Do you ever feel frustrated, sad, or even angry at the end of an agility competition day? Perhaps you feel this way while driving to the trial site, or even while filling out the entry form, or walking the course?
How do these feelings affect your ability to focus at trials or to be the best possible teammate for your dog? Is there a mental side to agility…. you bet there is!
OneMind Dogs Coach Megan Foster has some great tips to help you balance your mind on trial days!
Megan says “There was a time in my agility career when agility competitions were no fun, and I would be unhappy with any number of things throughout the day: the schedule, the course, the surface, and ultimately my results, which were impacted by my frustrations with things outside of my control.
Mindset training has played a pivotal role in my training, competing and coaching of others. The tools I have been practising for the last few years have given me the ability to calm my mind and focus on the tasks in front of me in agility and in everyday life.
The three most important skills that have helped me are inner speech, using my mistakes to coach me, and focusing on the things I can control.
Why am I sharing my story with you? I believe that mindset training for agility handlers and competitors needs to be more normalized, and talking about it can only encourage others to give it a try!”
Back to those important skills…
Your inner speech is that running commentary that goes on inside your head, for example, “this course is too hard, people are judging me and my dog… etc”
Megan explains that she had to “manually stop my own thoughts, and challenge my own beliefs about myself, my dog, the training and the competition. It was heavy lifting for my brain, but with practice, it is now easy for me to find evidence to support positive feelings and defray negative ones.”
Using my mistakes to coach me
Mistakes are information! They are a vital part of learning, not something to be feared.
Megan elaborates: “Before working on my competitive mindset, I would focus too much on how I didn’t know how to do something, or let a mistake replay in my head on repeat for hours or even days following a competition. Now, I use those mistakes to push me. When looking at courses, I commit to trying a strategy that I feel is the best for my team and if a technical error occurs, I go home and train it until I understand how to do it better the next time I see that situation on course”.
Leading OneMind Dogs Coach Janita Leinonen has been learning and teaching mental skills for years now and she strongly believes in the positive effects they have on your overall performance and mindset. When you make a mistake on course, Janita suggests visualising what you could have done correctly and repeating that in your mind, rather than what went wrong. That way, your brain makes more pathways towards the correct action, remembering that one instead of the mistake.
Focusing on the things I can control
This mental skill is the ultimate way to create a positive space around yourself during agility competitions.
Megan states “It was important for me to create boundaries for myself around my energy, my thoughts, and my actions. I had to learn to protect myself from distractions. Distractions like local gossip, dogs barking, and even a friend sharing their workweek drama with me. It was important for me to learn that to do my best in competitions, I could only use up so much brain power for other people or things that I have no influence over.”
You can’t change other people, but you can change your thoughts and reactions to what others do and say. To be the best possible teammate for your dog, you need to focus on your team and no one else’s.
So what can you do to make agility fun again?
Megan shares some easy tasks that can make a big difference:
Share your story! If you are already working on your mental skills and you have made some positive steps on this front, tell your story to a friend. Your journey may inspire others to start their mindset training!
Encourage others! If you feel like finding positives about your own runs is difficult, try looking for positives in others’ runs! It’s the same skill, you just have to practice it and generalize that behavior back to yourself! Bonus, you’ll make someone’s day brighter by sharing that compliment with them!
Focus on the conversations you have with others during training or competitions. It is all too easy to fall into a storm of complaining, future telling, and thoughts of certain doom. It sounds a little silly when I write it like that, but part of my mental training was to become aware of my habits and determine which habits were serving me and which are better to let go of.
Are you excited to learn more mental skills and tips? Get the OneMind Dogs premium subscription and you can learn more about the mental side of agility right now with our Mental Training course!