The Mental Aspect to a Physical Sport

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Yes, dog agility is about running. And if you’re a dog, it’s about climbing, weaving, and jumping. But there is also a large mental, and emotional, aspect to the sport as well. In fact, I would argue that it is the more challenging piece to master.

When I first started agility, I wasn’t a great athlete or a great competitor. Not only was I a terrible runner, but I had a terrible attitude. Don’t get me wrong. I was NEVER one of those people who would physically correct my dog over a mistake in agility, but my sensitive dogs received their correction in a way I didn’t even realize….tears. Yes, as embarrassing as it is to admit, I was a big cry baby.

If my dog didn’t weave…he hated me. And I cried.

If my dog went off course…he didn’t love me. And I cried.

The funny thing is, dog agility wasn’t my first sport. I raced go-karts. I played baseball (with the boys…no softball for me). But for some reason, when I tried to make the transition from a sport where only I was affected by my performance to one where my dog and I both played a part, I couldn’t keep it together.

My emotional tie to my dog was ruining what was otherwise meant to be a bonding game for the two of us.

Fortunately for me, I was given my wake-up call. After just a year of agility I had two drastic events:

1. My mom, who got me started in the sport, gave me the ultimatum…grow up or give it up.

2. I had emergency spinal surgery.

Well, the only way to go from there is forward. I had six months in a brace to think about how much I loved the sport. How the best people I have ever met have all been through the sport of agility. How any dog trainer worth their weight would tell you that to be a good trainer, you need to take your emotions out of your training. How when everything came together, how absolutely surreal the whole event could feel.

I was addicted to the magic of agility.

That was it. I wanted to continue in the sport, so I had to figure out how to give myself an attitude adjustment.

I wish there was a way I could help anyone who asks, how to create the best mental attitude, but I can’t. Here is what I did (and do), but just like training, there is no “cookie cutter” approach. You have to find what works for you….

1. I have a 5 minute rule. For 5 minutes after a run, I am allowed to complain, whine, be angry, sad, obsess in any way I need in order to vent (out loud or internally…my choice). After those five minutes, the only things I can say about my run need to be positive.

2. Absolutely no crying. I’m not going to lie, and say I’m perfect on this one yet. I hadn’t cried for years at an agility trial, until I went off course in PSJ Finals at Cynosport just this year. But because of this rule, I was able to first, be happy for those that did well. Second, leave the arena before crying. Third, get it together in under five minutes. Even though I wish I had not cried, at the same time, I’m glad I did. I needed to have my one last immature moment to grow into the competitor I truly want to be….grateful and amazed at the distance I have traveled regardless of if at that point I win or lose. Many people never make it to Finals. Now that I have a better understanding and appreciation, I’m ready to go further in the sport.

3. Smile. Laugh. You’re going to trip in front of a top trainer (yep, happened just this year…I even have it on film). You’re going to have wild saves. And epic fales. Don’t take yourself too seriously. Otherwise you might cry 😉

4. Make foundation training fun. I rarely run courses with my dogs. I have found that both they and I do better if we have some fun training basics…flatwork, contacts, tight turns on jumps. I practice full courses right before big events. Otherwise, I’m always challenging myself to make the boring stuff not so boring.

5. This one I had to add this year, but it’s important for anyone with big goals….don’t listen to the talk. It’s about you and your dog. Who gives a flying fill-in-the-blank about what others are saying?

I’m sure I’m leaving something out, and when I think of it, I’ll update this post. I may even add in a compilation video of my epic fails (including the tripping moment mentioned in #3).

Don’t forget to share your mental management techniques in the comments!

Check out other blogs on this subject at: http://dogagilityblogevents.wordpress.com/the-mental-game/

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6 thoughts on “The Mental Aspect to a Physical Sport

  1. Pingback: The Mental Aspect to a Physical Sport | Dog Agility Blog Events

    • Thanks Elayne! It was certainly a challenge, but now I can honestly relate to my students that are struggling with mental management…..so ultimately it was a good thing 🙂

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  2. I am a crier too! Not in agility, but in herding. Every single trial I would cry… I am semi-reformed 🙂

    I kind of have the opposite approach to your 5 minute rule. For 5 minutes after the run, or until I put my dog back in his crate after a cool-down, I am all positive. No matter how terrible it went, I am upbeat. Now after I put him away, then I beat myself up about it 🙂 Then I try to let it go 🙂

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    • I’m glad you’re making progress too!

      I always make sure to reward my dog and sound happy until I put him back in his crate also. I definitely don’t want him to be affected by my five-minute-rule, because he did great 🙂

      It sounds like you have two five-minute-rules…positive, then negative. Then you move on. Smart!

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  3. Hi Kama – I can’t believe I found this great post and then realized – Wait! I know her! We were in PowerPawsCamp together this year! With your wonderful dogs Squeeky & Gumby. So my mental game (or should I say my mental mess?) is a huge roadblock for me that I am determined to change. And then I read your post – and I thought – WHAT? Kama? Cry? Be disappointed? You mean I’m not the ONLY one that has gone thru this? Really? That alone helps! Because I figured I am the only one with this *issue*. So thanks for the great post. Had so much fun at Camp this year with you and your Mom. Take Care – Mary & Mac

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