Stages of Personal Practice

Perhaps it seems silly to talk about "how to practice," but I think there are some helpful methods that we tend to forget about when we are in the middle of a competitive season. Whether you're in that stage of "omg - there's so much to learn right now!" or "omg - we have to clean every count of the show before championships!" taking a little time to slow down and use these tactics in your practice can help your show overall. 

These 5 Stages of Personal Practice are simply my favorite methods for working through a section, and what I recommend to my students. Similar tactics can certainly be applied to instructing a small group or a full colorguard. 

For this exercise, pick ONE thing in your show. JUST ONE! Maybe it's a challenging toss, or your favorite 8 counts of the big flag feature. Limit it to only a few counts! For this example, I'm going to use a toss.

Stage 1. Visualization - Never underestimate the power of visualizing the choreography! Close your eyes and imagine yourself performing that toss perfectly. Slow it down in your mind's eye. Where is your release point? What does your body look like underneath the toss? How do you catch? What does it all feel like? 

Stage 2. Execute - Now, let's get the equipment in your hands. TAKE YOUR TIME! Apply everything you visualized in ONE toss. Did you execute it the way you visualized it? What adjustments can you make to get the next toss closer to that ideal visualization. Once you have thought about it, then reset and take one more toss. The point is, keep it slow, and keep thinking; it's the only way you can make corrections! One at a time! Never throw rapid-fire tosses when you're trying to fix technique!

Stage 3. Before and After - Let's give that toss some context. What choreography comes right before and right after it? You only need a couple counts in either direction. When you know what you'll be adding, take it slow, thinking through all your corrections from Stage 2. Again, take your time to reset, making sure to think through how to make your performance match your visualization. Strive for slow, controlled, consistent reps.

Stage 4. Full Phrase - Practice the full choreographic or musical phrase this time around (maybe all 16 counts?), still maintaining a slow tempo. Use the slower tempo to really lengthen through your body and maximize your expressive efforts (if you've got extra time, you can give it more drama!). Still strive for control and consistency, performing on par with your visualization.  

Stage 5. Show Tempo - Now, don't change anything except the speed. Keep everything as it was in Stage 4: consistent technique, expressive quality, control. Use a metronome or the show music and practice applying what you've learned. As you reset, take the time to think about what you want to change during the next rep and how best to achieve that.  


Not only will you notice a difference in the way you perform this phrase of your show, but you'll gain an increased awareness of technique and expressive qualities in other areas of your show. If you try this once a week with a different part of your show each time, you are guaranteed to see a dramatic difference in your overall performance abilities by the end of the season! 

Happy Practicing!