Chelsea: Building team culture takes work, but what do you actually do in order to help build that positive culture with your dancers? Hi, it’s Dr. Chelsea. This is the Passion for Dance podcast, and today I’m gonna share an interview with Jennifer Koonce who has been coaching for over 25 years. She is a sought-after judge and choreographer and currently owns a very successful all-star studio in Virginia. Jen shares her perspective on setting boundaries and creating that positive culture in the studio, plus some great ideas about empowering her coaches and how they end practices with what she calls, The Finisher, to boost team morale.
She has some great advice on how her coaches and dancers discuss wins and losses in a way that the athletes stay humble but motivated and stick around for the end for a great idea to incorporate into your end-of-year banquet. Here’s my conversation with Jen.
[Motivational Intro Music]
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!
[Motivational Intro Music]
Chelsea: Hi, Jen! Thank you so much for joining me. Welcome!
Jen: Thank you! So excited to be here.
Chelsea: I’m so happy that you reached out and that we got to connect and hear more about your world because I think, very quickly, we realized how much we share similar values and approach to teaching dance. Will you share a little bit about who you are and what you do?
About Jen – 1:52
Jen: Absolutely! So, I am Jen Koonce. I own Adrenaline Studio, and we are located in Northern Virginia close to the DC area. I’ve owned the business since 2003. So, my business started out as an after-school program. I started out as a coach in 1995 for high school teams. I’ve been coaching since then, so I’m coming up on, holy cow, almost 30 years of coaching. It’s a little crazy.
But my studio started as an idea, started as an after-school community program, which infiltrated into a business, which infiltrated into me deciding that I wanted to open a brick and mortar. But, you know, I kind of had two parallel tracks running. I was running after-school programming. We were reaching 600-800 kids a year. Kids were like, “Where’s your studio? Where’s your studio?” I’d be like, “Well, you can go here,” or, “You can go there,” or, “You can go here.” And I was also running all-star programs at several different studios at the same time that were farther away from the house. So, kind of parallel tracks of coaching versus owning a business.
Eventually, I read a book, and I can't remember what the name of the book is. I’m gonna have to find it and share it, but it was such an impactful book to me, and it was about women starting a second career or starting over or starting something new. I’m an educator. I have a degree in secondary education. I was a high school teacher. I have two Master’s degrees in teaching and thought that’s the end-all. “I’m just gonna be this for the rest of my life. I’m gonna coach,” but there was something itching, and so, I read this book, and it was just story after story after story of women over 40 who just created a new career, created a new business, started over and made a change, and I was like, “You know what? I could do this! This is something I want to do,” because I wanted the control of running a studio based off of my coaching experience and studio experience growing up but more focused on team style, team dance, and a team approach.
So, I opened the studio with my husband as my business partner in 2013. So, we are coming up on our ten-year — next year will be our tenth season as a competition studio. So, we started in a little 2,500-square-foot space thinking, “You know what? We give it a shot. If it blows up in my face and fails, at least I said I tried,” and that was sort of my approach of I can always go back to coaching. I could always go back to doing what I’m doing. But I’m just gonna give this a shot because if I don't, I’m gonna look back at myself 20 years from now and say, “Why didn't you give it a shot?”
Jen: We’ve moved into a 7,200-square-foot facility. We have five studios. It’s been great.
Chelsea: I think that’s amazing! I love hearing the second-act part of that story, and that’s wonderful, and I think there are a lot of us in dance that feel like, “No, there’s one track. There’s one thing I’m supposed to do.”
Chelsea: “And even if it is the thing that I’m really good at, okay,” but, like you said, that itch. “But is there more?”
Chelsea: So, I would love to talk as a studio owner and kind of getting that perspective from you. I’m sure throughout that journey there have been some highs and lows, right?
Chelsea: It sounds like it’s the right path for you and you've enjoyed it, but that doesn't mean it’s all wonderful, right? [Laughs]
Chelsea: There are those highs and lows.
Jen: That’s right. [Laughs]
Chelsea: Do you feel like there are some of those lows that have helped your studio grow and what you've learned in those low points that have helped you continue to grow as much as you have?
