5 Things I Wish I Knew When I Started Color Guard

I’ve been doing color guard for a long time now. I can still remember my very first show and the events leading up to me being there. It was the Monday before the 2010 Santa Cruz Band Review, and all of my marching band friends were going on and on about how excited they were to go to the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk. I, as a middle schooler, was immediately jealous. They offered a simple solution: Join the marching band. I was hesitant because I didn’t play an instrument… but I really wanted to go to Santa Cruz! 

So, I walked into the band room and told the director I wanted to join. I can remember his face lighting up at the idea of more kids joining his program. He handed me a 7-foot flag and said, “You can carry this in the back to add some pizazz while you learn an instrument.” Little did he––and I––know, that flag changed my life. And I’m not being dramatic. Color guard has had such an impact on my life over the past decade, and I honestly don’t have any idea where I’d be today nor what I’d be doing if it hadn’t been for color guard.

Color guard has given me some of the happiest times of my life, but also some of the saddest times of my life. I’ve shed tears of joy, distress, and sadness (not to mention blood). I’ve left rehearsal wishing we could go longer, and I’ve left rehearsal wanting to never come back. Now, more than 10 years later, I look back and think, “Man, I wish I knew [insert thing here] back then.”

So, I decided to put together a list of 5 things I wish I knew when I joined color guard in the chance that there is some young student out there reading this who could benefit from this information.

1. It’s not “just for girls”

Ah, sexism. Deeply rooted in too many aspects of society, sexism easily made its way into the marching arts: Drums are for boys, color guard is for girls! I will never forget the time in 8th grade that my color guard coach tried to convince me otherwise about doing color guard in high school. They mentioned that I’d probably be bullied as there had never really been any boys in the color guard at the high school.

I will admit: I had second guesses; I discussed it with friends and family. High school is scary enough as an incoming freshman, but adding in an easy route to be bullied? I was unsure. But I am so extremely glad I had the friends and family that I did because they were the support system I needed. They encouraged me to do what I wanted to do, and what I wanted to do was spin that flag!

Looking back, it’s interesting to think about because it wasn’t like there weren’t any boys in color guard in 2010––I mean, look at The Cavaliers Drum and Bugle Corps. Unfortunately, I hadn’t been fully introduced to the marching arts world nor the immense acceptance and tolerance the marching arts world had for all walks of life. Now that I’ve been in the scene for a while, I cannot think of a more accepting place to be than a color guard team––I mean, at the end of the day, we’re just spinning metal poles with fabric taped onto it…

So, if you’re feeling a bit uneasy because you don’t think you’ll belong on your school’s color guard team––stop it! Let me be the first to tell you: All are welcome here.

2. You’re going to learn so much more than just how to spin a flag

Calling all high school seniors: Do you want something interesting to write about for your college applications? Join color guard. You’ll have plenty to write about.

I could probably write a Master’s thesis on all of the life lessons and skills color guard has taught me; but, for your sake (and mine), I’ll just bullet-point out a few of them:

  • Time Management: I’ll just explain this with a situation: You’re a senior, taking 4 AP classes, an editor on your high school’s newspaper, working a part-time job, and you are your school’s color guard captain. You’re given 24 hours in the day: How do you fulfill all of your responsibilities and make sure you can still sleep at least 6 hours? 
  • People Skills: You’re not always going to get along with everyone. However, that doesn’t change the fact that you still have a job to do; thus, you need to learn how to work with people even if you don’t get along. The judges don’t care that you and your ex-boyfriend are on the same team––they want to see a good show!
  • Body Awareness: Color guard is physically demanding––I mean, you’re tossing a wooden gun 20 feet into the air, turning under it, and catching it in the splits. Thus, you need to take care of your body and fuel it properly. Yes, McDonald’s is delicious. But, it’s probably not the best thing to eat for lunch during band camp when you’re running around on a football field for 8+ hours in 80* heat. Also, drink water. Once you finish that water, drink more. 
  • 3. You’re going to make friendships that last a lifetime

    This one is pretty self-explanatory. When you’re rehearsing 20+ hours per week for 6 months out of the year with the same people year after year, chances are you’re going to bond. Now, at 22, I still talk to my friends from middle school marching band, and I talk to even more friends from high school marching band.

    However, one aspect that I don’t think gets discussed enough is the near-instantaneous connections you’ll make with people you meet once you find out they also did marching band. For example, it’s standard procedure for the drum majors and captains to accept awards at the end of a band competition. Prior to the awards ceremony, all of the leaders from various schools gather together to wait until awards time and we all basically chat and network. You can’t help but instantly connect with the color guard captain even if they’re from your “rival school.” 

    This doesn’t even touch on the connections you make during drum corps, but that’ll have to be its own separate posting––if you did drum corps, you already know what I’m talking about.

    4. It’s going to suck at times

    Although color guard has had an immensely positive impact on my life, I’m not going to sugar-coat it: There have been times where I wanted to walk away and never come back. Yes, I’ve stood at the back of a technique block, crying behind my aviator sunglasses while doing drop spins. I’ve driven home from a bad rehearsal, angry-singing my feelings out. I’ve woken up in the morning before a 12-hour rehearsal with my body aching from the previous day’s 12-hour rehearsal and questioned why I do this. Even now, as an instructor, I wake up on Saturday mornings after working my 40-hour/week career and think, “Why do I do this?”

    This may seem extremely negative, and if you’re in the activity you may whole-heartedly disagree. That’s fine, that’s your experience. But for me, the positives completely obliterate the negatives––yes, obliterate (I needed a word to emphasize how good the good times are). 

    I’ve had so many cool and rewarding experiences as a color guard performer and as an instructor. Performing on the field of an NFL stadium (Lucas Oil Stadium, IYKYK) is such a rare experience for most of the population, and I’ve done it multiple times. Seeing your students absolutely kill their finals performance is the most rewarding experience I can think of as an instructor. Hearing your band announced as first place at the awards ceremony after a long day of performing is something I’ll never forget.

    What I mean here is that things will be hard. As Hannah Montana said, nobody’s perfect, you live and learn it. But, don’t let the positives be overcast by the negatives, because the positives are life-changing experiences that will have lasting effects.

    5. Listen. To. Your. Coaches.

    This one is more a personal attack towards my younger self, but I’m pretty sure many of you may share this sentiment. LISTEN TO YOUR COACHES. I want to clarify that I’m talking mainly about things in relation to color guard here (like technique and such), because I have had coaches say some off-handed remarks (remember the coach that tried to tell me not to do color guard earlier in this post?).

    But, when it comes to technique, we most likely know what we’re talking about. At the very least, take a scientific approach to what your coach says and run an experiment. If they say squeezing/engaging your core will help with your tossing, try squeezing/engaging your core at least once while tossing and analyze the outcome. Too many times to count I’ve had students tell me, “I tried doing [insert technique thing here] when I toss and you were so right!” 

    We as your coaches spend a lot of time with you. For example, in the regular winter season, I see my students at least 15 hours per week, not including camp weekends, overnight trips, or competition days. We genuinely care about you and your well-being because color guard can be kind of dangerous. So, if your coach is offering you technical advice, please consider taking it. Also, past coaches if you’re reading this: Sorry! :-)


    Like I’ve said numerous times, color guard has had such a positive impact on my life that I could not imagine my life without it. Even after 10 years in the color guard world, I don’t foresee myself leaving anytime soon (if ever). And, I’m sure in 10 more years, I’ll look back at what I’m doing now, roll my eyes, and write another “Dear Past Self”-esque blog post. 

    But for now, just keep spinning. And drink water! :-)

    Share this post

    Leave a comment

    Note, comments must be approved before they are published