Trophies indicate that the recipient was the best at a particular thing on a particular day amongst a particular group of competitors. It's not the trophy that counts, it's what's behind it that matters.
In my many years of teaching, the best (and highest achieving) programs focused on building skills, consistency, and quality -- not on winning. And here's the thing: if the focus is on those elements and the program is developed around them the results will come (and you'll be able to feel good about them too).
Focusing solely on winning, or (even worse) on beating your competitors, rarely nets meaningful results.
- It bases the success criteria on a perfect storm of elements that are difficult to control.
- It means that without victory everything that went into the season is void.
- It doesn't set the participants up for long-term success.
Here are just a few things that can't be controlled (or that there may be difficulty around) that could affect the ability to win. Competitors (and all aspects their programs), weather, facilities availability, staff supply, emergencies (you name it, from a student with a broken leg to a staff member that has to move to another state, and then some), and the list could go on and on.
Winning or Nothing
There are very few circumstances that I can come up where winning is everything. (Don't get me wrong, winning is certainly fun, but I've had plenty of cases where my ensemble didn't win and everything was awesome.)
The journey and the development/growth of those involved (including staff!) is reason enough to have a competitive season. And with that in mind, hinging everything that goes into a season and all the wonderful outcomes on winning just doesn't make sense.
The Long Term
As much as we'd like the simplicity of living in a black and white world, most will agree that grey areas exponentially outweigh the black and white ones. Setting a program's focus on winning is a huge disservice to all involved because that strategy doesn't apply anywhere outside the program -- people can't apply that approach to other aspects of their lives (and if they do they're setting themselves up for some serious issues later in life).
So I just spent all this time on how not to do it -- if I didn't spend some time on a better approach I'd be guilty of one of my pet peeves (articles that say "don't do this and that" and don't provide any helpful suggestions).
Instead of setting goals around competitive results, set them around personal results. Maybe the freshman who's just starting out needs to learn how to march and play at the same time and maybe the senior soloist should be pushed with vocabulary, intonation/technique, and consistency.
This thought model can drive many aspects of the program -- music/content choice, warm-ups/exercises, and rehearsal and sectional plans can all benefit from this mode of thinking.
On top of that, the process of learning skills and honing them is something that participants can directly apply to school and work -- these are really important life skills we're developing!
By focusing on tangible, personal goals we can work on building each student to become the best they can be. As the goals are achieved over and over the quality and consistency of the ensemble will increase. And hey, eventually you might take home some trophies. 😉
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Thanks for reading! If you have any thoughts, questions, or anything else please reach out. I always enjoy hearing from people.