The mental game

Have you ever run a course and felt like your timing was off?  What about if something went wrong during the course, were you able to recover?  How about if you are at an event and you have a bad run, are you able to leave it behind to take on the next challenge?  This blog will cover how to develop your focus and how to prepare our minds to accept what has happened and prepare to accept that next challenge.
Having a mistake during a run is very likely to happen.  There are many factors that play into this.  One of the main ones is that we are teammates with dogs.  Most of the time they will do as we ask if properly trained.  How we communicate what we want them to do on course is a big key to success!  I like to tell my students that 98% of what goes wrong is our fault.  I give the dog 2%, purely because they are dogs.  Sometimes what drives them supersedes what we want them to do.  Don’t use this as an excuse!  Those dogs that are called “tunnel suckers” are most of the time sent into the tunnel due to our bad timing of cues.  I can explain this in a future blog if people show interest.  Or you can create a discussion within the blog!  The important thing to always remember that no matter what happens, your dog entered that ring with you and at the end of the day they go home with you.  They need to be rewarded for just doing this with you!  The only exception to this would be extreme unwanted behaviours.  Rewarding the dog would encourage future similar moments.  Bad behaviour should not be rewarded.
How do you overcome a mistake that happens during your run?  Or even multiple mistakes?  We have to train ourselves to accept mistakes.  Use video to show you what happened.  Video is a very useful tool.   In training we tend to condition ourselves to fix mistakes.  Often when a mistake happens you probably reset and do it again.  There is nothing wrong with this.  However, if you always reset or redo then you are conditioning your mind to acknowledge each mistake and the desire to fix it can overrule the practicality of running in the ring.  When you practice, run with the plan that you will continue regardless of what happens.  This way you can allow your mind to realize that you don’t have to stop and redo!  That’s useful during the run.  After the run, watch the video.  Video can be helpful in so many ways but here are 2 examples.  I was competing once at the AKC National with my border collie, Echo.  This is a huge competitive event.  I had a run that fell apart because I slipped in the dirt.  As a consequence, fault after fault started to happen.  I just couldn’t get my timing back.  About halfway through my mind started to take over and tell me how much of a disaster this run was and I just kept making more and more mistakes. It felt awful!  I was depressed and exasperated.  I eventually calmed down and watched the video back.  It wasn’t anywhere near as bad as I thought it was!  This was a huge confidence booster.  My second example is one time I was running Apex at a USDAA Regional Qualifier.  We had a run that Apex took an off course that seemed inexplicable.  Apex seldom takes an off course and in this instance it was like he had a mind of his own!  I totally believed this to have been his fault.  I watched the video.  And I realized that I had inadvertently cued the off course!  Thankfully I had it on video to show me this.  Otherwise I would have continued to believe this was something Apex did.  In both instances I was able to use video as a confidence booster.  Belief in myself and belief in my dog.  2 very important things when it comes to keeping you mentally strong in the ring!
Having an “off” moment can happen to anyone.  It happens in sports all the time.  It can be mental or physical or a combination of both!  I am not a sports psychologist so I will not break this down for you.  However, you see it all the time.  Two sports that have this aspect play a role prominently are tennis and golf.  I am not saying it doesn’t happen elsewhere but I think that it is the most visible in these sports.  Hours of practice are spent to make sure you are prepared.  This true of any sport.  You can only prepare so much.  If your timing is off then things go wrong very quickly.  The ability to recover is key!  In tennis you are battling your opponent and the scoreboard and the crowd.  You then end up battling your own mind as well!  You have to be able to center yourself into your own abilities.  You have to be able to move past what is happening around you.  Concentrate on what you know.  Take it and apply it.  Stay positive.  When watching tennis and a player starts to struggle you can see it in his (or her) body language.  The bad thing is that this is clue to the opponent to pounce!
In golf it is a little different.  You are battling nerves, the crowd, the scoreboard.  If a player is mentally strong they can overcome these challenges.  But in golf you are out there for 4 rounds!  I’m a Tiger Woods fan and I have been glad to see him begin to excel again in the sport.  I honestly believe from watching him that for the first while he struggled Saturday and Sunday because he was physically tired.  He said he felt great but from watching I think it showed that he was tired.  However, the more he played, the more his game improved.  He was prepared physically but also his confidence began to grow again.  When you are confident it allows you to physically be in control and this means you will be less fatigued!
There are many aspects to the mental part of the game but of the two sports examples I just gave the key is to stay positive.  Know that things will spin your way.  If you are positive and confident your mind will be less fatigued.  This enables your mind to focus and be less tired.  When you have an agility run that you struggle with, you come out of it drained.  But you survived!  Take what happened, learn from it, and get ready for the next time you step to the line.
You have to be able to let go of your mistakes and prepare for the next challenge!  If you are caught up in your mistakes it will mentally drain you and keep you from the ability to recover!  In sports this is called “choking”.  Letting it go can be difficult.  But you must if you are planning on being successful!  So, the next time you practice, try running with the plan to continue no matter what!  If contacts are your issue then make sure you are planning to either let them go (not a good plan) or go overboard to make sure  they happen correctly!  Make it so that is not one of the issues.  I think the mistakes I would most likely lump into the scenario of letting go would be, knocked bars, off courses, missed weave entries or missed poles.  These particular mistakes most likely were your fault anyway!
Knowledge is power!  Practice is key!  Confidence can overcome weakness!  Happy training and good luck with your ring experiences!  My next blog on this topic will center around outside influences like looking at results and drawing upon things that you can use for motivation.
Back to recovery.
Ignoring mistakes Tennis example
Ignoring results vs.
Knowing results
How to practice ignoring mistakes Tennis example
Self belief (always count yourself in)
Video tape (bad run may not be as bad as you thought)
Ignoring the outside world