Episode 83: Erin Coaching Interview
[Motivational Intro Music]
Chelsea: Welcome to the Passion for Dance podcast. I’m Dr. Chelsea, a former professional dancer and a dance team coach turned sports 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, it’s Dr. Chelsea. Today, I am excited to share something new with all of you. You may know that I do a lot of coaching the coaches in my business where I work with dance teachers and coaches on how they can improve their own skills and how they can best support their dancers’ mental skills. After doing this work for years, I found that many people are struggling with similar situations and find a lot of value in hearing how other people are dealing with things. It really helps both in the sense of community and support and allows us to all gain some insight into how things can improve and just understand that we’re not alone.
So I decided to put the offer out there to do some one-on-one coaching for dance educators as a podcast episode so that it can function as a way to support other dance educators, and this is the first of those episodes. So, if you’re listening and you would like to be a part of a future episode, you can visit www.chelseapierotti.com/beontheshow. I’d love to connect with you. You can always just send me a message on Instagram. I would love to have you on the show!
To kick this off today, I have Erin with me. She’s a high school coach in Missouri. Hi, Erin!
Chelsea: Thank you so much for joining.
Erin: How are ya?
Chelsea: I am doing well. I’m ready to do this! It’s exciting! When you wrote into me, you said there were two areas you wanted to talk about. One, more about your personal mindset and one about your dancers and dealing with pressure. Let’s start with that first part.
Personal Mindset as a Coach – 2:02
You’d mentioned how it’s sometimes hard to know if you're doing the right thing, maybe experiencing that personal doubt, and I have definitely heard that from a lot of coaches where we second guess ourselves or have that imposter syndrome. So can you tell me a little bit more about what that is like for you?
Erin: So I’ve been coaching for a long time. This is my twelfth year coaching, and still sometimes when major issues happen, specifically, a new situation that I’ve never had to deal with or a new parent is coming and asking a certain thing of the team or of me or whatever, and then I feel like, “Oh, no. Am I doing the right thing?” Even though, in my heart, I know that I’m doing the right thing because I’ve been doing this long enough that I know that I’m doing the right thing for the program and the legacy and years and years down the line, but in my head, I overthink it and it’s hard not to take the things personally and not to attach part of my self-worth, part of my mental health even, to the situation.
Chelsea: Sure. Ah, I feel you. I think I was that same coach. We love this so much that we take everything to heart, and more so than I think people realize, especially parents when they feel like this is just a side gig or you're “just a coach,” right? And you're like, “No, even if this is my second job, it’s still my world. It still means everything.”
Erin: Right. I work at the high school so that I can coach. That was the whole purpose of me getting a job at the high school is so that I am in the building and it’s more convenient for me to coach. I have more connections and all of that.
Erin: So, yes, I definitely feel that.
Chelsea: Yeah, absolutely. I want to check in with this about it. Do you feel like it’s not so much in making the decision that’s hard. You know what decision you want to make. It’s more so now I’ve made the decision and I’m second-guessing it?
Erin: Yes, it’s I’ve made the decision, I’ve communicated the decision, I get blowback on the decision, and I’m like, “Ooh, but was that the right choice?” even though I know that it’s the right choice. I have a great relationship with my athletic director and talked to him through all sorts of things, but I have had parents and situations in the past that have come back on me in a negative way, and even though I was fully supported by the school and there were no consequences or anything, it still feels like a personal attack, and I have gotten better at knowing that it is not personal. They are looking out for their kid. But it still is a source of anxiety.
Chelsea: Yes, well, I think so many people feel the same. It sounds like you're more logical, that you're not making decisions based on your gut and your heart. You're making them more on fact and strategy and that kind of thing. Is that true?
Erin: Yes, yes.
Chelsea: I feel like that’s usually what I try to fall back on when I am second guessing. Like, “No, this wasn't a spontaneous thing. This wasn't something that I just went with my gut. This was a decision that I have either past evidence for or I really thought this through.” I sought advice. I know that I did all the right steps to make this happen and kind of just reminding yourself that this was a very clear choice with a lot of evidence for what I did. So I can rely on the evidence that brought me here, not just me, if that makes sense.
