Matter of Life & Death
disappointment in the ring
it all goes wrong and fate opens up that yawning chasm between expectation and outcome, failing
can feel like the end of the world. The effects on your confidence can be damaging and
long-lasting, and for some it can be the final straw which leads them to giving up and moving
on to less stressful ways to fill their leisure time. Dipping out of Crufts 2002 gave top
handler Chris Smith the opportunity to re-examine her performance and attitude.
A famous football
manager once said in his pre-match pep talk: 'Winning is not a matter of life and death... it
is far more serious than that.' And sometimes it seems that way!
the last two or three years I have been on a quest for a strong mental attitude for
competition. Gone are those limiting beliefs I once clung to. Now I enter the arena confident
and focused, my mind prepped to support me in giving the best performance of which I am
does this guarantee me success? Sadly not. I may enter the ring mentally prepared to do well,
but all too often I exit 40 seconds later with that self-assurance hideously mangled.
is the time to flip the sports psychology coin. Heads is confidence; tails is resilience. How
an athlete copes with disappointments can be the
difference between a one-hit-wonder and a champion.
The most important element of success. The one sure way of avoiding long term success is
by giving up. The most successful people in all walks of life are those who have kept going
through thick and thin, and generally they will have experienced more failures than anyone
Make friends with the enemy
It is a great deal more pleasant to see success
going to someone you like. Make a point of making friends with your rivals – don’t wait for
them to come to you – you probably have a great deal more in common with them than most
people you meet – agility, dogs, a sporting ambition. In fact, as a general principle in
life, make friends. You’ll be surprised how many people you end up liking a great deal if you
make conversation instead of assumptions.
Turn tragedies into targets
Whatever went wrong is feedback – information
you can use to modify your future performance. Errors, misjudgments and under-preparation can
all be seen as shortfalls in your, or your dog’s skills, and can form the springboard for
your new training agenda. Be grateful that the course has highlighted a weakness that you need
to address. This will also have the effect of switching the focus of your attention from the
recent past (tragedy) over which you have no control, onto your future (targets) which is very
much within your powers to change.
Fortunately most of us don’t have to earn our
living from agility. A defeat is not going to affect our salary or professional reputation. So,
lighten up - set off with some goals for the day that have nothing to do with
winning. Enjoying yourself is a good one, sharing jokes and laughter with fellow competitors,
being sympathetic to less experienced competitors, giving your dog just the best time. Set some
sub-goals and try to achieve them.
Share in the joy of others
It is not in everybody’s nature to share in the jubilation of the person who has
triumphed and achieved what you had worked and hoped for – certainly counter-intuitive for
me! But try it – you may start out a little disingenuous, but eventually you will be
surprised at just how sincere will be the joy you can derive from someone else’s happiness.
Enjoy the battle
Some adore the battle; others only like winning. The trick is to enjoy the battle. Not easy,
but work on shifting the emphasis, and the outcome will become less important.
You are not alone
It’s seductive to believe that you are the only failure, the only one who has missed out on
their dream. Get real. At Crufts 2002, where a couple of stupid errors put my goals beyond
reach, probably 90% of the agility competitors came
away disappointed with the result, but they’ll all be trying to get back next year.
A positive spin
Try to draw something positive from the experience. Focus on what you have learnt about
yourself, your performance and your dog, or the friends whose company you shared, the joy of
flinging some limbs around while half the country loafed in front of the TV, etc. In my own
case, losing gives me something to write about!
disappointment has pushed me to the brink of giving up agility several times. After all, it’s
the one certain way of ensuring you’ll never get it wrong again, or fall short of your
expectations. Putting yourself back in the firing line can be tough, but it happens to be the
only way you’ll find out just how good you can get and just how much you can achieve.
matter what precious chances have slipped
SUNRISE EVERY SOUL IS BORN AGAIN”
Chris Smith has been competing in agility with her Border Terriers
since 1994. With her most successful dog, Teasel, she has won the Eukanuba Challenge in 1999
and the Pedigree Mini Agility Stakes at Olympia in 1999 and 2000. She was a member of the 2001
British National Team that went to Porto for the Agility World Championships.
With Teasel came the realisation that owning a talented dog was
not in itself a guarantee of success, and this led her to seek out ways of cultivating the
inner strength and positive mental attitude necessary to compete and win with consistency.
She is a passionate fan of Border Terriers and has served on the
Committee of the East Anglia Border Club for some years. She also judges in agility and enjoys
writing on dog related subjects - an ad hoc contributor to Agility Eye and Border
Chris is the author of Your Secret Coach, subtitled
How to Unlock the Power of Your Mind to Fulfill Your True Potential in Agility (£7.50).
more information or to order your own copy, contact:
The Willows, Lynn Road
Saddlebow, King's Lynn
Norfolk PE34 3AT
Fun photos: Peter van Dongen