Episode 101: Mindset Pillar
Chelsea: My goal as an educator is always to have a positive impact on the dancers and other teachers that I work with, and for years, I kept that basic idea in the back of my mind for every decision I made and every interaction I had, and it has served me well. Then about 15 years and a doctorate later, I’ve created a framework for all of the material that I teach, and I figured it was time I share that with all of you.
Hi, it’s Dr. Chelsea. This is the Passion for Dance podcast, and you may have heard there are four pillars to this podcast: mindset, resilience, motivation, and community. All of the episodes revolve around those themes, and I chose that structure because it comes directly from my Positive Coaching Framework. To be a coach with impact, you have to teach your dancers how to have a tough mindset, fierce motivation, and steady resilience, and I believe the best way to accomplish that is with a community next to you.
I also want to pause and say I use the word coach a lot. I’ve talked about that before, and I don't just mean coaches who are teaching dance in a school setting. This also applies to studio teachers and anywhere we are teaching dance. I just like the coach framework because our dancers are athletes, therefore, we are coaches. So, that’s why I use that word. If you're more familiar with teacher or more comfortable with that, that’s okay too, but just know if you consider yourself a dance teacher, this is all still relevant.
So today, I’m gonna show you how to be that dance coach who truly makes a lasting positive impact on your athletes by focusing on those three areas of mindset, motivation, and resilience. Of course, we do that by teaching dance. That’s the vehicle with which we teach these mental skills, but teaching dance isn't like it used to be. In 2023, our athletes are different, coaching is different, conversations around mental skills and mental wellbeing are not what they used to be, and, for the most part, it’s a good thing. But it can feel hard to balance all of those expectations that are placed on you as a teacher and still connect with your dancers in a way that creates a long-lasting impact. So, this is part one of a three-part series where I will show you how to be a coach with positive impact.
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Welcome to the Passion for Dance podcast. I’m Dr. Chelsea, a former professional dancer and dance team coach turned sport psychologist. This podcast focuses on four main pillars: motivation, resilience, mindset, and community. Each week, you’ll learn actionable strategies, mindsets, and tips to teach your dancers more than good technique. This is a podcast where we can all make a lasting impact and share our passion for dance. Let’s do this!
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So, does this sound like you? It’s hard to know you're making the right decision. It often feels lonely, or you know you’re about to just hit that burnout wall. You're struggling to get it all done and stay personally motivated. If that feels like you, I want to say it’s not your fault. You’re probably coaching the way you were coached, and maybe you know there’s a better way. And dancers are coming to our studios with different skills and different challenges that we haven't seen before. So, if you want to know how to coach today’s dancers and still be able to challenge them and care for them so that we can bring out their best, that’s what we’re here to do.
So, imagine what it would feel like to have this framework of positive coaching strategies and know where you should put your effort instead of trying to do everything all at once. That’s what this is all about, this Positive Coaching Framework, so that you can be the coach who supports your athletes’ growth on and off the dance floor using positive psychology rather than coaching from fear and punishment, which is probably where a lot of us grew up. So, that’s, again, what this Positive Impact Framework is all about. It’s being a coach who teaches dance in a way that supports their growth on and off the floor. We care about them as humans. It’s not just what they can do for us onstage.
Before I go any further, I want to say that if you are visual, as many of us are, this whole framework for positive coaching has a visual. It’s actually a Venn Diagram with three key areas of mindset, resilience, and motivation, and the subtopics that go with them. So, if a visual will help you, then go to the website for this episode www.chelseapierotti.com/101 for the picture. That link is in the show notes.
Pillar One: Building Dancers Who Have a Tough Mindset – 4:35
So, in today’s episode, again, part one of three, we’re gonna dig into the first pillar: building dancers who have a tough mindset. I hear all the time from coaches who have dancers that just don't believe in themselves. They have horrible self-talk. They beat themselves up all the time. They can’t take corrections without crumbling or accusing the teacher of being mean. In order to help our dancers build that tough mindset, there are three specific tools we can use. We can build their confidence, we can help them establish positive self-talk, and we can teach them to focus on what’s in their control.
