As a spectator I attended the 2013 AKC Nationals. During the competition, one of the announcers would read a few sentences about each handler and his or her dog. The difference in each dog’s experience level became clear to me when the announcer described first-time agility handlers running dogs that qualified for Nationals for the first time, as well as handlers whose dogs have been on the world team many times. This led me to wonder: What does it take to make it to the finals? How often do the finalists practice? What advice would they have for people just starting out in the sport? All of these were questions I had while sitting in the stands waiting to watch who will become the next national champion.
I’ve been listening to many podcasts lately and learning about the mental game. There seems to be a trend in defining words in relation to yourself and your goals. I’m always thinking about what I would like to accomplish at each trial or run to be successful. So, I asked the competitors what success means to them. I’m fascinated with many of these answers because they all have such personal meaning to each of them. It is my hope that you will find their responses below as insightful as I do. (I tried to reach as many of the competitors as possible but, unfortunately, I didn’t have everyone’s email. Please feel free to sign up for my email list and so I can reach out to you in the future.)
Success for me is any time that I can compete and know that I’ve done the best that I can do. My trainer once asked me if I wanted a consistent dog or one that would challenge me. I took the challenge and each time we come off course I’m either smiling or laughing because Jazz has given me the best he has and he runs with his heart for me….that’s success! ~ Arlene Collins
A fun, connected run with my dog (not necessarily a Q), if he’s having a great time, then I succeeded! ~Amber Genest
Success isn’t necessarily a Q on that particular run, yes it is nice, but to me success is the simple thing of just being able to step to the start line with my teammate and the opportunity he has given me to run him in this fun sport. That bonding is success, the look on his face when we step to the start line and he starts his loud screaming is success, my dog knowing that no matter what happens on that run, he gets rewarded with some of his favorite treats. ~ John Rowe
Enjoying the journey ~ Tori Self
I’m fascinated that not one person answered this question by saying winning. Not one person said she defines success by becoming a National Champion. That is simply amazing and it shows that success is more then the Q at the local or national level. Take some time to think about how you define success. What is important to you that will allow you to feel successful?
Your mental game also plays a role in your level of success. The mental game is so powerful and it has such an impact on our training and overall performance. So, I asked them if there was a moment in your agility journey that you said I’m going to become a champion? Out of all the people I asked, only three people responded by saying there was a point in their journey were they thought they could become a champion. Two of those who responded “yes” have actually gone on to become National Champions. I also asked if they thought they could win the 2013 AKC National Championship. Only one third of the competitors said “yes.”
This surprised me. Most of the mental management techniques that I’ve been learning involve believing in your abilities and believing in your success. Perhaps these competitors were simply being modest. My favorite response was from Tori Self: “I am a champion. I think we all are. ;).” The Urban Dictionary defines a champion as “Someone who commits an act of the following: extreme courage, extreme awesomeness, or extreme stupidity; one who is worthy of positive recognition for such an act.” We are all champions for sure.
I asked the competitors what motivates them to continue playing the sport. Their answers were simple: they love the relationship that it creates between them and their dog. Many competitors said they love the challenge. Oh yes! That’s why I continue to play this sport.
Here was something I found interesting. I asked the competitors how often they train. The most common response was one class per week and five to ten minutes of training at home per day. Really? Wow, I must over train or I’m spending time on the wrong things. How often do you train?
Another question arose when I thought about how I’ve never taught my dog a left or a right. I’ve thought about it. I’ve written a training plan for it. I’ve played a few games teaching it. But I’ve never taught it to the point that I would use it on a course. So I was curious if the competitors taught their dogs left and right. This was evenly split between people who do teach left and right and people do not. I thought there would be more people who taught left and right. So, how many of you have taught your dog left and right?
This post is getting too long so I’m going to end it here, but stay tuned for part 2 which will have advice from these competitors for people new to the sport. I may also have to create a part 3 because there is so much great information I’d like to share with each of you from these email inquiries.
Thanks for reading my post, and thank you to all those competitors that responded. This post would not have been possible without your help. If you enjoyed what you’ve read here, please share this blog with your friends and don’t forget to “like” it on Facebook.