Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Agility - The Mental Game

L to R:  Pepper, Lucky Lucy, Maxie
This is part of the quarterly Blog Action Day where agility bloggers all write on the same subject.  See what others have to say here.

The mental game has been at least 50% of the challenge for me in this sport, so much so that I can safely say if it wasn't A LOT OF FUN for me and my dogs to over ride the inertia of "comfort", I wouldn't do it at all.  Fortunately, I can afford the financial cost, so that's one problem I don't have.  But I've never been athletic, so making my body get out there and move, and in distinct ways, provides daily resistance.  EXERCISE (leg lifts, stretches, footwork, etc.) has never called my name, except for walking and swimming, both of which I love.  SPORTS have never interested me either -- I don't care to participate, and don't care which team wins!  I'm somewhat uncomfortable chatting with PEOPLE,  mostly because what interests me doesn't seem to interest them and vice versa.  Also, I find I never have enough time to learn enough, so I covet my private time.  So I'm not particularly suited for the bustling agility "scene"!

What does appeal to me is learning to communicate with my dogs and give them a wonderful life, and since they respond to body language that means I have to move my body.  I do agility for them.
For them, I've left the comfort of my home for classes and trials.  I've learned umpteen rules, which, by the way, I might direct you to my essay in the sidebar of this blog, Tips For The Novice Agility Competitor, to refresh you on how much you've had to learn and how far you've had to come to do this sport.  It's an eye-opener, especially for the seasoned agility instructor, reminding them how much their new students  have to learn in order to compete, and this doesn't even count training the dog!  It's intimidating!  One certainly needs a good mental game to endure it.

I've had injuries and illnesses - torn ligaments, twisted ankles, hip bersitis, pneumonia, cat and dog bites, vertigo, etc.  I've run my dogs with a TENS unit in my pocket and wires running under my pants leg to stimulate my sore calf muscle -- the only way I could endure the pain of the run. I've used and given away KT tape and ice packs to help others function at trials.  I see tons of knee braces, back braces, ankle wraps, etc., at trials, so I'm not alone in this.  Not to mention my eye problems -- my depth perception is way off since my cataract surgery 1.5 years ago.  This has been very depressing, like living with a continuous hangover.

Maxie, giving it his all.
Increasingly, I see people lining their dogs up for chiropractic and massage treatments.  It makes one wonder, why put our dogs through this sport if it's going to injure them?  Are we just doing it for ourselves?  One needs a good mental perspective to develop satisfying answers to these questions.  In my case, Maxie has needed some adjustments and isn't running as fast as before, and it turns out Lucky Lucy doesn't like being in arenas.  That is disquieting.  But . . . my dogs are bored to death if I don't do something active with them every single day.  They both enjoy movement, and I need movement.  They beg me to make them do tricks.  Agility seemed a good solution, so I've put 4 years into it, and loved it.   Truth be told, they'd be just as happy walking through the neighborhood, fetching balls, etc.  But that isn't sufficient for me, see.  I need more mental challenge than that.  I need to teach them stuff, and test their understanding, and occasionally it's nice to show them off.

Another significant part of my mental game has been learning how to tune out the critics and the ambilivants . . . . . just focus on my team.  When I'm at a trial, or even in class, I do my best to be friendly, attentive and supportive, but in the final analysis I'm there to be with my dogs and inch forward in our teamwork.  That's where the thrill is, for me.  I don't really enjoy being with people who aren't there for me.  Everyone is basically preoccupied, doing their own thing.  And then there are the rude people that nobody ever talks about.  The mental game helps provide the shield.

I enrolled in John Cullen's online courses via Cognitive Edge, learning a lot about setting up a Pre Competition Routine.  I've read books (reviewed elsewhere on this blog) about developing my mental game.  I've learned to love watching football games, (LSU and the New Orleans Saints in particular), because it amazes me what these "gladiators" go through to develop their physical skills as well as their mental game. What the human body can do, given proper and regular training and right mental attitude, is nothing short of miraculous.  I still don't know the rules of that game.  I just watch the players give their all -- pass and run and tackle and fly through the air, and arise unharmed after 20 guys have just piled up on them.  I want to be that way.  But I'm not.

