Chelsea: How often do you feel like your dancers are just being lazy? Hi, it’s Dr. Chelsea! Welcome to the Passion for Dance podcast. Today’s episode is about effort, what full out really means, and how to help your dancers give more effort in practice. It was inspired by one of you, Coach Alaina, who sent me a voice note and it really got me thinking. When you see a lack of effort, what is really going on with that dancer? I’ll dig into that and more in today’s episode.
[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]
I want to start by sharing what Coach Alaina sent in so you understand where this all started for me, and I’ll remind you if you ever have a comment or a question to share or a topic you want to hear more about, please leave me a voice note at www.chelseapierotti.com/message. The link is in the show notes, as always. All right, here’s what Coach had to say:
Coach Alaina’s Thoughts – 1:26
Alaina: “Hey, Chelsea! This is Coach Alaina here from Utah, and I just love your podcast and all of the content that you share on Instagram, and one of my biggest takeaways is when you talk about kids that tend to lack effort or maybe it seems like they're just not trying, that that is often from lack of confidence. I love that thought process and with working with kids for coaching for over seven years and teaching dance for over 20, which is crazy, I’ve noticed that to be true, that when kids are struggling in dance and it feels like they're just not trying, oftentimes it is because they just feel insecure and they lack that confidence, and I think that’s just so wise of you, and it’s something that will always stuck with me as we journey to help our dancers and athletes just be the best that they can be. So, thanks for everything! I love you!“
Chelsea: Thank you for sharing your thoughts Coach! I love it when comments like this get my wheels turning. I completely agree with you, and then it made me want to expand on it and keep going.
Lack of Effort and What’s Really Going On – 2:33
When we see a lack of effort, what is really going on with that dancer? We feel like they should have more energy and they just aren’t doing it. As coaches and teachers, we can yell positively from the front of the room, go, “Full out! Give me more,” and we can keep going until we’re blue in the face. I did it all the time. We usually want more intensity or commitment to the movement, or we want our dancers to utilize a bigger range of motion and more power, but pause for a minute and think about what the dancer is doing that makes you say that. Are they really being lazy? Are they not going full out in your opinion? Take a minute for an honest reflection. When you see a dancer not going full out, what do you believe is going on with that dancer? What assumptions are you making?
The Two Assumptions We Make – 3:26
When dancers look lazy or look like they aren’t giving us full effort, I bet a lot of us make two assumptions: one, that they don't care, or two, that they're lazy. When we think our dancers are being lazy or don’t care, we tend to yell for full out and push for more energy because we assume the dancers aren’t giving us their full effort. But what is effort? How do you know what someone else’s 100% effort looks like?
Now, maybe they are being lazy. That is certainly possible. There are some dancers who are simply not going to love dance the way we do and might not have the same passion for it so they won’t give it everything they have. Trying to force a dancer with no intrinsic drive or internal desire for dance to work harder is an uphill battle. That’s actually not what I’m talking about today. That’s a different issue.
I’m talking about the dancer who really does love it, but they look lazy to us or like they’re only giving maybe 80%. We assume 100% effort or full out all the time as being a sign of commitment and confidence and caring about dance, but that’s an assumption. There is some research that, especially in children, our adult perception of full out and giving 100% effort is not the same thing as their perception. If you ask a 12-year-old, “Why aren’t you going full out?” they actually might be thinking, “But I am going full out,” even if they're afraid to tell you that.
There are two pieces to this miscommunication. Our dancers need to learn what we mean by full out, and as teachers we need to understand that what we see as lower effort might actually be something completely different.
First, we have to help our dancers understand what full out means. When you teach technique, you probably give cues like “pull up,” or “focus,” or “engage your back,” and our dancers don’t always understand what that cue means. The same goes for “full out.” Talk to your dancers about what that is exactly. What do you expect when you say “full out”? Use examples, catch them doing it right and point it out, and make sure to notice how it isn’t going to look the same for everyone. I think many teenage dancers have heard the phrase “full out” so many times, they assume it means full effort and they may be giving their full effort, but their quality of movement isn’t what you consider full out, so you keep yelling for more. Helping our dancers understand what full out really means is just one part of this issue.
Psychological Reasons You Don’t See Full Out From a Dancer – 6:07
What I really wanted to focus on today is what is going on behind what we see as a lazy dancer. If we think it’s lazy, it could be, but it might actually be something different. We tend to assume not going full out means they don’t care or that they’re choosing not to give full effort. As a teacher or a coach, I used to be personally offended like, “I’m here giving you everything I have. Why won't you meet me at that level?” But there are actually a lot of other possible psychological reasons why you don't see full effort from a dancer. Here are just a few:
- It could be a lack of focus, that they are actually having a really hard time being fully present in the room at the moment. So, if all of their mental energy isn't there, they can't translate that to the physical energy.