The Lows and Studio Growth – 5:17
Jen: Part of coaching in this industry, we all talk about the relationship with the kids and how you want to support them, and you want to be a part of it, and I’ve seen, over the years, so many times relationships with coaches and kids, not being inappropriate, but being beyond what it really should be. There have got to be some boundaries, and I think we all know USASF rules, and we all know SafeSport, and we all are greenlit and all of these things, and it’s so easy now to slide into a mentoring relationship that, in my opinion, is not appropriate.
So, for example, at the studio we have a lot of boundaries with our coaches and our kids, and we say, “You cannot follow them. They can follow you on Instagram because you can't control that, but you should not be following them.” So, I personally don't even follow kids at the studio. They’ll follow me, but I don't follow them. Calling them, having their number — we always say, “You should have a group text. You should be on a GroupMe. There always should be a parent, if you're gonna reach out to a kid,” and it’s such a hard line because I’m a mother of two teenage boys. So, for me, if I text a kid, I know where my intention is, and I know where my boundary is. These are like my children, but I don't think that the coaches always get that, and so, I think one of the biggest lessons I learned over the years is just really monitoring that boundary because we did have a situation where a coach got so close to some kids, and, you know, there’s always that weird mindset of, “Ooh, I could do this with these kids,” and then it becomes a problem for you as an owner.
And so, there were a couple situations where we came close to that, and I just really dug into the boundaries of how do you separate those boundaries and be appropriate. I think a lot of that is coach’s training. We really talk to the coaches a lot about what is a good relationship and what is a relationship that you don't necessarily need to be in. You don't need to give advice on the boyfriend, but you can give advice about, “Hey, here are some resources you could look at,” or, no, you shouldn't drive them somewhere, or, no, you shouldn't go meet them for coffee unless it is at a competition and we’re all there and we’re all there and we’re all together. That’s been a big lesson, I think, as an owner is to really dig into the boundaries with your kids to coaches, coaches to parents, parents to owner. Parents and coaches, that’s a huge one.
Jen: I’ve had so many parents who just start getting into those relationships, and then they're inviting them to their house to do privates, and then they’re, “Can you babysit my kids?” That always just leads to areas in your studio where a coach is like, “Oh, I feel so bad. I talked to their mom,” and you're like, “But this is a business. This is a business.”
Jen: “You're an instructor. You are an employee. That is a client.” And so, I think that understanding client versus employee, client versus coach, is hard. I mean, that could be a whole other podcast, my goodness, just talking about how to really help young instructors, young coaches, understand where that boundary is. And I have some that are really natural at it. I have some great instructors, like one that is 23, one that’s 25, and they get it. They're just like, “Nope, I ain't your friend, but I’ll listen to you. But I’m not your friend,” and they're really good at it. And I’ve had others that just sort of muffle that line, and I’ve had to really redirect them.
Jen: So, that’s been the hardest lesson for me is really just learning how to have boundaries. So, I don't know. I feel like I’m going off on a tangent.
Chelsea: No, it’s okay. It’s a valuable one, if that.
Chelsea: I agree that boundaries are such a huge part of our own protection from burnout. I mean, you say you’ve been coaching 30+ years. Most people don't make it that far, and a lot of times boundaries are why and not being able to keep that separation and keep that sense of, “I know who I am, and I can be true to myself while holding that boundary.”
Chelsea: And that’s true for a coach, but I think as an owner, it’s a higher level because now you add so many other levels of liability to it. But that’s such great advice, and I appreciate the transparency. I think that helps a lot when you’ve said exactly what you will and won't do, and like you said, why. It’s not just, “I’m being mean, and I have these rules.” It’s like, “No, it’s out of love and care and also protection for all of us in making sure this is a safe and healthy place for everyone to be.” So, I do. I think that’s a really important conversation to be had.
Having Your Instructors’ Backs – 9:32
Jen: Yeah, and a quick caveat to that is one of the things that I always make sure my instructors know is that I’ve got your back. That’s sort of my thing. Unless you break a rule or a legal rule, but I always tell the coaches, “I’ve got your back. I will always be in your corner until you give me a reason not to be. And so, I think just that constant message of — because it is scary when a parent gets upset. I mean, I’ve had parents upset with my coaching.
