Episode 106: Mistakes
Chelsea: Hi, it’s Dr. Chelsea. Welcome to the Passion for Dance podcast where we talk about mindset, resilience, and motivation as a dance educator. As I usually do around this time of year, recently, I was reflecting on past seasons. Competitions are wrapping up. We’re getting home from Nationals. It’s a natural time in our dance season to start reflecting.
Whenever an event or a season is coming to a close, I like to think back and notice what went well, what didn't go so well, and what lessons have I learned. I coached for about 15 years, and so, this time I actually decided to take my reflection all the way back and think about lessons I’ve learned throughout my time, and since it’s always helpful to learn from someone else’s mistakes, that’s how I’m gonna walk through this. Here are my top ten mistakes I made as a new coach.
If you are new to coaching or teaching, I hope they help you learn from me. If you are a veteran out there with some lessons learned that you would like to share, I would love to hear from you. You can send me a voice note at www.chelseapierotti.com/message, and record a quick note. Tell me your biggest lesson as a dance educator. I would love to put these together into their own episode. So, for today, here are my biggest lessons.
[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]
Number One: I Worried About What Others Thought – 1:50
I constantly worried about what other people thought about me, and to be perfectly open with you, this is a flaw of mine in just about every aspect of my life. I wish I didn't care. I know I shouldn't always care so much, and yet, I can’t stop worrying about it. My inner dialogue is usually something like, “Wait, why did she say that? Does that coach really think I’m making the right decision, or is she trying to be nice? What would so and so coach that I admire do in this situation?”
So, while the rest of this list has a lot of mistakes that I made and then corrected once I was aware of the problem, I can’t say I ever fully stopped worrying about what other people think. But I am much more aware of it, and I’m aware of when it’s helpful and when it’s not. I’m better with time. I have more confidence in it now, but if you have a similar inner dialogue where you constantly question all of your decisions or how your class went that day, I encourage you to stay focused on you, your values, your goals, and try to let it go. It’s easier said than done. I get it. But I will say it does get better with practice.
Number Two: I Worried About What My Athletes Thought – 2:57
Similarly, I also always worried about what my athletes thought, which I still do. I mean, I care about how they are feeling and how they're experiencing things. But, again, as a natural consequence of my personality, I always worried about them a little excessively. I would think, “Did she understand that I was pushing her because I believe in her,” or, “I know they don't understand the stress I’m under right now outside of class, but I hope they don't think I’m mean.” I spent a lot of time and way too many nights thinking about my actions and words and how my dancers interpreted everything.
With time and wisdom, I have definitely lightened up, but I’m probably still more concerned about it than most of my peers, and that’s partially because of the work I do, and I know how much things I say become their inner voice, but I can be a little obsessive about it to the point that it’s not that helpful.
By the end of my direct coaching years, I learned if it was something little, I could just let it go, but if it was something I was really worried they might misinterpret or misunderstand our interaction, then I should just talk to them directly, and usually I got a common teenage response of, “Eh, no big deal,” or, “I don't even remember that.” But there were a few times I was able to have a wonderful heart to heart with one of my dancers because I opened up about my thoughts around the situation, and she reciprocated.
So, while some coaches would advise you to never worry about what your athletes think and just focus on making the right decisions, I would agree with this small caveat. If you can't let it go, maybe she can't either, and maybe he is still worried about it, too. So, you are the adult in the situation, so bring it up and model how to have that difficult conversation.
Number Three: I Thought I Didn’t Need Help and it Needed to be Perfect – 4:42
I was convinced I could do it alone, and I was convinced it needed to be perfect. I coached by myself for the first six years, and looking back to that time, there were so many things I didn't need to take on myself but felt I had to or it wouldn't be perfect. It even got so ridiculous I was convinced that hand sewing game-day bows for all 21 dancers was a good use of my weekend, which is completely ridiculous. Not only did it take away too much time, but they were nowhere near the quality of bow you could get from people who actually do this for a living, and sometimes you just need to know when to outsource the little stuff as much as you can or decide that it doesn't need to happen.
