Getting Started with Winter Guard

| November 1, 2007 | 2 Comments

Is this your first year directing a winter guard?  Congratulations on taking this step with your program!

Here are links to articles, resources and websites that may help you get started.  Then check back here monthly for new articles and ideas!

Adding a winter guard to your scholastic color guard program can do wonders for the training and growth of your performers.  Instead of putting down the flag for 10 months between seasons, they will now have the opportunity for year-long skill development just like their peers in the band.  Starting an independent group gives area performers an opportunity to continue their training that may not be available at a school.  You are to be commended for the work you are setting out to do and the wonderful opportunities you are sure to provide your performers.

Now, where to begin?

Winter Guard International Publications

WGI has two free publications on their website written by Shirlee Whitcomb, the education director of WGI.  Both publications give advice that would be important for new directors to read.  Definitely take time to download, print them out and give them a good read through!  It’ll be worth your time!

The Art of Making Winter Guards by Shirlee Whitcomb

Creating a Competitive Winter Guard


Competitions are hosted both by Winter Guard International (WGI) and by local competition circuits.

Many local circuits have divided their A-class guards into smaller categories based on more narrowly defined skill levels.  For example, the Atlantic Indoor Association (AIA) has a Novice class for first year groups, a Regional A Class and then divides their A-class into three groups, A-3, A-2 and A-1 for scholastic competition.  This allows for groups to compete with other groups that are more closely comparable to themselves in experience and skill level than at regional or national level competitions.  Local competitions are also usually closer to home than most WGI regionals.  However, there are parts of the country where lengthy travel may be required when a local circuit isn’t immediately available.

Groups with experienced staff members, experienced performers and the budget to support travel usually compete in both WGI competitions AND their local circuit competitions.

Check out our links page to find a competition circuit near you!

Skill Development

If you feel like you could use additional ideas for training on a particular piece of equipment or on a particular aspect of design, WGI has produced a variety of educational videos and DVDs for instructors and performers.  These videos run around $30.00 each but they occasionally have sales where the price drops to $25.00 or $20.00.  Some videos are also offered in packages of several videos.  The titles they offer include: Toss!, Flag FUNdamentals, Rifle FUNdamentals, Saber FUNdamentals, Instructors Guide to Movement Fundamentals, Equipment – The Next Step, Intermediate Body and Equipment, A Guide to Expressive Efforts and Equipment Principles, Advanced Body and Equipment, The Language of Visual Design, Creating Effect, and The Instructors Guide to Staging and Design.

Colorguard USA also have a series of technique videos.  Their staff is highly regarded and experienced.



Color Guard Equipment is sold through a large variety of vendors .  You can find links to many of these companies on our links page.  It’s a good idea to contact other instructors in your local circuit to ask for recommendations for these companies and for the various styles of sabers and rifles.  You can also post on our forum facebook page asking for recommendations.

Flag Poles 

Generally, most competitive color guards are using 6-foot poles as their standard piece of equipment.  Aluminum poles are the most commonly used in most parts of the country and they are available in a variety of colors.  Many groups choose to weight their poles to help avoid the “drag” of the silk in tossing.  (Not all groups find this necessary – definitely experiment with different weights and the skills you will require of your performers to see what feels the best).  You may also want to mark your flag poles with “cheater tapes ” to aid in cleaning routines.  Endcaps come in plastic or rubber and many companies will let you choose your preference.  If you plan to weight your poles, the rubber endcaps leave plenty of room to add carriage bolts for weight.  Just tape over the rubber with electrical tape to help avoid getting a “saile” with the flag.  Finally, PVC works great for swing flags and for large “special effect” flags.  It can be found inexpensively at local home improvement stores (just avoid using PVC for regular flags as the flexibility of the material adds strain to the wrist with the types of training and skills typically demanded of tall flag performance).

Related Article: “Finishing Touches


Silks are also available from the vendors listed above.  For a 6-foot pole, a standard-sized silk may run anywhere from 35″ x 48″ to 39″ x 54″.  Depending on your design preferences, you can always make your silks any size or shape you like.  35″ down the pole puts the flag exactly halfway down the pole when they are taped on (assuming an approximately 1″ top endcap).

Silks are usually made from lightweight fabrics such as polychina silk, lame’, organza, chiffon or nylon lining.  These fabrics can be purchased from a variety of vendors as well (with a few specializing only in fabric).  Make sure to request fabric swatches before choosing colors as the color on the computer screen or in the catalog may not match the actual color of the fabric.