The Identity Separation as Both a Coach and Dancer – 6:09
Erin: Definitely. It’s the subjectiveness of dance because you can’t rely on, “Oh, well, this person was faster than you,” or, “This person caught more balls than you,” or, “This person scored more points than you.” It’s, “Well, it’s because they don't like me,” and that’s not the case, but that’s what goes through everyone’s head. And, a lot of times, specifically high school-aged girls, when they hear bad news or something that they don't particularly like, they stop listening to all of the wonderful things that I said later —
Erin: — or all the, “XYZ will help you be able to do this in the future or not do this in the future,” or whatever, and they hear the one bad thing and then they stop listening.
Erin: Then it’s like, “Okay, but I told you all of those things, but you didn't hear any of them.”
Chelsea: Yeah, I think there are two things with that where, one, as you said at the beginning, when we either get negative feedback from a parent or we get that negative feedback and it’s really hard to separate. I know who I am as a person is not wrapped up in this one parents’ thought, and that’s really hard to do even as adults, and I think our dancers are just doing that too, and they get so caught up in, “Oh, my coach gave me one negative source of feedback or one element of correction, and now I’m a terrible dancer,” when that’s not what we said at all, but that’s what they attach, right? It’s helping our dancers with that same separation of this is a technical critique or this is whatever it is that is not about you as a person. This is you as a dancer, and helping that identity separation. But it’s interesting that I think we still struggle but yet, no, of course they can’t do it at 15, you know?
Erin: Right. Their brain’s not fully formed yet.
Chelsea: No, it is not. They can’t do it, and even with my fully-formed brain I still can’t do it sometimes either.
Erin: Right, right.
The Benefit of Asking “What Did You Hear Me Say?” – 8:18
Chelsea: So I was just thinking, in the moment of those conversations, when you have to deliver that hard news that they don't want to hear, asking them at the very end, “What did you hear me say,” and just taking a second to be like, okay, what did you hear me say because I think you're right. They stop listening, and so, if they really can't, maybe genuinely repeat any of the good stuff you said, and all they heard was, “You cut me from pom,” or it’s like all I heard was, “I’m not good enough.” Asking them, “What did you hear me say?” might both make them aware of, oh, I didn't hear anything except the one thing you said a while ago, and help you correct it a little bit.
Erin: Definitely. Definitely, and for me to establish that in a conversation with a parent when I’m the source or whatever, that, no, no, they’ve said these other things, too, that that’s definitely something that I think would help both myself and the team, for sure.
Chelsea: Yeah, okay good. I think you're right because even when you are having that hard conversation with a parent, too, checking in on yourself: “Okay, what did I actually hear from this?” I’m asking the parent, “What did you hear me saying when I was talking about your child?” Because I think, as a parent, they also kind of only hear the bad stuff, and you're like, “No, I actually had a lot of good things to say about your dancer. This is just the one piece.”
Honesty and Transparency About Who We Are as Coaches and the Decisions We Make – 9:50
Chelsea: Yeah, and I also don't think it’s necessarily bad to be honest with our dancers about this identity piece and kind of sharing, “I struggle with this, too, sometimes.” I love coaching so much that everything can get wrapped up in this, and when things are hard, I can kinda get down on myself about it or I can feel bad or feel like I’m not good enough, but I know that’s not true, and kind of all the stuff you said at the beginning of talking yourself out of this identity thing. Just being open with that and honest with them: “Do you ever feel that way? Do you feel like when you get a correction that it means you're a bad dancer?” I think if they know this is still hard for a lot of us and it’s not just that there’s something wrong with you, it’s that this is a skill we have to work on and being able to separate our identity from this one piece of negative feedback.
Erin: Yeah, yeah. Definitely. I find that both when I’m teaching at the studio that I teach at and with my dance team, that they require so much more explanation than previous dancers in the past. I mean, I’ve been doing this for a long time, but that they really like to understand, “I’m doing XY and Z because of AB and C,” and so, now, more than ever, that honesty in sharing awareness would help dancers now more so than probably ever before.