Jen: And, you know, “Oh, you're so mean,” and I’m like, “Really? Come on.” But I’ve had so many times where a coach has been upset thinking that I’m gonna take the side of the parent. And I’m like, “No.” I think the message to the coaches from me as the owner, they're my team. So, not only are we coaching teams, but I have to coach that team, and that team has to be whole, and that team has to be loved, and that team has to feel valued, and I have to have that positive growth mindset with them as well. So, I always tell them, “I’ve got your back! So, no matter what happens, no matter what a parent says or a kid says to you, just come to me. I’d rather us talk it through.” So many times coaches have said, “Hey, here’s what happened in class. The kid was upset. The parent might email you.” I’m like, “Listen, I love that. I don't like surprises. So, amazing. Thank you so much,” and we get through it, and we talk about it.
But that’s been a huge lesson for me, too, is to always — I don't think at the beginning I did that. I don't think in my first couple years I really took the mindset of I have to treat these people like my little family, and I have to care for them, because they're just as vulnerable as the kids sometimes. They need to be loved. We all do.
I mean, I walked in the other day to coach my senior girls, and I’m, like, older than their mothers, and I had on a sweatshirt and this cool jacket, and I had a baseball hat on. I just walked into practice like that, and one of the girls was like, “Oh, my god, you look so cool! When you just corrected us just now, your whole vibe made it look so cool,” and I laughed and giggled and thought, “Oh, my god, that made my whole day.” How stupid, right? But it made my day, and I thought, “Okay, I’ve got to remember these things. It made me feel good, so I need to make sure that those kids feel good.” It’s those little things. It’s that noticing. It’s that support. It’s that, “I’ve got your back.” So, something as little as a silly compliment for me walking in feeling like I looked horrible that day, and the kid was like, “Oh, my god, you're so cool!”
Jen: Just funny little things like that.
Jen: But it’s always a reminder to me to turn around and take that message and remember that when I’m dealing with my coaches and my teams and my kids.
Chelsea: Yeah, I would love to take that the next step because I think you're starting to go into culture.
Jen: Yeah. Yeah.
Chelsea: And your studio has that strong culture, and I think, as you’ve said, it comes from you to your staff to your athletes. You do have to work with your coaches about how they set up the culture that is in every room that you're not in. So, will you speak to that culture a little bit and how you’ve created your positive culture?
How Jen’s Cultivated Positive Studio Culture – 12:31
Jen: Yeah, absolutely. Just the other day, even though we have missions and values and business plans and all that good stuff, just the other day — we have a coaches meeting once a month. It’s early morning. We do an eight o’clock breakfast, and so, I make breakfast for them once a month. Sometimes I buy bagels. Sometimes I actually cook pancakes. You know, I just try to always be energetic and excited for them, and they don't love that it’s an eight o’clock meeting, but it’s the one day — it’s once a month of Saturdays — where we have this alternative schedule, and it’s the one day that they can all kind of be there. So, I’m like, “Listen, I love you. If you show up, I’ll throw food at you. We’ll have a great time.”
So, we do a meeting once a month Saturdays, and I didn't have a great agenda for the last meeting we had, which was just two weeks ago, and I thought, “Okay, I’m not gonna waste their time, so what would be an asset for them?” So, I actually said, “You know what? We’re gonna revisit our mission and our values, and I’m gonna have them tell me, based on what I’ve put out, what they think.” And so, I put up our mission, and I put up what I’ve had in there, and it needed tweaking. It honestly needs updating, and so, I was like, “You know what? I’m gonna make them do it.” That’s something that I know you’ve talked about in one of your podcasts about the ownership of being a part of that process, and I got some really great feedback from them and some really honest feedback.
I wrote up the mission of Starbucks, and I wrote the mission of Amazon, and I wrote the mission of all these big companies, and I said, “This is how they view their mission and their values. This is what I said, which I know needs updating, and I know we can do better. So, tell me what you think.” They really got into it. I was surprised that they were as into it as they were because sometimes you think Saturday morning you're gonna be like, “Yeah, whatever. That sounds great.” But I was really happy with them.
Chelsea: I love that you bring the coaches into it and that you have this conversation with them. Have you ever asked your dancers? Have you ever brought your athletes into the conversation?