I've done Susan Garrett's Puppy Peaks, but when I got my puppy (Pepper) 2 years ago, I didn't do many of the exercises.  Partly because I already train 2 dogs, partly because Pepper doesn't catch on as quickly as the other two and I'm not into the "thousands of repetitions" gig some dog trainers say is needed to train our dogs.  Maxie and Lucky Lucy spoiled me.  They learned quickly.  Not that it matters much.  I adore my beautiful Pepper-Tu, too. His manners are pretty good, and his antics are so funny!  He is very PRESENT and WITH ME in the most important ways.

Looking back, this whole blog has been mostly a chronicle about my involvement in this sport, but it also captures the enormous amount of work that goes into agility -- training, packing, travelling, filling out forms, learning the rules, solving training and other problems, building equipment and relationships, keeping up the training yards, setting goals, analyzing runs, developing a healthy mental game, streamlining processes, cutting losses, and carrying on despite the many disappointments and constant struggles.  Not that I'm trying to discourage anyone else, but lately I've been wondering why I continue when I could stay home where everything runs pretty much smoothly and I don't have to struggle so much.  There are a lot easier things to do.

I'm kinda in that mental space right now, wondering if just taking classes once a week and backyard training would satisfy me, without need to trial and compete for ribbons and titles.  Hopefully it's just a phase.  What did John Cullen's recent article call it  -- burn out.  I read the article -- all the ways to prevent burnout -- but I didn't even want to do those.

On top of that, there's my declining FoohFooh, my first dog for whom this FoohMax agility blog is named.  I never did agility with FoohFooh.    He was so smart, but I was not ready to handle his enthusiasm. I did the best I could. We did many tricks. He wowed our visitors with his roll-overs, hand shakes, fay-do-do's (i.e., bang, you're dead's), and such forth, but I had never heard of Agility in 1998. Nor even Obedience!  I was a highly skilled child trainer, but not a bit with dogs.  I made it up daily, but never caught up as he was so smart, I knew I was lagging right away.  But it wasn't until I acquired Maxie in 2008 that, never to make the same mistake, I began to search online for dog training tips.  Fooh is just as smart as Maxie, maybe smarter.  I failed him in so many ways.  He forgives me, and he's now so old, can barely stand.  We are waiting with baited breath for his last day.  Maybe 3 weeks, 3 months, not sure.  I don't want to leave him behind for a weekend of trialing and miss his passing.  That would scar my soul. So I tend to stay home.  His poor backbone sticks out, his paws curl under, he can barely make it down the steps to the yard, he barely responds to the call to go "outside", which used to excite him so.  We are all feeling kinda low around here, though he still loves his food.  Death sucks.  Is that bad?  Is it wrong to linger with a dying loved one and let them know how wonderful their blip of life was for you? Wrong to lose your mo-jo for awhile?  Wrong to feel depressed, sad, wound down?  Wrong to not respond to the enthusiastic urgings of the yet-healthy ones whose main focus is, without doubt, Me, Me, Me?  Gees, if fading away means nothing, why rise?

And then two weeks ago I tripped on a root after a stimulating class, landed flat on my belly, knocked the breath out of me.  I spit the dirt out of my mouth, got up and drove home, but within 2 days I realized I had re-strained my old knee ligament injury (which had me in a walker for 3 months a few years back), and I think I fractured a rib.  I've been in pain ever since, with NO desire or ability to practice the past two weeks.  Feeding and petting the dogs and letting them out is about all I can muster.  So that's "where I'm at" at this writing.

Hopefully, reading the other agility bloggers' posts will help me get back my mo-jo!  Bring it on.  No doubt, this agility gig has been a life-shifting, motivating, memorable ride and I don't regret it one bit.  Would I love to go to my own grave saying I had a CHAMPION AGILITY DOG?  Of course, I would.  And Maxie's only 7 QQ's from getting there, and we'd have been there long ago if it wasn't for just, every single trial day, just ONE LITTLE MISTAKE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!   

Happy Holidays to you all.  Upwards and onward!