It’s the heat of competition season, which means more stress, long days, and dealing with the pressure you feel after losing (even if losing just means you were
This is a great time of year if everything is going according to plan. If you place where you want at the Saturday championship, no one is sick or injured, and school isn’t overwhelming, then competition season is amazing. Of course, that’s not normally our world during the winter months. Usually, we have competitive ups and downs, people are constantly sick or injured so we are trying to rework routines to make the best of it, and school is ramping up for finals.
What I want to talk about is losing. The thing we all go through but are for whatever reason rarely open about. What is a coach to do when you come off of a regional competition or national sendoff performance and feel like it was less than perfect? Or if an early season competition is flat out terrible? Or maybe it’s the last regional championship before your state finals. What if it’s awful!? How do you talk to your team when you “lose”? hether that means you didn’t place as high as you had hoped, or your big send-off and last chance performance before nationals fell flat.
We often sugar coat the truth after losing
For years I just avoided talking about it. I sugar coated things when talking to my team and always told other coaches everything is going great! You know, when you see a fellow coach at competition, they ask how it’s going and you say something like, “Great! Busy, but great. That’s how we like it right?!” with a big smile on your face. When in reality, you haven’t slept well at all, two girls on your team are injured and now your pom routine has visuals that don’t make any sense, and you can’t figure out how to keep everyone motived.)
That’s why I hope coaches realize that we are probably ALL feeling this way during our competitive season, so why not share our truths? Our team Instagram accounts are all covered in pictures of highly motivated hard working dancers, competitive success, and smiles and laughs at team bonding events. While that’s all true, we know that’s not all there is to it.
Why don’t we talk about the hard stuff? Competition season isn’t full of practices and performances that are all Instagram worthy.
Let’s talk about the hard stuff. Let’s talk about what it feels like when you lose. I challenge you to be honest with your team about the good, the bad, and the ugly. When a performance doesn’t go well, talk about it honestly. There’s a fine line between sugar coating the truth to make it all seem ok, and belittling the dancers for a terrible performance. There’s no place for either extreme, so consider how you talk to your team after a loss.
What do you say when things don’t go well?
My simple answer is to never use that word, lose. Or its twin sister fail. We don’t fail, we learn. We might fall short of a goal and we might wish we had done more but it’s not about placement, losing, or a sense of failure. It’s how you talk about that loss that will change your team.
Now let’s be honest, most of us are competitive and we HATE to lose. I do too. I want the ring and the respect and the sense of achievement that comes with a big win. But as much as I hate to lose, there are 3 things I hate more than losing. 3 things that keep me focused on what maters when my team has a difficult (or down right embarrassing) performance. And all three are part of our competition season open discussion to prevent a sense of loss or failure.
Leaving a competition or performance with a sense of regret is the worst feeling as a coach. I hate that pit in your stomach feeling that burns and won’t let you sleep that night when you are disappointed.
Many times, I have left a competition after not placing where we had hoped but knowing we did our personal best. That sting goes away pretty fast. You can watch that video with a smile. However, I have also left a competition with an intense sense of regret. What if I had changed that part? Should I have made a different decision? What if I prepared them better for X Y Z? Those days are so difficult. And what’s worse, is when my dancers feel regret. What if we had not slacked on our cardio workouts the last two months? What if we hadn’t complained about early morning practices? We should have worked harder to bond as a team and get over our egos.
You can prevent regret
In my opinion, regret is far worse than losing. Losing is just achieving a placement that is not first. There are a lot of those! But that placement alone is just a number and a few judges’ opinions on one day. You don’t have control over that. But you do have control over how you react to that placement, and regret is the worst feeling. You can prevent regret through proper preparation, both mentally and physically.
2) No Improvement
When we have a chance to do the same routine multiple times, all I really hope for is consistent improvement. So, if we “lose” two competitions in a row, that’s not necessarily a problem if there was solid improvement from the time before. It’s when I see a routine from one competition to the next (or even in practice one week to the next) and it looks like nothing has changed. It is so frustrating!!
The problem is, we are hard on ourselves as coaches and our dancers are hard on themselves too. All we see is the placement. The video with X number of mistakes, the sense of failure when a turn section is off, or someone put a hand down on an aerial. We tend to skip over the improvements and not recognize how much growth has really happened.
I challenge you to find the positives…
So, if you come off a “loss” this season, remember to watch the video one time just for the positives. Notice the successes, the improvements, and the things you’re proud of. Then start nit-picking the hell out of it, set your daily goals, and make it better for next time!
When my team comes off a performance filled with regret, the next step is usually the blaming. Even if they have enough self-control not to blame each other out loud, you can FEEL it. They know if someone messed up a transition or fell out of a trick. When the team starts to blame and point fingers, it’s far worse than losing. It’s the beginning of the end. There is no way a culture of blame will allow a team to make improvements before another performance, achieve any goals whatsoever, or have any fun for that matter.
That’s why the conversation about loss and blame has to happen before you compete. The discussion about how we are one team with responsibility for ourselves and each other. We are each accountable for our efforts, mistakes, successes, and attitudes. If the team has a culture of accountability, there is no need for blame. (Want to know more on teaching accountability? Check this out.) If there is
There is no room for blame on a team of accountable dancers
When a big mistake happens during your biggest event
One year in our state championship preliminary round one of my senior dancers fell out of a trick. This particular dancer… she doesn’t do that. She’s the consistent one. While we waited for finals, I was curious how that dancer and the team would handle it. I think 10 years ago I would’ve had a team that either made her feel bad about it or if nothing else, didn’t support and encourage her to not beat herself up.
Thankfully, this particular year we had a team of accountable and confident dancers. She immediately told me why she thought she fell out, and what she would do about it in finals, so it wouldn’t happen again. I saw her teammates tell her they were confident in her and they were not worried about it. To my joy and surprise, it was basically a non-issue. I’m happy to say we still got into finals with that mistake and she nailed it the second time around.
I think a large reason why the “failure” didn’t break us, is that she was an accountable dancer during all of the months preparing for the competition. She did the workouts, did the cardio training, put in maximum effort. So, there was no blame from her or her teammates and she had the confidence to nail it when it mattered. (Need more ideas on how to improve confidence? Here are 7 ways to build confidence
Blame Goes Beyond the Dancers
I hate blame. It serves no one and destroys everyone.
And that means you too coach. Don’t blame yourself for a loss any more than you would blame an individual dancer on your team. You can always look at the lessons to be learned, but if you have been showing up doing your best week after week, get off the blame train. You’re doing good work.