Jen: Yeah, absolutely. As a matter of fact, anticipating coming in to talk to you today, I actually spoke to two of my senior dancers. I didn't get a chance to get to the younger ones, but I grabbed two of my seniors, one that’s graduating this year who has been dancing since she was ten years old (maybe even nine) with us, and another one who came to us a little bit later, and they both are tremendous leaders. They're both captains on teams. We do captains on our older teams (on our senior teams). I asked them the same question, like, “Talk about winning versus losing (how to lose with grace) and what about mindset?” I didn't give them any direction. I said, “Just give me your thoughts.”
Both of them just knocked it out of the park. My one senior captain said, “The team wins with humility, not arrogance.” That was huge for her. She said, “I’ve learned so much about winning with humility and not arrogance, because that can be taken away from you in a minute. So, you win with humility, and losing should never be quitting. You can always do better.” She said, “Improvement and losing go hand-in-hand.”
Jen: I was like —
Jen: — that’s impactful that she picked up on that, and she said, “Positive mindset is always striving to be better,” and she said, “Positive mindset is contagious.” This was a direct reflection of a conversation she and I personally had about being a captain and how hard it is. I was like, “Yeah, it’s really hard.” And so, one of our conversations was centered around the contagiousness of who you are as a captain. I said, “I’m like your mama. I can go around, and I can be mother to everybody, but you now have the ownership to be a leader, and so, what are you doing to the girl that you never see, that you don't go to school with on your team of 27 kids? Do you go talk to her and make her feel welcome and a part of your team that you're a captain of?”
And so, that’s where she really just — I was very proud of her answer because I was like, okay, she’s listening!
Jen: And then one of my other captains, she just honed in more on the winning versus losing, and she said, “We don't need trophies to be proud. Being a part of a dance family and having pride in that is a win, and that no trophy or banner or award can ever take that away.” So, she really understands the idea of perfection is impossible, so you're never gonna be perfect. There’s always gonna be somebody better than you. There’s always gonna be somebody behind you. But being realistic with your goals and pushing yourself on those days that are hard, she said, “Be intentional about a positive mindset because it has to be felt.” She said, “Coming to practice after a tough loss,” I love this, “when everyone is feeling stressed and having to prep for another competition only in a few weeks, you have to come in ready to work.” She said, “You have to be grounded by the opportunity to be there and be humble enough to listen, and the captain needs to show the strength and compassion for that day and really just kind of be humbled and grounded.”
Even if it’s a win and you've got another competition the next week, you've got to come in humbled and grounded, and you can't take that with you. You have to put that win aside and say, “You know what,” we always tell the kids, “Dance like you're in last place.” Our big mantra — I guess this is a good way to lead out — is dance like you're in last place. One of the things we say often — and I have to give credit where credit’s due. My co-director says this all the time, and I got this from her. She said, “Where do you win, guys? You win in practice.”
Jen: “What you do on the court or the field or the stage is just a fun day and to reiterate what you've been doing, but where do you win? You win in practice because the wins don't matter out there. What matters is what you do in here, and this is what you're gonna take forever with you, so win in practice.”
Chelsea: Yeah, that’s great. Clearly, they’ve heard you. As we were saying before, sometimes we feel as teachers that we’re just talking into a void and they don't always hear us, but clearly they hear you.
Jen: “Is anybody hearing me?” [Laughs] Oh, yeah.
Chelsea: And it can feel very frustrating and lonely that nobody hears you. But it is. That repetition is necessary, and it is how you handle every practice and the small day-to-day that adds up to having that feeling at competition.
Jen: Yes, the details.
How Jen Empowers Her Coaches – 18:27
Jen: You know, I set up that culture of positivity. I always make sure that, as an owner, I come in looking professional, that I look rested, that I look energized to be there. And so, that plays such a huge role because I know we’ve had coaches that come in, and they look like they just woke up, and now we say, “Listen, you’ve got to come in looking like you're rested, energized, and ready to go. You've got to look the part, so that the kids look the part, so that they respect you and they have that culture of respect.” Just to reiterate that pride in our culture of who we are and why we’re here and that the bolt means something to them.
