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Good Sportsmanship in Pole, aka How to Not Be a Jerk

By on May 15, 2018

With the rise (dare I say, the explosion) of pole competitions in recent years, there’s a lot of new opportunities for polers to get on stage and learn the ins and outs of competing. I’ve written before about some of the facets of competition, but after attending a recent comp, I realized there’s something that I had yet to cover: sportsmanship!

I have been involved in Pole Sport Organization events since their inception: I was a competitor at their inaugural event, the 2012 Pacific Pole Championships, and since then I have attended, competed, or served as a judge for at least one PSO event a year. It’s been fun to watch the evolution of the organization and how their guidelines for dancers and judges have changed as more people get involved, and as our industry and culture adapts. PSO makes tweaks to their rules, processes, and events every competition season, and as a judge, I’ve seen a lot those changes firsthand. Where we once had to have few qualifications to volunteer, we’re now asked for specifics on where we teach, what levels we feel comfortable judging, and more – and our prep includes training documents to read, tests to pass, and an interview with a PSO representative, to ensure we’re fully prepared to be judges.

Judges have all the fun! L to R: Jane, Arloa, Nadine, me, Jamers, and Kate at a PSO event. Photo is my own.

While there’s still room for improvement in the system, I admire that Amy and her team are always looking for ways to build a better experience and grow in what they do. As for myself, in 2017 I took my experience as a longtime judge and previous competitor and developed/revamped the Competition Team at my home studio. This was a group effort, to be sure, but I have taken a large part in the organization of our training offerings and as such, a leadership position within the team. Taking on this responsibility gave me something new to consider: how to lead by example for a team of competitors.

As an instructor and a coach, I have to walk a difficult line: be supportive to our competitors, while offering candid and direct feedback to help them grow, and also keeping a positive attitude about training and competing. This is a lot! My philosophy is that it does no one any good to not be honest about anything from what category or level to choose, to what is or is not working in a piece, and more. I try to always be forthright in my comments, but to also choose the things that I think are the most within reach to improve.

Some members of The Vertitude’s PPC 2018 Competition Team and their fellow Verties (and coaches!) who came out to support them. Back Row, L to R: Jordan, Portia, Emily, Renae, Kaitlyn, Marnita, Meggan, Sara, Danielle, me, and Veronica. Front Row: Corey and Candace.

I am tremendously proud of our competitors and our studio, but I also have to set that aside when I am a judge and be realistic about what I see on stage (note: I do not judge on panels for categories in which we have competitors). I try to not disparage other competitors or studios to our dancers, and I try to be fair in what I do say to them.

Why? Because it does not help them to hear me or any other coach say crappy things about other dancers. Comparison is the thief of joy, not just in terms of comparing yourself to others, but also when other people decide to inject into what should be a fun or energizing experience. As a coach, my job is to lead by example and not resort to insults, petty judgements, or cattiness in front of my competitors. The truth is, my behavior can impact how they see their experience: if I am thrilled for them, they’re more likely to be happy or be okay with their experience competing, even if they didn’t get the results they hoped to have. If I’m negative? They’re probably going to absorb that and let it impact their experience. It’s not fair to do that to them.

As a coach or instructor, it’s also important to pick up when your competitors don’t have the best attitudes and work with them to adjust their perspective. At a recent competition, I found myself within earshot of a competitor loudly complaining about where they were placed in their category. The dancer was standing in the lobby of the event, near the results board, just a few feet from me. They were upset about not placing in the top 3 and making comments about being robbed.

With my fellow competitor, Amber, at the 2012 Pacific Pole Championships.

I was a judge for this competitor, but the event rules state that I could not speak to them about their performance while at the venue, so I stayed quiet and made a mental note to talk about sportsmanship with our future competitors. I have so much empathy for walking out to look at that results board and being disappointed that you placed lower than you expected or hoped – it’s happened to me! But to stand in the lobby and complain about where you were ranked compared to other dancers is bad sportsmanship. Your fellow competitors worked hard, too. You can’t know why someone was scored above you, and frankly, you have no control over it. All you can control is what YOU put into it. You can choose to be proud of what you did, despite the results, or you can choose to complain and make the experience less joyful for yourself and others.

Good sportsmanship covers a lot of things, from the example above, to the attitudes of coaches, to not doing things like sandbagging (purposely signing up for a lower category so that you can win). Being a good competitor is a mix of common sense, empathy/decency, and choosing to look for the fun and the joy in the experience. It’s far easier to give support to your fellow competitors, and I guarantee, you’ll have a much better time competing if you do!

Accepting my medal at the 2012 Pacific Pole Championships, with my fellow competitors. Photo is my own (and not the best quality, sorry).


Danielle C.

Danielle C.

Creative entity, cat mom, dog auntie, consumer of too much sugar. Pole and lyra enthusiast, amateur foodie, local explorer. One half of Poleitical Clothing. Read my musings at
Danielle C.

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