Save the ducks

T.J. Maple

T.J. Maple’s dance team story is full of perseverance, hard work, and an untiring pursuit to better himself and the teams he works with.  He also has an ability to create some of the most stunningly visual routines that win national titles.  He is so generous with his knowledge and experience, and gives us so many good pieces of advice and tips on team building, team culture, his choreography process, how he cleans, and what to do if you need to get inspired.  I’ve been a big fan of his for a long time, and after talking to him and getting to know him a little better, I’m an even bigger fan!  Thanks so much to T.J. for all he does for the dance team world! You really have to listen to him tell his own story because the highlights here in these notes won’t do it justice.  Here are the highlights from all the advice that he gave:  

Work ethic is everything:  “I say all the time turned the “no’s”  into :on’s.” Everyone is told no, and then they just stop chasing and I’m like the thrill is to chase. We should always be growing and always be willing to go above and beyond. Those people tha continually find a way, they’re going to be the most successful. And I say to my students, what got you here is not going to get you there. You’ve got to do more, you’ve got to constantly find ways to better yourself and I think it’s important that this generation is understanding that. There’s a disengagement somewhere with wanting everything to be so immediate and the world doesn’t work that way. I believe that working hard for what we want should take precedence to winning.”

“I firmly believe that and I look back and people are like ‘I’m so sorry that you had it so hard and I’m like, ‘Oh, I’m not.’   I don’t have any regrets  My story is the way it was supposed to be written. I don’t have any regrets whenever it comes to all the choices, the mistakes that have been made. It’s when you can take that mistake and turn it into a growing experience, I just think we’re better for it.”

Building team culture from the very beginning:   “Team members are told in the beginning, ‘If you want to be successful here, you have to buy in to what we’re doing and you have to trust the process. And if you can’t do that, this is not going to be the place for you and that’s okay.’  I used to get really upset and get my feelings hurt when people would quit. Now I’m like, “You know what? It’s okay. You’re going to have to adapt to culture because our culture is not going to change.  We’ve obviously figured out what works for us. Everyone sees the glamour and glitz and the rings and the titles from the outside, but they don’t know what it takes to get there on the inside. It didn’t happen all at once.  A strong team culture is going to take some time.”

How he’s found success:   “One year I had the most talented team I thought I had ever had in my life and I didn’t correct him. I didn’t critique them. I let them get by with a lot of things, and just relied so heavily on their talent and it came back to bite me.  I’m a very transparent person and I break down everything for them whenever it’s time.  We break down the scoresheet sheet. We talk about the scores.  I try to not to be just be a dictator.  I don’t want to just come in and say this is the way it is.  I have an open door policy and if you have a problem with something then we can talk about it. It does not mean that it’s going to be changed, but there’s a place to talk about it, and if when you leave practice and you’re still worried it, then you need to come talk to me. In practice is not the place to get anything done with me.  I have tunnel vision and I’m on a schedule.  But if you come and talk to me and and I’ll explain it maybe a little bit more. ” 

Advice to coaches just starting out:  “I would challenge them to think outside the box. And not to put a a perimeter around their expectations. And to give it time. I think that it takes a new coach four to five years to get really acclimated and see a change. There’s not a magic pill that you can take to make it happen.  Be patient. And keep your notes and keep a good journal of what you want to change.  And it’s work.  We want our students to be loyal to us and to work hard, so we have to be the most loyal and we have to be the hardest workers as the coaches, even if it’s behind the scenes.  I can’t tell you that there’s ever a day that goes by that I’m not thinking about something for this program.”

Advice to all coaches on handling stress:  “Take some time off.   Take a week, take a weekend, and unplug.  I think it can become overwhelming with life in general, but just take some time for you, find something that  makes you tick because I think it takes something special to be coach.  Find something else.  For me it was getting back into my my waterfowl.  Grow in a different way and just kind of walk away, take a little break. It’s okay to take a break.”

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