You don't want your students to take the stage expecting to lose, but you don't want them to always anticipate a win, either. And no matter what happens, you want your team to face it with grace, humility, and kindness. So, what do you do to tailor your dance competition team's expectations so they are realistic and still optimistic? In this post, I dive deep into how I frame the language that my team uses for competition, awards, successes and potential losses.
First and foremost, it is important to have a discussion with your dance team about the difference between failing and simply not winning. For me, it is important to impress upon my dance students that a loss (not taking home a trophy) is not the same as failing. Any opportunity to learn, grow, and improve is never a failure.
What, then, would a failure look like? Well, to me, a failure is not taking ownership of your personal roles, actions, responsibilities. Some examples would be not working on memorizing choreography, not giving something your best (more on your best later), being unkind or cruel to other teams, and being harsh and judgmental. It's also important that your students take part in defining this difference, too. I suggest grabbing a big sheet of paper or a dry erase marker and making lists of things that are and are not failures.
THE Best versus YOUR Best
There is so much pressure on young generations to be the best. Take extra curricular activities in middle school to put on college applications, maintain straight A grades, keep a wide network of friends, attend sporting events and school activities, the list goes on and on. So when (not if) the pressure catches up to your students, it will make all the difference in the world to have a clearly defined culture of doing YOUR best.
Emphasize to your dancers that YOUR best is different from THE best. What are the key differences? It's basically all about circumstances THE best is kind of unattainable. It's at least impossible to attain 100% of the time. Doing YOUR best can look different day to day. For instance, if you have been sick all week, maybe doing your best means coming to class when you're better, but marking the combination and taking breaks to allow yourself to heal. In this example, you would be meeting and exceeding all expectations for the circumstances.
I like to think of doing YOUR best as a speed limit. Speed limits are designed to be the fastest one should drive under perfect conditions, like good weather, bright daylight, and minimal traffic. You are not only encouraged but expected to slow down if the conditions are less than ideal. The same goes for your personal exertion based on the health and conditions of your mind, body, and spirit. If there are other aspects of your life or health that are not ideal conditions, it's ok to slow down, step back, and give what you can. That is enough.
It's unreasonable and impractical to ask yourself or others to be perfect all the time. Harp on this. Mention it until they can't stand to hear it. Because they might not be hearing it from other teachers and adults enough.
Dealing with a Loss
Sometimes, we do everything we can to do OUR best. But sometimes that results in not being THE best, aka, getting an award. This is certainly disappointing to a team who has worked incredibly hard.
But there is also value in it, too. Losing is an opportunity to learn a bit of constructive humility. In other words, learning to be humble in a way that honors another team's hard work and perseverance, but keeps the fire in your belly to go back and try again.
Being a Gracious Winner
If you do take home a trophy, your students deserve to feel proud of that accomplishment. My grain of salt for dancers is to always keep in mind what it feels like to lose. And just because they worked hard and won, does not mean others did not work as hard (or harder.)
It is a great idea to foster camaraderie between teams by demonstration. Walk the walk. Let your students see you speaking with other coaches and complimenting choreography and execution. Encourage them to talk to other dancers and tell them that they loved their performances. Because after all, a competition is about more than winning. It is a chance to make connections, build a flourishing dance community across the country, and celebrate what we all love - dance!
What are your tips for setting your team's tone for competition attitude and actions? I'd love for you to share! Please let me know by comment or email: Jessica.is.Dancing@gmail.com
Thank you for reading - I appreciate you so much.