Training for Instructors

| January 11, 2007 | 1 Comment

(Note** this is a long one!  It’s pretty much a chapter!  So you might want to scan it or consider printing it to read it in full.)

New instructors come into their positions with a wide variety of background and experience.  Most instructors have been performers at some time during their lives and they use the skills they learned as performers to teach their students.  Still others enter the coaching position with limited or even no experience as a performer. 

The reality is that whether one becomes a coach after an extensive performance history or with no performance experience at all, most new instructors find it challenging to transition to the role of teacher or designer, struggling through their first few seasons learning through trial and error.  There are many facets of the coaching position that might not be readily apparent to the average performer thus taking a new instructor by surprise, such as developing an effective budget, working with a band booster organization or writing an entire show for beginning students (not as easy as it may seem!).  For those with limited or “outdated” performance experience the challenges of writing a competitive show with modern choreography might seem insurmountable.

If you find yourself overwhelmed or intimidated there is no need to pack your bags yet!  Even in the absence of organized coaching classes there are ways that you can improve your skills (in teaching, administration or technique) to help your students.  Unfortunately, most colleges don’t yet offer courses in color guard instruction so we have to be a little more creative in seeking out training.  But the extra time and effort will benefit both your own sanity and your students’ experience so it’s well worth it!  Here are some ideas.


Winter Guard International Educational Materials and Training Sessions

Winter Guard International (WGI) is the leading organization in the world for sponsoring and organizing regional and international competitions as well as instructor and adjudicator education for Indoor or “Winter” Color Guard.  They offer many instructional videos through their website ranging from the beginner level on each piece of equipment to videos on design concepts, movement and creating effect. Many of these videos are accompanied by teacher’s manuals that provide suggestions on how to teach the skills included in the video as well as how to schedule a fundamentals training program into your master schedule.  These videos are great for the beginner instructor because they offer visual instruction for basics as well as some more intermediate or advanced moves.  They are also very helpful for new instructors who might have strong performance experience because they feature an experienced video teacher who explains what to watch for when teaching each of the moves to your group of students, something a new instructor may not have had to think about before.  The value of these videos isn’t limited to the winter guard activity.  The fundamentals presented are applicable to both indoor and outdoor.

In September of 2005 and September 2007, WGI also held an event called Spinfest which was a weekend educational event where some of the leading judges, instructors, choreographers and designers from the winter guard world led class sessions related to coaching and design. 

Keeping a close eye on the WGI website is your first step to getting to know the world of winter guard and even if you are not currently involved in a winter program – simply learning about it will benefit your design skills and coaching for your outdoor program as well – despite obvious differences there are even more areas of obvious overlap.  Sign up for WGI’s free magazine “Focus”  which gives updates on some of the leading programs in the world as well as advertisements for equipment and uniform companies and updates on important WGI information.  Each issue usually contains an indepth article on one leading program which provides insight into how other people do things as well as what approaches work in producing a top-level group.  You can also sign-up for an electronic version of Focus that is sent out more frequently.  In addition to the magazine, the website also features articles as well as two larger and VERY informative documents, “Creating a Winter Guard” and “The Art of Making Winter Guards,” a free full-length book written by the education director of WGI, Shirlee Whitcomb.

The WGI website is 

Summer Camps for Students and Instructors

There are many quality summer camps offered throughout the United States for colorguard performers and many of these camps also offer classes for directors and instructors.  The director’s classes often deal more with the administrative or leadership aspects of coaching.  However, if you are looking for hands-on skills improvement on a particular piece of equipment, try calling the camp and asking whether they will allow you to enroll as a director but participate in the student classes to increase your skill level.  If you get the opportunity, carefully watch how the instructors explain the moves to the students as well as what details they look for in making sure everyone is performing each skill correctly so that you can transfer these teaching techniques to your own rehearsals.  It is often helpful to take notes just after each session to jot down important tips on how the skills were taught before they quickly leave your mind!

Adjudicator Training

What better way to figure out how to design your show to best meet the criteria the judges are looking for than to sit in on their training and learn to observe with the critical and detailed eye of an adjudicator.  You might choose to become a judge yourself and earn a few extra dollars on your free weekends or you might attend the training simply to learn (if instructors are invited).  Many winter guard circuits offer judges training for their local judges and invite instructors to attend the training.  Sometimes there is a small fee involved or perhaps simply a charge for lunch.  If the circuit does not expressly invite instructors to the training it never hurts to ask if you can attend.  The worse they can say is “No,” right?  Often a one or two day seminar might provide you with the perspective you need to understand the different captions and the scoring and ranking process.  It also helps provide insight into the very difficult task judges face each time they must write down a score!

As you learn the details of the scoring process, explain what you have learned to the students.  It is important that they understand how they are judged and compared to other teams so that they can better understand and deal with the reality of placement and so that they can participate in goal-setting and development of the show. 

