Being the Best on Any Level

Posted on 08/09/11 27 Comments

I am not a natural writer. Several weeks ago I was asked to join a sort of cyber-flash-blog-mob to write on the topic of volunteering at agility trials. At the time I was in the middle of getting my Puppy Peaks membership off of the ground. I really did try to put a blog out on the day requested, but it read like crap so I deleted it. It seemed contrived to me.

From the Heart

Here is the thing and why I am not a natural writer. I can not often write what “you” want me to write about and make it read like something worthwhile. I am sure a “true” writer can do that. For me, if I want to post a blog that is worth someone’s time to read, I must be inspired by the topic. I must be emotionally involved to the point where it just flows out of me. The passion takes hold and regardless of what else I have planned for the day, I have to write about IT.

This weekend I was so inspired. I was competing at the our  annual Canadian National Agility Championships. I don’t want to say this was “the best organized one ever” because that seems a bit insulting to some awesome nationals that have run before (and have provided learning tools to each one that followed) . . .  but this year’s nationals was pretty amazing.

Sensational Volunteers

I know these things are always done by the hands of many and this weekend there were 250 people that volunteered their time so that some of us could have an incredible Nationals experience. Here is what I noticed about these volunteers. They WANTED to be there. It could have been just been because all 250 of them were naturally happy people (possibly). But more likely it had something to do with how they were recruited, trained, supported and the sense of “team” that developed amongst them. I think this partly is due to how well organized their time was arranged. As competitors we were reminded each day not to bother ring stewards who were not wearing their special red baseball caps. Those caps indicated they were working, without one it meant that person was focusing on their own dogs and needed space to do so (yes some of these volunteers ran their dogs as well!).

I learned something about volunteering this weekend. I learned it is not for everyone.  It is a lot of hard work for not a lot of thanks.  I have been to trials where people do it because they have been “shamed” into volunteering, as it is their “duty” as a competitor that is enjoying the spoils of the sport.

That kind of “motivation” just ruins the fun for everyone. Do yourself and the competitors a favor, if that is why you are volunteering, don’t do it. I myself, have lost my cool a bit after being criticized by fellow competitors while “volunteering” at a trial (just this year actually). That just is not good for anyone. Not for me, not for my dogs, not for the other competitors and I am possibly not doing the organizers who would like competitors to return any PR favors either!

Super Heroes

Let your motivation to volunteer come from the same place my blog writing does, do it because you are inspired to help out or to learn by watching others. Honestly, that is how the people who volunteered at the Canadian nationals this past weekend came off to me. And not just one or two of them. EVERY single green-shirted person that I observed this past weekend seemed to carry off their jobs with this same sense of selfless purpose. It really was inspiring to see.

Here is a clip of some of the volunteers working on Saturday night. While everyone else was barbqueing or drinking beer, these guys were going ring to ring moving equipment and re-cutting the already perfectly manicured grass of our 7 competition rings. It is these little details, that many would not even have seen, that made the difference this weekend.

I mentioned to one volunteer that these guys looked like a hive of bees and I was told they had named themselves the “green hornets.” I thought to myself, “crap they have even inspired themselves!”  You can’t demand, suggest or beg for that kind of dedication, you have to inspire it.

Volunteer Inspiration

All good teams are inspired by a leader. Mary Denise Williamson was unbelievable. Not only did she get all of the right people to head her committee (for example all of the results were compiled and posted to the website within 2 hours of the event finishing) and not only did Denise seem to be involved in the entire event, I never saw her without a smile on her face. Before each class started she drove around in her golf cart from ring to ring making sure everyone was ready to go. I saw her deal with questions with expediency  yet showing genuine concern for each of the 600 + competitors entered on the weekend.  Grace under pressure.

No Question Unanswered

But seems to me there was little pressure. Everything was so amazingly organized they knew exactly what was going to happen and when! I remember Tony Robbins once saying “nervousness is your body’s way of asking you if you are prepared.” If you can answer the question correctly, the butterflies go away. I am sure Denise and the members of her committee could answer correctly and that is why it looked to me like they had as much fun as any of us.

My advice to future organizers of provincial regionals or Canadian Nationals or heck, World Championships is; hire Denise to head your committees; pay her what she wants to do what she does, it will be an event like no other.

Thanks Hornets!

