How to Teach the Routine Efficiently

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A whole lot of time is spent at practice being unproductive because some people still don’t know the routine. And as a captain or even a team member, you start thinking, “why do they not know the routine? It’s been a month since they’ve learned it!” It’s a very good question, but there isn’t really an answer to it, other than the fact that they’re lazy, effortless, and don’t place drill on their priority list. But you can’t just kick them off the team–they’re important. You’re going to have to deal with it some way or another.

The main problem about someone not knowing the routine is that it brings the team down. You can’t really work on angles, formations, etc. so you’re forced to instead go over the routine (and waste time) or find another activity to do (conditioning, marching, etc.) that won’t really help your performance which is coming up in two weeks…

It’s extremely frustrating when practice after practice, these same people continue to not practice and not know the routine. You start wondering why on earth they were selected at the time of try-outs.

When I was on drill, the captains/coach always enforced the fact that we’re a “team” and have to do “teamwork” in order to be successful. Well, it’s true, but only to an extent. Of course you have to rely on each other have good angles, be sharp, perform well, etc., but another thing that annoyed me was the concept that if one person didn’t march the right way, the whole team would have to march again and again until everyone had it right. There was always the one person that didn’t point her toes, or the one person that decided to not keep her posture back, and even though I was doing it fine, I had to repeat it over and over again just because of the girl who didn’t point her toes, the girl that didn’t want to be sharp, etc. It really angered me and I am pretty sure that it angered every other person on the team. It just brought everyone’s mood down and I stopped caring completely after doing it the 5th time in a row. I mean, is this concept of “teamwork” really applicable? No. It’s important to work together in a team, but you shouldn’t punish everyone for one person’s errors. It’s just not right.

So, just because some people don’t know the routine, does that mean everyone should go to practice and waste their time going over the routine, for the millionth time in a row? No. Here’s my method of teaching a routine:

1. After choreographing, create packets for everyone (make sure you triple-check for errors)
These packets were very useful for me when I was learning the routine. They would have the count # and the moves next to it, indicating where marching started and stopped. Here’s an example of what I mean:
1 High v, in fists
2 Swirl arms down to low v (start high-knee marching)
3 W angle in fists
& T, in fists
4 Broken T, in blades (stop marching)

OK, so that wasn’t exactly a realistic routine, but I hope you get the idea. It’s really easy to forget the routine after it is taught, especially when a lot is taught in a day. Sometimes people will leave out entire 8-counts and it just leads to confusion. These packets are good references and you will never have a team member telling you “but…I forgot about that part”, “you didn’t answer your phone when I called for help”, etc. Just make sure they don’t lose their packet.

2. Set a time period for teaching the routine to the team
Some teams like to practice daily for an hour or two a day; others might like to practice for 3 hours a day two days a week. It all depends on how your team does it. For a normal, approximately 3 minute routine, I would say set a week to teach the routine. You don’t want to teach an overwhelming amount in one day, nor do you want to take a whole month to teach it. Make sure you give everyone a 5 minute break between a set of four 8-counts for them to think about what they’ve learned and catch up on it. If you’re talking the whole time, no one will have time to think about the previosu 8-count or the one before it, so make sure you close your mouth for a few minutes and just let them think about it and practice on their own for a bit. One time when I was being taught, the captain just kept going on and on to new sets of 8-counts. I just gave up midway through practice and decided I’d go home and learn it. I just didn’t care anymore. You don’t want anyone to just give up, so “thinking-breaks” would be helpful.

3. Leave a 1-week time space for team members to practice
Don’t schedule practices for one week. Take the stress off and enforce everyone to practice and take advantage of the time off.

4. Schedule one week for individual practices to evaluate team members
Create a sign-up sheet for evaluation sessions. Have five of these (one hour each) in one week. Divide your team up evenly (ex: 30 members on a team, divide this by five days so that you will evaluate six members per practice). Allow members to sign up whenever they wish, as long as it’s in the timeframe. During this practice, your job as a captain is to evaluate every team member on how well they know the routine. This has nothing to do with perfecting it. Knowledge is the first part–you can perfect the routine later. If the person knows the routine, she passes, and if not, she will fail. Don’t be too harsh, it’s a know-it or don’t thing; you don’t want everyone stressed out over this. Create a punishment for failing, like going to practices during the weekend or going to “fail” practices. This will be your time to punish those that didn’t know the routine, because it was their fault and they deserve to be punished rather than the team as a whole. Use this time to help them learn the routine so that you can start practices with the entire team to work on the next step–perfection.

And there you have it! One week to teach the routine, one week to rest, one week to evaluate. A three-week process. This might seem long, but if you think about it, it’s really not. Most captains make the mistake of teaching a routine in 1-2 weeks and going immediately into the perfection process. Though many team members are dedicated and spend time practicing, there are the ones who don’t. Running straight into the process of perfection is therefore only a waste of time, because the people that don’t know the routine can’t perfect what they’ve not yet learned. When you perform, the judges watch every single person on your team and you cannot risk having one person off. If one person doesn’t know the routine, she’ll never have time to perfect it and her bad angles/posture/etc. will catch a judge’s eye.

Sometimes even months after the routine is taught, people still don’t know the routine. I remember times when people hadn’t learned a routine until four months after being taught. So if you think about it, a three-week process with every single member knowing the routine is a pretty good deal. As a whole you will be able to move on and not have to practice formations with the girl in the back who doesn’t know the routine and is always in your way because she doesn’t know where to move. You have go step by step, and the first step is knowledge. Not just in most of the members, but every member. You need to surpass this step in order to move on.

Have fun teaching!


  1. marysue luke

    I am looking for simple routines to teach to special education students. I was never on a drill team myself and would like some advice. I teach the class 5 times a week and they will perform at special education games throughout this school year

  2. Your writing and suggestions were excellent and helpful. Thank you for making a website of it. I am the captian of Fire Power Soul Steppers and it is hard to get everyone through practice. This is my first time being captian and I was mind-bottle on how to run practice. Everything problem you have said I went through and your solution is magnificient. You are a blessing and I pray you do more like this.

    Thank you again!
    Heather Pough

  3. Erinn

    I am looking for a video or someone to teach me the basics of stepping. I have never been on a team but have picked up a couple things from watching clips on the net. I’d like to teach my students something basic for their pep rally in 2 weeks. Thanks.

  4. Sue

    Thx 4 de advice n tips… well’ i’m captain 4 my cheer squad n i juz went in2 perfection when some of them still dunno de routine( although i’ve been teaching 4 2 mths continuously) n when de comp day arrived, we were a disaster!!! we totally disgraced ourselves in front of de entire stadium!!! thx again 4 de tips i’ll follow them n see 4 myself how my team’ll b nxt yr… Wish me luck!!!

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