I recently did a training day, and the plans for the day were altered by the random British weather…. As per typical UK summer, we had rain, rain and more rain! LOL. Two days prior it was like the Bahamas!
So the planned session had to be adapted.
I decided to do a simple session of shaping everyone’s dog to stand on a blue yoga block. Easy right? Well, yes… but I wanted to use this to examine the process of training and competing.
Each person was asked to shape their dog to place two paws on the block, but due to the rain, we used an open shed as the training space.
Each person was given 2mins exactly to train their dog. They could end the session before that time, if they felt they achieved what they wanted.
On the first cycle, every person ended their session comfortably within 1minute.
Each session was videod and we discussed the ‘process’.
The first question I asked was ‘How did they feel about, the session?’. The group were all avid agility competitors, so shaping a two foot target on a yoga block wasn’t exactly what they anticipated. They were candid and honest in their responses. Some said they were instantly apprehensive, because they dislike shaping as they always feel they don’t know what to do, others said they felt confident as their dogs knew the behaviour.
The second discussion was about what was their ‘process’ for the exercise. Did they consider anything that could affect the dog?
The environment?reinforcement? placement of reinforcement? Marker words? Release words? On or off the lead? Possible distractions within the environment? The dogs feelings towards the behaviour?
You could see the thinking happening… and the aha moments occurring.
See, the session wasn’t anything to do with the target behaviour as such, it was about the trainers process, and the competing process.
I solemnly believe on so many levels, that our thoughts manifest everything around us. That sounds a bit hocus pocus, but what I mean is, where and how you focus your thoughts, dictates how and where you use your energy, which in turns, creates a return on that ‘thought’.
Your mental ‘muscle’ needs to be worked regularly in order to get stronger.
Often people wait for competition, to practice their mental preparation and mental game, however this is way too late.
Your mental game should start in your training, and specifically the process.
Are you present? Are you focused on what you are doing? Do you have a plan? What are your physical movements going to be? Have you rehearsed this prior? Have you got the right equipment, and tools? Have you got some data to guide you? Had the dog acclimated to the environment? Did you feel pressured?
All of this is exactly the same process when you step into competition.
The last 18months has seen many let their mental muscle go weak… and the place to start working it out is at home.
In the session we shaping our dogs to step on a blue perch, in a shed! But if we substitute the perch for ‘weave’, or heelwork, or an A Frame, or retrieve… or any other sports specific behaviour, and we see the shed as ‘the ring’… this is the perfect metaphor for competition.
Being present, mindful and connected are the foundation of competing with another team member, especially the 4 legged type.
There is nothing wrong with training for the sheer fun of it, and the same is applicable to competing. Go in there and have a total ball! But often the pressures and challenges of the occasion can cause you to underperform, and ‘Luck’ is when preparation and opportunity meet…
Here are 5 keys times for mindful training and competing.
1. Mechanics, mechanics, mechanics!! Practice your mechanics without the dog so many times, until it feels comfortable. Then, and only then…. Bring the dog into the mix!
2. Think, plan, do review! The Bob Bailey mantra should guide you if you want to ensure you are at your best when needed.
3. Collate data. Use video or record keep to note progress. Numbers, distance, time, reps. Keep a log of how much, how many, how long, how far etc, so you know what you can and can’t do, and when you are moving forward.
4. Train your mind to see, say and hear what is helpful. Self doubt and negative talk are what we literally do to ourselves! Stop it! Stop it and put those demons to rest.
5. Learn to tune into the task and the moment. Quieten all the outside influences and focus! This is your superpower! Use it!