The Student Leader’s Role in Discipline

| February 12, 2007 | 2 Comments

This is an article which was originally written as part of a student leader’s handbook given each year to my new captains and section leaders.  It addresses my expectations for how I expect them to lead by example as well as a series of scenarios for discipline problems they might encounter and positive ways to handle those situations.

Every coach has different expectations for their student leaders.  This is my approach.  I encourage my student leaders to learn positive ways to deal with uncomfortable situations and to encourage cooperation from their teammates though positive leadership.

I have also found that it’s important to discuss these topics and strategies with my student leaders.  We can not assume that they already understand how to be a leader simply because they were chosen for this position.  Each leader also comes to the position with a different manner of dealing with conflict which they have learned from either their family or their interactions with their peers.  These may not be the same as what I expect for my team.  So I work closely with them, observing, allowing them to handle certain situations and constantly talking to them about what they feel is working and what they are struggling with.  This is often an area that is MOST challenging for the student leader but also where they can experience the most growth.

This article is their introduction to my expectations and suggestions for the student leader’s role in discipline.

 “The most challenging thing about being captain was probably trying to balance out how authoritative you had to be while still maintaining friendships and bonds between the girls on the team.”

-Broad Run HS Guard Captain Fall 2003-2004, Winter 2004


This is probably the most important phrase you will need to adopt as a student leader.  You may not realize it now but you have tremendous influence over the younger members of the team and with this you have the opportunity to have a positive impact on their experience as performers.  Things that you do to help them or to make the season more fun will be remembered for years to come.  You will constantly be looked to as an example of what is acceptable behavior both at rehearsal and at social functions.  You may be scrutinized but you may even be admired.  It is a great responsibility to remember that you need to always set a good example.

1. Be on Time!

2.  Be Positive!

3.  Be the first to Volunteer for the “yucky” jobs.

4.   Be prepared.

5.  Follow ALL the rules, ALL the time.

6.  Compliment others for things they’ve done well.

7.  NEVER use sarcasm in teaching.

8.  NEVER complain in front of other members

9.  Take care of your uniforms and equipment.

10.  Be respectful to your coaching staff at all times.

It is important that you never forget that you are always leading through the example you set with your own behaviors and words.  You must set a good example at all times, as well as maintain a positive attitude.  Negative examples spread like wildfire. Positive examples inspire.  You cannot demand respect – it must be earned through your commitment to setting a positive example and being respectful, encouraging and supportive of everyone.


“I think the most challenging thing I found as captain was setting a good example.  It’s so easy to talk, to goof off with your friends when the band is doing stuff or whatever, and it’s easy to forget that the underclassmen are looking up to you to set the example.  If you start talking, they will, and then before you know it, the guard is being yelled at to be quiet at attention.  That’s no good.”

– BRHS Captain Fall 2003-2004

“I have always looked up to captains and pretty much anyone older and more experienced that I come across in choir, color guard or theatre.  What always impresses me with captains or other leaders is how much fun they are having and how much energy they possess.  When my “boss” has energy and willingness to try new things, I feel the same way.  Having a captain with energy and enthusiasm is fabulous.  While it’s tough on the captain, it helps out so much for the rest of the guard.”

-BRHS Captain Fall 2002 


It is inappropriate for any of the student leaders to participate in negative forms of discipline.  You are a leader of your peers.  As such, it would be unwise for you to discipline them in any negative manner because the result would simply place you in opposition to your friends or classmates, breeding resentment.  All of the sudden…school becomes more stressful.  No one wants their friends mad at them.  So it’s important to look for positive methods of leadership and to allow the staff to step in when that doesn’t work.

“The advice that I would give first-off, is never single out an individual for doing something wrong in front of the whole group.  Not only do you make them feel really bad, but you can also embarrass yourself because there isn’t a need to react that way.  Pulling them aside during a break and mentioning the concern will probably do the trick.”

-BRHS Captain Fall 2003-2004, Winter 2004-2005

In the next few pages are some ideas for positive methods of dealing with disciplinary issues.  If you’ve tried some and it is just not helping, that’s when you bring the matter up with your staff members.  They will take it from there and avoid putting you in the middle of a negative situation.

Scenario 1: Chattiness during Group Rehearsal

1.  Keep it Moving: This is the best method for avoiding chattiness at rehearsal.  The faster the pace, the more the group will need to focus and the less opportunity there will be for conversation to begin.  Inappropriate slow pace of rehearsal is probably the number-one reason for chattiness.  If you are not prepared and find yourself needing to take long pauses to figure out routine or gather equipment before teaching the group it is your fault if they become unfocused.  Be prepared and keep it moving!

2.  Give a break for water: Before the break, pull the group together and explain what the goals are for the rehearsal after the break.  Let them know that you all have a lot to accomplish as a group so you will need to be as focused as possible to get it done.  Let them know that you have confidence that you can all accomplish the task ahead but that you need to get all the “silliness” out during this break and come back focused.