If nothing else, attending adjudicator training may help you to better understand the tapes you will receive from the judges as well as how to deal with a judges critique meeting.

Mentor Opportunities

Perhaps one of the most directly useful situations is to find a mentor.  This would be an experienced instructor, designer or adjudicator who is willing to give you advice, answer questions and perhaps even consult with your team on an as-needed basis.  But how do you find such a person?  Many competition circuits have organized mentorship programs where new instructors can simply contact a member of the board and sign up for a mentor.  Try checking your local circuit website (or local indoor guard website) to find out if such a program exists in your area.

Where a structured mentor program isn’t available it never hurts to just ask around.  Try calling more experienced instructors in your county or area or visiting one of the color guard message boards on the internet. You could also try calling the board of directors for your local winter guard circuit, explain what you are looking for and find out if they can recommend someone for you to call.

You probably want to seek out an instructor whose team will not be in direct competition with your team (perhaps someone from a different competitive class than your team) and look for someone who has a good reputation with parents and band directors in addition to a successful competitive background. 

Finding a good mentor may be one of the fastest and most beneficial ways to improve your coaching, your program and your development as an instructor/designer.

Learn from Judges

If you already have an active coaching position with a team that is attending competitions, you have a great opportunity to learn from your adjudicators.  The judges provide coaches with a tape made during the judging of the performance which often provides specific critique and suggestions.  Judges often have had the experience of observing many units and many have years of training.  Listen to their tapes carefully and consider the suggestions and critique they offer.  Then attend the judges’ critique if one is offered.  This is a meeting where you typically have 2 – 3 minutes to sit down with the judge, face-to-face and ask questions.   This meeting usually takes place immediately following the awards ceremony at the competition.  If you do plan to attend the meeting, try to listen to the tapes first (this is required by some circuits).  Write down any comments that you don’t agree with or that require further explanation.  Then, in a polite, professional manner (remembering that these judges are professionals as well, doing a job that you effectively asked them to do) address your questions to them directly and see if they have any further explanation or comment.  Make sure that you know your circuit’s policies for conduct at judges critique meetings.

Text Box:  It can be tempting to dismiss comments or pass off the critique because our pride sometimes gets in the way when someone is telling us that what we have created could be better.  Try not to let your pride stand in the way of your helping your students to have a more complete educational experience.  Consider that you might have something to learn from every person that sees your show and makes comments.  You will have to sift through them with your own instincts and decide which comments you agree with and which ones you do not, just be careful not to dismiss them all.  And remember to always be respectful and professional when speaking with judges.  You don’t have to agree with every comment they give, but you also don’t have to personally attack anyone.  That will only upset both you and the adjudicator and cast a negative light on your organization.

Many circuits provide a form that instructors must fill out prior to critique in order to facilitate professionalism and expedite the conversations.  If your circuit does not provide such a worksheet you can the Judges’ Tape Worksheet from this site to record tape transcripts (which can be summarized…they don’t need to be transcribed word for word) so that you can take those summaries into the judges critique meeting with prepared comments and questions for a more productive and professional experience.

Here are two more articles published by WGI related to the judges critique and judges tapes!

“Getting the Most Out of Your Judges Tape” by Shirley Whitcomb

“Conversations with Judges: The Dreaded Critique” by Shirley Whitcomb

Be an Avid and ACTIVE spectator!

Watching other groups can be one of the most rewarding educational experiences you can have, especially if you have other people that you can talk to and compare notes with.  Whenever you get a chance, go to a competition just to watch.  Take a notepad with you and jot down notes about what you see.  Write comments about what you liked, innovative or interesting ideas, things you thought could be improved upon, anything that comes to mind.  Make sure to record the name of the group and in the end to look at the rankings made by the judges in order to get a sense of which groups the judges felt were the best.  In the beginning, you may or may not agree with or understand the rankings.  However, take time to consider what made a particular group a favorite with the adjudicators.  Think about what they had that other groups did not have. 

Halftime Magazine keeps an up to date list of marching competitions for all the regions of the US on their website in the Regionals Section. 

In the beginning it might be helpful to simply attend and take notes in general, allowing yourself to take in everything and obtain a general sense of the activity and ideas of others.  However, as you become more familiar with the activity, challenge yourself with specific assignments.  Choose one aspect of design and focus solely on that for the day. 

For example, for your first assignment, you might take a look at general effect.  Read the judging requirements for the captions before you go and take along a copy of a scoresheet if possible.  And don’t forget your notebook!  Jot down notes on the different groups you see and try your hand at ranking them.  Then check out the recap sheets on the web the next day and see how close you came to what the trained judges decided.  Don’t worry if it doesn’t make sense right away.  Sometimes it takes time.  But if you don’t agree with the judges take a look at your notes and their rankings and try to consider why the results aren’t matching up in your book.  Maybe you’re missing something.  Again, finding someone to discuss this with after the fact might be a great learning experience! 

