The Evolution of a Show Through Time: Helping Your Students Deal with Change

| February 1, 2007 | 1 Comment

Change is a way of life in the world of competitive color guard.  You can help students learn to approach change with a positive attitude and even to be excited about changes.  Most changes are based on evaluation and feedback and will ultimately improve their overall show if they believe in the changes, trust the person making the changes, and believe in their abilities as performers to receive the changes.  Learning to embrace change is also a skill that will serve them well throughout the rest of their lives.

As a show evolves throughout the season, change can be a Good Thing!  But, it can be very frustrating for performers, especially new performers, who must put in a lot of time and energy to learn the changes.  They finally feel like they’ve mastered something that was very challenging for them and, WHAM!, someone comes along and changes it.  They feel like they have to start completely over again.  Other students believe that if the instructor changes routine it must mean they weren’t doing the routine well enough.  They interpret change as a negative reaction to their performance and think the instructor is unhappy with them.   Still others may see change as scary because they are so worried that they (or the ensemble) will never be as good at the new work as they were at the old work.

This article offers some helpful tips for teaching students to handle change:

1.  Before you even teach the first count of routine start to talk to the performers about change.  Let them know that you will make LOTS of changes to the show throughout the season.  By bringing up the subject before you’ve even seen them perform the routine it will help them to understand that change is not necessarily linked with their own performance.  Let them know that you believe that changing things makes the show better.  Explain that all groups make changes throughout the season and that some of the most competitive groups even change routine or drill between performances on the same day or during the same weekend based on judges comments.  If you can instill change as an expectation it will be much easier to approach when the day comes to make the first major change!

2.  Let your students know that you care about them looking professional and clean during performances and if you make a change that you won’t let them go into a performance “looking stupid” as they may phrase it.  This doesn’t mean they won’t make mistakes but make sure they know that you care about their feelings.  Then back it up.  If you do make a change and they aren’t ready to perform it by the time competition day arrives you have to follow through on your promise and give them something alternate to get them through that show until the new work is presentable.  If you allow them to go on the floor and make a fool of themselves because they didn’t have enough time to learn the new work they will be embarrassed and they will lose trust in you.  Subsequent changes will become a battle!  This can be a bit tricky – because each student may have a different interpretation of how “perfect” things need to be.  You will have to communicate with them throughout the season about how expectations for performance grow from week to week.  It will be important to define for them what can be characterized as “performance ready” for different times of the season within your expectations as an instructor.

3.  Let students know that you are not changing things because of “their failures.”  This can be very difficult for them to understand.  Many young students who don’t yet understand that change is part of the process will interpret a change as “I wasn’t doing it well enough so they’re making it easier.”  Even if this is the case, in most situations that is not the message you want to send.  Impress upon them that it is extremely difficult as a choreographer to write EVERY count of the show at the very beginning and not want to make changes.  Shows are organic and as the routine comes together with the music and drill, sections will appear that could be improved upon.  This doesn’t mean that anyone has done anything “wrong” (performer or choreographer).  Instead it just means that something could be better.  Let them know that change is often demanded because they get so much better throughout the season that what they were capable of when you wrote the work is far below what they are capable of by the end of the season.  The fact that you are able to make changes means they are improving as performers.

4.  Explain why you are making each change.  Most of the time, changes will be necessary because of a suggestion made by a judge or because of your own observations about something that is not working.  Explain to them WHY the change will make the show better.  If you have the time, pull out the student leaders so they can see the “before and after” of the change.  If the student leaders support the change it might be easier to gain the trust of the younger performers.  Or – if you are changing routine (rather than drill) you could have student leaders perform the “before and after” for the rest of the group so that every member can see the improvements.  Use the opportunity to educate them about show design.  Most of them will be very interested!  Don’t be afraid to involve them in your thought process.  After all!  Some of them may be designing their own shows in just a few years and their learning process begins now!

5.  Do not dismiss performers fears or concerns by saying, “I’m the coach and I’m changing it because I MAKE THE DECISIONS!”  While it can be frustrating to have your students question your decisions and it is natural to get defensive, they will only learn to trust your decisions if you allow them to understand your thought process and to see that your decisions are thoughtful and planned.  They can only learn this if you are willing to communicate with them.  Consider letting them listen to some of the judges tapes (after you have previewed them) so that you can have a discussion about what needs to be changed and why.  This way, they will see that you are not the only person who sees the need for change.  They will also be extremely proud if they hear a positive comment from a judge at the next show regarding the specific change that was made.  If this happens make sure to let them hear it!

