By Barbie Porter
Kaitlin Wake is part of a growing trend of former Hornets taking on coaching positions. While some stay in Hornet country, Wake landed a head coaching job with the Aitkin All Stars dance team last year.
She had been assistant coach while earning her college degrees in integrated elementary and special education. When a head coach for the Aitkin All Stars dance team resigned, she was encouraged to apply. When she got the job, she was surprised.
While she prepared for the competition year, all of her plans had to be modified once the spring lock down of 2020 began due to the COVID-19 pandemic. While she was able to have an in person introductory meeting with parents prior to the season kick off, when practices began, it was all in online meeting rooms.
Wake said the team worked well with one another and made the best of the situation they were presented.
“It was a great year to start coaching,” she said. “If I can learn to coach online, I knew I would be well off when I was able to coach in person.”
Her prediction held true. As Wake bonded with her girls during Zoom practices, eventually they were afforded the opportunity to meet in person. When that happened, the team really started clicking.
“We saw some things that worked in our dance practices on Zoom, were not going to work as good as we thought in person,” she said, adding modifications were made before the competition season began. More hiccups followed, and during the season the team only had one performance.
“We had to drop out of two events because of COVID, and that put us back onto Zoom for practice,” Wake said, adding there were frustrations expressed, but she kept reminding her team (and herself) that one day they will look back on the unforgettable turn of events and laugh.
She also helped the team keep their eyes on the prize of section competitions. The dancers kept bringing up how bad they wanted to compete at state. She explained if that is their goal, then they should refocus to sections.
“I’ve never seen a group of girls cry as hard as they did when they heard their names announced at sections,” Wake said. “That was a —why I coach —moment.”
Their performance at sections earned the team a trip to state. Wake, who had performed at state in the Xcel Energy Center when she was a member of the Frazee Fly Girl team knows what the big event is supposed to be like. The COVID-19 version of state was a far cry. There was one performance the team gave for judges, and then it was back on the bus.
“We had some younger dancers who asked if that is how state is normally,” Wake said, noting there was a tinge of disappointment in their voices. She explained state is usually much more interactive, where they can watch the other teams perform and there are thousands of people in the stands cheering.
Communicating to her student athletes, as well as their parents, was another big lesson in Wake’s first year of coaching. She said email is not a normal form of communication for her, but she learned some parents use it frequently. To ensure she kept everyone on the same page, she created a routine of checking different social media sites, emails and texts.
Other lessons the new head coach learned came from past experiences and some from trial and error. Such as knowing the fine line between pushing dancers to be challenged and to the to the brink.
“Dancing is a hard sport; it will hurt, but it should also be fun,” she said. “It should be a chance for all girls to become leaders.”
As the dance teams get closer to starting their new season in late October, Wake is eager to continue to grow with her team.