As a competitive baton twirler for over 17 years, I have learned many life lessons along the way. I've put together these tips to help young athletes perform at their best. Although these are about baton twirling, many of the tips can apply to any sport. Stay focused, work hard, and be grateful!
Practice like you will compete. Practice like you mean it. It’s better to do five “full out” solos than ten solos just “marking” it. This will only make you stronger, build stamina, help you perfect your routines faster, and it will make you a better competitor.
Even if you only have 45 minutes in the gym, make it count. We all get busy and it’s hard to find time to practice. But if you allow yourself short, full-out practices, you WILL improve.
Make twirling a priority. Practicing is not always convenient, but it is necessary to get better. Set goals for your practice schedule. Hold yourself accountable. It takes dedication, self-control, and sacrifice to succeed in your sport.
Remember that there are no shortcuts to success! Usually, the athlete who wins is not lucky. She has put in the time, energy, and work. PJ Meirhoffer, College Miss Majorette of America once had t-shirts made that said, “The more I sweat, the luckier I get!” So true!
Investing a little each day is better than trying to cram in practice the week before the competition. It’s like saving money. If you save a $1 each day, in a month, you will have $30. This is a lot easier than trying to save $5 each day for a week. By the end of the month, you have the same result, plus interest!!
Set achievable goals. Be patient. Baton twirling is hard. It requires thousands of tries to get a trick. Some days you will catch something easily, and the next day you can’t catch it anymore. Don’t get discouraged. Know that if you persevere, you will start catching the trick more often than not, and finally, it will feel easy. It took me one whole year to catch my one spin and I’m so glad I didn’t give up!
Technique is everything. Remember that baton twirling should be beautiful to watch. Toes, knees, back, arms, and shoulders should all be pointed or straight. It may take you longer to start catching a trick with good technique, but in the long run it will be prettier and you will get more credit on the score sheet. Plus, it will be harder to break bad technique habits as you get more advanced. And finally, good technique can help avoid injuries caused by unhealthy body lines.
Have someone videotape you! I know it can feel embarrassing or be hard to watch yourself, but it is so important. When you are performing, you may not “feel” the things you are doing wrong. Have your mom or coach videotape you in both practice and competition. Watch it back and make notes of what you would like to improve. And, a few months later, watch your old competition tapes and celebrate how much you’ve improved!
Adapt, Adjust, Overcome
This is my motto and applies to so many aspects of baton twirling. At competitions, the floor may be slippery or the ceiling may be too low. Realize that everyone has the same conditions and it’s up to you to make the best of it. Try not to get discouraged or make excuses. Just roll with it and do your best. It’s also a good idea to have a couple of pairs of shoes on hand for different types of floors!
This means more than just smiling at your judge or audience. Show everyone watching you that you love your sport. Smile with your eyes. Even if your judge is not smiling back, keep your showmanship. And never, ever, get frustrated if you are not having a good routine. Maintain your composure through the march off and pose. Remember that some judges will watch you all the way until you leave the competition floor.
Scoring and Subjectivity
Competitive twirling is subjective, and judges are human. Our twirling judges are committed to the sport of baton twirling. Many have coached for years and are willing to give up their free time, or even time with their own students, because they love this sport. Appreciate them. Know that you may not always get the score or placement you think you deserve. Stay positive, review the scoresheets with your coach, and look for areas to improve. If you see the same comment over and over from different judges, take to heart their feedback and strive to get better!
Drops are not the end of the world! If you are having no-drop routines over and over, then you need more difficulty! Striving for a no drop will only hold you back. I’ve seen national champions have drops because they are taking risks, trying hard tricks, and going for it. However, if there is a trick you are always dropping, it may be best to work with your coach to revise it a couple of weeks before a competition.
Do the routine you’ve been given. It should be rare that you would change your routine without your coaches input or approval. They know how routines should be constructed according to the rules and points on the scoresheet. Also, try not to cheat your routine in competition. Avoid changing a trick or not catching the baton the way it’s choreographed. Sometimes, even when you cheat the trick, you still drop because it is not what you have practiced.
Time your routines regularly. In NBTA, you are twirling to music that does not start and stop. Make sure your routine is within the time allotment. It is silly to get penalized because your routine is under or overtime.
Practice twirling to music. I twirl faster when I’m twirling to music. And, it’s a lot more fun and motivating to have good music to twirl to. No one would consider running or working out without music! Also, as much as you may not want to, practice X-strut to the official march music. This is the best way to make sure you are in step.
Expect your “normal” performance at a competition. If you have been having an average of three drops in practice, chances are, you will have three in competition. You can’t expect miracles on competition day, but you shouldn’t expect a "bombed" routine either. This is why it’s important that you practice like you will compete.
Think about it...there are relatively few of us who twirl. We have a common bond because only we know what it’s like to twirl competitively. We are a unique sisterhood. Contests are so much more fun when you have friends there competing with you. Having a friend to practice with is also a good way to make the practice more productive. You can push and encourage each other to get better.
If you are a high school student, it’s important for you to start taking steps to make the sport your own. Many of us have had moms or coaches take us to the gym, rhinestone our costumes, pack our competition bag, and basically handle everything. Try to set your own practice schedule. Start rhinestoning your own costumes and make a list of items to pack for contests. Twirl because you want to, not because someone is “making” you.
Be proud of your sport and know that you are representing baton twirling at all times. Practice hard in the gym and the basketball guys on the court will respect you as an athlete. When you are performing, make sure you are an ambassador. Carry yourself with dignity at all times. If you are a feature twirler, be a part of the band organization. Realize that the musicians have practiced their instruments for years as well and deserve the same respect. And, don’t be a diva! If the band is practicing in the hot sun, you should be out there with them!
Appreciate your coaches and your family. Remember that sometimes this sport requires the whole family to sacrifice. Many of us have moms who have sat for years on a hard gym floor watching us practice or stayed up half the night finishing a costume. Be grateful to them and your coach. Know everyone is there to support you, share in your joys and disappointments, and help make you better.
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