3.  Rearranging: If there are two particular people that are constantly talking, try to determine a way that those people can be separated without confronting them in front of the group.  This may involve rearranging the practice block (but be sure to rearrange everyone, not only the two that are talking or they will feel singled out and might be uncooperative afterwards).

4.  Private Conversation: You might consider pulling aside the offenders and talking to them privately during a break if you are comfortable enough with them that you know it will not turn into a confrontation.  Do not “accuse” them of doing something wrong.  Simply let them know that you need their help to keep the group focused.  Remember that you too may have had your own “chatty” moments throughout the years.


“Great Leaders are almost always great simplifiers, who can cut through argument, debate, and doubt to offer a solution everybody can understand.”

-General Colin Powell 

Scenario 2: Late to Practice

1.  Occasional Late Arrivals: Usually dealing with this problem by simply asking a “concerned” question is adequate for one or two unusual late arrivals.  Saying something like, “Hey, you’re late.  That’s not like you.  Is everything okay?” gives both the message that late arrivals are a concern (and are noticed) and that you care about your teammates.  Often you will find that the person DID have a bad day – or had to meet a teacher after rehearsal. Thank goodness you were kind and concerned because yelling at them just would have made their day worse! We also need to remember that many students are driven to rehearsals by their parents.  When rehearsal is not directly after school the arrival time may not be totally under the student’s control.

2.  Chronic Late Arrivals: This is usually an issue you should refer to the coaching staff or band director.  There are stated policies and there is little in this type of situation that a student leader can do except to let the staff know.  The band director or staff will discuss the problem with the student and try to work out a good solution.


“The basic building block of good communications is the feeling that every human being is unique and of value.”


Scenario 3: An Angry or Rude Outburst

We all know that rehearsals, school, life in general, can be stressful.  Despite our best attempts, sometimes stress just gets the best of us and leads to frustration, anger and inappropriate responses to stressful situations.  While we try our best to maintain a professional attitude during rehearsal, it is not unheard of for a leader to get the “brunt” of someone else’s bad day.  And, sometimes, despite our best efforts, situations arise where a teammate might get upset with the leader and handle the situation inappropriately in front of the group.  These are difficult situations to deal with emotionally but here are a few tips for what to do if this ever happens to you.

1.  Stay calm: If you react in anger or sarcasm it will only escalate the situation.

2.  Don’t Ignore:  Address the person making the outburst in a calm manner letting them know that you’ve heard their complaint and that you are listening.  You can say something like, “I’m sorry you’re upset.  I am trying very hard to do my best for the team.  Can we talk about this during our next break?”  Or ask them if they need to take a break and get some water.  Then follow up after they’ve calmed down by talking about it.

3.  Private Discussion: It wastes team time and a public audience will almost always escalate a bad situation, as those involved realize they are being watched and that they need to “save face.”  It is best to resolve disputes in private when possible.  If the discussion cannot wait until the next break simply ask one of the other leaders to run the rehearsal while you talk with the person involved.  If the person seems too upset for calm discussion ask for staff to step in and assist.

4.  Ask for Help: Sometimes a situation just needs an outside point of view or an adult staff member to help resolve it.  If you are uncomfortable, in any way, dealing with the situation yourself, then ASK FOR HELP.  This is one of the reasons the staff members are there.


“People are going to get stressed.  It’s only human.  When you see your team getting slow, angry, frustrated, any of those things, take a break if you can.  It’s like those Where’s Waldo? books.  If you search and search on the same page for a long time, you’re never going to find him.  But, close the book for a few minutes, then re-open it.  Your search will be a lot more fruitful and you’ll find him a lot faster than if you kept trying and trying without taking a break.  During this break just relax, maybe give them a chance to walk around on their own, away from other members to kind of collect themselves.  Do some stretches while you’re sitting around to make sure your muscles don’t get too tight.”

-BRHS Captain Fall 2002

Scenario 4: Cliques

It is extremely common in any organization for cliques to form as people get to know one another.  We naturally gravitate toward those with common interests and experiences.  However, cliques work against our ability to function as a team because ultimately, they make people feel left out, hurt and resentful.  When someone feels like an outsider, they will not enjoy coming to rehearsal and thus will not feel motivated to work as part of the team or even to practice at home.

Make sure to do everything you can to minimize the development of cliques at rehearsals.

1.  Lead by example through going out of your way to talk to everyone.

2.  Make a point to sit with the person who seems to be sitting alone or who seems to be a little more quiet today than before.

3.  When laughing about “inside jokes” with friends, take the time to explain those jokes to those in earshot who might otherwise feel left out.  This lets them know that you like them enough to clue them into what you share with your closest friends (and remember…avoid referring to inside-jokes at all during group teaching situations).