Another assignment for the day might be to look at set and costume design.  For this one you could even take along a sketchpad or a digital camera (just remember no flash!).  Look at how props are constructed to make sure they are sturdy and fit through doorways.  What materials are used to construct or cover the props?  Do the performers use the props in any way during the show increasing the effect or are they simply a backdrop?  What is the scale of the props relative to the action?  How about costumes?  Are they flattering on all performers?  Do they cause any difficulty with spinning?  Are the costumes used in any unique or original way?  Do the costumes add to the overall effect of the show?

The number of assignments you can come up with is endless.  Being an ACTIVE spectator is one of the best ways to develop an instinct for what will work and to learn from other people’s mistakes and successes.  Perhaps, though, you are laughing at this point, thinking it’s ridiculous to expect this of you.  Perhaps you couldn’t possibly find the time in your busy schedule to attend competition after competition watching for one thing at a time.  This might take years, you are thinking!  You need to learn this stuff right NOW because you have been hired to coach a team this season and camp starts in 3 weeks!  No worries!  That’s the joy of modern technology.  WGI, BOA and many local circuits video tape their championship competitions.  Check the websites of these circuits to find out if you can purchase a video and just pretend you are there in person.  You may even be able to find old scores or recaps from the competition you have on the video depending on the circuit you purchased it from.  What may be even better about having the video is now you don’t have to “get it” all on the first viewing.  The magic of rewind allows you to take look after look at your favorite shows and learn layers and layers of things from them at their very best point in the season, championships.

Participating in a Senior Level Activity

The color guard world does have adult-level performance activities across the country.  Adult-level in the color guard world is considered to be over the age of 22 which is the “age-out” year or the year in which an individual can no longer participate in any group except the senior or world class groups.  Units which include adults are Senior Drum and Bugle Corps, Senior Winter Guards and World Class Winter Guards.  The emphasis of the senior adult units is usually more on the fun and recreational aspects of the activity rather than being ultra competitive (though some do have very high levels of excellence).  The World Class Units often involve members that are both older and younger than 22 years old and these are some of the most skilled and most competitive units in the activity as a whole. 

Most Senior Drum and Bugle Corps travel and compete on the Drum Corps Associates circuit with a championships competition in Scranton, Pennsylvania over Labor Day Weekend each year.  There are a wide range of senior drum corps from those that compete every weekend with hundreds of members and a focus on high quality, to those that focus primarily on recreation, performing mostly parades with a few competitions, and only a handful of members.

Senior Class Indoor Guard Units are those with at least one member over the age of 22 who compete locally in the senior class but nationally in the world class.  Several years ago WGI voted to dispense with the senior class at their national and regional competitions as a separately adjudicated class.  Instead, these units now compete in the World Class and are judged based on world class criteria alongside the world class units.  Usually, these groups are not very competitive in the world class.  However, since most of these units focus on recreation and education, rather than winning medals, many still choose to compete for the performance opportunity.  Many local circuits still offer a senior competitive class separate from the world class.  These groups are often made up of coaches from several surrounding schools providing an opportunity for skills improvement and networking.  Just make sure to check out the group carefully before joining to make sure it is exactly what you are looking for.  Just like in the Senior Drum and Bugle Corps activity, there is a lot of variation from one group to the next in terms of instructional quality, performance quality and time commitment.

Finally, there are Independent World Class Winter Guards .  There currently is no age-limit for World Class performers in WGI.  All other competitive classes may only have performers up to the age of 22 and then those performers effectively, “age-out.”  One must understand, however, that world class guards are the most advanced in the activity and the demand for time and skill level is great.  Performers entering membership in a world class unit would come from a competitive background and would possess high skill level to begin with.  However, if you do have the ability, time and means to march with a world class unit, the experience and instruction you will likely encounter can be invaluable.  This is where you would learn the most up-to-date or cutting edge skills and work with some of the best designers and technical instructors in the winter guard activity.

CPR and First Aid Classes

It is important for any coach to make sure he/she is prepared in the case of an accident or emergency.  Some school systems require all coaches to have CPR and First Aid Courses while other school systems do not.  Some schools consider color guard an “activity” rather than a sport and as such, students are not required to have physicals and sponsors are not required to be CPR trained.  However, this “activity” is just as physical as most “sports” and is inherently dangerous in terms of the potential for injury.  After all, we are asking students to toss heavy metal and wooden objects into the air at high speeds of rotation and then to catch them.  It is not uncommon for performers to hit themselves in the head (including the face) or to injure hands or feet with dropped equipment.  Following the rule, “Better to be Safe than Sorry,” you want to make sure that you know how to deal with the wide range of injuries that might occur, regardless of whether CPR is mandated by the school system or not. 