Over the years, I started asking for more help, and I truly believe my team thrived because of it. I asked parents to help more if they were capable. I asked seniors to drive and pick up a shipment of jazz shoes that just came in. I asked captains to make fun, handmade gifts if they wanted something special for a game. The list goes on. There are so many little day-to-day things that you can delegate. Depending on your team, the type of athletes, your studio or All-Star or your settings, your parents, you have lots of options that you can choose to delegate, and it’s gonna change depending on all those scenarios, but the point is you don't have to do it alone, and you shouldn't.
The best coaches know their own strengths and weaknesses, so capitalize on your strengths and get other people to help fill in the weak spots. It’s not gonna be perfect, and you don't have to do it alone.
Number Four: I Didn’t Consider Long-Term Plans – 6:13
Early on, I didn't always consider long-term plans. It’s really easy to get caught up in the now of the season, right? We’re in fall and what the training looks like or if you were a game-day team or if your studio is just starting out the choreography, but we need to make sure that whatever’s going on right now is ready and we’re focused on that. Somehow, we forget that the first competition is a stepping stone towards our real competitive goal later in the season, or we forget to just look all the way down the line, and we get caught up in, “What’s going on this month?”
So, sit down at the beginning of the season and make that general outline of the whole season. You can map out all of your performances. Maybe there are parades or games or fundraisers or competitions or days off that you need to know about in your community. Take that time to sit down and lay out that whole year. It gives you a much better perspective on how you want to approach things. How many weeks before that first big competition do you want choreography done? How much time do you need to work through that? When do you need costumes ordered? Thinking through all those contingencies and writing down that master calendar helps keep you on track.
I spent too many times in the early years really just functioning month to month, if not week to week, and then, inevitably, some fire kept coming. So, thinking bigger picture at the beginning really helped set it up for success.
Number Five: I Assumed New Dancers Knew What They Were Doing – 7:39
Don't assume new dancers know what they're doing. That seems obvious and maybe kind of weird to say, but as a veteran coach, and I was with a high school team, but I think this is true when you have a dancer who’s new to your studio or a new middle school dancer, new freshman who was moved to your college program, we get in this trap of assuming that, “Oh, they’re still an experienced dancer. They’ll know what to do,” and I took for granted that just because I’ve been through a few million football pre-games that my dancers would know what to do. “It’s tradition. We’ve always done it. They’ve seen it. They get it.” But no, your new athletes often need guidance and help just as everyone did before them on all the little things. On how they prepare for events, what kinds of clothes we wear, what our expectations are about our presentation.
You can give them buddies or families on the team to help them with those little questions. Spend a few minutes of practice taking the time with your veteran athletes to explain everything to the new ones. Spell it out for them, or you’ll have really confused little new dancers running around who are afraid to ask questions, and that’s not fun for anyone.
Number Six: I Was Stuck in Tradition – 8:48
This is actually moving into more as a veteran coach after I’d been going for a long time, but I got stuck in tradition and then didn't acknowledge when things needed to change. So, those of you that have been coaching a few years now, think about what you might be doing just because it’s tradition. I spent a lot of years creating valuable traditions (events, little ceremonies, gifts, rituals, sayings) all of which I was very proud of and truly believe make a big difference.
In general, I fully believe in the importance of traditions. From a psychology point of view, they create the sense of cohesion, the sense of us and we belong together because we all have the same T-shirts, we all use the same sayings. Those little things matter. However, there are times when I made the mistake of getting stuck in tradition just because it was tradition, rather than evaluating if it was really helpful to that current group of dancers. Unfortunately, because of being stuck in tradition, there are some decisions along the way that I regret because I was so stuck in tradition.
So, take some time at the end of your season to check in on things. Do any of the traditions need to change or be dropped altogether? Do you have too many, so then they begin to lose value? Incorporating in new tradition can also bring a new spark to your dance team, too. It may be just what you need.
Number Seven: I Didn’t See the Importance of Taking a Break – 10:11
I didn't recognize the importance of taking a break, I mean both for me as the coach and for the dancers. But here, I’m actually gonna focus on for the athletes. Dancers are intense, hard-working, often year-round athletes. They need to give their bodies and their minds a rest. So, taking days off after big events when you finally come home, taking breaks in the summer when you can. Personally, I never held practice during finals week. I preach an academic focus so they deserve that time to be attentive during school. If I’m part of a school program, that’s gonna be a value for us. But it goes for individual practices now and then, too. Just stopping a few minutes early to let them tell a funny story or play a game of Heads Up! Just taking time for little, tiny, quick practice breaks. Or looking for in the calendar where we can say, “We’re gonna take this day off. Plan on not having anything that weekend.”