Today I am grateful for not only all of the amazing members of the “Green Hornets” National volunteers, but to everyone who throws themselves into volunteering the way this group did. They really set the bar in demonstrating what “volunteering your time” is really all about.

Thanks also to Len Silvester for the quick turn around on these photos for me today:)!


  1. Diane says:
    Friday, August 12, 2011 at 12:19pm

    One of the things I believe is that when you are paying a full price to enter a show, you make a commitment to yourself and your dog, not the show giving club. That may sound bad, but… I do not recommend an inexperienced handler to volunteer and run their dog – they need to focus on their performance with that dog. Some people have the talent and experience to do both – show well and volunteer. That is IMO something that comes with experience. And some are naturals at it!

    I have volunteered for agility trials and most of the time when I do, I don’t Q as often… But when I do volunteer, I know there’s a possibility I won’t do as well because I am spreading myself thinner than what I am comfortable with… Therefore, it’s a choice for me – I will volunteer if I can. Hats off to the volunteers, but everyone’s situation is different so you can’t really judge anyone who does not volunteer. JMO though.


  2. Kristy Glover says:
    Thursday, August 11, 2011 at 7:15pm

    As one of the committee members for the Nationals I can absolutely agree that we had THE BEST volunteers. I can’t tell you how many of them asked if there was something else they could do when they weren’t scheduled to be helping. We had volunteers that even brought back additional family members to help out. I totally agree that Denise is amazing!!!!! A huge congrats goes out to Jennifer and Lindsay who looked after the volunteer appreciation, Steph who scheduled them all and made sure they knew where they were going, and Marg who was the first person to receive the information that they wanted to volunteer. I have to congratulate the competitors as well though. So many of them brought a gift for the volunteer appreciation and I can’t even begin to tell you how many times I heard the competitors thanking the volunteers. It’s always easier to find these fantastic volunteers when they have a good time at the event and feel appreciated.


  3. Linda says:
    Thursday, August 11, 2011 at 10:28am

    Volunteers are actually our unsung heroes! Great tribute, Susan!


  4. Lora says:
    Wednesday, August 10, 2011 at 5:42pm

    I once signed up to volunteer to ring crew at a 3 ring trial on one of those online, fill in your own name worksheets. Day of the trial came, and they changed the order of the classes in that ring. How on earth did they expect the same volunteers to be available to take their spots? I had no clue who to tell. I’m not an every weekend agility competitor and I’m still fairly new to this area, so I don’t know many people. I don’t have my premium with me, so I don’t even know the name of who I should look for, forget what they look like. (Oh how I would have appreciated those red baseball caps!) I’m next in line to run my dog, and they start yelling over the loud speaker that I’m supposed to be in such and such ring setting bars. Can’t even leave my place in line to tell them I can’t or I’ll miss my run, so I have to yell back to them across the rings. Never again will I put myself and my dog through that. If I’m sitting ring side and they need a volunteer to do something easy, sure. Not signing up ahead and getting stuck like that EVER AGAIN. I guess I’m one of those people who just isn’t made to be a volunteer. Can’t take the stress of everyone being mad at me!


  5. Lisa says:
    Wednesday, August 10, 2011 at 2:56pm

    Thanks Susan for sharing your thoughts. The volunteers at the Nationals were just the best people ever! It always humbles me to think of all the people who give their time so that WE can play with our dogs. Without their generosity and thoughfulness this event would never be able to happen. To ALL the people in “green” including the green hornets, thank you from the bottom of our hearts 🙂 You were the people who made the event the success it was!


  6. Andrea McHugh says:
    Wednesday, August 10, 2011 at 4:02am

    What a fantastic blog. I think you are wrong on one thing though Susan – you are a natural writer. You have a natural ability to communicate and it shows on your DVDs, your blogs and your training sessions. Keep up the great work you are doing, it’s inspirational and it creates great results!


  7. Gudrun says:
    Wednesday, August 10, 2011 at 1:50am

    I started volunteering last fall, and I love it! My favorite job is picking up bars, straightening the shute or leash running, because I can learn so much watching what is going on in the ring. I don’t know that there is much of a culture for thanking volunteers here, but the knowledge of a job well done is it’s own thanks in a way.
    At a larger trial that I volunteered in I did feel sorry for the gate keeper as this bossy “over-coordinator” kept coming over to yell at us to get our act together, cause we were running behind schedule etc. Didn’t effect me personally, but must have been stressfull for the person at the gate.


