that I wasn’t feminine. When girls walk onto the playing field of the marching arts, they carry with them a lifetime of insecurity. How we talk to them and what we say, sets them up for success or failure. How we costume them and how we present that costume to them is crucial in how they will feel when they stand in front of a crowd or even more important…their peers at the football game and within the band itself.
Have you ever thought of that? Most girls are more self-conscious at the football games than they are at a competition. We as designers and directors costume for the competition, but the girls see a costume as something they have to stand in front of their peers in. Does it mean that you change the costume to fit the football crowd? Absolutely not. It means that you show that you have an awareness that the costume you put them in, will be seen by their friends and community in places that aren’t necessarily as friendly as a band competition. They will be seen in that costume in parades, pep rallies, and of course football games.
The words we use are crucial. It’s beyond important here in 2016, where we now know more about psychology and the human brain than ever before. I follow coaches of all types and in sports I don’t even like. I like to learn how great coaches get their players to perform by what they say and even how they stand on the sidelines. Some of them I completely disagree with and I don’t care if they are coaching an NFL linebacker or Major League pitcher. Berating, humiliating, and throwing tantrums are not just unprofessional, but completely ineffective. They are foolish. One of my favorite coaches comes from a sport that I actually despise. Just because I hate the sport, doesn’t mean that the coach isn’t brilliant. His name was John Wooden and coached basketball at UCLA and he once said that you need to find little ways to show your players that you care. “Small gestures make a big difference,” he said. He won multiple NCAA titles, but his life as a coach was one of compassion. He created a pyramid called, The Pyramid of Success. When one of the best coaches of all time gives you a model to coach by, well then…you need to follow that model or at the least…study it. So I did and I do. The model he used is too much to take in and not my place to replicate in a blog post, but there are important takeaways. He believed in building cooperation, enthusiasm, team spirit, and confidence.
Confidence. Think about it. How well do you build confidence in your performers? Really think about it, because we all can’t be the greatest color guard coach of all time. Sometimes we are great designers, but terrible motivators. Some of us are great techs, but awful leaders. Some of the best pageantry coaches are the ones we’ve never seen or heard about, because they stay behind the scenes and let their performers do the speaking for them. Some only coach at the local level, because that’s where they know they can make the biggest difference. Not everyone can be a great designer or technician and many aren’t great leaders. They are all skills independent of one another and being great at one does not mean you are great at all three.
So I write this today to ask you to look at your coaching style and ask yourself what your outside voice is telling the inside voice of your performers. Are they overweight? If so, it is most likely a given that they are concerned about costuming. They probably struggle with conditioning. How do you approach that? Are they tall and somewhat awkward? Are they they only gay male in your program? What about the one girl who doesn’t have the same skin color as the rest of the guard?
When was the last time you said these phrases?
Great job. It’s getting better.
Let’s come back tomorrow and get even better.
I’m looking forward to seeing you tomorrow.
I care about you and what happens to you in your life.
What about the pat on the back? When was the last time you went to that one girl who is shy and uncomfortable in her body and walked up behind her on the field and said, “You are doing great. Keep it up.” What about the girl who can’t throw the toss with the rest of the guard or the one that learns her work slower than the rest? Have you told her that you see her trying or see her progress? By doing this we aren’t building weak humans who can’t handle life, we are building young adults who grow to become parents, professionals, and coaches who take our activity to the next level, filled with empathy and compassion. With each new generation we learn a little bit more about coaching. The stories of throwing music stands, rifles, and calling names sound barbaric and ridiculous in today’s world. It’s because we are growing and learning. We have more information today. We take from other sports and other coaches and learn. Do you remember how at one point Bobby Knight from IU threw chairs and tantrums and we as the public ate it up as if that was how you best reached kids? Now…well…it is frowned upon, because we all learn and really…who in the hell has ever responded out of fear over compassion? When I went to boot camp with the Navy I expected to be yelled and and cussed at, because that’s what I thought happened. That’s not what happened. The military learned that yelling and cussing does not create a better soldier and does nothing for retention. They changed and grew.
I am not a colossal bitch and never was. I believed it, though. I look back and I wonder how that day influenced my teaching. I wonder how it impacted my self-esteem. I wonder if at any level it impacted my string of bad relationships, especially the one that hit me and the other one that told me I was a fat cow. I wonder what would have happened if someone on staff, just one person, had asked me how I felt about myself. If they had, they would have found out that at that point in my life I felt like I had an awkward body and that I didn’t feel pretty enough around the other women I was performing with. They would have found out that I was a perfectionist and was very hard on myself for every drop and mistake and believed that I alone, created the drop in score based on my pathetic mistakes. These are things kids think about and getting to know who they are is where coaching is at and where it is headed.
I sometimes want to call that instructor who called me a bitch and tell them that I can still hear the words in my head. I’m still haunted at times when I’m teaching others and am very aware of how I may be perceived by the kids I coach. However, I don’t blame that staff member anymore than I blame myself for the stupid things I said when I was in my early years of my career. It’s called being ill-equipped. We lacked mentors. We lacked the science of coaching. We lacked the knowledge of how the brain works. We weren’t aware that men and women have different societal influences that create who we are on the inside, thus creating different performers. We didn’t know. Now we do and there is no longer excuses for not bettering yourself. I don’t care if I’m liked by the kids I’m in front of, but I do care if I reach the kids and I do care if my words resonate with them at a deep and internal level that will ultimately make them better people. I do care that they know I care, even if I have to raise my voice for impact.
Today as you head out to the field to work with your young performers, what will your voice be?