Two of my instructors (coaches) last year, came up with a new saying. We call it, “Bolts up,” and I thought that was brilliant, and I was like, “Bolts up!” And so, we have a little way that we do our little bolt, and they throw their bolts up. So, it was just really cool that they are engaged in that process and they’re proud of it.
Other ways that I do that: my coaches, also, are required to, once a month, observe each other. So, they have to pick somebody that they need to observe.
Chelsea: Oh, nice.
Jen: It could be 30 minutes, we don't care. Tag it onto before or after you're coming or going. But it can't always be in your own discipline. So, if you coach jazz, you can't always go to jazz. Go to acro that day. Go to hip-hop. Go somewhere else. And then on Saturday mornings, we usually do a little roundtable. “Real quick, tell me what you learned from so-and-so,” and it’s really cool and valuable to hear what they say about each other, and I think it gives the person who got observed pride because they’ll say, “Oh, my god. Your warm-up was so much fun! I loved it!” Just something as simple as that, and so, that’s a way that I keep them connected with each other.
Additionally, the whole team approach of our studio, it’s a little bit of a hybrid style because we do traditional studio stuff, but it is an all-star studio. We do all-star competitions. We also do solos, and we do pull-out groups, but because we’re a team, as you know, when you get to competition, we have 24 teams that we compete, and I only have 12 coaches. So, we are a smaller staff, but what we do is we make sure that everybody knows everybody’s routine. So, when you go back to warm up, if my mini jazz instructor needs to warm-up the senior hip-hop team, that they're gonna feel empowered to do so and by being involved in that environment. So, all the kids know all the coaches. The coaches come in and out of rehearsals. It’s not a closed rehearsal. It’s not mine; it’s ours. I’m a big proponent of “we” not “I.” I’m constantly using the word we.
Jen: Another way that I try to empower my coaches and create a culture of cohesiveness is if I’m in a rehearsal — and we’ve been doing this a long time as owners. We can spot things right away that we’re like, “That’s not gonna work on stage.” And so, rather than just like, “No, this doesn't work! Do it this way! Da, da, da. I know best,” and then walk out, I pull the coach aside, and I’ll say, “Hey, let’s try this,” and they’ll be like, “Oh, yeah. Let’s try that.” Sometimes I’ll even maybe not have time to do that. I’ll say to the kids, “Hey, guys. Your coaches and I were talking about how this might work better if we do it this way,” and I always say “we” even though it might have been my idea. I do that on purpose because I don't ever want someone to feel like I came into the room as mommy and took over, you know?
Jen: I’m trying to always include coaches in that process. Even if it’s something that I’m like, “You have to change this,” sometimes I say to the kids, “Hey, guys. I just came in, and I’ve been watching, and your coaches are doing a million things that are amazing, and I know they’ve told you this a hundred times, but this is gonna have to become a single, not a double,” or something like that with the youth kids so that they understand that we’re in that communication together.
Dress Code and Mirror Quotes – 22:06
Carrying that onto the kids, I know a lot of studios do this and a lot of teams do this. The kids have to come in looking a certain way. We expect them head-to-toe, to have their hair done, and we have the same leotards. We have the same everything. Dance teams are really good at that. Sometimes in the studio you can get a little slack with it, but we make sure that they're head-to-toe ready to go. And we always tell them, “Dress for the job you want. If you want to be on this team and you want to be front and center and you want to be on senior jazz someday even though you're a mini, you’ve got to dress like senior jazz.”
And reverse, we tell the senior kids, “You've got to come in looking professional. Don't come in here looking like you just woke up. Fix your hair. Make sure you look professional head to toe. Dress neat. Dress appropriate so that the little kids, when they see you, they're gonna be inspired by you.” So, we try to really have a professional atmosphere by the way we dress, the way we talk, the way we look, the way we walk into a room.
Another couple of things I do is we do quotes on the mirror. I do quotes on the mirror when we lead up to Worlds, which I now that’s not groundbreaking. Everybody does that kind of thing, but, you know, we put quotes on the mirror, and we have those — what do you call it — those markers that you write on the windows.
Chelsea: Yeah, dry-erase markers. Yeah.