  8. Darlene Cole says:
    Tuesday, August 9, 2011 at 9:46pm

    It was so much fun volunteering at the Nationals! I had the best ring leader and Judge, they were there to have fun 🙂 What a great way to observe and learn.


  9. Shelley says:
    Tuesday, August 9, 2011 at 9:11pm

    Wow what a great post. Love the idea of the baseball caps so you know not to bother the ones without too! Ace job ”green hornets! ”


  10. Jenn says:
    Tuesday, August 9, 2011 at 6:11pm

    “…for small clubs and trials, you do have to ask several times per day for volunteers.”

    Yes. And even if you pay, you should think about a least one volunteer slot. Everybody moves the show at these trials, every person out there helps get your dog on the line that much faster!

    Also, if, for whatever reason you don’t/can’t volunteer – go out of your way to thank the volunteer of your choice – I ALWAYS try to thank the leash runner(s). Probably the least appreciated person on the field! Show your volunteers some love!

    Love this topic. Thanks, Susan!


    • Mary M says:
      Tuesday, August 9, 2011 at 10:37pm

      Jenn –

      I too always try to thank the leash runners and because of SY teaching such great stuff I have a good startline and use this to toss the leash much closer to the leash runner too 😉


  11. Mary M says:
    Tuesday, August 9, 2011 at 5:37pm

    Very nice post Susan, I think there must be a speacial mix of teamwork, recognition, preparation and clearly defined roles involved….would LOVE to know what the group did to prepare and in general gain inisght, wonder if Denise would offer up her insight into how she coordinated this event (and sounds like others)…..maybe this trend of inspiring veruses shaming would grow.


  12. Sharon says:
    Tuesday, August 9, 2011 at 4:32pm

    Wonderful tribute Susan!! I couldn’t agree more with everything you said!!!


  13. Julie Rice says:
    Tuesday, August 9, 2011 at 3:54pm

    Whenever I’m asked what’s the one thing a club can do to encourage volunteerism, I always say “never underestimate the power of a simple ‘Thank you'” I don’t mean just giving a general word of thanks to everyone, I mean, take a second to thank that person for setting the chute or running that leash. People like to feel as though their effort is being noticed so notice it. It’s easy, cheap and hardly takes any time.


    • Susan says:
      Tuesday, August 9, 2011 at 4:35pm

      Good one Julie!


  14. Hannah says:
    Tuesday, August 9, 2011 at 3:27pm

    Hey Susan, thanks for giving shout outs to Denise & the volunteers at Nationals this weekend: I have been to Simcoe Dog Sport Trials in the past and I can honestly say, they are my favourite trial to attend. So well organized, fun, friendly and Denise is amazing! so glad to read your post… Denise & the volunteers deserve many thanks for their hard work.


  15. Sandra Bourne says:
    Tuesday, August 9, 2011 at 3:09pm

    Thanks Susan! I am expecially proud of the Green Hornets! many special people made that group of guy and girl friends
    Thanks for posting and taking the time!
    Sandra Bourne (2011 National and Regional Committee)


  16. Kim says:
    Tuesday, August 9, 2011 at 2:48pm

    A truly inspired post Susan! And I couldn’t agree more – this army of volunteers were always smiling and absolutely made this year’s nationals one of my favourites for sure! And – I think you might just be on to something – getting Denise to agree to be the coordinator for future events is a BRILLIANT idea!


    • Susan says:
      Tuesday, August 9, 2011 at 2:50pm

      I tell you what, I’d offer a job here if she lived closer!


  17. Andrea says:
    Tuesday, August 9, 2011 at 2:45pm

    Susan – thanks (both for saying it and for the thanks ;)) I was a gate steward on Friday and I have never worked as hard at a gate as I did then (there were many frazzled people and quite a few conflicts) but even under great stress, perhaps because nearly everybody wanted to make the steeplechase finals, perhaps because it was “NATIONALS” competitors were most appreciative – at the time I thought I’ll never do this again – but I’ve already forgotten the pain of it 🙂

    As a competitor I found all the volunteers to be SO thoughtful and engaged – I walked around saying thank you with a grin on my face …

    I agree with you about Denise – in fact I have suggested she adopt my foster puppy as a token of my appreciation 😉


  18. Tonya says:
    Tuesday, August 9, 2011 at 2:27pm

    After a discussion on the Clean Run yahoo group on volunteering Monica wrote a short article on it. I think Monica would love to read this, maybe she would consider putting this article in Clean Run. The discussion became heated on the subject of volunteering. Some think all should, some say it’s not for them, some think they pay to enter why volunteer. I know as a novice volunteering to set bars and straighten chutes puts me right there to watch and learn so much about how to run a course,how to set it up and ask veterans questions as we work. I think this would be a good follow up to Monica’s article.


