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  Global Judging Program

Designed by judges for judges...

Week after week, agility judges all around the country set courses to test of our ability. If we struggle, we can go away and train these challenges further. So surely developing our judges so they set safe and appropriate yet challenging courses is in all our interests? Most judges will at some point have taken assessments or exams and following successful completion gone off to judge. And that, for the majority, is where their professional development ends as there has been nothing to cater for them in this regard. Until now... Becky Dixon reports on the Global Judging Program (GJP).

The Global Judging Program is the brainchild of Greg Derrett and Lee Gibson, both extremely well-known and successful names in the agility world. In the introduction of the 2 day initial seminar, they detail how important they think the role of judging is in shaping British agility now and in the future which is one of the reasons they have developed the programme. GJP is not aimed at judges from any specific organisation and those attending so far - approximately 100 people - have ranged from brand new judges to Kennel Club CC judges.

Lee and Greg launched GJP with a two day seminar in early 2016 which I attended. In 2017 they have now also introduced a two day follow up Advanced Seminar with assessments allowing participants to work towards achieving GJP Approved or Affiliated Judge status. It was clear from the outset how passionate Greg and Lee are about improving the standard of judging in this country at all levels, as well as supporting our judges who are subject to increasing pressure from all angles nowadays, especially given the advent of social media.

This  seminar was a great refresher of things I knew and things I thought I knew. However, it also developed a number of discussion points about things that I wasn't so sure about or didn't have so much confidence in. In addition a number of new thoughts and ideas were generated by the seminar.

The initial seminar was broken down into a number of modules - all delivered in an interactive and enjoyable way. It was a lot to get through, but the timetable was well thought out and enough breaks were provided.

Modules included:-

  • Expectations from a Show Manager

  • Judging in 2016 (now updated to read 2017 I imagine!)

  • Skills Setting

  • Safety and Judge's Position

  • Confrontation and Social Media

  • Refusal Clarification

  • Video Judging

  • Judging Scenarios

  • Quick Fire Questions

  • Adapting Course Plans

Of particular note for me was the module on Skill Setting in which we received individual feedback on courses we had submitted prior to the course. We were then given a piece of work to complete in the group in relation to our own courses. For me, this increased my confidence in making calls about what I wanted to test in my course and then taking an overall look at the course and seeing how well set the skills were in order for me to achieve my aim.

Confrontation and social media was a highly engaging and humorous module with very good visual learning aids. There were really good examples of how easy it is to get embroiled into a discussion on social media and how this can escalate. This module was great and provoked good discussion within the group.

Safety and judges path was another module which was very thought provoking. There were some really detailed discussions about safety issues that may not be so obvious and actual safety versus perceived safety were also key points. The importance of an appropriate and effective judge's path were also covered in this module. This linked in well with the previous module where we had submitted our own courses. We faced discussion about the judge's path we had chosen and how effective that was in practise. It may seem obvious but I am sure we have all seen examples of courses which are very difficult for anyone to judge effectively!

Video judging was an opportunity to look at dogs runs and make calls on whether we would fault or not. It was then possible to see the video in slow motion and discuss the calls we had made and why. Although in real life we obviously don't have the benefit of a slow motion replay it was extremely useful in this forum to clarify why we would or wouldn't make a certain call. I particularly liked this as the trainers had found examples of a number of different and difficult calls. I have previously seen how difficult it is to appropriately test a judges skills in a practical judging session as it can be very difficult to get dogs to perform certain faulting behaviours in a mock situation. By scrolling through hours of video the trainers had found some challenging decisions for us to judge. The pressure was still on as we had to make the call in real time and then see it back in slow motion after we had done this.

Judging scenarios was another session where we were put under pressure to make good decisions. Being faced with a situation and asked what we would do in that situation was enhanced by the trainers reacting to whatever we said as another person present might. This reinforced the need to be acutely aware of what we were saying as people can seize on our comments and further challenge us about them, as was demonstrated by Lee and Greg on several occasions!

