Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Dog Club Aging, and Mentorship

This is Blog Event Number 7.  Read other agility bloggers' thoughts on Aging here.

Yes, I'm aging and slowing down. My dogs are aging, which at their young ages of 4 and 6 translates into "maturing", which is a good thing.  We hug more and train less and do about as well as before.  But what I want to talk about is dog club aging.

People start dog clubs.  They get fired up, invest in it heavily, create their niches, love their jobs.  It becomes an integral part of their lives.  They open up and invite new members in, but the club always really belongs to them.  It was their dream.  They have history, loyalty, habits . . . . . and set views. And the same people with those same views do the same jobs year after year -- trial chairman, trial secretary, gate steward, chief course builder, instructors, decision makers about equipment purchases, equipment maintenance, equipment storage, where to spend the club's money, who teaches, and what methods are acceptable.  The other members are allowed to scurry around hauling equipment, setting bars, running errands, cutting grass, etc., but they never really get "in".  They are never actively trained to the more challenging positions.  They aren't privy to the decision making process, and especially aren't encouraged to introduce anything new. Those who want to, need to, be more involved, those who thrive on giving and being creative, don't get the chance, so they tend to drift off to more rewarding, fulfilling pursuits.  This goes on fine for quite awhile, but then, the older club members start aging, and the club starts aging.  Without transfusions of new blood, everything ages.

I join clubs to learn, and to share what I've got to offer.  It is as fulfilling to give as to receive. The motto of the computer club I belong to is "sharing the knowledge", and that motto, to me, can't be beat.  To me, clubs are all about sharing knowledge.  Most people, like me, join clubs to find like minded people, also to learn new skills, be useful, and to belong to something I see as culturally important.  I want to improve my community.  In the case of dog agility clubs putting on trials, this includes, well, putting on trials.  If the more experienced people don't take on eager, younger protégés and groom them to those important positions, aging clubs are courting the very real danger that they will eventually, imperceptibly, little bit by little bit, fizzle out and die.

Thus, I recommend dog training clubs turn serious focus towards the concept of "mentorship", not just teaching people how to train their dogs an hour a week, rallying them to wash and load equipment in the truck for trials, set bars, and otherwise just be pleasant and not complain.  Those in charge may not feel themselves to be responsible for passing on the important skills.  I've heard more than one of them say "Nobody taught me.  I just got in there and did it."  And that's true.  As pioneers, they had to build something from nothing, they got busy and did it, and loved it.  But most of us are NOT pioneers, and can't be.  The club already exists.  The positions are already filled.  AKC doesn't allow more than one AKC club within a certain geographical radius.  You can ask the trial secretary or other top brass to mentor you, but if they won't do it, you are stuck on the outside, looking in over the fence . . . . Kilroy style.

My advice to dog clugs. Grab ahold of your younger members, and actively teach them how to run your trials and your club.  Give them leaway to ask questions and challenge your methods.   Breathe vitality into your clubs.  Then maybe in a few years you can sit back and just show up for classes, sip your Poweraide, set a few bars, straighten a few chutes, and run your dogs around the courses trying to Q, in ignorant bliss of the heart of the sport like the rest of us.

Upwards and onward,


Merinda said...

I like this angle on the topic!
I think a lot of aging members feel it is just easier to do it themselves than take the time to teach someone else...

minnow said...

I love this post!! I am part of a club where the same people run the trials -- I always thought they wanted to and it's their "turf" but maybe they are ready to sit back with the Poweraid and just occasionally get up to fluff a chute! :)

vici whisner said...

I really think it depends on the club. One of my club really tries to live the word mentorship. But it seems that every time we look to our members to step up to help, it is the same people out there doing the same thing each time. Sometimes the club pushes people away, but sometimes the club members don't want to do the work that it takes...goes both ways.