The Similarities Between Football and Marching Band:
Marching Band Should be Treated as a Sport
Northern Illinois University
The Similarities Between Football and Marching BandWhen watching a high school football game, the spectators look forward to the home team winning and nothing else matters. However, there is also other entertainment keeping the crowd alive: the cheerleaders and the marching band. People do not realize how much time and effort the marching band puts into a half time performance, let alone that the band participates in marching competitions. In comparison to football, high school marching bands should be treated as a sport due to the total hours of rehearsal, football game performances, competitions, physical activity, and injuries experienced throughout the season.
How the term “marching band” came into existence has a very simple explanation. According to Kurt Weimer (2005), “The origins of marching band could technically date back to when the first musicians got up and moved around...As better technology in instrument manufacturing quality and quantity in the early 19th century merged with the orderly precision of military tactics established in the earliest of the colonial British empire era, the basis was set for practices still in use today.” Marching bands today reflect many of the military tactics taught in places such as the navy or the army to discipline and motivate students. It is these very ideas that has created the competitive high school band.
To expand on the band’s militaristic origins, it does have a rank and file system with an individual being in command and going down the line (Weimer, 2005, pg. 1). To illustrate the comparisons, the general would be the equivalent of the band director; the colonels would be the aides to the band director; the major in the military would be the drum major (the person that conducts the marching band); and the squad leaders would be the section leaders of the each instrument group. Just as in a military, students are taught to obey commands and stand in block formation. However, the idea that is associated with performing came in the early 1900s.
The idea of performing on fields grew when sheet music became widely available in “1915 and more and more students in the public school band programs created larger marching bands that would perform in parades, which also led to football becoming a widespread sport,” as mentioned in Weimer’s article (2005). Although much of the marching band’s beginnings is credited to the military, people still fail to see the physical qualities. However, the one thing that can be said from this is that football viewers have the band to thank for its popularity today.
Football was once literally “football”, meaning that one only used feet to kick around a ball. Like rugby and soccer, it is believed to have originated from the ancient Greek game harapaston, where points were given to the player who crossed the goal line by kicking the ball even though there were no definite lengths of a field according to the Hornet Football (2011). The game is said to have been much more brutal and violent than the sport is today. Rules and regulations were not included until the game developed many years later.
It was not until about the late 1800s that American football began to take its form. According to NFL History (2012), “In 1869, Rutgers and Princeton played a college soccer football game, the first ever, on November 6th. The game used modified London rules and regulations. In 1876 at the Massasolt convention, the first rules for American football were written. Walter Camp, who would become known as the father of American football, became involved in the game.” It is from this history that one sees how American football came to be a widely popular sport.
Any person can say that a sport is generally anything that constitutes competitive physical activity. According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary (2012), “a sport is an activity involving physical exertion and skill in which an individual or team competes against another or others.” While there are many sports, in this paper the focus will be primarily on high school football. With football, there are a certain number of players and they practice to compete against other football teams. Likewise, they attain injuries due to the physical aspects of the game. So if the elements of a sport are simply individual or team physical competition, the same can be applied to a competitive high school marching band.Many will argue that marching band is not a sport while others will in fact say that because of the marching and the variety of instruments one has to work with, it does require physical exertion and team effort. “A marching band is an ensemble of musicians that march in time to the music for entertainment at events and in parades, often with brass, wind, and percussion instruments, drum majors and/or majorettes,and color guard,” according to dictionary.com (2012). Weather permitting, high school marching bands spend a lot of the time practicing outdoors. From experience, some will practice up to three hours a day without breaks thus resulting in the injuries that will be discussed later on. Students work together as a team not only to get crowds hyped at football games, but also to outperform other marching bands in competitions.