You can also save money by sewing flags yourself (or having a talented parent help out!).  Flags do not have to have elaborate designs to be effective.  Solid colors work just as nicely as designs in many instances.  Do be careful with beginning-level performers to avoid a flag that is too “busy” in terms of design or color contrast as these types of silks can make appearing “clean” even more difficult.

Related Articles: “Practice Flags! ” “Creating a Swatchbook ,” “Practice Flags: The Trainer Series

Rifles & Sabers

Rifles and Sabers can be purchased from all general equipment suppliers.  There are also a few companies that specialize in these pieces of equipment such as Premier Rifles or Designs by King.  Both sabers and rifles come in a variety of lengths and rifles from specialized companies can usually be customized according to weight as well.

Both rifles and sabers need to be taped and padded to protect the performer, the rehearsal/performance surface and the equipment itself.

Related Articles: How to Tape Your Rifle (Handout for Students)


Most winter guards use a vinyl floor covering during performances and rehearsals.  Some circuits also use their own floor coverings to further protect the gym floors at contests.  The individual unit’s floor would then be laid overtop of this standard covering (which is usually beige).  Check with the circuit you will compete in.  If they have a floor covering you may be able to get away with a season or two without one if you need time to build your budget


First, floor coverings provide a layer of protection for the rehearsal surface (i.e. the gym floor).  However, no floor can protect the gym totally from all of the damage and dents that can result from dropped equipment, especially rifles and sabers.  So, make sure that equipment is taped and padded well.

Second, floors serve an aesthetic purpose.  They cover the distracting lines in the gym allowing the spectators and judges to focus on your performers and their choreography.  They can also be painted to further enhance the aesthetic value to your show theme.  Creative designers everywhere are coming up with new ways to use floors in the design of shows including layers that fold over, corners of the floor that are extended upward to function as backdrops, and creative cutting and painting.

Third, floors can serve a functional purpose.  If you fold them the same way each time you put them away, and do so neatly, the creases in the floor covering may serve the same function as yard lines on the marching field giving your performers points of reference for drill.  You can also add inconspicuous tape markings to aid in the placement of backdrops or props or even a difficult drill placement.


Floors can be purchased from a variety of vendors listed on our links page.  Be sure to request a sample for both color and weight before ordering.  Most of the companies have wonderful customer service representatives who are happy to answer your questions.  There are two materials used to construct floors, vinyl (the same as billboard material) and polyethylene (similar to the material used in camping tarps).  In general, vinyl is the preferred material for floor coverings.

Floors can also be purchased used and then “spruced up” with paint.  Keep an eye on the color guard forums for your local circuit or on the national newsgroups for classified ads.

If purchasing a new floor is definitely out of the question you may be able to get vinyl donated from a billboard company.  These companies usually recycle their old billboards or store them in wearhouses and may be willing to pass them along as a donation.  As you’re driving down the road past a billboard take a look under the advertisement.  The billboard company is usually listed there.  Try to find that company’s website and then contact them explaining your situation and requesting a donation.  Many groups build their own floors from used billboards.  You just use the ad side DOWN and tape the floor together using double-sided tape and duct tape on the back side.  Then you can paint over the front side as usual.  It takes several old billboards to make a 50′ x 70′ tarp.


In order to transport a floor you’ll need a floor cart because vinyl floors typically weigh well over 300 lbs.  The cart should be sized to fit through a standard-sized doorway so that you are assured you can get it into every gym or school entrance you may come across.  The cart needs to be fairly heavy-duty due to the weight of the floor.  We have tried the typical garden cart from home improvement stores which is made from a thin metal with tires.  These have not lasted the season for us because the metal in the axel bends under the weight of the floor.  It’s best to go with something manufactured for this purpose or build something yourself.

Painting a Floor

Painting can add great value to your overall program in establishing mood or theme.  Propdaddy Creations has an article on floor painting.  Colorguard Floors also offers tips on painting.  There are also a variety of tips that can be found in the archives of online newsgroups and forums.  We have had good luck using Behr brand floor and porch paint.  The main tip would be to spread it as thinly as possible to avoid peeling.  Many very thin layers will last longer without peeling than one thick layer of paint.  Then, when the paint is dry, sprinkle a thin layer of cornstarch over the entire floor (spread it with swiffers – the dry kind) before folding the floor to prevent sticking.