Chelsea: Yeah, absolutely! And I think all of us who have been coaching a long time, we’re seeing that shift. Even in psych research on motivation and all this stuff, when adolescents, especially, feel like they're included in the process, even if they aren't included in the decision, even if they get the behind the scenes, it’s not the Oz behind the curtain, it’s that they get to know why you're doing things, they buy in so much more. Whether it’s in adding this new cardio thing that they're like, “Why are we doing this?” You’re like, “No, I made this choice. We’re doing this thing because it leads to XYZ that we said we wanted.” That helps them so much. I think you're totally right that transparency makes a big difference for a lot of the dancers.
Chelsea: There’s always the line in transparency, right? We don't have to share our personal lives (many times, we probably shouldn't) but the transparency in who we are as coaches and the decisions we’re making which I know is what you said. I just felt like I needed to be clear about that.
Erin: Yes, yes.
Chelsea: How do you feel about that piece of it – being able to ask your dancers, “What did you hear me say?” Do you think they would respond to that? Does this feel like something you could try?
Erin: Yeah, I feel like I would probably spin it a little bit with the way that I coach my girls. In a, “Okay, now say that back to me,” or, “What do you take away?” Not, “Hey, I don't think you heard all the things…” [Laughs]
Chelsea: Totally, yes, and I think —
Erin: Not that that’s what you said, but spin it in a, “Okay, now, what did I tell you?”
Erin: Because, a lot of times, I find myself saying, “Okay, is everybody clear that I did not say that you're a terrible dancer? Is everybody clear that I did not say you don't deserve to be in this spot?” When we’re making formations, I did not tell anyone that you are a bad dancer or that you don't belong on this floor, and they're all like ”Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha.” I’m like, “Okay, you're laughing now but…”
Chelsea: Right, but you're gonna be really mad. No, I think that is so true. You want it to be genuine to who you are, and tone and how you deliver matters. But I think there is a subtle difference that might actually really help them rather than saying it that way of, “Are we clear? This is not at all what I said.” In a way, we’re kind of reiterating what we didn't want them to say, and I think you're right, that they will hear it again and simply will just also have a closed response to that of, “Yeah, we get it.” But when you have to ask them, “What was your takeaway,” or, “What was the big thing that you heard me say from this,” or, “What are you gonna remember later,” and something that helps them, they have to verbalize it because I think there is a disconnect where they're like, “Yeah, I heard you,” but then actually having to say it is very different.
Erin: Right, right.
Chelsea: Even with dance skills we say, “Okay, do you see how my back leg is bent in this?” And they're like, “Uh-huh, I see it,” but then doing it is different, and this is kinda that same idea.
Erin: Yes, yes.
How to Find Success and Reach Goals Without Competition Pressure – 14:37
Chelsea: Well, good, okay. I want to do the second piece that you were talking about. You said that your team wants to be more successful and has those bigger goals but then struggles to apply corrections and kind of really get into the mode of it when there’s no competition pressure. Is that right? It feels like they're just coasting? Talk to me more about what that feels like.
Erin: Yeah, so we have two regionals and then we go to nationals, and then we come back and we have state, and we have been very successful at the state level. That’s our last competition. So we would like to bring the success earlier in the season. We want to be state-ready in December or beginning of January so that, then, all of our levels are leveled up at each competition. We’ve talked about this. It’s been a goal. We’ve written it down. We put it on a vision board and all of those things, but we’ve never attacked game routines like a competition piece, and so, without that “ooh competition,” it takes them a long time to get there, and I don't know if that is just because there is less urgency or if there’s a way that we need to simulate, not necessarily pressure, but I will say that we look cleaner this year that we have ever looked before at games, and a lot of that is due to my new assistant coach who is an incredible cleaner.
Erin: She’s amazing, but it still feels like they don't quite understand until they get out there in the performance, and then once they're in the performance, they're like, “Oh, I want to look good!” I’m like, “Okay, but if you worked on that a week and a half ago, then we wouldn’t have this anxiety of I don't know what the dance is gonna look like.” [Laughs]
Chelsea: Mm-hmm. Yeah, okay, so with the goals, I love that. That’s always the best start, right? We’ve identified that this matters to us, and we have talked about it. Does that translate ever to smaller weekly or daily goals?
