Dance team can be stressful, and we all handle that stress a little differently. But did you know there are two types of people when it comes to our stress reactions? There are dandelions and there are orchids…

Dandelions are resilient. No matter how many times you pull the weeds in your yard, they’re likely to come back. They even sprout through concrete! A lot of your athletes are dandelions. They are resilient and have a more calm reaction to stress. They are better able to cope with their emotions and bounce back from adversity. In fact, research shows us that most kids are dandelions. Many of your dancers are able to handle stressful environments and they can thrive in nearly any situation. But not all kids.

Some people are orchids

Orchids take very specific care and are fragile flowers. Similarly, orchid dancers are more sensitive and emotionally reactive to their environment, both good and bad. So, if things are stressful, they are likely to act out or struggle to keep it together.

The difference between orchid people and dandelion people is actually biologically based and it has to do with how reactive their brain is to cortisol and other stress hormones. Some people have brains that are more reactive when they face a lot of change, challenging situations, or loads of stress. That reactivity can make them moody, act out, overly emotional, or shut down.

So why do you care as a coach? Because you have orchid dancers on your team. And while you can’t control their biology or their home life, you can control the environment you provide on your team.

The more responsive brain works both ways…

Orchid children are more responsive to the environment whether it’s positive or negative. So while they are likely having a harder time with the challenges of 2020, they are also going to be more positively responsive to a healthy, nurturing environment. That’s the power of coaching. You can be the person to provide a positive environment that your orchid dancers need.

How to know if your dancer is an orchid dancer

The truth is, I bet you had an intuition right away when I started talking about orchids. But if you aren’t sure, present your team with a mildly stressful task at practice and watch their emotional reactions. Or just consider how each dancer tends to handle stress. Most coaches who have been with a dancer for even a few months can start to tell how they handle stress. If you are working with high school and college athletes, you can also ask them to journal about their stress response or talk about it as a team.

What makes the science behind orchids vs. dandelions so interesting to me is that there is solid experimental science behind this analogy. Medial researchers conducted experiments using difficult memory tests and even lemon juice to study how reactive the brain is to outside stimulation. While we can’t do true experimental research with our dancers, of course, you can reflect and talk to your dancers to get a better idea of who might be your orchids.

I bet if you thought about how they each react to a stressful environment, you would intuitively know who your orchids are on the team. 


How to support orchid dancers

One of the best things you can do for your more sensitive athletes is to provide a consistent schedule. This is true in a normal year, but in 2020 it’s even more important. As much as you can, create a sense of routine. Even if that routine isn’t “normal” if it’s consistent you will help ease their stress. Warm-up in a similar way, always leave practice with the same chant, do certain drills or training exercises on the same day of the week.

Now I understand there are a lot of things out of your control right now, but make sure you take the reins of whatever is in your control and make a routine out of it. By giving your dancers some consistency in their lives you’ll support all of your dancers’ mental health. But your orchid dancers will benefit the most. They may even begin to THRIVE on your team because you’ve created a positive environment for them when everything else in the world is upsidedown.

The other challenge with orchid dancers is they might shy away from challenges or be scared to go out of their comfort zone. It’s a fine line for a coach to walk… you need to understand their heightened stress and don’t push them too far, but also know they need a bigger nudge than your dandelion dancers or they may never try anything new.

What matters, is that you recognize there are differences in your athletes and how they respond to stress. Just knowing the difference and being on the lookout for it, will allow you to be a more responsive and supportive coach. And that is how you help each of your dancers thrive.

Want more? The book by Dr. Thomas Boyce is The Orchid and the Dandelion: Why Sensitive Children Face Challenges and How All Can Thrive

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