Folding a Floor

Floors can be folded in a variety of ways.  We are planning to add some articles on folding options in the near future.  In the meantime, Colorguard Floors has instructions for fan-folding the floor .

Floor Crew

You may need or want to assemble a floor crew of parent or student volunteers to help you at competitions because of the very limited amount of time you will have for set-up and tear-down.  At least one time before the first competition you should have a rehearsal with the floor crew to practice the procedure and explain rules and timing.  Check out our article, “So You Volunteered for Floor Crew, Now What ?”


Designing your first winter guard show is probably the scariest part of being a new director of a winter guard (or maybe the most fun!).  Here is some general advice.

Start with the WGI documents and instructional videos we listed in the first 2 sections of this article.

Dig in deeper by watching videos of other successful color guards in your class.  If you are able to find another instructor in your area who is willing to loan you a circuit championships video from a recent year you can get a good idea of what the levels are for each competitive class as well as which typesof shows were most successful.  Take a look at the elements of these successful shows.  Chances are, you will notice that the emphasis in the beginner levels is on performer training.

Find a Mentor.  Contact your local circuit and find out if they have a mentorship program established.  If not, simply ask for the names and emails of a few instructors close to your area and contact them to see if they might have time to meet with you to answer a few questions or provide some insight.

Choose music that your performers enjoy but make sure it is appropriate to their skill level.  For example, it may be difficult with beginner performers to pull off a song that is aggressive which may require high tosses, solid catches or tricks to portray the music visually.  Also, look for a song that has a medium tempo.  Very fast songs require additional demand on the performer AND provide additional “counts” of routine to write, learn and master.  Very slow songs can be equally as challenging for beginning performers because of the “space between the beats” which can make routines difficult to clean.  Try to find music that has built-in highs and lows or variation musically.  Using a website such as itunes or allows you to browse hundreds of songs and hear short preview clips of the songs saving time AND money in the search for the perfect show!

Training: Demonstration of a solid fundamental training program in both body and equipment is going to get the most impact with the judges in the A-class.  Make sure when you write the choreography that you develop a training program alongside to support it.  If your students are only catching solid doubles on rifle in basics block, it might not be a good idea to ask them to toss a quad in the show.  When you schedule your season and plan your rehearsals, make sure to leave a large chunk of time for fundamentals training AT EVERY REHEARSAL.  The time spent in block will help students build strength and confidence and will transfer to the performance floor.

Map Out Your Music!   When you actually sit down to design the show, plan the equipment transitions and begin staging, consider mapping out your music first.  This article explains a method for organizing the process to make it much less overwhelming and much more manageable!

Here are a few additional design-related articles we have written or found that may be helpful.

Perfecting Your Soundtrack: A Comprehensive Look at Colorguard Audio ” by Matt Cornett

How to Make Flags and Influence People ” by The Band Hall posted on the WGI website

A Guide to Choosing Music for your Winter Guard ” posted on the Massachusetts Judging Association Website


Here are a few additional articles or documents we have written or found that are helpful with management issues related to winter guard.  Keep checking back to the website as we add management-related articles every month!

Scheduling Your Season and Creating Your Master Calendar

The Copyright Monster and Music Educators: We Can all Coexist ” by Ted Piechocinski P.D. posted on the BOA Website

Documents : Check out our documents section for awards certificates, phone number lists and other management-related documents you can download.

We hope this page gives you a good headstart on your first season and wish you all the best!  If you have any questions that aren’t answered here please feel free to write us at or post a question in our forum for other instructors to lend their advice.  Good luck and congratulations on taking this exciting step with your program!  If you’re an experienced instructor who would like to add some advice to this page just leave a comment below!  Thanks!



Category: Design, Instruction, Professional Development, Team Management

About the Author (Author Profile)

Catina Anderson is the founder/editor of the Colorguard Educators blog. Color guard has been part of her life for almost 25 years. She began coaching in 1994 and worked with the Broad Run High School color guard in Northern VA from 1998 until 2010. She has also written for Halftime Magazine and served on the Executive Board of the Atlantic Indoor Association. A former teacher, she enjoys sharing what she has learned and hopes to encourage others to share as well. Together we can create even more positive experiences for performers and help to collectively strengthen marching arts activities worldwide.

Comments (2)

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  1. Steve Holder says:

    How do I get my company added to your links?
    Category 1: Costumes, Uniforms, Shoes, Accessories
    Category 2: Equipment Suppliers

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