There are many comparisons between football and marching band that are overlooked. In fact, according to Andrew Martin (2007), “They are both required to apply themselves over a sustained and disciplined period of time in order to develop high-level skills; they both need to “switch on” in key performance settings; they are both subjected to the rigors and challenges of competition; they both need to bounce back from the inevitable setbacks they encounter along the way; they both wrestle self-doubt and performance slumps; and, they both need a set of psychological and behavioral skills to cope with the ordinary course of pressure in the respective pursuits and settings” (p. 135-136). Marching band shares a lot of aspects with football such as competing and physical exertion, yet many fail to see how it is a sport. The similarities will be discussed throughout this paper.
High school football requires regular workout days leading up to game day. Typically player will practice four days a week, monday through thursday before game day (which is friday), after school for about two to three hours according to Brian Sather (2010). The students practice daily to strengthen their bodies and to be prepared for injuries that may follow. During the practice, they break it up into a routine that tests their speed and endurance.
It takes an excessive amount of time to put together a high school marching band show. Some practice non-stop and even use weekends to rehearse. Directors will have students rehearse between four to five days a week from an hour to two hours per day (Aho, 2005, p. 95). Rehearsal will usually consist of running through drill sets, sectional practice, and music interpretation. Individual practice is the responsibility of the student and must be taken care of off the field.Band students spend a lot of time not only rehearsing, but performing at football games and partaking in marching competitions. “Members will spend as much as 116 hours and are required to perform at football games,” according to Wozniak (2005, p. 1). The amount of effort used to march and play takes a physical toll on the body. Both football and marching band require a great deal of exertion.
When working to strengthen a football player, the same routines can not be implemented everyday. Variations of exercises are incorporated to challenge the body physically. According to Sather (2010), “stretching, warming up, sectional team plays, sprints, punting, working on defensive and offensive teams” are all methods of getting players going. It is a form of aerobic activity in which the heart rate rises as the individual exerts effort on the body. This concept it also applied to band.
Marching and playing takes a lot out of the high school band students’ body. According to Wozniak (2008), “Marching demands high levels of oxygen to allow the body to exert the needed effort. Members must also use air to play the instruments. Consequently, marching and playing simultaneously is a highly aerobic activity” (p. 9). The tempo, or the speed of the music, determines how fast one marches from point A to point B on a field, which gets the blood circulating thus resulting in the heart working harder. Added to the effort is having to carry an instrument as well.Instruments vary in size and require effort when in use. A small instrument, such as a trumpet, must be held at a ninety degree angle for long periods of time whereas students that carry a larger instrument (baritone, tuba, percussion) must expel more oxygen due to the weight and movement together according to Wozniak (2008). It is a lot of physical activity for a band student and football student which can lead to possible injuries.
Football is a contact sport. Injuries can range from a simple sprain to broken bones or concussions. According to Sean Turbeville (2003), games a practice injuries include sprains, knee injuries, fractures, concussions, dehydration, strains, and contusions (pg. 976). Many students will already have pre-existing injuries and continue to play. Due to outdoor practices, while it is not as much of a problem, dehydration is still a risk with students who do not properly hydrate. Similar to football, band students can experience the same repercussions.
Like football, marching band is an outdoor sport. The team rehearses regularly and for hours on end sometimes under hot temperatures. According to Claudia Vepraskas (2002), “Marching band students are athletes who practice outdoors under conditions that expose them to dehydration, heat exhaustion, and sunstroke. They suffer these heat-related injuries because breaking down formation frequently is impractical.” Just as she said, high school directors do not allow for continual breaks during practice. It does take away from precious time yet it makes the body prone to illnesses caused by lack of hydration. It also allows for the other bodily injuries to incur.
High school band students suffer from injuries partially because it is not treated as a sport which means directors and aides do not have sufficient knowledge of health guidelines. Dehydration attributes to bodily injuries due to excessive marching and expelling air through instruments. Musicians report leg and arm pain, thoratic pain, numbness, loss of sensation in the hands or fingers, fatigue, temporary hearing loss, dizziness, and chest pain to name some injuries mentioned by Susan Harman (1992). Of course, students carrying larger instruments will experience more frequent back pain and strains versus a student who carries a smaller instrument. However, smaller instruments that are held at a certain angle require just as much muscle due to the length of time being held in that position. “Muscles, tendons, and joints can be injured during physical activities, particularly when a regimen of repetitive, deliberate practice and performance is required,” according to Jacob Levy (2009, p. 135). Regardless of the injuries taken during the season, these do not stop football and marching band students from performing.
