Westminster called - it wants you to have FUN!

goals mental skills Jun 02, 2021

Proximity being what it is, I have many friends who are headed off to Westminster this month. Unlike previous years, this time, it will take place in a pastoral setting (think natural grass) away from the hustle and bustle of the city and cement. I am performing all the good-weather rituals for everyone involved!!

"Big" events always tingle my coachy-sense as they tend to freak some people out. They are "different" by definition, so handlers tend to treat them as such. But I'm going to argue for the opposite; to convince you that competing at WKC should be no different than a regular ol' trial or dog show.

Pro-tip #1: You qualified for WKC by doing the normal, the mundane, the grinding it out, the routine … Why abandon all those great habits that got you there?!?!

Getting ready for a big event is EXCITING!! From the moment you know you qualified to getting your invitation or confirmation, to making hotel reservations … It's all exhilarating! And I want you to be excited! I want you to soak it all in, to buy all the photos, to wear all the souvenirs, to pack a brand new outfit. YES!!!

Pro-tip #2: Attend like a tourist. Perform like you've never lost.

Now, here's the thing about bigtime events - you do not have to have a goal of winning or even being respectable. If you need permission, I'm telling you right now that it's okay just to go and have fun - if that's what you decide to do. It is enough to have qualified and to have the courage to step onto the big stage. The teams who compete there are by definition already in an elite class. CONGRATULATIONS if that is YOU!! YAY!!!!!

In some ways, having a "non-traditional breed" running agility is a relief - no one expects me to win or even be in the finals - not even me! That does not mean I don't deserve to be there. When Indie and I went in 2018, I promised her it would be the last time she had to jump 24. She had a much harder time with the cement surface that I expected, resulting in more time faults than I thought possible in jumpers. Then in standard, the crowd tried to speed up her weave poles, and she sorta just fell out of them to look into the bleachers to see what the fuss was about. I didn't fix them. I took home my best girl, an experience of running under the lights, and a hat with her name embroidered. It was a blast.

But it was a blast because I decided it would be. I set my intentions and process goals before ever packing the car. They were realistic, appropriate, and within my control. Someday I want to return with a more competitive dog, but that's a goal for a different year.

Pro-tip #3: Protect your rituals!

If you have your sights on the finals or even winning your height or the whole thing, my pom-poms are ready! I will be yelling at the screen on your behalf with happy tears! And if this is your outcome goal, then you know what I'm about to say - you'd better be focused on your process goals and rituals.

Your process goals are the things you have to do to have a chance at being clean or making the cut in breed. You have to get to that milestone first and focus on the things you can control.

You can control:

  • What you and your dog eats.
  • Your clothes, how you pack, etc.
  • Your morning routine.
  • Your connection, your plan, your timing.

Things you can't control:

  • The weather.
  • The crowds.
  • The course (or ring) setup.
  • The judge.

Are these lists boring? They should be - they are the same as any other trial or show (maybe sans the crowd). My point is that you need to stick to your everyday routines and processes to perform as well as you usually do.

It's easy to get drawn off your "normal" game when it comes to big events because everything is "different." The best thing you can do for both you and your dog is to stick to your normal and adapt your routine to fit the environment.

Pro-tip #4: Everyone is looking, and no one is watching.

Some handlers are really affected by the people around the ring, worried they would be embarrassed if they "mess up" in front of others. Two responses to this. 1) You're not going to do anything that hasn't already been done. 2) They might be looking, but few others are really watching or caring about your run. The only one who's judging you is you.

The crowds contain people who have pets who don't even come when called - they are in awe of your dog being able to perform! They will cheer for you no matter the outcome - you should join them in that sentiment!

No matter your goals, no matter the results, decide right this second to trust in your preparation, your rituals, and your skills to kick in. Work hard to be present, enjoy the moment, and be grateful for the opportunity. Then just before you walk into the ring, look at that perfect dog and say, "Thanks for playing with me. Let's go do this."


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