Jen: We write in those dry-erase markers and stuff, and with my seniors, it’s so hard with the seniors to keep them motivated and keep that culture of continuing to work hard. So, what we do is I tried to think of ways — these past two years, I’ve done something different with the end of our rehearsals.
They come out. They're so tired. It’s always like, “I’m tired. I have homework. I‘m tired. I’m tired.” That’s their constant mantra: “I’m just tired.” There’s a lot going on. And so, I was like, “All right, well, how do I make this fun? How do we keep the culture alive? How do we keep them together?” So, at the end of our rehearsal, I mean, everybody always does a cheer-out. I think that’s pretty common. But we always, no matter what, cheer out. I don't care if it's been a horrible rehearsal, a great rehearsal, a long day, we’re outside. We always cheer out. That’s the last thing we do. We must cheer out.
The Finisher – 24:05
Jen: What I started doing last year is I created a thing called a Finisher, which I got from a workout. I’ve done Burn Boot Camps. I don't know if you've ever heard of Burn Boot Camps.
Jen: They're popular in our area, and they would do these things called Finishers at the end of their workout, and they were hard as crap.
Jen: They were like, you know, you have to do four minutes of lunges and all this, and I was like holy moly. But, man, you felt good at the end, and I thought, “You know what? I’m gonna start doing that with my kids. We’re gonna create Finishers.” So, I call it The Finisher, and I pulled out a poster board, and I wrote at the top — I mean, it’s so bad. It looks like a third grader. But The Finisher, and I name The Finishers. I call it The 50/50 or I call it The 20 Cents or we call it The Rock Your World or Lunge to the Cliff. We just come up with funny little names, and I give them a challenge, and it’s after our cheer out, so it’s optional. So, I say, “You don't have to stay. You may go. We have cheered out. You are done. If you would like to stay and challenge yourself with The Finisher, let’s do it.”
And so, we give them The Finisher, and I say, “When you're done, you have to sign the –,” so I section off a square, and they have to sign in a different color that they finished The Finisher, and I make it like a party. Like, I scream, and I yell, and I run around the room, and I cheer them on, and I clap, and I’m like, “You have to clap until everybody’s done!” When they're done I’m like, “Stay and clap,” if the last three are dying because they're on their 49th burpee and they can barely make it to 50. Everybody stays around and cheers for them. That’s been a really fun thing for my seniors to feel camaraderie there.
Jen: They're exhausted, but they're cheering each other on, and that carried over into a competition we did, sort of carried over, but it was the same premise. We just did a competition a few weeks ago where one of our biggest rivals was on stage. My girls had gone, and they got off, and we went around to watch the next team. They love to watch the teams after they're done and cheer them on. And this team, in particular, they're amazing. They're so good. They're so strong, amazing girls, but one of their tricks fell. Like, you could tell something went wrong, and you just kind of could see this sense of, “Oh, crap,” in their dancing. It started to just go downhill, and immediately I was like, “Let’s go!” We all started just cheering and clapping and yelling for them, “You got this, girls! You got this! Fight for it!” My girls were cheering for them even though they were both going for the same win.
So, I feel like that kind of, in itself, at practice cheering each other on kind of translates into them cheering on other programs.
Chelsea: Yeah, so many amazing little things in there. But I love it because people will ask, “How do you make a positive culture?” And they want what’s the trick, what’s the one thing to do.
Jen: It’s the little things. Little things.
Chelsea: Yeah, it’s not like you do this culture workshop on a Saturday and it’s done. It’s like, no, it’s how you approach everything. And so, as you said, bringing your teachers in on the values is huge. Having the quotes and the language you use, it feels little, but the power is not little. It’s very impactful for the dancers to hear your language, to hear the “we,” to see the quotes. I think all of that makes such a huge difference.
Be Grateful, Be Humble, Be Blessed – 27:16
Jen: One additional thing I’d love to add that I feel like we do a really good job of is one of my co-directors and I, we’re very big on the language of be a good human. When we go to competition, we say it all the time: “Be grateful, be humble, be blessed.” That’s what we always say: “Be grateful for every opportunity, be humble in what you do, and be blessed that you're here.” We just literally before every competition that comes out of somebody’s mouth somewhere, and the kids start to say it. What I’ve seen is our kids at competition — listen, we’re not perfect, and sure, there are some kids that are not humble, but for the most part, I feel like we have a really nice group of kids, and they're very humble. They just love to cheer other people on. They love to make friends. They love to run around. Of course, I have a co-ed program. I have 25 boys in our program, so they're a little on display. I always say, “You guys don't realize how unique you are, and you forget that, so you have to remember that in how you talk to people, in how you approach people.