Friday night football games are what bring the high school together. It is a chance to show off how much spirit and pride the school has. Game day consists of the team meeting an hour or two before the game to stretch and warm up. The players are then introduced before the game and they compete against the visiting football team in the hopes of winning to make it to the playoffs and even winning a championship game in the division the school is a part of.
Half-time shows are what high school marching bands are recognized for. They are essentially the entertainment for the crowd, aside from the game itself. According to Wozniak (2008), game day adds on five hours to the seven hour a week rehearsal schedule (p. 2). This may include practicing before the game, the actual game, half-time performance, and more practice (in the case that errors are made on field that must be fixed). Whatever the case, half-time performances are a tradition that is to be continued. They provide more practice for band competitions during the season.
Depending on the competitiveness of the marching band, a season will typically allow for three to four competitions. This is also dependent on how long the high school’s football team lasts against other teams and the season. Other than that, the competitions vary from place to place. Schools compete against other bands and are separated by class based off the size of the band to give everyone a fair chance.
One of the most popular and well known marching band competitions is called Bands of America. According to Musica For All (2010), “Bands of America is a program of Music for All. More than 1 million people are alumni of Bands of America marching band events, the first of which were held in 1976. Bands of America was created in 1976 as "Marching Bands of America" (MBA), renamed Bands of America (BOA) in 1984 and merged with the Music for All Foundation in 2006 to create Music for All. MFA’s marching band events continue to carry the name of "Bands of America." Marching bands from all over the nation are given a chance to compete against some of the most experienced, talented musicians. The event is held in November every year at the Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, Indiana.
The event encourages band directors to show off what the marching band can do. “Bands of America marching band championships are about excellence and opportunity. Participation offers students the chance to be placed on the nation’s highest pedestals, alongside their peers. We provide the finest venues, quality evaluation and opportunities to observe other bands, all in a positive, affirming and celebratory atmosphere. For the band director, Bands of America Championships are an opportunity to demonstrate excellence, to receive invaluable input and feedback and to evaluate the achievement of your students and the progress of your program on a national standard and level,” stated by Music For All (2010). It gives high school marching bands an opportunity to perform like they never have before in the hopes that all their hard work has paid off.The most highly competitive and known marching band competitions is Drum Corp International. According to DCI (2012), “From modest beginnings more than three decades ago, Drum Corps International (DCI) has developed into a powerful, nonprofit, global youth activity with far-reaching artistic, educational and organizational influence. Through the annual DCI Tour and more than 35 World Championships in 17 North American cities, Drum Corps International provides entertainment to millions through live performances and nationally-televised events. Drum Corps International is Marching Music’s Major League.” It sends a message to other marching band of the possibilities that can come from music.
Drum Corp International travels all around the nation from July to early August, present the best of the best to fans of all ages. Stated by DCI (2012), “Each year, more than 8,000 students audition for the fewer than 3,500 positions available in top-tier DCI member corps. More than 5,000 members directly participate annually. Sixty six percent are male, average age is 19.4, 72 percent are full-time college students, 59.6 percent of the current college students are pursuing music education degrees, while 65 percent of those that indicated they are high school students intend to major in music education.” The competition looks for the best marching bands around the nation to put on the best show possible for spectators that come from all around.
The comparisons between the high school marching band and the football team are far too great to be overlooked. Just as a football player needs to train to be a better athlete, a marching band student needs to train to be a better “athletic musician”. One does not simply become a musical prodigy or the greatest football player ever over night. Both these sports require a lot of physical exertion, competition, motivation, and determination. High school marching should a sport because it functions just the same as any other competitive sport.
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