I remember looking at a calendar one time like, “I have one Saturday off for the next 12 weeks.” That doesn't feel great, and they don't like it either. So, finding those little pockets of time to take a day off and also to just pause and take breaks within your crazy busy practice day. They go a long way.
Number Eight: I Was My Own Worst Critic – 11:28
I was always my own worst critic. I think a lot of us in this dance industry, we grow up as perfectionists, and so, we are often really hard on ourselves. No one is the perfect coach, the best teacher, the perfect mentor or human, for that matter. We all make mistakes. You will too. I certainly made a lot, and I always give my dancers the advice that the best thing you can do after a mistake is acknowledge it, apologize when appropriate, and just try to make it right or try harder the next time.
I was a very seasoned coach before I learned to take my own advice, so I hope you hear when I can say that it’s okay to make a mistake. You acknowledge it, recognize why it happened, what you could have done differently, turn it into a lesson, and commit to growth instead of wallowing in that error or beating yourself up.
Number Nine: I Didn’t Have a Mentor – 12:18
I didn't find a mentor for a long time. Coaching and teaching can feel very isolating, and it was a few years before I intentionally reached out and made connections with other teachers in my area and put myself out there. Eventually, I had a village of support (people to talk to, to communicate with, to bounce ideas off of, and celebrate with), but I wish I found my community sooner. I encourage you to get connected locally or go through national associations that are relevant to coaching and teaching or even join my community Relevé. No matter how you do it, get connected, and if you need help on how to get started, reach out and ask! I’m happy to be your first connection.
I also talk about this topic of mentors more deeply in episode 17 and then with my friends at The Cultivate Code in episode 47, so check those out too.
Number Ten: I’d Define Success Externally Instead of Internally – 13:09
Lastly but not least, I used to define success more externally than internally, and then I learned better. Early on, I felt successful if we were competitively successful. My very first team had a strong school rival, and their whole goal was to beat that team at the state championship, and it didn't matter what the actual placements were as long as we were one ahead of them. I didn't know any better. I was 19. I was just learning the ropes. So, I went with it, and beating that team was our driving force all year. We did beat them, but at the end of the year, it just still felt empty, and I started to reconsider my definition of success.
It still took a few years and really digging into my personal values and beliefs and my drive as a coach, but eventually I was able to evolve into what it is now. But that was an early mistake I learned from. Define success as something internal and within your control.
I hope hearing about my mistakes helps spark some ideas for you, and I would love to hear your lessons. I have so many expert coaches and teachers in all kinds of different areas, whether, again, studio, All-Star teams, in the school settings, and I would love to put them together into an episode where I can share teaching and coaching lessons learned. So, if you’d like to share, send me a quick voice note at http://www.chelseapierotti.com/message. The link is in the show notes as well, and I would love to share it here.
As I’ve said many times before, building a community is one of our greatest resources, so I’d love to hear from you. If you’ve learned a lesson, after coaching or teaching dance, that you would be willing to share, again, please send me that quick voice note. It’s www.chelseapierotti.com/message, and there’s just a little orange button. You hold it, speak, and send me your voice note. That’s all you have to do, and it would be so great to share it with this community.
So, thank you for taking the time to share your lessons and for listening today, and keep sharing your passion for dance with the world!
[Motivational Outro Music]
Hey coaches and teachers! If you’re new to the show, it might be a little overwhelming to know which episodes to listen to. You can always go back to the beginning and binge-listen, of course, but I also know we don't have a single spare minute in our days. So, to help you decide where to start, I have a short five-question quiz that will tell you which episodes will help you with whatever is going on right now. It’s kind of like a personality quiz, and after a few quick questions, you get a curated podcast list of the top five episodes that will help you most where you’re at right now. Maybe you need some motivation or inspiration. Maybe your dancers need something to listen to for help, or maybe you're looking for a little boost of confidence. Whatever support you need, take the short quiz and find out!
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