- It could be confusion. If they are struggling with the choreography or the coordination of the steps, they may genuinely be trying to go full out, but the cognitive process of trying to produce whatever the move is is actually just confusing, or, as I said, the choreography is too confusing and they may be trying to put it together, but it’s gonna hinder their ability to give all of the energy, to give that full-out look.
- Frankly, they could be really trying, that they’ve never gone bigger than that, they've never experienced that sensation in their body to fully extend through everything, and they don't know what that is. They're really trying.
- It’s also possible that they're anxious. Anxiety makes us smaller, makes us feel smaller and want to shrink often. So, for a dancer, it means that they often won’t go full energy. They won't extend as much. They will keep themselves small. Think of it like dancing inside that tiny little box. It’s possible that their anxiety is holding them back.
- It could just be a bad mood. Sometimes when we're in a bad mood, dancing full out is not in the cards, and it may not be, as I said, something for you to take personally. They're just not in the right headspace to get there. That’s a separate issue, and we can talk through emotions and such, but it is one of the things that could be why they aren't at that full-out level.
- The other one is that they might just feel uncertain. Similar to anxious, if they just feel like, “I’m not sure what this looks like,” or, “What are people going to think,” or, “What if I look silly doing this,” a lot of that kind of mental energy gets caught up in being uncertain or confused or anxious or scared, and that means they physically hold back.
What Dance Teachers Can Do – 8:46
So, what is a dance teacher to do? Of course, we want to help our dancers learn to be the best they can be, but instead of just trying to push athletes to “give me more,” worry about building a culture that helps athletes understand what it is that influences their own effort. You, as the leader, can only stand in front and push for more energy to a certain point. Eventually, dancers need to understand themselves better and manage their own challenges so they can optimize their own effort every day. It’s not on you, as the coach, to push them to give more effort. It’s on you, as the teacher, to provide a safe and challenging environment where the dancer learns to understand their own effort and then choose to challenge themselves every day.
Sport Psychologist, Daniel Abrahams, summarized this well and I want to share it with you. He said:
“There’s a difference between insisting on effort and helping players optimize effort.”
Most of the dance industry insists on more effort. I certainly grew up in that environment. I coached that way too. I felt like it was my job to instill the energy and insist they give me more and more until it was good enough. And sure, coaches can bring up the energy and ask for more, but what I’m hoping to do today is shift your focus, help you think about this a little differently. Rather than focusing on pulling more out of your dancers, focus on creating the environment that teaches them to understand their own effort. Talk about what full out means and what it feels like. Be a safe and encouraging teacher with high expectations. If your class or your practices challenge dancers to believe they’re capable of more, they will find new levels of effort on their own. When it’s their choice and their self-discovery, they will build intrinsic motivation and be proud of their own growth, and best of all, you aren’t stuck yelling for more every time they run the routine.
This is a subtle shift in perspective, but consider the idea that you don’t know what 100% effort looks like in every dancer. There could be a lot more going on behind the scenes that isn’t actually about effort, and it’s better to help dancers discover their own drive for growth rather than constantly being their only source of motivation. It’s certainly ok to be positive and yell excitedly and bring up the energy in the room, but again, there is a difference in just insisting that dancers give more effort and helping them understand how to optimize their own effort.
I hope this one got you thinking a little bit. I’d love to hear from you if it did! If you have a comment or question, again, please leave me a message at www.chelseapierotti.com/message. And thank you, Coach Alaina, for sharing your thoughts because I love where this went and helping me think of how to better talk about it, like what is effort and what’s really going on. Connecting with coaches and teachers is what makes this community so special. So, thank you all for listening, thank you for sharing an episode with a teacher who might like it and, of course, for being a part of this community. Keep sharing your passion for dance with the world!
[Motivational Outro Music]
Join My Email List – 12:21
Hi, dance coaches and teachers! If you are a dance educator, it’s important to make sure you are on my email list. It’s only for educators. It’s where I keep you all updated on my Mental Skills Workshops, the Relevé Membership, and even some special trainings coming up that are only available inside the membership. My email list is where I provide extra resources for dance educators and tips to help you and support you through this teaching journey.
If you're listening and you're a coach or a studio teacher and you think you might ever want to learn more about helping your dancers with their mindset, building their resilience, and motivating them, please join my list to make sure you get the inside scoop.
So, here’s how to get on. You go to www.chelseapierotti.com/email and sign up. There’s a link in the show notes to the episode as well, and again, that’s where I’ll announce special opportunities like the one coming up soon that’s only available inside Relevé. But mostly, it’s where I provide more support and resources to help you with your dancers. So, go join in at www.chelseapierotti.com/email, and let’s work together and make a more positive impact on our dance industry!