The Mental Game

This post is a follow up to mentally preparing yourself for the course you are about to run.  If you attend a larger event you may find yourself with some time to watch dog and handler teams compete.  This sometimes can lead to self-doubt.  This happens because while watching you see people do something on course that maybe you didn’t think of and you start to think that perhaps you should try that instead of your own plan.  Especially if they were successful and handlers attempting what you were going to do have been unsuccessful.  What to do?!!  Here is a tip.  Trust your training.  That said I was at a Championship once and I was watching Gamblers (a game with a distance closing).  I was watching this with another agility friend and we were discussing the course as we watched handler after handler attempt the same thing and fail.  This should be a HUGE clue that it isn’t going to work for you either.  Why do you think that your training or use of commands will be any better or different then all those that failed before you?  Time to think outside the box.  It is for this reason I do 2 things during the walk through.  One is that I seldom use earphones.  I like to listen to handlers chat about the course (some obsess too much.  Don’t get caught wasting precious time discussing options.)  This opens my mind to other options.  It also allows me to check it out and rule it out or possibly use it.  The second one is that I will look at handling it several ways.  That way if I decide to change my mind I can do it easily.  It is really important that once you choose your plan that you commit to it!!!  Doubt can delay an important cue!!  If you are running fast and you have a hiccup on course it is difficult to reestablish connection with your dog immediately.  It is possible though so don’t fret if it happens to you on course!

Let’s say someone comes up with something you didn’t think of.  Ask yourself, “is that something I have trained before?”  If no then you really have no business attempting it!!!  Take the idea home and train it for next time!  But if you feel like you can pull it off then you should visualize yourself and your dog doing that portion of the course.  Imagine where your dog will be and imagine where you need to be.  If it was handled well by the person then just replay it in your mind but substitute yourself into the moment.  If the ring set up allows it, you should attempt to look at that portion of the course from different angles.  If you look at it only from the start line position you will find that the depth of the course is deceiving.  This makes it seem like it might not be possible.  But if you look at it closer to where it is, you will probably notice there is more space available then it seems from the start line.  One way to help with this perception issue is to volunteer and get in the ring during course build.  This isn’t always possible.  Another way you can help yourself in this situation is to circle the ring and watch the course being built.  Watch while the judge tweaks the course.  There is another tip here but I will save it for strategic course running!!

These are things that will help you be confident.  The more confident you are the more mentally strong you will be to attack any challenge that comes your way!