Protecting What is Important to Your Dog Agility Career

There are many attributes that separates the “greats” from the “frustrated” in the sport of dog agility. Sure there is the dog, the training opportunities, the overall mental game of the handler or the athleticism of both parts of the team. But one thing that allows the “elite” in any sport to stand apart from the rest is the confidence level of the individual as they step out on the competition field. I have heard people say many times “I wish I could buy that kind of confidence some place.”  With the AAC Nationals just around the corner (next week) I was asked to write a blog to help competitors do their best. This was a good email because A) It prompted me to actually take some time and post a blog (I admit I have been a tad busy this summer) and B) It made me sit back and consider all of the competitors heading to Victoria, British Columbia next week and what can possibly make a difference to their performance in less than a week’s time.

Bingo, it came to me. “confidence”. If I could give everyone and extra dose confidence they could improve their game. Now this isn’t just a selfless gesture on my part, writing about confidence can only help me as well as I head into this event with one dog that has been injured most of the last full year and another one that will turn 18 months old just two days prior to the opening ceremonies and me nursing a hamstring I injured at the beginning of the month! Yes, uncertainty could loom big, so loading up the confidence would do me well.

As luck would have it earlier this week I was at one of my coaching meetings in Toronto and one of the topics for discussion was confidence. The speaker started her presentation with this statement

“Confidence is our greatest treasure; build it & protect it.”

I think as agility competitors this certainly is true. Confidence has got to be one of our top ten most desired attributes. Mark Twain once said that “All you need in this life is ignorance and confidence; then success is sure.”  Now I am pretty sure dear old Mark never had an opportunity to try his luck at agility or he may have re-considered his statement. Because talent and training surely does play a roll in our sport. But all things being equal if you have two dog and handler teams of equal skill level and one handler is Twaining (if I can use the man’s name as a verb) and the other is second guessing, the confident and ignorant Twainer-trainer is going to blow the doors off of the other doubt-filled dude.

There are many examples of people loaded of talent but light on belief that have never reached their potential in life. There are just as many tales of victory from seemingly talentless people with tons of drive and confidence. I am not talking about false confidence. You can’t take a dog off of the street that has never been trained in agility and win the national championship no matter how much “belief” you have. But the reverse is also true. A handler with no belief can make a talented dog appear like he has had no training.

Sadly much of the self doubt I see in agility handlers is put there in the form of jest. You make a joke of your dog’s ability or your lack of skill in order to prevent someone from doing it first. “Yeah we know we suck, we are just here for comic relief.” Comments like that are  unfair to your dog, to your instructor and to the hours training you have put in.

Let me share a little secret. None of us ever feels like we have “done enough” before a big event. We all think we could have done more. I don’t think I have ever entered an event where I didn’t think “crap I could have done more of x-y-z.” I quickly dismiss these thoughts by reminding myself of all the good training I have done to prepare myself and my dogs.

As the late great John Wooden used to say “Earn the right to be proud and confident.” Well, here is the thing . . . each of us have earned it! Those of you competing at AAC Nationals next week have all got at least 350 points at your regional qualifying event (well except for those of us entered in the pre-qualifier). I would say that is reason number one to feel pretty darn confident about yourself and your dog. What are your other reasons? Take some time before next week (the sooner the better actually) and make a list of anything you can think of that makes you feel confident.  It could be dressing well, being fit and healthy or it may be skill related. Skills like having a rock solid start line, or consistent contacts or a dog that jumps well or turns tightly or can work at a distance. Maybe it is because you can run like the wind or have trained superior verbal cues or you have a relaxed disposition. What gives you confidence in agility? Make a list of as many reasons you can think of makes you feel you have confidence to crow about before you attempt an agility run. Start with your points from your regional and build your list from there. If you need help, ask your friends or your instructor to look over your Confidence List, to see if you are missing anything that may help.

Now circle the reasons that really make you feel different, just saying them. Yes! That does make me feel more confident just reading THAT! Narrow it down to your top ten things that give you crowing confidence in your dog or in your performance.  You may want to narrow this list further to just a few “trigger” words. Words that you can write on your hand or whisper to your dog before the two of you go into the ring. Words that will help you to relax and do your best.

Now put that list aside and think of your confidence kryptonite. What can shatter your confidence before you step into the ring? Are there thoughts, something your dog might do, something someone could say to you or an event that might happen before your run that could shake you? Introduce self doubts? Knowing ahead of time will allow you to take mind out of that state and back into your confident state and you can do it in a blink of an eye! What can you do ahead of time to alter your response to this potential kryptonite?

Now that you have your trigger words, use those trigger words any time something comes up that may “rattle” you. Know that you are a martini, you may be shaken but you will never lose your pizazz. As long as you have your trigger words, you can change your state and re- focus as quickly as you can blink your eyes.

Comedian Tina Fey in Vogue magazine was quoted as saying

“Confidence is 10% skill and 90% delusion”

That I believe! So if you see me walking around the AAC Nationals next week like I am living my life as if a fantasy . . . it because I am!

Today I am grateful for having enjoyed a wonderful birthday! It is my birthday today it was an awesome day!  Life is a fantasy. Best of luck to all of you competing at the European Open this week and at the AAC Nationals next week!

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