WTT 2016 – Can AKC Do Better?

On May 7th-9th, in San Jose, CA the American Kennel Club held their annual World Team Tryouts in order to select the 12 teams to represent the AKC and the USA at the Agility World Championship.  87 teams from around the country made the trek to California in order to try and be one of the teams selected for this prestigious team.  This will be the 20th year that the AKC has fielded a team to compete at the Agility World Championships. This was my 3rd time attending the WTT and after this past weekend I walked away with some questions.  They all ultimately boil down to the following:  Can the AKC do better?

Can the AKC do better?  What do I mean by that?  Can they do better at putting together the most competitive team which can do well at the AWC each year?  Can they do better by competitors in providing safe, fun courses?  Can they do better at preparing their team members for what they will see at the AWC?  Seeing as the AKC commits a nice chunk of change putting on the WTT as well as financing the team each year, doing better would seemingly bring a better return on their investment.

The first question involves putting together the most competitive team they can.  In this regard I think a lot of this involves how the scoring is determined in order to find your team members.  To me, just like the rest of AKC agility, placing in the top 3 is not emphasized at all at this event.  Not emphasizing winning leads to a lot of teams who just want to run clean at this event.  Running clean and somewhat conservatively just to get points each run is not a way to prepare teams to be competitive at the AWC.  Unfortunately, our agility culture in this country has (d)evolved into this mindset.  I really would like to see a scoring system at the WTT that emphasizes winning.  I think if we moved to that it would go a long way to better preparing teams for the pressure of what they will see at AWC.

My ideal scoring system would see a combination of different scoring systems I’ve participated under at different venues and events or am aware of.  First off, scoring should be time + faults.  For me, I’d rather have a dog that runs an agility course in 31 seconds with one knocked bar than a dog that runs a course clean in 36 seconds.  A knocked bar is a knocked bar and isn’t necessarily a testament to how good or bad a team really is.  They happen to everybody at some point.  Second change I would make is refusals are not called.  Refusals are already killing your time anyway so I see no reason to double penalize for a refusal.  Third change I’d like to see is going back to how SCT was previously set.  It was changed this year to being set by the judge.  I liked the old way of having the top 2 dog’s combined average +10% or 15% set the SCT.  Now, the big change to the scoring.  I want to see a point system that encourages placements.  So, with that said here is what I think would encourage that.  1st place gets 20 points.  2nd place gets 20 points minus the difference between their time and 1st place.  So if they are off by .5 seconds they get 19.5 points.  3rd place is calculated the same way.  But after 1-3, a big fall off.  Only places 4-10 (if you don’t get an E) get any points and they only get 5 points each.  I think this would encourage teams to be aggressive and to go out there and win.  Something agility in America is sorely missing.

The next thing I think AKC needs to focus on is providing safe and challenging courses that help prepare teams for what they will see at AWC.  This year we were fortunate enough to have one of our judges be Tamas Traj who will be one of the judges at the AWC.  I think this was the first time AKC has done this for WTT.  The other judge we had was Tammy Domico who is an AKC agility.  For large dogs, we had 3 courses from Tamas (2 agility, 1 jumping) and 2 courses from Tammy (1 jumping, 1 agility).  Tamas’ courses were amazing.  They were quite challenging and fast. Tammy’s courses, though, I found quite lacking for an event of this caliber.  The round 3 agility and the round jumping 4 courses are shared below.

Round 3 & Round 4 Large
Round 3 & Round 4 Large

The AKC, in the interest of having the best prepared teams, should find a way to have courses at WTT be representative of what we would see at AWC.  They should solicit FCI judges to design courses for WTT and, if money is an issue flying those judges to the U.S., have AKC judges judge the course.  I know it’s an honor for AKC judges to be selected to judge for this event, but it’s unfair to ask them to design FCI courses when it’s something they’ve probably never done.  If the competitors don’t run FCI courses at tryouts is it really giving the team coach an accurate picture of their ability?  I would argue that it doesn’t give a full and accurate picture.

Competitors in this country already are at a severe disadvantage to most of the rest of the world since we do not run these level of courses every weekend with the added extra psychological pressure of having to win out to advance in our agility organizations.  So we need this opportunity to be tested in an environment that includes these variables.  I want to see the overall level of skill and competitiveness of our agility competitors in this country continue to rise. I’m not a long time competitor, but it feels like at some point in the recent past agility in the U.S. and agility in the rest of the world split and went in opposite directions.  It is my wish to see agility in the U.S. start going in the direction of making everybody better and not staying the same.  Making sure WTT reflects that desire and goal is a good start and, hopefully, that would start filtering down to the local levels.

I know the above desired changes are fairly radical, especially the scoring changes, but I think it would lead to an overall more competitive environment at WTT that better prepares teams for the ultimate goal of attending AWC and doing well while there.  And that is ultimately what I want.

On a similar note, here is Bad Dog Agility’s blog post about WTT.