6. BE EXCITED about the changes.  Even if you are disappointed to have to change a favorite section of routine YOU have to appear excited about the changes if you want the students to feel good about it and buy into it.  Express to them how much better the show will look or how “cool” the new routine looks.  As they perform it the first few times, let your excitement and confidence for the potential of the improvement show through.  Saying things like, “Wow – yes, this is going to work MUCH better!  I’m really pleased with this change!” will help signal to performers that even though what they are doing is difficult, it will be worth it so they will keep going!

7.  If you have time, have them review the videos from their performances.  Allow them to watch the first time through for pure enjoyment.  Then, watch again and ask them to take notes about what they could improve in their own individual performance.  Finally, have them watch a third time and take notes about what they think isn’t working overall and maybe should be changed or “tweaked.”  Many times they will come up with 90% of the same comments that you and the judges noticed (and they might even be more picky than you are!)  Then they will take ownership of the changes rather than placing sole responsibility (or blame) on you!  They will also begin to discover that they don’t need someone else to tell them how to improve their performance.  They will see that they have the power to evaluate and improve their own performance.  This is often an interesting activity to do prior to listening to the judges tapes as they will then realize that they were able to see much of the same things the judges saw and they will better be able to decide whether or not they agree or disagree with the comments.  Otherwise, they will base their judgement solely on how their individual performance “felt” to them at the time…which may or may not match the reality of the performance as interpreted by the audience.  Occasionally show them tapes of older performances just prior to the tapes of their newer performances so that they can see the improvements they’ve made throughout the season.

8.  Sit with students during competitions as they watch other groups.  Especially during the winter season, they are likely to see many other groups repeatedly, from one week to the next.  You’d be surprised at the details they will remember about their favorite shows.  Take the opportunity to discuss the positive changes that other groups are making in their shows so that your performers will understand that everyone changes things, even those groups who are their favorites!  (** NOTE ** Never make negative comments about other people’s shows in the stands and make sure your students know this as well.  You never know whose mom or grandma is in earshot of your comments!  We all know how hard these kids work and even the ones that are struggling deserve praise for their efforts.)

9.  Enlist the support of your veteran members.  Before making major changes pull your veterans aside and explain what you are about to do.  Tell them that you know this will be challenging and perhaps frustrating for newer members and that the younger members will need their support.  Explain that you need them to be excited about the changes and to reassure the beginners not to worry.  Ask them to help you help the beginners get through this!  They will take ownership of the change and will be proud of the confidence you have in them.

10.  Remind students that change also helps to keep things interesting and new throughout the season.  Winter Guard season lasts up to 8 months for some groups from beginning to end.  Explain how boring things would be if they had to practice the same routine for 8 months without ever learning anything new.  Explain how making changes will keep rehearsals new and exciting both for them and for the audience!

Teaching younger performers to embrace change does not happen overnight.  If you have a full team of performers who are resistant to change and who do not know you well enough to place their entire trust in you, this process can take several seasons.  Just don’t get discouraged.  It is worth the patience and effort and even struggle.  Press through and continue to communicate openly with them about each change.  Let them know that you realize what you are asking of them is challenging and frustrating and that you understand.  Continue to reinforce that you believe the changes are important.  And EVERY time a change leads to improvement or success make sure to let them know – even if it’s just having a spectator make a positive comment in the stands.  Over time they will begin to recognize that improvement and success results from the changes you have suggested.  They will improve in skill and thus find changes a little less difficult.  Eventually, you will have a group of veterans who understand that changes will make the show better and that you are someone they trust.  Once this is established the process becomes easy because new members will look to these veterans for their example.  When they see the veterans accept change and trust your decision-making they will follow that example.  Getting to this point can be frustrating and can feel slow.  But you will get there and your students will eventually get to the point where they are excited and proud to see how different the show looks at the end of the season compared to the beginning!

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Category: Design, Instruction

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.

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