Cloudy, Dark Agility Days – Part 1, by Bonny Quick

A couple of years ago I was running in the large senior evening final at Olympia. I walked the course, noted the straight-on dog walk exit perfectly pitched to maximise our running dog walk speed, and realised that my tiny large dog could really win this one… it was going to be a good one… I could feel it…

As we ran down the finishing straight I knew we had it, I knew we were on the time. The crowd was going crazy! We were about to win! At the last jump, it went wrong. And it was my fault. I didn’t cut away from the see saw early enough… didn’t get up the line fast enough… should have gone up the other side… should have known my dog couldn’t hear my verbal cues above the din of the crowd and used better visuals…

Make of it what you will, we didn’t win. And it was because of me that my dog had a refusal at the last jump in a major final which we were a breath away from winning. As the adrenalin subsided, I started emotionally beating myself up. And I beat myself up about it for a long, long, long time. And then a bit longer. The voices in my head told me I had let my dog down, I was no good, I was rubbish, I had failed… I launched a hail of abuse at myself, without really noticing.

A horrible, humiliating month later, I became vaguely aware of the overwhelming cloud of self-blame that was hanging over me and thought… wow, I never want to go through that again! I don’t mean go through the pain of losing at the last jump – that was over in a second. I mean go through the pain of subjecting myself to so much punishment for a tiny mistake.

The run was done in a moment, the lesson was learned in ten minutes of agonising self-analysis… but the blame was going on and on and on. It was making me feel bad about myself. It wasn’t fun. It was the opposite of what agility is about for me.

And – oops – I had subjected myself to a month of misery without really being conscious of what I was doing. No one else had caused my pain. Others had congratulated us on making the final, had praised the rest of the run. I heard their praise and twisted it into cruel criticism.

It was when I was training my youngster that a glimmer of light appeared from the dark clouds… Hang on… I thought… I would never treat my dog the way I was treating myself. No way would I ever berate my dog endlessly the way I was berating myself. Tell her she wasn’t good enough. Bring it up over and over again. Make such a big deal out of it. Focus on the negative so excruciatingly much.

Why not?
Well, because it would make her life miserable…
It would be hugely counter-productive…
It would mess up her confidence…
Because she needed be allowed to get it ‘wrong’ sometimes to learn.

A clearing appeared. It felt like the sunshine might come back one day. I did a bit of reading about failure, and came across some helpful observations by other people. One of those was this:

All – and I mean all – successful competitors have failed. Take anyone you admire from the sporting world. If they had a trophy for every time they came seventh, or didn’t place at all – if they took home a medal for each big mess up… do you know how many full cabinets they would have?

All that time I was wasting on berating myself for my mistake; I could have been productively putting in to being better. It was important to learn from the lesson, yes, but dwelling on the mistake was so pointless. Worse than that it was knocking my confidence and making me feel less sure-of-myself. And it was making me feel like agility just wasn’t enjoyable… And all of this, was coming from me.

There’s more to come: Part 2 of this blog is coming soon!

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