From the Coach’s Perspective: Adapting with Creativity for Distant Learning

By Mira Gurock

This year has been a whirlwind for all circus communities. In a world that has had to make so many adjustments to function in any capacity, the very basics of what it means to coach has been turned upside down. I was able to reach out to a diverse group of circus coaches to ask what their experience has been like spotting, demonstrating, and instructing in these unprecedented times. 

When asked about the challenges of coaching under these conditions, T Lawrence-Simon, a Boston-based circus performer and coach responded by saying, “Honestly, the most challenging part is that I have a very hard time hearing most of my students. As a former theater person, I am quite used to and capable of speaking in a slightly more boisterous and enunciated manner. Not everyone is good at/trained at that, and not knowing exactly what my student is saying puts me on alert, cause if they are saying they are hurt or unsure of something, I need to know”. 

Zoë Heywood, a coach and performer for Moody Street Circus, has also experienced challenges. She said, “The first thing that comes to mind is setting expectations and…helping students navigate a whole new way our circus can and must operate! Guiding them through their expectations about returning to the air after a 4-9 month hiatus has also proved challenging as an empathetic human! Some come in mentally ready and expecting to pick up where they left off, which is dangerous, and others are very hard on themselves about what they have lost which is self-defeating”. 

Marlon Archer, a coach at NECCA (New England Center for Circus Arts), offered his perspective on coaching online. For him, the hardest part about coaching online is, “Probably camera positioning for online coaching.  Sometimes it’s a really awkward struggle to get the right angle.  There’s also a time delay that makes cueing less effective”. 

Quarantine has also offered an exceptional creative challenge for coaches. They have been forced to step out of their comfort zone and make adaptions to their regular coaching regimen. 

When asked about this, Lawrence-Simon responded by saying, “There are so many skills that I’m just not teaching right now, because it wouldn’t be safe to have someone try it for the first MANY times unspotted”. 

Heywood recalled how things changed quickly this past spring.  “The biggest adaptation was beginning to work on ZOOM when things first shut down. Inspiring students to train on their own at home has been a fun challenge. I developed motivating challenges for pull ups, core work and flexibility – motivating my student base from afar and online”. 

Archer has adapted his coaching style to be more expressive, “I’ve started using a lot more gestures, and sounds.”

Finally, spotting has always been an important part of coaching, but as Lawrence-Simon put it, “I mean, there is no spotting…so there’s that”. 

Heywood responded by explaining how her family-owned studio has delt with the issue of spotting: “As a small family business we get to know each one of our students very well. We require students to keep an open mind on communication and feedback with us, discussing their strengths, weaknesses, fears, goals etc! My coaching style is predicated on building body awareness so that my students can move through pathways confidently that do not require spotting.”. 

Archer, who focuses mainly on coaching hand balancing and partner Acro, was asked how he has been spotting his students: “[You] can’t do it!  Safety lines are an option for some things.  Otherwise it’s a lot of mats and careful progression”

As a student in my circus community, I have felt such immense gratitude for my coaches over these past eight months. They have worked quickly and creatively to adapt in order to keep their students passionate. As we transition into the new year, it is important to recognize the people in our community that have worked so hard to keep our lives feeling as normal as possible. Make it a mission of yours to reach out to your coaches, staff and fellow circus-ing community members and express your gratitude towards them for all the effort they have made over the course of this wild year. 

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