At the end of the season, many teams have the tradition of celebrating with an end-of-the-year banquet. For me, it was one of my favorite nights of the year. After all, we know that our season is essentially 365 days a year and there often isn’t much time in between our banquet and the first tryout meeting for the next season. It’s really important that we stop and celebrate our efforts, progress, relationships, and success from the year.

banquet

The biggest happiness is when at the end of the year, you feel better than the beginning.

– Henry David Thoreau

It’s time to celebrate!

Each season starts with such excitement, high expectations, and maybe a little trepidation about the work ahead. But the end-of-year banquet is all about celebration. No matter how the outward success story reads, at the end of the season you celebrate the relationships you’ve made, the challenges you’ve overcome, and the growth you’ve made as a team.

There are lots of different ways to celebrate and lots of things you could include in your banquet. If you’re a new coach or a veteran coach who wants to step it up and add a few things to your celebration, here are 10 things I recommend including in your banquet celebration.

1. Enjoy a meal or dessert together

Food always brings us together. My team has done everything from a potluck in the cafeteria to catered dinner at a local wedding venue in town. It doesn’t have to be fancy, but anytime you come together and celebrate, food is always a great place to start.

If you’re low on funds, reach out to local businesses who may be alumni of your school or have children who attend(ed) the school. Often times, a local bakery would love to donate a cake, or a local Italian restaurant will cut the cost in half to support the local school and receive some public thank you’s. Although, it can take a little legwork so assign this to a team parent or dancer who really wants to get involved, but should probably stop giving you choreography advice. (Wink wink, you know the type).

2. Academic Awards

If you coach in a school setting, it’s important to remember your dancers are students first. It’s a huge accomplishment to train for your team and keep good grades at the same time. Depending on your institution there may be formal rules about who achieves an Academic All-American. Or it may be something informal that you create yourself, but either way, take a moment and acknowledge the strong students on your team.

3. Awards, Pins, and Varsity letters for high school

Again, depending on your setting, you may have the opportunity to recognize those athletes who have “lettered” in a varsity sport and award them their actual letter or pin. Check in with your school athletic department to learn the rules for this, and make sure it’s clear up front so that anyone who may not meet the requirements isn’t surprised that night. 

4. Give heartfelt awards to every member of the team

How you give awards on your team can take many forms, and while I’m not normally a fan of the “everyone gets a trophy” mentality (in fact, I hate that) I believe banquet is an exception. It’s important to acknowledge every single dancer for something they have contributed to your team and/or accomplished this season.

Whether these are funny like, “Team Coconut” for your teammate who provides comic relief, or more serious dance related awards like “Top Technique” is up to you. My one word of caution is that you go one way or the other and don’t mix it up. If they are all funny, then great. But don’t give away 70% technique and dance related and then only a few of them are funny or it feels like you couldn’t come up with something “real” to award. Believe me, they notice. 

For my team, this was something the captains and I worked on together. They were all meaningful contributions with funny names. We presented the awards with a small explanation of what that dancer had contributed and why we chose that name. We always worked hard to make sure everyone felt valued.

Want some ideas for those team awards? I’ve got a list of 40 ideas ready for you to download for free. Click here to get the list and save yourself some time this year. Your time is better spent reminiscing and celebrating anyway!

5. Give Coach’s specialty awards as you wish

Similar to #5, after you give heartfelt awards to everyone, you can acknowledge some special dancers who went above and beyond. Your Coach’s choice awards, or whatever you want to call them, fall more into the “not everyone gets a trophy” camp. You can award the three or four dancers who really stood out for something special. For example, I always included an award for an “upcoming leader.” The dancer that I felt portrayed great leadership qualities even as an underclassman or junior. As you can imagine, I was not only acknowledging great work, but planting the seed for later captain selection.

One final note on awards: keep track year to year.

I encourage you to have a running spreadsheet with every dancer and the award they got, adding a new tab with each year. That way you not only had a whole bunch of award ideas right in front of you when it was time to come up with that year’s list, but you know what everyone had the year before. This helped me immensely because it was always important for me to recognize if a rockstar young dancer had received something about being a great turner the year before, that she was awarded for her character the next year. Many of our dancers keep these awards in their room or in scrapbooks and we should always strive to recognize them for different traits each year they are with us.

6. Have the seniors share their favorite memory

After awards, ask the seniors to come up in front of the crowd and share their favorite memory from the season. This can be a tear-jerker! It may be something everyone else agrees was a special moment, or it may be an inside joke. But it’s a nice moment to include for the seniors. And it’s wonderful for younger dancers (and parents if they are in attendance) to hear how much that team has meant to those who are graduating.

7. Senior Gifts

After the seniors share a memory it’s a great time to present them with a small gift from the coaches or team. For example, I know of a team who had a great tradition of handing out alumni t-shirts to seniors. Now there are years and years of dancers with the same t-shirt and they always show up in droves at a competition. It’s a pretty amazing site.

Senior Candle Ceremony

Personally, my favorite senior tradition was our candle ceremony. Before we prepare for our state championship months back, there is a candle ceremony tradition where each girl has her own candle. At the banquet, the seniors’ candles are lit up at the front during the awards. After the gifts and shared memories, they all hold their candle. I usually say a few words, without crying if I can, about how much they mean to us and while their time on our team is done, their light will never fade. Then I count to three and they all blow out their candle, symbolizing the end of their time with us. There are usually some tears at this point, but it’s a simple gesture that holds great meaning for our team. I’ve talked to alumni years later who agree that moment was one of the most special of their senior year. 

banquet

8. Watch a video of your favorite performance of the year

In order to lighten the mood a bit after some crying, I always loved showing a routine or two that was our favorite from the season. You can ask the team to vote beforehand and have it ready, then project a video for all to enjoy. It’s a great way to reflect, smile, cheer, and remember how much they truly love dancing together.

9. Watch a slideshow looking back over the season

Many teams present a slideshow at the end of the season. A picture walk-through of everything from camp, to summer BBQs and team bonding events, to big football games and competitions. You can do it yourself as the coach as I did for years. Even though it took hours, I loved doing it. Or ask a team parent or assistant to take care of it. No matter how it gets done it’s one of the most powerful moments of the evening. It truly ties the whole season together and leaves everyone feeling very positive and generally grateful for the year.

10. Thank everyone, including parents and all supporters, for their work all year!

Finally, close the event with a simple thank you. Mention all the dancers, parents, assistants, administration, supporters, anyone and everyone who has been a part of your season.

There are many ways to celebrate and these are just a few ideas. I’d love to hear from you, what’s your favorite banquet tradition?!

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