First Tool: Building Confidence – 5:15
Starting with building confidence, you know this is an area of focus for you as a teacher if you have dancers who don't believe in themselves, where you think they're better than they think they are. You have to constantly tell them to believe in themselves, their confidence maybe gets shattered at one small setback, or maybe you have some dancers where they’re working on their confidence, maybe they believe in their teammates, but they come up against any big challenge and they struggle. One negative judge’s critique, one big mistake onstage, or one turn section they deem to be too hard, and they stop trying. Our goal as educators, of course, is to have this group of confident dancers who will take on any challenge, and you can create that.
Improving confidence is a big topic. I’ve covered it a few times in past episodes, so you can check out episodes 9, 26, and 99, and all of those will help you with new ideas to help build confidence. Overall, the idea is that you focus on small actions every day that help build confidence. It’s about the language you use in class, giving your dancers challenges in a supportive environment so they start to believe they're the type of person who can handle that.
Second Tool: Establishing Positive Self-Talk – 6:29
The second tool you can use to build a touch mindset is to help a dancer establish positive self-talk. You know this is a big concern for your dancers if they talk negatively to themselves and get in their own way. Sometimes that negative self-talk is in their head. It’s their thoughts, right? But sometimes it’s out loud. So, I want to ask you: what do your dancers say when they come offstage? Do they ever say, “Ugh, that was terrible!” “Oh, I completely messed that part up.” If they are verbalizing things like that out loud, I guarantee what they are saying in their own head is even worse.
You may have dancers who are working on their self-talk (they're aware that it’s a problem), or you may have some who are so caught up in that sea of negativity, they don't even realize how bad it is. If you know it could be better, those negative thoughts are still getting in your dancers’ way, we have to do something to help teach them how to change it. The goal is to help them understand that dancers can turn the negative into a positive or just at least be more emotionally stable through the challenges. They can learn to control their self-talk or notice it differently, where the negative thoughts don't have the power over them anymore.
I was talking to a few studio teachers recently who were rightfully worried that the negative self-talk from their senior dancers was happening out loud so often it was going to trickle down to the younger studio dancers and teach them that’s okay, and I assured them that they're not alone. I’ve heard this from studios and school teams all over the country, and they're right to be worried about it. The last thing you want is for your whole studio or team to have this culture where negative self-talk is the norm, that our younger dancers learn, “Oh, when I get offstage, I’m supposed to freak out about how it went, and I’m supposed to be worried about all the little things that went wrong.” We don't want that message to carry down.
So, when I work with coaches inside my Relevé Membership or through private workshops, we focus on not just a growth mindset and that positive self-talk, but we actually focus on a fixed mindset and the negative self-talk that’s happening because, see, we all have a fixed mindset sometimes. What I found recently is that dancers need help identifying what is triggering them into that fixed mindset. When is it coming up for them because that’s when all the negative self-talk gets worse, and so, if they can identify when it’s starting, they can be more aware of it and use these strategies to help turn it around and just not give it that power anymore.
I also talk a lot about this kind of mindset issue, so if you think this is something you want to drill in on, you can hear more about it in episodes 51 and 73.
Third Tool: Control the Controllables – 9:19
The third key skill to teaching this tough mindset is to impart my sage-old wisdom, control the controllables. If you’ve been with me for a while, you know it well. It's the idea of focusing on what is in your control and letting go of the rest. This sense of worrying about what’s not in your control is usually what’s at the root of a dancer’s stress and anxiety. Their stress is worse because they're worried about all these things they can't do anything about. And so, you just spiral.
There are many dancers that I’ve talked to that when they're worried about things they can't do anything about, they are going to mentally spin out on those things because there is no solution that you can do anything about it. They're consumed with worry over what a teammate is doing or the fact that some other company just used the same music, or the big one I see the most with dancers right now, they're worried about what other people think. It might be being worried about what their teacher thinks or what their parents think or what a judge thinks, but when you spend all of this mental energy being worried about what someone else thinks, you don't have the mental bandwidth left to focus on the things that are gonna actually help you improve during class or perform well in competition.