Erin: We are not doing that currently, but I am not opposed to incorporating that somehow.
Chelsea: Yeah, I think it works really well for some, and for others it’s like this is too much. But I think if they have this big vision and they were all on board with we want to be cleaner and ready sooner so then, again, kind of to our transparency of, “You said you want this by December.” So let’s back this up. At the time of this recording it’s mid-October. So, now, maybe we have six weeks or whatever that we want to do. “So I broke this down. That means this has to be clean by this date. This has to be clean by this date. We need to practice the intensity of — we only have one football game left. We need to practice it now in order to reach that bigger goal.” Then, showing them this is how I broke this down because I think it’s really easy to see, oh, that’s two months from now, and we all do that, right? “Oh, I have so much time,” and then all of a sudden it’s in your face like what just happened?
Erin: Yes, yes.
Chelsea: So bringing this, whether it’s the cleaning schedule or how many times you're going full out or the performance quality, bringing all of those aspects into a goal-specific layout of the weeks leading up to December so that they clearly see it. Okay, by November fourth, we should have had X amount of full-outs, this should be clean already, or we should have been practicing at that intensity. Just being more specific in breaking down how the timing would work to get there, especially in your case where you said you're usually super successful at state. So we know how to do this. We just usually do it months from now. So we’re gonna take this same template, and we’re gonna do it in November and helping them kind of see, okay, yeah, we know that works so let’s do it now.
Erin: Definitely. Definitely. I have felt like our last three weeks of the season are usually our strongest practices where we get the most done. Last year at nationals, there was a horrendous snow storm through the Midwest, and our flight got pushed 36 hours earlier, but we were one of the lucky ones who got out of St. Louis, and a lot of people had to drive or drive other places to be able to fly, and it was crazy. But we had 36 extra hours in Orlando, and we were able to do 5 parking lot practices, and we drilled our formations and it didn't necessarily pay off right away at nationals, but it massively paid off at state.
Erin: Because, you know, you get to nationals, and you're like, “Oh, yes! Okay, I‘m gonna do this, and, yes, it’s parking lot practice!” It’s all of that excitement and intensity. How do I simulate that in November when it’s cold outside? [Laughs]
Simulating the Magic of Parking Lot Practice in the Studio – 20:16
Chelsea: Right, right, and there is definitely some magic to, like you said, parking lot practice. If anybody who is listening is in the dance team world or you know what this feels like, parking lot practice is special. It’s just this own unique thing. But I think if you have a decent amount of returners, a decent amount of people who have felt that before, even just having them talk about it a little bit. “Why do you love parking lot practice? Why was that so much fun?” or, “Why did that help us so much?” Just having them even go back and remember what that felt like and kind of simulating that.
You're right, it's a simulation. So it is learning how to hype yourself up for something that’s not real right now. Learning how to be intense and excited about it in a way that you're not yet. I would even maybe put it on them and kind of ask them. I guess I should ask first. Do you have some returners who have been there done that that could talk about this?
Erin: Yes. Out of my team, I only have two new dancers to my Varsity team which is massively different than the year before where I only had five returners and twelve new. I had twelve new last year, and so, we’re on the flip side. Most of my team has been there done that.
Chelsea: Okay, I would encourage them to share what that feels like from even a mindset place of, “Can you describe it? Why is it different? What are your emotions? What does your body feel like?” Try to really get them into it. I think of performance in your thoughts and your emotions and your body. What is all of that like? It might be hard for them to identify at first, but if they’ve been there, they can think through.
Okay, what are my thoughts in parking lot practice? I’m like, “Oh, my god. It’s happening! I’m so excited. It’s ready!”
What’s happening in your body? “I actually am a little jittery. I get a little buzz happening.”
What are my emotions? “Okay, I’m super excited. I’m happy.”
So it’s how do we make that happen now and how do we change your thoughts, your emotions, and the sensations in your body to mimic that?
