Anyone who has performed on an international stage will understand that the high points are the stuff of dreams. The moment when the hundreds of hours dedicated to practicing skills pay-off. The moment when the sacrifices you’ve made over the last year suddenly become all worthwhile. In dog agility that moment is shared with our canine partners, a partnership which is formed through many hours of training. I’m so lucky to share those moments with the top agility handlers in the UK at competitions like the FCI Agility World Championships (AWC).
At our welcome meal I stood up and said to the team ‘we can all expect to be taken on an emotional rollercoaster of extreme highs and heart-stopping moments’– how true that turned out to be.
Unless you’ve been to an event like the AWC, the Olympics, a World Cup final etc. and watched your heroes perform it’s difficult to relate to the environment, the extreme pressure and sense the nervous tension that’s created; backstage at Turku this year you could almost touch the excitement in the atmosphere as each class drew towards the end.
Agility is much like any randomised sport where we don’t know what the opponent (in our case the course) is going to present us with. We do our research, we aim to control the controllable’s, we prepare like any other world class team however, we don’t know what the judge is going to lay down on the day.
Professionals make their skills look easy, polished and seamless. What lies behind is hard work, toil, practice and dedication. It’s easy to sit behind a keyboard and dream, comment, or point out the why’s and where-for’s, but nothing replaces that moment of being there immersed in the atmosphere as a spectator or if you’re lucky backstage part of it, or one of those handlers who’ve worked so incredibly hard to earn their place on the start line.
Human behaviour is such an interesting subject. Why is it that some people default to maximising extremes and minimising the stuff that appears hard and difficult. How some peoples brains are wired to watch a 35 second video clip of agility and draw conclusive evidence about a team culture, a dogs ability (or lack off) a handlers fitness levels and the necessary skills required of a world class athlete. Fortunately science, research, knowledge and experience are called upon to maintain our focus on the things that do make a difference.
The Coaching Team and the other experts we work with behind the scenes draw upon these reference points to help the team prepare. Some of this is done below the surface quietly chipping away, and some is most definitely ‘in your face’ stuff – all aimed at improving performance.
2019 has been a successful year for the team. It started at the Junior European Open in Switzerland where we came away with podium places in the team and individual classes. Then we went to The Netherlands for the European Open where we gained top ten places across all heights in both team and individual classes. Finally at the FCI Agility World Championships in Finland where the large team came away with a bronze medal, we narrowly missed a podium (4th place) in the small individual classes and we won the large individual agility class. These are fantastic results in a sport that increases with speed and skill year-on-year.
What isn’t immediately obvious is the unrewarded individual achievements: the clear rounds and the individual contributions associated with being part of a bigger thing – not everyone can stand on the podium, but everyone can make a contribution to the teams overall success as demonstrated by this years team members.
The team have written so many fantastic posts on social media that I don’t need to reiterate what’s already been said – and I couldn’t put over their passion and excitement as well as they have. What I will say though is a massive well done and thank you to everyone who has been part of this years success; including our sponsors and supporters. It’s been so much fun and very exciting. Certainly one of the best years I can remember for Team GB.