Quick fire questions was the one that a lot of us were nervous about. However, the support given by Greg and Lee and the rest of the course was fantastic. One by one we had a number of questions fired at us for one minute to see how many we could get right. These were all answerable with 5, 5R, E or no fault. A really important learning point from this was about not dwelling on a mistake we may have made as it could affect our performance further and I think a lot of us learnt from this. It also replicated the very quick decisions that judges are required to make many times a day.

I came away from it determined to improve my skills at judging by incorporating all that I had learnt into future appointments. I had never lost my love of judging, but I think this course re-identified for me the importance of being a good judge, both in being a good role model to others and in developing the sport for the future.

And so, one year later, I decided to apply for the Global Judging Program Advanced Seminar and assessments which ran in January 2017. Having people attend a seminar is great but just because someone has attended a training workshop doesn't  mean that they will be able to put what they had learned into practise. Greg and Lee wanted to put into place a program to accredit people to Global Judging standards and develop excellent judges rather than just 'okay' judges. To that end they made no apologies for what we were about to experience. It was clear from the outset that the standard was set high.

Day 1 - Advanced GPJ Seminar 2017
The first day included topics we had covered in the initial seminar such as Course Design, Refusals, Judge's Path and Positioning, Measuring and Dogs Lines as well as the course design process.

Course design was based around a template we had been given before we attended with ten pieces of equipment on it which we could not move. We were asked to design a Grade 6 Agility course using this as a basis. It was really interesting to look at each other's courses and see the amount of variation in them. It was also a key part of the session to evaluate our own and others courses in relation to the difficulty level, the skills set, the safety aspects and the judge's path as well as any other feedback that was useful.

Refusals was a very interactive session where we were asked to bring examples of refusals that we would like clarified. A series of video clips were also shown which we made calls on and discussed to see how accurate we were. Again we got to see these in slow motion later so we could better understand what had actually happened.

With course measuring being a very current topic we spent time discussing different organisations requirements in relation to course measuring, the differences in minimum and maximum distances and then undertook a practical course measuring session using both the dogs path method and the centre to centre method. This was a very useful exercise and helped us all to realise how we can impact on course times, progression etc. by good or poor measuring.

At the end of the day, Lee and Greg talked through the assessments we would face on Day 2. There were 11 in total:- Judges path, Safety issues, See-saw Calls, Measuring x 2 (centre to centre and dogs path), Judging Scenarios, Quick Fire Questions, Refusal Calls, Equipment Failure and two submitted courses.

A score of 80% or more in a test would gain us a marking of excellent, 65-79% would be good, 45-65% average and below 45 % would be a fail. There were two levels of accreditation. In order to become a GJP Approved judge we needed to get an excellent in 8 or more of the 11 modules and no fails. In order to become a GJP Affiliated judge, we needed to get an excellent or a good in eight or more of the 11 modules and not more than one fail. Cue gulps around the room! A number of us stayed up late that night reviewing at the two courses we had already designed and developing them further based on what we had learned earlier that day.

Day 2 was a very different day
It was clear that there were a lot of nerves in the room. The day started with us all submitting our two courses for our first assessment. We then moved quickly on to a 25 minute written paper on Judge's Path and Safety Issues. with a number of different courses and asked to mark judge's path and safety calls on them. This was difficult as there were parts of the course that you probably wouldn't have designed as a judge due to poor equipment placement. It really made me think about where I needed to be to judge as effectively as possible. It was tough but it got us all settled down fairly quickly.

We then moved onto See-saw Calls. This was an assessment where we watched video from UKI in America and marked down what call we would have made. No slow motion on this one unfortunately until after we had handed our assessments in. However having the opportunity to watch them back in slow motion gave us a sense of how we might have done on the assessment.

The measuring assessments were done at two different times in the day. We were given a course plan and a few minutes to walk the course. We then had to measure it, on one occasion using the dog's path method and on the other using the centre to centre method. All of the measuring was done individually out of sight of all the other course members, As we got to the finish line we had to submit our measurement to Greg who was waiting for us. On centre to centre method we had to be within 2 metres of what the trainers had measured to score excellent and on dog's path within 3 metres.

