In less than 24 hours Luna and I will pile into the car and set off to drive to Minneapolis for our 2nd AKC International Team Tryout event. Last year was our first time going and we did well enough to be selected to join the 2014 EO team that traveled to Hungary. Since the EO, my perspective on agility has changed tremendously. As I get ready to head to ITT, I wanted to write down some things that I’ve really come to learn in the past year to help me with the upcoming weekend. And maybe, if you’re headed to ITT and reading this, it might help you.
The first thing I need to remember is to be confident. Last year right before I headed to ITT, the folks at Bad Dog Agility published a podcast talking about irrational confidence. I highly advise you to give it a listen. It’s only 16 minutes long so goes real fast. Heading to ITT last year I wasn’t sure how we’d do considering what type of teams would be there competing. Luna and I would be surrounded by multiple time world team members and their dogs. While I was confident (irrationally maybe?) in our skills, I wasn’t sure if we were that good compared to those other teams. Up until that point, I had only attended 1 big event and that was 2013 Cynosports where we were pretty craptastic. We had only 1 clean run that whole weekend. However, at ITT I stepped to the line all 4 times with the thought that our past events did not matter and today was a new day with a new course. And I think having that thought process in my mind helped me tremendously. So, this weekend, despite our past success at ITT and other events since then, I am going to step to the line the same way. Nothing in the past matters. All that matters is that I’m confident in our abilities to run the course in front of me.
The second thing I need to remember which ties into my confidence level is to run these courses playing to my strengths. I know it’s obvious to say and do that, but in an event like this people can have a tendency to play it safe / be conservative since it is a cumulative event over four runs. However, and maybe I’m odd like this, but if I do that I have a tendency to make mistakes. One of my strengths that I ignored last year is my ability to adapt my plan (even if I didn’t walk it that way) all the way up until I start running the course. I am confident in my skills and in Luna’s ability to execute those skills so I am able to change my course plan all the way up until we start running. At the 2013 Cynosports I was in the group with Tori Self and Rev. We were about 4 dogs behind them in Team Snooker. As I’m watching them run I realize her plan is WAY superior to my plan. However, being a big event and a team run I was very hesitant about changing it on the fly. However, my awesome teammate, Mary Cheney, was standing with me watching the run and told me to go for it. So, despite not walking the plan I just watched Tori do, I went out there and executed it anyway. We made it all the way through with 4 reds (I think I did a 6,6,7,7) and made it to the 3rd to last pole of the weaves (the 7 point obstacle) when the horn sounded. Pretty good for a game we’re not always the best at and for not even walking it that way. An opposite example of this happened at ITT last year. The first run of the weekend was a jumpers run. In this instance, Lori Michaels and Solei were about 3 dogs in front of me. I watched her run the serpentine into the threadle sequence near the end of the course and realized her handling of it was superior to mine. I was going to run with Luna on my left through all 3 jumps and kick her to the backside of the 3rd jump. Lori ran with Solei on her left, but at the 3rd jump in the sequence she ran through the gap and did a forced front. However, instead of changing my game plan right then and there as I knew we could handle that and that it was superior to my plan, I let the pressure of the event force me into keeping with what I walked. Guess what happened? We E’d the course when I got impatient at the 3rd jump in the sequence and Luna took the jump the wrong way. Being conservative and not running to my strengths cost me a win on spot on both teams. So, if Lori and Solei happen to be in front of me this weekend, I’ll keep in mind WWLD and follow suit. 🙂
The third thing that ties into the above 2 items is TRUST YOUR DOG. I can’t say that enough in my head. In the past year, either in practice or at events, when I ignore this I get into trouble. At the EO last year the 2nd and 3rd courses we ran that weekend had examples where I didn’t give Luna the trust that she deserved and we faulted those places where I helped her too much. The 2nd course had a very tough weave entrance that I over handled causing a missed entry and the 3rd course had an opening line where I talked myself out of the way I should have handled it and instead over handled it (went conservative) and caused an off course. Tonight at practice, I finally had the opportunity to try the tough weave entrance that the teams at the IFCS saw a few weeks ago in one course. It was the one where the weave entry was REAL close to a tunnel. I didn’t have the course map handy so I went with what I remembered and made them just a hair over 5 feet apart as seen in the picture below.
Every time I went into that area of death, I only got her into the weave poles correctly once. Every other time she either went flying into the tunnel or, if I really over handled the weaves, she went in at the wrong pole. After some internal frustration I finally asked myself why I was going in there. What purpose was being served? One of Luna’s strongest skills is to find a weave entry with a verbal “weave” command. So, we attempted again and this time I didn’t go past the jump at the bottom of the picture and she hit her weave entry EVERY time. And even when I tried to trick her and instead told her tunnel she correctly went into the tunnel. Trust your dog. If you KNOW they have a certain skill, don’t suddenly start doubting their ability to perform that skill at a big event. It’s only going to bite you in the ass and may cause you to rack up a fault.
The fourth thing I need to keep in mind is to remember what I’m competing against. Yes, technically I’m competing against everybody in the large dog group, but how they perform in their runs will have no bearing on how I perform in my runs. When I step to the line with Luna my only competition is the course in front of me. THAT is what I need to beat. If I can’t beat the course, then how well the other competitors perform really doesn’t matter to my chances at making one of the teams. So I can’t allow myself to get caught up in what place we finished after each run. As long as we beat the course and run clean each and every time we will finish high in the cumulative standings. If last year is any indication of this year, no large dog team had 4 clean runs last year. So, compete against the course and not the other teams.
The fifth thing I need to keep in mind is that if I can’t beat the courses this weekend it’s not the end of the world. As this sport grows in popularity there are more and more events and possibilities for teams who want to compete at this high of a level. My plans for Cynosports and the U.S. Open are currently on hold until after this weekend. Since I’m not independently wealthy I only have a limited amount of time off from my job so I have to pick and choose where I use those days. So, while I would be disappointed if we didn’t make the EO and/or the AWC this weekend, I need to remember then that means I get to compete at Cynosports and the U.S. Open this year and try to medal at those events as well as try out for their respective world teams. And, after watching the Americas Y Caribe event a few weeks ago, I’m excited about possibly trying to go to that event in Colombia next year. On top of that, Luna is only 4 years old. With luck, she has another 3-4 years of high level competition left in her. Perspective is in order. As a lifelong Cubs fan I’m used to saying “there’s always next year.”
The sixth and final thing, and probably most important, I will be keeping in mind is to ENJOY the experience this weekend. We are spending a weekend with our best friend(s) participating in a sport we love at an event with a lot of like minded people many of whom are probably friends. Last year at ITT was the most fun event I have yet attended. I expect this year to be no different. So, I plan on enjoying every minute with Luna, my fellow Illinois agility contingent, and my agility friends from across the country that I only get to interact with on Facebook. Nothing is guaranteed for tomorrow so I want to enjoy what I have today.