  19. Michele Fry says:
    Tuesday, August 9, 2011 at 2:00pm

    Organizing volunteers is a fascinating subject. Lots of good ideas in this post. For one, the ring crew wearing baseball caps when working is a great idea! If small clubs would invest in 10 or so adjustable baseball caps (per ring) in their color and silk screened with their club name, keep them in a bin, and ask each volunteer to put one on before beginning their task, it could work. Most everyone loves the prestige of a uniform which shows they are part of a team.


  20. Deb Bogart says:
    Tuesday, August 9, 2011 at 12:29pm

    As a person that organizes workers for 4 to 7 trials per year, you hit a quite a few good points and I would like to comment on a few.

    1) People that volunteer should never, let me repeat, never be criticized. Because they are doing just that, volunteering, and without them we wouldn’t be able to hold any competitions. And I don’t care if you’re a first time “weekend warrior” or world renowned Susan Garrett, if someone if volunteering their time, they are doing the best that they can at the job they volunteered for and should be thanked.

    2) Don’t pester people to volunteer. For large events like the one you’re writing about, I agree 100%. Unfortunately, for small clubs and trials, you do have to ask several times per day for volunteers. Because in all honesty, you can’t run a course without at least a scribe and timer. And believe me, I know, I have been scribe, timer and gate all at once. For these smaller trials, they just can’t afford to hire volunteers. When I first started out organizing volunteers, I confess, I would get a little nasty with competitors that didn’t volunteer, but that was because I was taught that way. But after doing 2 or 3 shows on my own, things changed a lot. Unfortunately, for the first time in over 3 years, I did “snap” at a trial last October, but thankfully it only lasted for about 5 minutes, during which time I had over a dozen people come up and ask me what was wrong because that just wasn’t me.

    3) Organizing volunteers is a difficult and sometimes thankless job and it does take a tremedous amount of work, regardless of the size of the competition. So one thing I would like to add is please don’t get mad at the person in charge of volunteers for asking, or shouting so people can hear, for help. Most of us aren’t doing it to be mean or to shame people into working, we just really need help and want to make sure that people can hear us when we ask for it.

    4) I agree that volunteer coordinators should take care of the volunteers. I try to thank each one individually every time they work (never worked more than a 3 ring trial myself). I also try to make my rounds after every class has started to make sure that all of my volunteers have their lunch and working tickets and to see if they are OK or need water or anything.

    What you wrote and your observation is very accurate and something I hope everyone else also noticed.


    • Sharon Normandin says:
      Tuesday, August 9, 2011 at 9:11pm

      Great comments Deb. And you are an awesome volunteer coordinator!


  21. Liz with Jonesy says:
    Tuesday, August 9, 2011 at 12:12pm

    I head up our state’s 4H agility program and also judge at the county level. It is amazing, even at that level, the difference in volunteers. There are several counties that I will not hesistate to say yes to when they ask if I will judge. Why? Because like the Green Hornets they have amazing leadership, a wonderful group of parents who are concerned about how all of the youngsters do, not just their own, and other volunteers who want to be there.

    Without people who have that volunteering spirit, many things would not get done, whether it is competitive sports or helping in times of need.

    Thank you!!


  22. Linda says:
    Tuesday, August 9, 2011 at 11:50am

    Our club in Western North Carolina has an outstanding reputation for putting on well-organized trials. That’s because we have tireless volunteers who do everything from preparing the rings and setting up the day before the trial to taking judges out to dinner. In addition, we volunteer at other clubs’ trials. And those clubs’ members volunteer at ours. We are part of a wonderful agility family!


    • Carol Morgan says:
      Wednesday, August 10, 2011 at 1:01pm

      Blue Ridge Agility Club – yep, sing it out!! They ARE famous!!


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