Coach Trim agreed to sit down and talk with me about her coaching philosophy, how she cleans routines, handles coaching decisions and so much more. Keri is a talented coach with a resume that speaks for itself. If you’re not familiar with Coach Trim and her Mountain Vista Poms, here’s a little about her and the program:
Coach Trim is part of the original staff when Mountain Vista opened and is currently in her 28th year of teaching and coaching. She is the original Pom coach for Vista and has seen great successes for this program. The Vista Varsity Poms have captured 10 League and Regional titles in Pom, Jazz and Hip-Hop, as well as 8 5A State titles and three State Runner-up. Vista Poms is the only team in the State of Colorado to hold State titles in all 3 dance divisions: Pom (2006, 2008, 2009) Hip Hop (2013, 2014) and Jazz (2010, 2015, 2018). The team has traveled to the National Dance Team Championships in Orlando, Florida where the team has finished Top 5 in both Pom and Jazz several times and danced in finals for 12 straight years. Currently the team attends NDA Nationals where they captured their first National Championship in the Medium Jazz division in 2017.
Tell me about your own dance background and how you got into coaching
I was a Liberty Bell dancer at Heritage (Colorado). I loved everything about high school, it’s why I became a HS teacher. Plus I grew up in studio world and this was a great way to be involved in school, I loved everything about it. I went to college in California, then moved back that year Mountain Vista opened. When I was interviewing, I knew I wanted to be in the area and a former teacher of mine asked if I would think about coming to a brand new school.
At first, because my daughter was 2 and I was a single mom, I did not want to coach, but the deal was it’s a new school so they weren’t hiring anyone who wouldn’t take on a second role. So with a heavy heart I said I would do it. But then when I got back I remembered why I love spirit in Colorado. From the minute I got here, I was hook line and sinker, I am so addicted to Mountain Vista. I love everything about the school! But there were some rough years for sure, and actually about 5 years ago I thought I was done.
We’re so glad you are still here and that you have been a part of our Colorado community for so long.
My life got really unhealthy personally about 5 years ago and how I coached was a mess, and it was toxic for me and people around me. I thought I had to leave it all. But once I got myself healthy and my relationships healthy, I was able to come back and I feel like I’m a much more effective, healthy, happy coach. The last 4 years I’ve loved it more than ever before because I’m in a better place so I go about it in a better way.
It makes me so sad to see how many coaches quit because they get overwhelmed and realize “I’m not doing this in a healthy way.” So they quit. Rather than reevaluating, breath, and approach from a different perspective. That’s my thing now, I love helping coaches who have been in it a few years and are feeling like it’s too much and they hate it. I always want to say, “Wait, you can do this in a healthy way if you learn to set your own boundaries. Don’t quit!” But this job will suck everything out of you if you let it.
Do you have a favorite moment or memory as a coach?
There’s so many that are memorable for different reasons. The first time I won state was phenomenal, we were a brand new school we went into finals in 6th place so we weren’t expecting it at all. Winning nationals (NDA medium jazz, 2017) a few years ago was really cool, those “firsts” are amazing. Having my daughter on the team, as much as it almost killed me, it also made for some special memories. She had grown up watching Vista poms so the two years she was on was really special. This is weird, but one of the most special was last year when one of the dancer’s mom was in the ICU and I watched my entire team sit with a teammate for 8 hours, not saying or doing anything but showing up. I have never been more proud. So there are a lot in 19 years!
At Mountain Vista, you tend to get a lot of talented dancers at tryouts, but that doesn’t mean they understand your dance team culture. How do you motivate your dancers and create the dedicated team culture that you have?
You’re right, 100% of my varsity team come to me trained. But with that comes an entitlement so for me it’s about very quickly in the beginning of the season, teaching them how this team works and what we do. What works for our culture is that we work under a pyramid system. The people who have put in the time like the 4-year varsity captain, is at the top of the pyramid. Where if you are a freshman, who P.S. comes to the program “I’m always in the front etc.” gets put in her place. And not in a derogatory way but in the sense that you will listen to and respect the people above you in the pyramid. They have knowledge you don’t have in this dance team world.
It’s not about technique, this program operates under a different culture and we are a well-oiled machine, so you are going to learn from the people who have more to experience in the team atmosphere. Sometimes that’s not the most talented dancer but if she has been there longer she’s on top of the pyramid. We follow that pyramid and it takes a lot of practice. Summer is really about learning about the pyramid. It’s not a negative thing, it’s that they’ve all got the talent and the skill but they don’t know Mountain Vista poms. You learn from each other, you learn from someone before you.
It is really unique from what other programs would do, but it’s because of the type of dancer you have so it works for you.
Exactly, if you come from a program where you get a lot of turnover or you get the occasional really strong dancer as a freshman and you’ll rely on her that’s different but it’s just not my scenario ever so I have a different system.
What does team bonding look like for your team?