Sharing about it can help the newbies even just visualize what that feels like in remembering that. I think with emotions and with thoughts, we can kind of take some control of that and decide, “Okay, this run-through, we are gonna mimic and pretend like we are in Orlando, and we’re gonna visualize it. The sun is out, and we’re super excited. We’re taking nationals floor tomorrow morning,” and just kind of setting that up. Physically, sometimes they need a boost where you have to actually get your heart rate up a little bit before you start which sometimes they don't always like. Even just doing high knees for 30 seconds. Just something to artificially boost your heart rate or having people in the room —
Erin: — will create the adrenaline.
Chelsea: Yeah, create the adrenaline. So your brain doesn't know the difference between nervous adrenaline and your heart is pumping just because of cardio. So it’s like you're telling yourself your story of, “This is just cardio,” or, “We’re gonna take the nationals floor.” So if we can just kind of raise your heart rate and artificially produce that, you can try to simulate it.
So I would put it on them: “Okay, what do we want to do to help mimic this and how can we set this up? Do we need to talk about it? Do we visualize it? Do we set up video recording? Do we bring people in to watch us? What do we want to do to help mimic this?” If they're, again, in on it a little bit — “What’s gonna help you guys feel that adrenaline? What do we need to do?” Have them share and get some ideas. Then, even just the conversation of, “We need to mimic this now. We can't wait for this to happen there,” and making them aware that this is a goal for this week. We’re gonna mimic this feeling in November.
Erin: Yeah, and I think that right now they were in on all the goal making and all of that stuff, but because we’ve been working on camp routines, because we’ve been working on our homecoming dance, this fall, the way the schedule felt, we had to learn a lot of things a lot later than usual for fall, and so, it’s been a lot of just taking in of information.
Erin: I feel like we’re kind of throwing it at them. “You said you wanted to do this,” and they're like, “Yeah, yeah, yeah.” We’re like, “You said you wanted to talk more.” “Yeah, yeah, yeah.” “You said you wanted to do this.” You said all of these things, but we are not doing that right now, and so, how do we make that happen before competition? We’ve been kind of putting it at them as opposed to making it community like, “Okay, what will help you really feel this? What will help you really understand the difference between what we are currently doing and what you know you want to do that is not happening right now?”
Helping Our Dancers See the Potential Obstacles – 25:52
Chelsea: Right. Yeah, absolutely, and I think that’s a subtle difference but it can click very differently for them. Like you said, these were our goals, and now let’s do it. It’s more of like, “Okay, these are your goals. Here’s my calendar backing it up to realize if we want this, by this week we need to have this done so how are we gonna do that?” I think with goals there’s a big piece to that of the how, and then also asking them obstacles of, “Okay, if this is our calendar, and this has to happen in the next two weeks, what’s gonna get in our way? What’s gonna make this not happen? What would make this really hard?” Maybe, then, they can identify, “Okay, well, if we aren't really going full intensity, we won't get there,” or, “If we don't treat games as purposeful as competition, we’ll miss out,” and help them see the obstacles. “So this is what we want. This is how we’re gonna get there. These are the obstacles that could happen, so what’s our plan? What are we gonna do instead,” and having them generate those ideas and maybe take some ownership of that.
An Element of Reflection – 26:58
Then, the last piece I would say is add that little bit of reflection of if you have a practice and you're like we’re going full intensity, we’re gonna visualize or we’re gonna set this up as if it’s a nationals practice, and then you have that practice, and at the end be like, “Okay, how did that feel? You know what nationals actually feels like. How was this?” On one hand, it’s never gonna be exactly the same. We know that. We just want to get as close as possible but have them, then reflect, “No, that actually felt really good.” I’m like, “Okay, good! Let’s do that again. We know you can produce this feeling and this energy,” or if it still fell short, “Okay, it wasn't enough. So what do we need to do better tomorrow? How are we gonna keep stepping it up?” Also having an element of reflection – how did this feel, was it enough and where do we want to go next time?
Erin: Nice, yeah, I think that that would be huge because, in my opinion, the ultimate goal of being more prepared earlier is that, then, the pressure that we are trying to simulate is less at that point because we know, okay, I know exactly what is going to happen when I step on that floor as opposed to, welp, hope it goes well.
