In Chapter 16 on Self-Caring, writer, speaker, and mental health advocate Katie Reed states, “Self-care is giving the world the best of you, instead of what’s left of you.”

Self-care simply refers to taking care of yourself. Over time, the compound effect of neglecting your physical and mental health can have detrimental consequences not only in marching percussion, but more importantly, in life. In Drumline Gold, self-care refers to six critical areas for being your best: hearing protection, hydration, exercise, injury prevention, sleep, and stress management.

Feel of the Cloth

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, stress, anxiety, and uncertainty have pervaded and disrupted our lives. The WGI and DCI seasons have been canceled and fall marching bands will be playing (and marching) by different rules. But rest assured, the marching community is strong, resilient, and optimistic and will make the necessary adjustments moving forward in what Shark Tank star and Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban dubbed, America 2.0.

One of the toughest transitions we have adapted to has been staying at home and social distancing, resulting in a lack of social interaction. According to General Stanley McChrystal, “The German Army had a saying [called] the feel of the cloth. They were referencing when the men were walking so close to one another they could literally feel the cloth on the person next to them. Right now, we don’t have that luxury with our co-workers, and it’s a challenge. But what we do have and what we need to utilize are communication platforms to stay connected to our teammates. This is our new normal and it’s our time to be a leader and help our team get the job done.” 

Not being able to hang out with, drum with, and perform with their friends—to feel the cloth—pulls against the very nature of why our students love the activity so much and why it’s so fulfilling. But with patience, creativity, and collaboration, there is no doubt in my mind the marching community will be first in line to show up and bust the doors down when given the green light. 

For some programs, this is already happening. At Clemson University, we had our first home game last weekend with Tiger Band performing in the stands, socially distanced, and wearing masks. Despite these and other logistical challenges, the feel of the cloth started to return, at least in the eyes and energy of our drumline members.

The Paradox of Stress

In the marching activity, stress can also arise from high expectations, demanding staff, lack of time, quantity of music, number of shows, musical difficulty, adverse weather, spinning too many plates, academic pressure, social dynamics, overwhelm, travel, perfection, and fear of failure.

Stress is usually viewed as a negative condition—something to be avoided. According to the Cleveland Clinic, “Stress is the body’s reaction to any change that requires an adjustment or response…Stress is a normal part of life.” They offer some solutions such as, “keep a positive attitude, accept that there are events that you cannot control, exercise regularly, eat healthy, manage your time more effectively, say no to requests that would create excessive stress in your life, make time for hobbies and interests, get enough rest and sleep, and seek out social support.”    

In Peak Performance, Brad Stulberg and Steve Magness define stress as challenge, always followed by rest and recovery. Their reframing of stress led to some fascinating insights:

[We] “learned that the world’s best performers — in domains as varied as sport, art, and business — follow a common pathway to continual growth. They take on challenges and make themselves uncomfortable (stress) and then follow those challenges with recovery and reflection (rest). Then they rinse and repeat, with a slightly greater challenge. Too much stress, not enough rest and the result is injury, illness, or burnout. Not enough stress, too much rest and the result is complacency, boredom, and stagnation.

Whether it is physical, intellectual, or emotional growth, research suggests that skills come from struggle. If we wish to get better at anything, we need to stress ourselves, pushing beyond our current limits. Studies show that both the body and the brain respond to stress by becoming stronger — so long as the period of stress is followed by adequate rest and recovery.”

I find Stulberg’s and Magness’ take on stress liberating, as it is all about science and mindset. While marching percussion can certainly create a “stressful” environment, studies show this is the very environment we need to develop, grow, and excel.

When I meet with talented high school seniors who are on the fence about whether to march in college, I always tell them the biggest reason to do so is the friends they will make and the instant support network they will have. College can be stressful, but if you make a commitment to time management, organization, and effort, you will be successful—and the friendships and bonds you form along the way will help you take care of yourself and reach your potential. 

This chapter features interviews with Bill Bachman, Lauren Teel, Jeff Queen, Lance Curry, and a special contribution from Dr. Elliot Cleveland of Marching Health.