Quick fire questions was as described before, except this time there was a video of a show playing in the background to replicate the noise we might experience including crowds responding to runs, so it was potentially quite distracting. Again the pressure was on to make quick and accurate decisions including how we would exactly mark a series of events rather than just one call.

On to refusal calls and this was done by way of a video montage of a number of dogs and handlers at UKI in America. All of the clips required us to look at a series of events occurring rather than just a dog approaching one obstacle. There were lots of sighs going on over this one, but again we didn't get to see any slow motion until after the assessments were handed in. There were a lot of sighs going on during the replays as well!!

What I will say at this point is that all through the assessments there was a massive amount of support from the trainers and the rest of the group in terms of nerves calming but also in discussion once an assessment had been completed. Every assessment was followed up with some learning, be it reviewing slow motion videos or feedback on measuring etc.

We also undertook an assessment on quick redesign of a course following equipment failure. We were given two minutes to study a brief and then redesign the course ensuring that we maintained appropriate skills levels for the course we had initially set. We had to bear in mind pressure on time as if we were at a real show, so no major course redesigns were possible. We also had to take judges path and safety into account and were required to draw the judge's path onto the course as well. I clearly recall telling myself out loud to get a grip during this one as I could feel myself starting to fluster... a lot!

Finally we had Judging Scenarios, another written paper. This one was a multiple choice unlike any other multiple choice papers I have experienced. There were no clearly wrong answers. In addition, we were given a point for the right response but further points were available for the justification we gave for our response. It wasn't enough to know what we would do; we needed to know why we would do it and how we would explain this to competitors, show officials etc. if required.

Without a doubt, this was one of the most intense training days/assessments I have ever experienced and also the best in terms of reality. If we passed, we really knew that deserved it. This was never a tick box exercise - and that was made clear from the start.

Both Lee and Greg made themselves available for questions both during the course and out of hours. Since running the first course, they have set up several Facebook groups. There is a general Facebook page about GJP which anyone can joinThis page gives information on the programme including dates of forthcoming seminars and is also a focal point for discussion where both handlers and judges can express views related to judging. A second page is for those who have attended the initial seminar and is for discussion and support around any judging matters. Most recently, two further pages have been set up, one for GJP Affiliated judges and one for GJP Approved Judges.

Assessing the Assessments
In short, both of these seminars/assessment days have provided the best training and learning opportunities I have ever been on - both in my work life and my own time. I honestly believe that GJP could improve anyone's judging, even if it is only by taking time out to reflect on their own practise and ensure that it is the very best it could be. The Program is suitable for all levels of judge. As we know from our own dogs, it is better never to learn bad habits than to have to retrain them into good habits!

If you are a judge and think that this program has nothing to offer you, then I believe you are mistaken. If you are an inexperienced judge who thinks you are too new to do the program, you are wrong. If you are a judge who doesn't feel confident to do something like this, then then think again. You have the confidence to put yourself in the middle of the ring to judge and this will enhance that confidence, as will all the additional support you get.

Our judges do great things every single week. They give up their time so we can all engage in our hobby. They make call after call after call in the freezing cold, driving rain and baking sunshine - sometimes on the same day. If you are a judge who believes that what you do is important, not only on a show by show basis but also for the future of the sport, and who wants to be a great part of seeing agility develop, then I would urge you to do this course. You will not regret it!

If you would like to find out further information on GJP, contact Greg Derrett for information on forthcoming courses. A website is now available and can be found at www.globaljudgingprogram.com

Author credit...
Becky Dixon has been involved in agility for the last eleven years and currently runs a Working Cocker Spaniel. 

Once bitten by the agility bug, she realised that she wanted to contribute more to the sport and decided to have a go at judging at a club fun show. Nine years later and having judged at many KC and UKA shows, she still looks forward to every appointment.

Most recently she judged the UKA Grand Finals in November 2016 and in January 2017  became a GJP Approved Judge. Later in 2017, she will be judging the Team England tryouts for the World Agility Open in 2018.

First published 3 February 2017

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