One of my favorite stories from this year is I hired a new girl. She had been in New York for years and grew up in cheer and dance and was coaching all-star dance, and she called me. She applied to work for us, and I don't think we’re amazing. I mean, there are a million studios around us. Everybody’s great. So, I was like, all right, well, in the midst of our interview and our conversation, I said, “Well, can you tell me why did you choose to interview with me? Why do you want to be at Adrenaline, because there are a lot of studios around here that you could go to and get a really valued experience as an employee. So, tell me what it is that you like about us. What turns you on?” She said, “You know what? I’m gonna be really honest. It all started last year when we competed against you guys at a competition.” She said, “We were backstage warming up, and your kids came over and told my kids, ‘Good luck! We can't wait to see you onstage,’ and encouraged them in the warm-up.” She said, “I was so blown away by your kids.”
Jen: She said, “That was what spoke to me more than anything.” Not even to the choreography, nothing. She said, “It was just the fact that your kids came over and made my kids feel good.” She said, “It was unbelievable. That’s why I want to be at your studio.” And I literally had tears in my eyes as I was talking to her on the phone, and I was like, “That means more to me –,” I don't even know how we did at that competition. Who knows, but we don't talk about our wins and losses. We talk more about those experiences.
Chelsea: I want to take that just one more step further before we wrap up.
Chelsea: Once you’ve established this culture, and you’ve done all the little things, and, as you said, the more you talk about it, the more they will parrot it back, right, the more they hear you and it’s coming from them now.
Chelsea: So, I know that that’s the foundation, but then, as you said, sometimes you win, sometimes you lose. It doesn't mean that you're always gonna have the perfect event. So, how do you see that culture play into when things are not going well? If they do make a big mistake at a competition or they lose or they're disappointed, how they are able to handle that loss.
Handling Disappointment Through This Established Studio Culture – 30:24
Jen: Yeah, I love that question because we always tell the kids, “It doesn't matter if you win or lose. You need to be memorable.” We always say, “We want you to be memorable. That’s the most important thing is that you want to be the ones that people say, ‘Oh, I remember that group.’” Winning and losing is hard. There are times when you don't get the partial paid bid or you don't get the grand champ or you don't get that or you don't get this, and listen, we don't get it all the time, you know? We have a very successful studio, but we don't count our wins and losses; we count were you memorable, what did you do, how did you impact that performance, did you do your job. When they come off of the stage, if a trick fell or they gave their all and they just didn't do well, we don't dwell on how they scored there. We just say, “You know what? You guys did great,” even if they literally fell apart. It’s always like we don't talk about it at competition. We don't say, “You did great. You did bad.” It’s, “Guys, you did amazing! We’re gonna talk about it at practice.” We get to practice, and we go through the score sheets, and the score sheets are one person’s opinion on that day.
I judge, too, so I get it. There is so much subjectivity that goes into what a judge does, and so, where do you focus their wins and losses? How do you help them understand why that loss was hard or why that win was counted with a blessing because you could lose the next competition. So, we try to take the score sheets, and we try to talk about what you can control and what you can't control. And so, there are factors that you can't control. You can't control somebody’s opinion about your routine. You can't control the choreography judge. But there are three things you can control. You can control your spacing, you can control your uniformity, and you can control your showmanship. Those are the three things that you can control on that score sheet.
So, then, we say, “Okay, well, at this competition we got an 89. What do you want to do at the next competition? Where do you want your scores to be?” They say, “Well, we’d like to break 90.” “Okay, great. That’s our next goal.” So, we don't talk about getting a bid or we don't talk about all those little things. We just talk about the team, what the team can control, and what that team’s goal for the next competition is.
