This is probably one of the oldest phrases to be said amongst dog sports people, and for a long time it bugged me, but now it has a whole new meaning to me and I have grown to use the phrase to motivate me.
I used to look at course maps and find defeat before I ever even walked the course – I would see some sequence that I didn't feel confident in or some spacing between jumps that I didn't feel was fair. I would complain to myself, or to my partner and honestly, the best choice at that point would have been for me to go home. Sometimes I did, but most of the time I ran the course anyways and of course something would go wrong – I mean, I knew it would!
It got to the point of agility competitions not being all that fun. I knew something had to change, and it wasn't my technical skill set. I had to change my thoughts first.
I had to look at each course as an opportunity to make the best decisions for myself and my dog and really own those choices and use my results as a way to motivate my training sessions.
How I analyze my runs…
I always start with what went well. It's my chance to rehearse what I like and what I'd like to see in the future.
Then, I correct any mistakes in my mind. So, when I am visualizing an error, I am seeing it happen how I wanted it to happen, making it clear to myself how I will do it correctly in the future. Exactly how I would instruct a student, “Next time, step with your dog side leg towards the take-off and watch the dog's eyes for commitment”.
This way, I am analyzing the error, but in a way that benefits me for the future.
If I am not sure how I would correct the error, I write it down with a copy of the map, and I train it the following week. I figure out every possible way I can solve the course situation, and train any relevant skill I might need.
If you are competing in agility, you likely have some outcome goal you're after, right? Even if you are just there to socialize, you'd like to do well, right? Once you define what “doing well” is, that too, is an outcome goal.
And, with any outcome goal in mind, I encourage mindset training. Train your brain to focus on what you want, and to not let harmful self-talk creep in and sabotage your performance.
My tips to get you started on your journey to improve your mindset:
1. Focus on what you want, but be specific. If you focus on “I want to Q”, you aren't doing your job as a guide to your dog. Change the “Q” to – “I want to make the course easy for my dog to navigate. I want to do what he needs me to do.” Then, as you are walking the course, you can keep that in mind – focus on what your dog needs from you.
2. Be grateful. I know this one sounds cliché, but seriously – it's an honor to step to the line with our dogs, and think of everything we had to have just to be able to do so. The money to enter, the car to get us there, the clothes we wore, the fancy collar/leash your dog is sporting. We are so lucky to be able to share this sport with our animals and friends. Don't forget that.
3. Compliment others. Then compliment yourself. I think most of us find it pretty easy to say something nice about a friend's run, right? But, can we do the same for ourselves? When giving someone a compliment, be specific. Not just a “good run” comment as you walk by, but really tell them what you liked. “Man, that weave entry was killer!”, “You're turn on #4 was so precise!”. If you can do that for others, you will more easily be able to do it for yourself and your own runs.
I do not claim to be an expert at mindset training, but I have received some top-notch training from experts in the field. If you are interested in learning more, I suggest looking into these great coaches.
– Kathrine McAleese of Mind to Win (my mentor)
– Janita Leinonen and Anne Talvitie
– Minna Martimo