Sometimes you may have dancers who recognize when this is happening, but they still focus on the wrong things. So, instead, as the coaches, we can help them focus on what is in their control and then use that to stay focused and motivated during your entire season. I’ve talked about this a lot before on the podcast as well. If that is something you want to dig into and learn more about, you can listen to episodes 5, 50, and 87, and it’s a constant topic when I’m working with dancers and coaches.
I think it’s like an easy catch phrase. You know, it’s easy to say. It feels like it should be easy to do. But, in fact, it takes a lot of practice and education to make it stick. You have to be a broken record. So, one of my coaches inside that Relevé Membership sent me this message after we talked a lot about this concept, and she had been teaching her dancers about it for years. You never know when a huge challenge will come your way and you’ll be glad you’ve been talking about this and planted the seeds so that your dancers can have a tough mindset when it matters.
Message From Coach Meredith – 11:44
So, this is what Coach Meredith had to say:
“I’ve preached control the controllables to my team for years now, but never was it so tested than our 2020 season when we had no less than 5 dancers have to withdraw from the team just a few weeks before competition. Our leadership team prepared to share the news by mapping out a full plan of our competition routines: new formations, who would have to tweak choreography, a timeline for how we could teach these changes. When we sat down to share the news, we gave the team space to process their feelings. There was frustration, sadness, anxiety, and then we pivoted. This was our chance to practice what we preach. We could not control the reasons these dancers had to leave the team. It was time to focus on what we can control, and with that, we laid out our plan and began to execute. The team appreciated our leadership team, honored their feelings, but then helped them dust it off, shift the focus away from bemoaning what was unchangeable and take action on what we could control. We were able to end it with a very successful season.”
So, I share that to say a lot of these mindset skills are going to take time, with all of these tools: building confidence, establishing positive self-talk, learning to control the controllables. It’s the long game. These skills don't get perfected overnight. I have heard from some coaches who saw a very real difference in how their dancer responded to a challenge just the day after talking about this, but generally, it’s going to take a long time. So, just like you might learn the basics of a pirouette pretty quickly, you will spend years and years perfecting it, and there’s always something new to learn, and these mindset skills work under that same principle.
That said, I believe we do have to intentionally teach these mindset skills to our dancers, and many of them aren't getting these mental skills anywhere else. However, we don't have to add in all this extra time to our already busy schedules. We can teach these skills in our regular practices, your normal technique class and choreography sessions. We can be aware of our language, use some simple exercises to consistently present challenges in a supportive environment so that our dancers learn to believe in themselves. They learn to talk nicely to themselves and redirect when they're worried about something that’s hindering their ability to perform.
Relevé Membership – 14:02
So, now I’ve mentioned Relevé a few times, I figured now’s a good time to explain it a little bit. It is a monthly membership for dance educators (both studio and school coaches) to focus on learning these key pillars of coaching with impact. There are dozens of mental skills downloads within the membership that apply to all three areas. So, there are activities and advice to do with mindset, resilience, and motivation, plus some extras about things like leadership development, planning, and creating that personal philosophy.
As I said before, I believe we learn these skills best within a community. So, there is a whole community of like-minded teachers and coaches that help each other out regularly with all the stress of coaching. We have community calls, a private podcast that’s just for the membership, and an online chat forum that’s always buzzing with support, both tangible support (“Help me solve the problem”) and just a listening ear when we need to vent.
So, if you’d like to join us, you can find out more at www.chelseapierotti.com/membership. The link is in the show notes or send me a DM or an email. I’m happy to send it to you. The Relevé Dance Coach Membership is there to replenish your personal, mental, and emotional energy and help you create dancers who are mentally tough, resilient, and motivated.
I hope hearing about these three mindset tools to create a mentally tough dancer was a little dose of inspiration. If you have dancers who struggle with negative self-talk or low confidence, you can help them learn these skills through dance, and I’m here to help you do it.
So next week, I’ll be back with part two of the series to talk about helping our dancers create a sense of steady resilience, and until then, thank you for being here, and keep sharing your passion for dance with the world!
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