And so, everybody goes to a competition where there’s only one other program or you're categorized one of one. We find that a lot because we have a lot of boys in our program, so we have all these all-male teams. So, our all-male teams end up being one of one a lot, and how do I keep them humbled but motivated, you know? And so, we take the score sheet, and we say, “Well, is this where you guys wanted to be?” They're like, “Oh, well, that score was, you know — we’d like to do better.” “Okay, well, let’s look at what we did, and let’s talk about how we could do better.” So, it’s that growth mindset of always being able to be better than I am, I can get better.
So, I think that’s kind of how we approach the winning and losing. I mean, we’ve had some hard losses in the years. I remember my first year, my year one of — I’m in my tenth season now, but year one, I was pretty much by myself. I had a very small coaching staff. There were, like, four of us, and my senior co-ed, we got all the way to finals — we had grand-champed, and it was an amazing routine.
Jen: The stars aligned that year, and we just had an amazing routine. We got into the top three going into finals at Worlds. We were third, and I was like, “What is happening?” I thought, “Okay, just hold onto it! Just do what you did, and let’s hold onto it.” Well, one of our tricks fell, and we slid, and we dropped to fifth.
Jen: And I was like, “Ugh,” as a coach. Like, “Oh, my god! How am I gonna recover from this year one? I’ve failed! It didn't work,” and all these things, but the girl, poor thing, was crying. She felt so bad. I was like, “Listen. Whatever. You got up there. You got to top three. It’s okay.” So, I think I learned a lot, in that moment, to not focus on that stuff and to really go, “Okay, well, how do we back up? Let’s talk about winning and losing.” The kids are great about understanding that you win, but then you lose, and then you win, and then you lose. So, let’s not count the wins and losses; let’s count how you did each competition.
Chelsea: That’s so much of the stuff I know you've heard me say, like, the control the controllables, and that definition of success, I think, is really valuable because anytime you can put success within your own definition, within your control, right — if you define success as something you are capable of doing, then you can evaluate it. You can look at it. I also like hearing you talk about the score sheet. You can separate the emotion from how I felt in that moment —
Chelsea: — to let’s look at the evidence. What am I taking from this, what am I not, what do I agree with, what do we want to work on, what are we gonna own and take control of for next time.
Jen: Yeah, absolutely.
Chelsea: So I think that’s a wonderful approach for that. Thank you for sharing. I love that we had kind of two conversations that just flowed really nicely, though, about culture and about dealing with wins and losses and that, but any last tid bits of advice you’d like to share with our listeners before we wrap up?
Focus on Studio Growth at the Banquet – 35:21
Jen: Yeah, one thing is we do a banquet every year at the end of the year, and it’s always a challenge how to approach the banquet because there are so many success stories all year long, and we have 175 athletes, and I can't give everybody an award.
Chelsea: Right? Yeah.
Jen: But one of the things I started doing at our banquet is I write a little talk, and I talk at the banquet, and I try to say, “What is something that we did this year that we’ve not done in the past? What is a shining moment for us? What accomplishment have we made?” I swear, every year I keep thinking how is it gonna get any better, and every year something happens that we’ve done something that’s topped our game, and it’s not always a win. It’s crazy. And so, I always try to recognize the growth of the program in some way that is valuable to everybody in the room and not just, “Oh, my gosh, this one team went all the way!” Who cares. Nobody remembers who won last year. You get to Worlds, you get to Summit, you get to Nationals, and you're like, “Wait. Who won last year?” And you have to go back and look it up. Nobody remembers, but you can remember routines back, and you can remember all those things.
So, we try to focus, at the banquet, on what did we do this year that we outdid from last year.
Chelsea: Yeah, that’s great.
Chelsea: I think maybe that’s the theme I’m kind of getting from all of this is how much you as the owner, the teacher, the coach, whoever’s at the head of your program, how much you have, as you said, that influence in it’s how you show up, it’s in your language, it’s in your own mindset and your own approach and the conversations you have, and that’s what’s gonna trickle down to everything below you.
So, thank you so much, Jen. I really appreciate talking to you and getting to know you. Thank you for sharing with us today!
Jen: Thank you so much. What a great opportunity! I really, really just am humbled and blessed. Thank you so much for having me!
[Motivational Outro Music]
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