This past weekend Luna and I attended the USDAA North Central Regional in Naperville, IL. It was our first big event we have attended since the UKI U.S. Open back in October and only our 2nd trial since Luna’s injury scare. Coming into the weekend I vowed to myself that I would not look at the scoreboard until after the whole class had run. For the most part I stuck to that plan, but on Saturday morning after one of our runs I did what I vowed not to do and the result of doing that led to this blog post.
First, before I get to that, I’ll give some background of why I need to not look at the scoreboard. I am self-admittedly an ultra competitive individual. When I get into something I GET into it. I want to be one of the best and I will put in the work to be the best. In dog agility that means in big events I want to win and when I don’t I feel like I’m a failure. I failed to run the course properly. I failed to choose the fastest lines. I failed to train my dog well enough to be the best. Any number of things you can think of has probably crossed my mind as failing at it in that moment as the reason I didn’t win. I have also been known to obsessively nitpick my runs even when I run a course extremely well and get a 1st place. A turn was too wide. Luna’s acceleration was a little slow out of a turn. On and on and on. A friend once asked me if I won a gold medal at a world event would I nitpick my run. I reflexively said yes just because I would imagine there would be at least one thing that could have been improved in that run. But then I thought about it for a minute and then said actually I wouldn’t because obviously even with a less than perfect turn or whatever we were still the best in the world at that moment.
So, with that mindset established, looking at the scoreboard can be and has been a negative for me. And that’s exactly what I did Saturday morning after our biathlon agility run. My group was first up for that course so going into it I wanted a fast, clean run to set the tone for the rest of the 26″ dogs running the course that day. And that’s what we did. When we finished, it felt like we flew through the course quickly and efficiently. So after catching my breathe I walked over to the scorers table to check out how fast we were. And when the 26″ group scrolled by on the screen I felt all my elation just seep out of me. We were actually only the 3rd fastest in my group. So after what felt like a spectacular run that surely would be a first place run I see that it wasn’t and, on top of that, there are 3 more groups of 26″ dogs to run filled with some spectacular dogs with handlers that are way more accomplished than I am. Based on that I was sure that our time would continue to fall down the board until we were just an afterthought on the list. So, filled with disappointment we walked back to Luna’s crate and I sat there contemplating the rest of the day and where not only we went wrong on that course, but where I went wrong in our training. After thinking for a long while with no conclusions, I decided to distract myself a bit and get on Facebook. Fortunately for me, my wife had shared a picture on FB that morning that snapped me out of the temporary funk. It was so appropriate to what was going on in my head that instantly I felt better and went on to have a fantastic rest of the weekend.
This is what I do constantly in agility. I compare my runs to others. I watch the best in the world on Youtube and see some spectacular things out of them and their dogs and if I don’t replicate some of those things I get discouraged. In my area, I compete against some of the best agility dogs in the country. On a regular basis I compete against 2 national champions. One is an AKC NAC and the other is a USDAA Grand Prix champion. On top of that, I also regularly compete against other dogs that have finished high in the standings at AKC and USDAA national events. So there is a lot of competition in my area and when I don’t ever beat those dogs I start to doubt our ability to actually compete at this high of a level. As an aside, I do want to say that I’m never upset at the other handlers as they are all friends. I want them to succeed at the highest levels in the agility world and I am genuinely happy when they do so well.
Anyway, after reading the words in the above picture all of the frustration just melted away. I had to stop comparing our runs to others for my sanity. All I can do is go out on the course and run it the fastest and the best I can. If I do that, I can walk off the course with my head held high because I just beat that course. I’ll let the placement chips fall where they may as I have absolutely no influence on the outcomes of anybody else running the course. Sometimes my chips will fall high, sometimes they will fall low. But you know what, so will everybody else’s chips. I just have to keep being the best I can and eventually I’ll get there. So we will keep practicing and refining our skills and abilities so that maybe one day when I watch a video of our run there will be nothing to nitpick and it will truly be a perfect run. And then maybe after that I can look at the picture of us standing on the podium with the 1st place ribbon/medal.
**As for my biathlon run above that I spoke about, even though I finished 3rd in my group that placement actually held for the rest of the day.