Coach Daniel Helton: How to Coach a Champion Team

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Abigail Quinn, Contributor

It was not too many years ago when Daniel Helton moved from a small town setting–Fort Myers, Florida–to South Carolina, and even shorter a time since he began training multiple top color-guard teams.

Fort Myers to him was sunny days, consistent weather, and friendly people. To put in his own words, the town allowed him to “be more open to speaking to people” which quickly changed as he moved from Fort Myers to Fort Lauderdale, a booming city that is much less friendly. Though the changes between the cities was quite drastic, the early morals that Fort Myers taught him still hold true.

Since the beginning of his high school career, Mr. Helton felt a draw toward teaching and influencing the lives of others. Being the youngest of five brothers and sisters, color guard and band “was like a second family to me” and so his interest in teaching the marching arts only grew as he got older. “I’ve been teaching color guard since my junior year of high school.”

Though he has been writing and teaching color guard choreography since mid-high school, his introduction to teaching was abrupt to say the least. “My instructors left my high school, and I was the captain, and so I started writing choreography and being in charge.” From there, he “just fell in love with it. I’ve always felt like color guard especially was like a home for me.”

After a friend that Mr. Helton had worked with in Florida got a job at Blythewood High School, he felt that it was time for a change in scenery. “I would come and do their [Blythwood’s] band camps and that kind of got me close to the community and everybody in Columbia.” Fueled by his past of teaching athletics to younger children, he moved to South Carolina and took up the job of choreographer at Summerville High School. “I came to Ashley Ridge because [of] Ben Pouncey[, the Ashley Ridge high school band director,] used to work at Summerville, and I knew him, so when he became the band director he was like ‘Hey, do you want to do some color guard over here?’  and I said, ‘absolutely’.” Mr. Helton still remains as the choreographer at Ashley Ridge and Summerville High School to this day and is responsible for training some of the highest-scoring color guards in the region.

Mr. Helton is nothing short of a wealth of advice when asked about how to train a champion guard. “Be dynamic!” he laughs, “Make mistakes; make big mistakes!” He continues by saying, “Do what you know. A lot of times when you are young and first starting in this activity you think about everybody else’s opinion of what you are doing, do what you know, do what you were taught.” He adds, “Start there and then as you do that and you teach that you will have your own ideas of ‘well I want try it this way’ or ‘I think if I say this to my kids about spins’ then you develop your own style. But to be comfortable in the beginning, do what you were taught and then go from there. That way you have a confidence.”

In the same vein, he describes his teaching style as being “fun but firm… I used to be more strict, I’m a little more forgiving now.” This was true. The beginning of his teaching career at Ashley Ridge was rocky to say the least, where the team had just been rocked by sudden staff changes and was greeted by the new and more firm guidance of Mr. Helton. We would learn to appreciate this guidance in the following two years and up through the present.

“I definitely feel like I hold people accountable and that I can evaluate a student in how hard they are pushing and if they are trying to do their best and I will let them know if they don’t, but then is still think I want it to be a good time, I want it to be fun like I said when I was in it; it was a second family.”

When asked how someone could achieve such a bond with students, but equally raise a hard-working and devoted team, he replied with “I want people to feel like I’m seeing them.” Mr. Helton makes sure that everyone feels heard, but at the same time is working hard and pulling weight for the team. However, one frustration Mr. Helton holds with working with teenagers is “lack of belief in themselves.” He continues on by describing his frustration as, “Trying to get people to try hard, trying to get people to fully do something all out… I was a drummer and I did color guard. I just did it; they were like ‘try to do this’. I was just always willing to do whatever was asked of me.”  He follows up by finishing with, “Push yourself and try; just try hard.”

And the Ashley ridge Color Guard has ‘tried hard’ in the past two years, topping some of their previous years’ scores in all categories by what could be considered a land slide. The teams equipment scores have dominated their class of competition only falling short behind the Summerville Winter Guard, who is coached by Mr. Helton as well.

Both teams would have have continued their competition circuit, but were unfortunately unable to complete their competitive season due to the outbreak of COVID-19.