All the training. All the time. All the money.
We think we're ready.
And then BOOM! We go into the ring and make a muck of it.
How is that possible?
Well, there are lots of reasons, of course.
But one mistake I see handlers make consistently is they aren't as prepared to run the course as they think.
That's ridiculous, you say? They've walked the course a billion times. Of course they're prepared.
Nope. They're not.
And there's one simple question that will help you know if you're ready to run the course.
But I'll get to that in a minute...
First of all, I need to point out that preparation is so much more than repetitively walking around a course, zombie-fashion.
After the first few times around, you aren't learning anything new about the course — unless you are forcing your brain to process it in different ways.
If you've ever played a piano, you might be able to zip up and down a 'C' scale, but that doesn't mean you know how to use that scale in a jazz solo.
Or maybe you've followed someone to their house a bunch of times, but still can't get there on your own.
In both cases, it's probably because you spent a lot of time on autopilot — just going through the motions.
The same happens when you walk an agility course. If you aren't changing up your method of processing each time through, you stop learning the nuances of the course. You stop internalizing the course, so it never becomes automatic enough for you to focus on your dog's needs.
You stay too focused on where the course is going, or whether you can make it to that cross, or how that world team handler is running the course.
You aren't prepared — not properly.
By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail. — Benjamin Franklin
But it's not your fault. And, to be honest, sometimes it's hard to know if you are prepared.
But one simple question can tell you whether you are prepared.
Before I tell you what that is, tell me this...
Because here's the thing. Everyone is pushing to take bigger and bigger risks in their handling. To push harder. Be uber aggressive. And that's great—but only to a point.
So the more risks and the bigger the risks you take, the more the odds get stacked against you. Kind of like trying to land your plane regularly on the Hudson River.
Great handlers do take risks, but they are very good at risk management. They have high confidence they will be successful in the move they choose, they usually have a Plan B for any areas they aren't sure of, and they move to Plan B before the wheels come off the bus, because they know ahead of time what has to be in place for Plan A to work.
So, on to the big question that will help you decide if you are ready to run. The kind of prepared you want to be if you were an Olympic athlete.
Are you willing to bet me $100 you can *cleanly* make it to every handling move you are planning to do and can execute it faultlessly. (Now, I'm not talking about the unexpected, like you slip or something like that. I'm talking about an honest assessment under normal conditions.)
If your answer is 'no', you are trying to land your plane on the Hudson River. And you are playing with fire.
Small successes build confidence, but if you are constantly setting yourself up for failure, you'll soon start to believe it about yourself, just as our dogs lose confidence if they are set up to fail all the time.
Sure, there are times you will try something you aren't sure of because there is also a learning process, a stretching for better process we have to go through. I'm not advocating running *carefully*. But there is a time, a place, and a balance of pushing your skills versus honing them for peak performance.
If you want to learn more about using training cycles or perfecting the timing of your handling, check out these programs:
90 Days to Nationals: How to use cycles to train for better performances (this isn't just for training for nationals, it helps with how to use progressions in training)
Perfect Timing + The Connection Blueprint Combo: The secrets to developing impeccable timing and stay connected to your dog at the same time.
Get my free download on the Walking Blind drill, another test of your ultimate readiness to run a course.
Watch for my upcoming article: How To Recognize When Your Mental Game Isn't The Problem
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