They haven’t danced together, the come from different studios so the team bonding has nothing to do with dancing and it’s a lot over the summer. We have a giant event, Mountain Vista’s Amazing Race. It’s grown into its own entity, but they are grouped with other dancers they don’t know and they spend an entire day doing these activities and they get to know each other by overcoming challenge after challenge. We even use these groups all year. I will break them into amazing race groups when we’re cleaning or getting ready for basketball to break up choreographers etc. It also breaks up any cliques.
We don’t go to a traditional camp anymore, we run our own camp. 4 days of choreo but they are getting a ton of activities about conflict resolution, leadership, lots of intensive training over how we are going to interact with each other.
Talk to me about a typical practice
We break up our practices based on the time of year and what our focus is. In the summer we get all the choreo. Come fall we break up the days of the week. We practice 4 days a week, I firmly believe that less is more and smarter not harder. Mondays: team meeting, check in on how we’re all doing, and we run any game material for that week. Tuesdays: night practice with assistant coach and she runs state competition dance only. Wednesday: split time between two competition dances. Thursdays off. Fridays: technique only. We really stick to certain days are certain things. It helps their brains and they don’t feel so overwhelmed. As coaching staff, we force ourselves to stick to that. It makes practices so much more calm because you don’t feel like you have to get to everything.
My goal is to teach them how to manage their time, how to manage their anxiety and stress. They know that even in stressful weeks our structure remains the same. I believe it stops a lot of bickering, and the short tempers that come from stress. We just don’t go there with that schedule.
Advice on cleaning routines?
Once we get choreography and we know it’s set, the coaches will break it into sections. One dance will break into 6 sections. We start cleaning section 4 first always. We start in the middle. Clean section 4, that’s all we do. Then we add section five, clean that and then 4 and 5 together. Add 6, so we do the back half of the routine first. Then we go back and do 3, and do 3 4 5 6, then clean 2 and go all the way through, and end with section 1. Let’s face it the beginning is usually a little fluff and they aren’t tired so it’s no big deal. Most people clean from the beginning of the dance, and that’s why the dance stamina and cleanliness goes downhill. Judges know everyone’s first half is good, they want to know who can finish!
I don’t like putting all the technique in at the front or the end either, so typically section 4 is the hardest anyway so that’s where we start. That’s usually the turn section, or team aerial or whatever our big trick is. There is something mentally to this too. They have done the back minute the most so it’s solid and by the time you add the front minute in they are more tired but they are so conditioned in the back part that they can stay strong.
How is the hierarchy set up as a coaching staff?
This is something I changed dramatically 5 years ago when I restructured my whole life. That’s when Liz (Johnson) came into my life, she’s an alumna and right away I suddenly had people to trust. Up until that, I controlled everything. I was at every practice, I made every decision. I was so afraid of losing control, my other coaches probably thought their hands were tied. If for some reason I can’t be there, no changes could be made. You do nothing without me. Because my own worth was so built into how these high school girls did at a state competition. It was disgusting.
So my new coaching staff comes in, and I’m able to step back and say this part is yours and this part is yours… I oversee the program, I do the administrative stuff. I run the parent meeting, I organize things. When it comes to working with the girls, they know without a doubt we are one entity. When coach Liz comes in, she really is the one who puts the jazz piece on the floor, it is her strength. The girls know in that instance Coach Liz’s opinion will reign higher than anyone else. Then Hayley (Harder) who is my JV coach but helps with varsity as well, she completely runs the poms routine. I have all these other people in my village now too who I trust and they can do what they want and I back them up. I take their talents and skills, a lot that I do not have, and I tell them to run with it.
A lot of times that means I’m not even there because if I’m there I’m still the head coach so they look to me so I don’t go. That was unheard of 5 years ago. Now 2 days a week I don’t even go. I have staff I trust, they have value and input and the dancers need to hear from them. You have to have confidence in your staff and be ok with things looking different than you might have thought. I had to let go of needing to control everything all the time.
What has been your biggest challenge as a coach?
100% it was the fact that for years I coached from a place where my worth and value and respect was based on how these girls placed, how they did competitively. I think my girls danced well but it was out of fear. I hate that, it almost destroyed my program. But now I’m in a completely different place. The two minutes you go out there are really important, but they aren’t more important than anything else we do. I coach now from genuine love for these girls and wanting them to be the best humans they can be which has nothing to do with how we place at any given season.
One of the biggest things was when I started to get honest with myself I also started to find other coaches I respected. Rather than seeing other coaches as my competition, I found amazing people who I trust and can bring into my village. There are some incredible coaches here in Colorado and I’ve found amazing people I can trust and lean on. People who understand how to love on kids first and them compete them. I go to competitions so excited because I’m going to see my friends. So if younger coaches can learn that sooner, and the community that people like you are creating, the younger coaches won’t know any different… how amazing would that be?!
Any advice for other coaches?
Get involved, go to conferences, reach out to fellow coaches in your league/district, find a mentor. Find someone you respect and reach out. Those coaches who have been around for a long time are great humans who want to help. Don’t be an island. If you’re an island, I’m promise you’ll get obsessed and burn out and you’ll be gone in two years. Rely on those people who want to help and get involved.
If you’re looking for somewhere to get involved, check out the National Dance Coaches Association