Over the last few weeks, I’ve had the privilege to travel to two different dance team national championships, both as a spectator and a judge. It was a whirlwind of travel and allowed me to have a great time with some of my friends from all over the country. But on the way home, I really started to think about what these national championships mean to the dancers and coaches who compete. I know how much time and energy goes into competing, as well as the hard work on the backend from judges and companies who run the event.

I decided there were 5 lessons that really hit home for me this year, and I hope at least one resonates with you too.

1. Don’t let the fear of disappointment hold you back

When I talk to coaches who are preparing for nationals, they are often struggling with dancers who are not as motivated as the coach was hoping for. The dancers are acting lazy and don’t seem as invested in the competition as they should be.

I believe the dancers aren’t acting very motivated because they don’t want to be disappointed. In my experience, the “lazy” ones are afraid to put it all out there and not get what they were hoping for. 

What’s actually happening, is a fear of failure. And fear of failure is just a fear of shame

Fear of failure is really just a fear of shame.

In psychological terms there is a big difference between shame, guilt, and regret. Guilt comes if you feel bad about your actions. Regret comes from feeling bad about a lack of effort. But shame is the worst because it triggers you to feel bad about yourself. That distinction is really important. 

If you think your dancers might be holding back because they don’t want to be disappointed, sit down and talk to them about what’s really holding them back. Hopefully they don’t feel any guilt at this point, but remind them they don’t want to feel guilty if their actions now hurt the team later. Do they fear regret? Then more effort is the answer and coming off the floor with no regrets is an amazing accomplishment regardless of standing at the end of the competition. 

More than likely, they are holding back because of a fear of failure. And that means they are afraid of being ashamed. 

If you see this in your dancers, I encourage you to push back on that fear. See if they admit that’s what’s going on and normalize that emotion. You can affirm for them that it’s normal to have that shameful reaction. But there is nothing to be ashamed of if they’ve worked hard and done their best. They may regret not putting in the effort or feel guilty about a bad decision that hurt their team, but there is never anything to be ashamed of.  Reiterate that going to nationals and putting a routine on the floor that was just ok, knowing you could have done better (evoking guilt), is way worse than giving it everything and falling short (no shame, no guilt!)

Help your dancers take ownership of the fear and focus on what you can control (read more about that here). Remember, the self-pride that comes with performing under the lights and nailing it with your team is worth every bit of the fight and commitment it takes.

2. In the end, competition is about the people, not the hardware

No matter how it ends up, your experience at dance team national championships (or any competition for that matter) is about the people on this journey with you. It’s about your journey. It’s about your story with all of the people around you as the key players.

Dance team national championships are not about the trophies, rankings, placements, and accolades. Sure, those things are nice, but in the end, we don’t tend to remember exactly where we placed years later. But we remember the memories we made with the people on this journey with us.

Focus on the people in your circle. The other humans who want connections and need your friendship. Make memories. Be silly. Work hard. Put something on the competition floor that you’re immensely proud of. But don’t make it about the hardware, because that doesn’t last. The people do.

3. You control your experience 

I don’t think many dancers approach nationals with the idea that they control the experience they are about to have.  They leave for the airport thinking, “I hope we have a great time.” “I’m nervous it won’t turn out how we want.” 

But this line of thinking is missing the whole point. Your attitude, how you deal with weird issues that come up, how you handle challenges and conflict, how you talk to your teammates, how much stress you experience, is all within your control.

You can’t control the judges’ opinions, the order of competition, or anyone else’s actions. But you can control whether it’s fun, stressful, positive, or memorable.

Don’t spend time worrying about the things out of your control. Focus on what is in your control, how you interpret your circumstances, and how much you focus on the positive of your time there. Your experience is up to you.

4. You’re at Dance Team National Championships! Live in the moment, not in the past or the future

It’s so easy to get caught up in what’s coming up next… We have two routines and only 45 minutes in between. What happens if we don’t make finals? How will I feel after my final performance as a senior? 

It’s equally simple to get caught up in worrying about the past… I can’t believe I made that mistake. We should have eaten a healthier breakfast. I wish I had talked to coach about this beforehand.

The real challenge is staying present in the moment. At the recent national championships, I often heard side conversations as dancers were sitting around me or walking around the venue. They were discussing what they were worried about coming up later today, or usually, complaining about yesterday. 

None of that will serve you. So just as you want to stay in the moment of each count as you dance, fight to stay present in each moment of the whole event. Only worry about what’s in your control and find the joy in the little moments. They’ll be gone all too soon.

5. Don’t compare your year 2 with their year 10

Whenever a team is doing exceptionally well, and it feels like they came out of nowhere I usually hear a lot of jealousy. We want to find a reason that they are successful, and we aren’t. (If you define success as hardware that is, and if you do, see #2).  

I hear dancers and coaches alike talk about how that team must have a big budget for trainers and choreographers, or how they must have an administration who supports them. They’ll say, “I heard they have a dedicated dance room, so they never get kicked out of their practice space.” Or, “I heard they practiced 30 hours a week!”

And maybe those things are true, but what’s probably more accurate, is that team has put in 10 solid years, under the radar, doing the work, and slowly improved and worked their way up. So, if you are in year 2 or 3 and you look at these “big” teams and think, “We’ll never have what they have so we’ll never make it” stop and consider the back story.

You don’t know every team’s history, what they’ve been through, or their story of effort and dedication.

Don’t look at these teams you admire and compare where you are now to where they are now and forget what they had to do to get there. 

Just like we do on social media, it’s easy to look at a team’s Instagram and think they have it all together and it’s all so easy for them. I guarantee, it’s not easy for them. And it probably hasn’t been easy for years, they are just now stepping into the limelight and it looks like it happened over night.

Don’t compare your year 2 with someone else’s year 10. Everyone makes progress at their own rate, and you don’t know anyone else’s story. You only know your story, and I hope it’s a story you remember to be proud of.

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