Erin: Not that that’s ever what we really feel like but the anxiety pressure should be less. Of course they're gonna be nervous at nationals. Of course they're gonna have that kind of feeling. But the knowing that they were prepared for this so much earlier, that’s the ultimate goal for me in being ready earlier is that we are ready for this and we have done everything that we can to put us in the best situation at this competition.
Chelsea: Yeah, absolutely. I think a lot of confidence comes from knowing you're prepared whether that’s knowing you're physically prepared. Like, I know my cardio capacity is up. I know I can do this routine full out and have full energy the entire time. I know it’s clean. I know I can do these skills and also just the mental prep of I know what to expect at every step of the way or I know what’s gonna happen. I think that makes a huge difference, and so, even if you're talking to them about it in that sense of this is gonna help physically and mentally prepare you for what this feels like so that you can be more confident when we take the stage and not just at nationals but earlier.
Erin: Definitely. Definitely. I think that’ll be huge for them.
Chelsea: Awesome. Okay, any other questions or anything else you wanted to chat about? Does that feel like it answered…?
Erin: I feel like that covered all the things that we talked about. I mean, I could talk to you for hours about the things that are happening with my team. [Laughs]
Chelsea: [Laughs] Yes, well, I appreciate that.
Erin: But I feel like those are my two big, I don't want to say issues, but big things to tackle right now.
Our Legacy as Coaches – 29:54
Erin: Knowing that I’m doing the right thing for the team and being able to let my brain know that too. I also feel like, as I get older, the more years that I coach, not that I feel softer or anything, but when I was young and a new coach, I was like, “You're out!” [Laughs]
Erin: And now, I have been around it so much more. I’ve been around so many girls. I get it, and so, it’s not soft, it’s just more aware of the way it affects everything else.
Erin: And so, knowing that it’s still in the best interest of the team which is always the goal. That’s the legacy piece that I hope that they understand. And then just really trying to be, not necessarily more successful earlier, but setting us up so that we can be more successful earlier in a purposeful way as opposed to a “welp, we don't know what’s gonna happen at our first competition” kind of way.
Chelsea: Yeah, and I think that’s huge and something we get better at, again, with experience of we can’t change everything this season or we can't tackle 50 things, but being able to say, “Okay, my personal success this season is gonna be in having them feel more confident and better prepared earlier. If that becomes your goal and your focus, you shift everything about how you handle practices, you shift how you define success at those earlier practices and earlier comps, and it helps on both sides, right? I’m making the choices for the whole team and the program and the legacy with this focus that they identified earlier.
I think you're very right in that legacy piece and being able to see it differently the more years we’re around this and being able to see how much it impacts them and what they hold on to. So, yeah, their big lesson from this whole season can be that sense of I can do things that are scary. I just have to prepare myself as best I can. What an amazing life lesson for them to get out of this.
Erin: For sure. That’s a huge part of why I love dance, and that’s why I love teaching because it’s not just about dance. It’s not just about kicks and leaps and turns. It’s about what dance has taught me as a human and sharing that with my team, my studio girls, and all of that.
Chelsea: Absolutely. Same. That’s why we do what we do. Well, thank you so much for talking with me today, Erin. I really appreciate it!
Erin: Absolutely. Thank you so much for having me!
Chelsea: Yeah, and stay in touch and tell me how it all goes!
Erin: Yeah, definitely!
Chelsea: Until next time. Thank you!
I hope that was helpful for you to listen in. I think Coach Erin has some great ideas about what to do next. I think so many of us are dealing with those same kinds of issues on both sides of how do we build up the intensity and the expectations earlier in the season and not wait for those amazing practices two days before you compete. I don't know, my team always did that too. So I hope those ideas maybe sparked something in you as well, and you can use them for your dancers.
Again, if you would like to be on the show and talk to me about whatever it is I can help with on your team, I would love for you to join me! You can go to www.chelseapierotti.com/beontheshow. Just write it all out as one word or you can send me a DM on Instagram. However you want to get in touch, I’d love to have you join me.
So thank you for listening today, and keep sharing your passion for dance with the world.
[Motivational Outro Music]