4.  Mix up the practice block.  Separate those who are forming cliques by asking them to stand in different lines or on different sides of the room.  Of course, don’t do this as a “punishment.”  Move everyone around at the same time so that no one feels singled-out.


“I remember finding it difficult to keep everyone motivated during those periods in every season when we were working so hard but nothing was paying off yet.  I remember bringing cupcakes and having a little “pep party” to raise everyone’s spirits.  Things never failed to look up!

-BRHS Captain Fall 2002, Winter 2003

Scenario 5: Negative Talk

Every season has it’s stressful times and every person, at times, can find it difficult to stay positive.  However, negative talk or complaining is one of the most dangerous things to the maintenance of a cohesive, motivated team.  There are two situations that you, as a leader, have to deal with.  The first is controlling your own tendency to complain or speak negatively and the second dealing with negative comments or discussion by other members of the team.

Dealing with Your Own Emotions:

1.  You MUST be the example for the team.  They CANNOT hear you make negative comments.

2.  If you do break down and make negative comments in earshot of other members, take time when you collect yourself to apologize to the group (in order to set the example), letting them know that you were stressed but that you are sorry you had a bad attitude because you know we all need to stay positive to be successful.  Let them know you will work hard to stay positive in the future.  It’s not that you’ve really done anything seriously wrong, but by apologizing you set the example for the team acknowledging the seriousness of negative attitudes and recommitting yourself as their leader to being positive.  They will be SO impressed by this gesture.

3.  Remember that if you are negative, that attitude will spread VERY quickly.  Complaining is contagious.  Smiles are too though!

4.  If you are feeling stressed, make arrangements to take some time out.  Ask the other leaders (or staff) to take over for you for a while.  Find someone to talk to privately.  Lean on staff members for support.  This job gets tough at times.  The staff are here to make things easier but you have to let them know you need a break.

5.  Remember that refraining from negative talk about the team, show, coach or other members applies not only to time at rehearsal but also to time outside of rehearsals like school, social events and other places where you might be overheard.

“Keep your fears to yourself, but share your inspiration with others.”

-Robert Louis Stevenson 

Dealing with Negativity from Teammates

1.  Don’t “Join In” to these conversations.  Try to stop them.  If you overhear people complaining about something that is going on with the team, coach, show etc., ask them what is wrong and see if you can explain things to them.  Often, people are less negative when they fully understand the reasons for decisions that are made.  Then, remind them that if they have concerns in the future that they should feel free to ask you or the coaches about them because complaining and negativity can really harm the team.

2.  If you hear people talking badly about another team member step in and intervene.  Don’t encourage the conversation and definitely don’t add to it!  Ask if there is a specific problem that you can help with.  If there is not a specific problem (i.e. they just don’t like the person), try to point out the great things you see in that person and remind them that although we are all different, every member is an important part of the team.  As a team we have a responsibility to help each other.  We also have to learn to work with many different types of people.  Finally, remind them that it is inappropriate to talk about their teammates negatively.  Remind them that this hurts the whole team and that you hope they can find a way to work with that person.

3.  If all else fails, definitely talk to the coaching staff sooner rather than later.  Negativity is one of the most harmful things to having a successful team and it is very hard to combat if it isn’t caught early.

4.  If you find that members of other sections of the band are treating you or the guard in general with disrespect, please also quickly alert the coaching staff so that the matter can be resolved as quickly as possible.

5.  If you hear one of your teammates making negative comments at a game or competition, especially about another band or guard, put a stop to it immediately.  This would be the one instance to be very clear that they need to stop that behavior immediately (and if they do not to report it to the staff members).  Unsportsmanlike behavior simply cannot be tolerated.


“Make sure to take the time and become friends with the girls and not just always act as their leader.  Even when you may be stressed, try to put on a good face and be kind to all of the girls, because your stress and frustration will ultimately rub off on them.  If you notice everyone becoming really angry/frustrated/upset with either one another or the routines, let them know what a great job they really ARE doing, and that you shouldn’t waste valuable time on arguing.”

-BRHS Captain Fall 2003, 2004, Winter 2004

Ultimately, create an open channel of communication with your staff members.  Most of them have been there and can help you to navigate the sometimes difficult territory of being a leader of your peers.  There will be ups and downs, good days and bad days.  But if you are committed to treating everyone with respect and if you can put your own pride second, you are bound to earn the respect of your teammates and have a wonderful overall experience.  Keep things fun for your teammates and make THAT your number one priority!


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Category: Student Leadership, 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. Natalie says:

    You said it was part of your student leader’s handbook, right? Would you consider publishing the whole thing online? I’ve been the color guard captain since I started, but this entirely changed how I viewed disciplining the guard. My only problem, however, is that we don’t have a guard coach and our band director has no interest in helping us.

  2. Killian says:

    I would also be interested in seeing the whole of a student leader handbook – I’m in the process of trying to put one together for my guard and seeing what others use would be useful.

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