I know that mostly I just blog about random stuff, my life as it revolves around agility. Or rather, agility is my life, really...
But I've also had this floating around my head and brewing for a few days so I thought I'd write it out here. First off, let me say that "mental game" is not something I generally teach very much, because I have never really needed to learn much about it. Confidence is not something I've particularly lacked, and performance under pressure and in front of other people is something I learned to deal with early in life and it just doesn't bother me. I get more of a thrill watching my YouTube videos and finally HEARING the crowd than I did in person running the course when I blocked the crowd out. However, sometimes I try to spend a bit of time analyzing things, and this is one of those times.
In my mind, there are two main types of factors that affect performance. External factors would be forces that are out of your control - the surface, the equipment, the judging, the course design. Internal factors are ones that you control -your training, your fitness, your handling, and of course how you deal with all of the external factors. If you allow external factors to dictate your success, you will always be at the mercy of luck. Rather than rely on fortune, I try to take away something useful from every event where an external factor "defeated" me. So you won't hear me complaining about course design, or surface, or whatever very much. This does not mean I thought the surface was "great", it just means that I do not ever want to blame my success or lack thereof on something like "the dirt". The dirt did not defeat me. Another handler, with a dog who handled the dirt better than my dog, defeated me! I don't blame the judge for calling my borderline see-saw flyoff, I go home and make my dog's see-saw performance so reliable that it will not get called again. I can control how fit my dog is, how well he performs the obstacles, even how tightly he turns. I can give him experience on all kinds of surfaces, both good and bad. I can train ridiculous weave entries and contact approaches. I can practice handling ridiculously hard sequences, and try to keep myself fit. That way when I do arrive at the trial, if some external factor puts pressure on my "game", I know I can deal with it. I don't have to go home blaming some outside force for my lack of success.
Blaming external factors too much can lead to a case of the "but for's"... runs where the dog would have won "but for" slipping and knocking the bar, "but for" that "bad flyoff call", "but for" the ridiculous weave entry... It is totally OK to compare your dog's time to the winner. That is simply being competitive. But to think that having a "but for" run means you are at the top is to fool yourself. Having a "but for" run may initially upset me, but usually immediately afterwards I go into anger/motivation mode, and I spend the next little while planning how to fix this gap in my training or fitness regime. That particular external factor will not defeat me again! Next time I am faced with it, perhaps I will succeed, perhaps I will fail, but being prepared for it, it is ME that will take the blame either way.
Here is an example - Strafe slipped entering the weaves in Challenger Round just a few weeks ago. BUT FOR that slip, we might have placed 2nd or better (I don't think he would have won, but for the sake of this argument let's say it was possible). I admit I was disappointed when it happened. I admit I used my video software to see how much time he spent in the poles. But I am not complaining that "the surface is the reason my dog didn't win!", instead I am saying "I need to get him more experience entering the weave poles at high speed and with high arousal levels, especially with a slippery surface". Here is how I internalize it - Strafe did not slip because of the surface, Strafe slipped because he is inexperienced at dealing with such a surface. Do you see the huge difference? I compare his time with and without the slip because he is a young dog, we are a young team, and I am still getting a grasp of how fast he is. It is great to be able to compare if you can do so objectively! But I harbor no ill will towards "the dirt" in Tulsa.
Another brief example - when I went to WAO last year I saw the most ridiculous weave entry, like ever. The tunnel opening was 2 or 3 feet from the weave entry, and it was a tough entry even without the tunnel being present. Unfortunately Kiba was off course before we got to that part, but I was pretty sure she'd fail the weave entry with the tunnel so close. So I spent the following month of June working on difficult and independent weave entries and exits, especially with Strafe, so that he would regard them as "normal" from of a young age. I came home saying "wow that was a hard entry, I can't WAIT to train that!"