There are also a variety of pre-existing medical conditions which might require special attention from instructors.  Examples of these conditions include Asthma, Allergies (especially allergies to insects during marching band or to foods/medication during trips), Diabetes, Hypoglycemia, Repetitive Use Injuries (Tendonitis, Carpel Tunnel), Depression or any condition requiring medication.  It is important to speak with the school nurse or principal to find out about school policies regarding medications and their administration as well as to find out about any pre-existing medical conditions and discuss student care with that student’s parents or guardians.

Remember!  Medical information is always private.  If you find that you have been told about a medical condition regarding a student, respect his/her privacy.  Do not discuss this condition with or in front of other students or parents without permission. 

If the school offers first aid and CPR classes through the athletic department you might be able to attend this session.  However, if that is not an option call the local hospital, health department or Red Cross and find out when their next training sessions are and sign up right away!  Some Red Cross Offices will even allow you to host CPR parties at your home where they will come out and train a group of people at one time in the home. 

Websites, Newsgroups, and Forums

There are great websites on the internet that provide information for instructors or forums through which you can ask questions. 

Newsgroups and Forums are websites where you can post messages, comments or questions for other people who are interested in the same topic you are.  Other readers then have the opportunity to respond to your message by posting a response for everyone to read or by sending you a private email message.  This venue is great for getting technical advice with questions such as, “How do I paint my new vinyl floor?” “Can anyone recommend a place to buy a particular piece of equipment?” “Does anyone have suggestions on ways to recognize parent volunteers?” or “How do you recruit new members for your program?”  One should NEVER post sensitive information on a newsgroup such as specific information regarding personality problems with students or parents on your team, or full names of individuals.  Remember that most of these sites are completely open to the public and thus there is no control over who sees the information you have posted.  And we all know there are some very untrustworthy people out there in cyberspace.  Be safe.

There are also many websites provided by both private individuals and supply companies that have pages of helpful tips and suggestions for coaches.  Remember to be a smart internet surfer!  Use your common sense and sift through the information you find.  Bounce new ideas off of people you know and trust and get their opinions before you try them out. 

Courses and Education in related activities

If you truly have a lot of extra time, there are courses you can take both at the community college or university level as well as with local dance studios that might benefit you in terms of design ability and instructional technique.  The modern world of color guard has a heavy focus on dance/movement training.  It is expected that the most successful teams are those that include both equipment work using the arms and hands as well as underlying footwork or dance.  No longer is the time where guards could learn to do a strong marching step and focus solely on the cleanliness of their flag work in the upper body.  Now performers are expected to move from one set to another in a variety of different manners including basic to advanced dance steps.  If you have no dance training, you might be panicking at this moment thinking, “How in the world will I be able to teach these students how to do anything more than point their toes (and that alone is hard enough!)?”  Don’t worry.  Think about signing up for a beginner adult ballet class at a local dance studio or college.  Then pay attention, not only to the steps you are learning, but the words and ways in which the instructor teaches you how to do them.  Take notes after each class, writing down the names of the steps you learned as well as the details and explanations your instructor gave you.  Then you’ll have a great handbook to begin with when introducing these moves and techniques to your students.

Theatre Classes also provide an opportunity if you are willing to step out of your comfort zone and step back into the role of performer.  Beginning Acting Classes often discuss techniques and methods for creating a character or drawing out emotion from oneself.  These are techniques that your students will also need to use in order to create the most convincing interpretation of the music or soundtrack for your show.  These beginning classes often offer suggestions for overcoming stage fright (a common problem with new performers), performing without being distracted by the audience (or the judges! In outdoor competitions some judges actually walk right on the field and talk into tape recorders while the performers are expected to completely ignore them and focus on their performances!), and breaking down a script into units and beats to better analyze how to make the performance move smoothly from beginning to end (a VERY helpful concept for designers in approaching a new show).  Technical Theatre or “Stage Crew” classes may also be helpful for instructors wanting more information on building props, creating special effects (within the rules of the contests), designing costumes, designing makeup and hair, painting techniques and sound editing. 

Just remember.  Most of your teachers or instructors for these types of classes will never have even heard of our activity or they might envision their high school colorguard (perhaps even a flagline from 30 years ago!).  Though you can try to explain what it is you teach and why you think their class might benefit you as an instructor, they will obviously not be directing their comments towards your activity so it would be your responsibility after each lesson to sit and reflect on whether anything you learned in that class could extend to your coaching experience or a student’s performing experience.  Consider keeping a journal through the experience.  You might be very surprised when you sit down to reflect at just how much overlap there is between all the performing arts!


Category: Instruction, Professional Development

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.

Leave a Reply