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  • Chris Wilkins

The Importance of Watching

Recently I was having a conversation with my old assistant coach, and the topic of interp came up (as it always does). We talked about a lot of things, but mainly how my old team is doing this year. Since I graduated in 2011, my team has lost almost all its coaches. I’m one of the people who have stepped forward to volunteer as an assistant coach, and I have (along with a few other great coaches) been doing my best to keep the tradition of excellence alive at my school. I’m learning more about coaching every day, but sometimes it feels like coaching is much more difficult than performing ever was. So I asked my coach how he did it—specifically how he got people to the “next level.” And he said something to me that was so simple that I’m surprised I didn’t think of it before. He asked me if, “people were watching the tapes?”

I suddenly remembered how religiously I used to watch the national final rounds of duo. When I was in my prime I could name you the placing and title of every duo in finals for the past five years. I could do this because I watched them all—more than that even. But I did not just watch them… I studied them. I examined them critically and tried to figure out why each and every one of them made finals.

In my opinion, everyone who makes finals at NFLs does so for a reason. And if you watch enough finalists, you can start to pinpoint exactly what these finalists do to make the final round. There are trends, there are patterns—the majority of finalists all use similar techniques.

My head coach even went so far as to document some of these patterns, which he put into a spreadsheet of sorts. He determined the average time of things (intros, teasers, etc.), isolated the time where most pieces climaxed; overall he studied finalists so he could figure out what NFLs was looking for in finalists. My brother and I did this as well.

I still believe that if you did enough research, you could essentially create a “fill in the blank” sheet for a piece—guidelines to follow that would guarantee success. The teaser needs to be between this time and that, there needs to be this many scenes with this many characters, the climax should happen at this time, etc. But you learn so much more than that from watching finalists. You learn how to move, how to handle yourself, how to take the stage with confidence—when you study national finalists you can figure out how to become one.

I still remember watching the 2008 national final round my sophomore (and novice) year of competing. We were having a get-together with the whole team, and we watched the tapes in a huge room. So many people were stuffed in that room that many of them (including myself) had to sit on the floor. But we all wanted to see them—all wanted to experience the pieces that made the final round. I was especially impressed by duo that year, and it’s humorous to point out that this was the year that two twin duos made the final round. As I was watching these fantastic pieces I thought to myself, “I can do that.”

They were wonderful performers all of them, and everything they did on that stage was beyond inspiring. But what they were doing was not unachievable.

I have always believed that if I could see something I could do it—it’s how I taught myself to backflips and numerous other tricks or skills. And when I saw the national tapes that year, I knew that if I worked hard I too could do exactly what they were doing.

My senior year I had a similar experience. It was a few weeks before nationals and Ryan, our head coach and I decided to have a Duo Final Round Marathon. Where we watched our favorites from each year and discussed what they did right afterwards. I found some new favorites, and came up with my final goal for the national tournament: whether we made finals or not, I simply wanted to act as well as the people who made finals. That was all I truly wanted. A goal I believe I achieved through the help of watching national finalists.

But there is another crucial step in order to reaching that “next level”, you must also watch yourself. That’s right, I said it… nobody ever wants to do it (I didn’t either) but it is absolutely necessary: you need to record yourself performing. Not only do you need to do this, but you need to watch it over and over again. And though it sounds mean and offensive, watching yourself is the best way to realize how bad you are. For a real good time, watch a national final round and then watch yourself perform immediately afterwards.

When I was in high school I hated watching myself perform, but I also understood that it was the best possible way to figure out everything I was doing wrong. Ryan and I used to watch ourselves performing and take pages upon pages of notes writing down every single nit-picky thing we wanted to fix with our duo. Once we had these notes we would systematically go through and fix all of them. When we were done with that we would record ourselves again to see how it all looked!

By watching national finalists you can determine what is good—by watching yourself you can decide what you’re doing wrong. Between these two you can solve just about every problem you have with your piece. For this reason I cannot emphasis enough the importance of watching performances—your own performance, and those of national finalists.

I know it is more difficult now a days to do this, especially since the final round tapes got taken off of Youtube. But the tapes are not gone completely! Don't be afraid to ask your coach for the final round DVDs. If your coach has an account on, then you can sign on and watch final rounds years in the past. You can even watch recent semi-final rounds! Find ways to watch them and then watch yourself—it will help you more than you could ever imagine.

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