My observations from the Ontario regionals this week can be summed up by a comment I am borrowing from a friend. I was talking to a business colleague yesterday and he used the phrase “Buck Fever.” He spoke about how a marksman on the practice range can hit any target in any situation or environmental stressor. However put that same shooter out in the bush with the adrenaline pumping and he can’t hit the broad side of a barn. Now as a vegan I may not be crazy about an analogy of hunting down a defenseless animal, however the point is a good one and one I saw played out a lot at the Ontario regionals this past weekend.
I saw many competitors, some my students, some just people I have seen at trials in the past that normally execute pretty well. Their handling choices are normally decent, decision making about “what to do if things do not go as planned” is generally instinctively good. However put these people in a “big event” such as the Ontario regionals and they are stricken with Buck Fever.
Suddenly handling becomes less sensible and more erratic, feet don’t move when they should and the mouth goes when it shouldn’t. At home or in an “regular weekend trial” this doesn’t happen. The biggest problem is that your dog counts on your calm, insightful direction to get him around the course. Once Buck Fever hits, your handling resembles someone juiced up on triple expresso swatting at an annoying mosquito in the dark.
So what is the antidote to Buck Fever? This may be depressing for some of you but, the best antidote to Buck Fever is success. The more you rehearse being at a big event and handling the way you want the more likely it is that you will be able to do it again and again. Of course immunity starts only with a solid understanding of dog training and handling. There is no cure without consistency away from the big events. Remember you need to be able to hit the easy targets at home first!
I still suffer from occasional minor bouts of BF myself, especially when I run a new dog for the first time. However just like your immune system, recovery is faster the more you have fought it off in the past. So this past weekend my standard, jumpers and Steeplechase runs with Feature where all pretty good. I was completely relaxed (cold due to the weather but relaxed) going in. Even on Saturday where it was Day One and we were the first team on the line to start the competition, we ran well and she was only a few tenths of a second behind Encore who won the class. No BF for me here.
Where I did get hit a bit was in the Gamblers class. Quiet honestly it is because I rarely do Gamblers in Canada and it is a lot harder than anywhere else in the world (to start there is a minimum of 18′ distance challenge).
The first step to overcoming BF for all of us is to rehearse success. Don’t wait for it, go out and create your own success. Since the judge won’t let us have a “do over” you need to rehearse this success in your mind before you go in. Run your run many times before you step to the line. Then when you actually step into the ring you are on one of your “do overs.” You should know exactly where every obstacle is, how you plan on executing, what your next move is and when you need to leave to get there.
Recently someone posed a question to the blog about what to do when your visualization before a run turns to crap. When you can’t seem to visualize your run without your dog going off course or knocking a bar. Here is a secret I learned from my good friend Greg Louganis. It is a good one, so take note. Allow it to happen. Don’t visualize only the perfect runs. If you brain needs to open the door where crap happens, go ahead and look in through that door. Acknowledge that that scenario is one of many possible outcomes. How are you feeling? Did you cause the error? How can you compensate for it? Adjust and finish that run with your ‘blip’ in it. Acknowledge that you still love your dog just as much even though you didn’t run perfectly together. There is still no world peace and the outcome of your run hasn’t changed anything of any real importance in your life. Now you should be able to close the door of failure and go back to visualizing success.
Learn from your struggles to visualize. I struggled visualizing my second gamblers runs this weekend with both Encore and Feature but I ignored it. Perhaps next time this happens I will look at possibly altering my opening plan until I could visualize it well and go with what I have succesfully run in my own mind. This is not, by any means, all the mental prep anyone needs to do well in sport, but it is a start.
Realize that Buck Fever hits everyone hard at some point in their career but it is not fatal. It is a normal process for anyone putting themselves out there to be judged in any walk of life. It is simply an affliction that attacks our humility. A full recovery can be expected. You can build your immunity first by improving your handling and dog training skills. However resistance to disease does come with continued exposure. So don’t step away from your chance to perform under pressure, you will get better eventually. Everyone that sticks with it does. Rather than judging yourself, learn from your experiences and as the slogan from this weekend says, learn to “enjoy the ride.”
Today I am grateful for the booster shot against Buck Fever that I received this weekend. Just like most inoculations, it often hurts at first, but the long term benefits are worth the momentary pain.