The Trophies are in a Box in the Basement

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Here is a comment posted to yesterday’s blog that I think is worth highlighting. It came in from Trish who asked:

Wondering… as a handler that is ‘watched’ every time she competes – what pressure do you feel (externally or internally) to make each run as good as it can be? In other words, how do you get past not winning, in order to ensure excellent contacts (as an example). Do you ever feel self concious knowing that there are plenty of poeple watching that don’t get what you are trying to achieve

This couldn’t have been more timely. I was at a local AAC trial yesterday with Feature and Encore. Between the two of them I ran in 8 classes (and Encore was in an extra class FEO). So with the 2 girls I ran; 2 Steeplechase courses, 2 Jumpers courses and 4 standard courses. Feature’s only fault all day was she hit the seesaw too fast and slide right off the end. While  nose target the ground, she immediately realized something wasn’t right, so before it had a chance to get away, she pulled the returning seesaw board back to the ground got on & continued nose targeting properly. It all happened in a matter of a split second. It was very funny, not qualifying, but very funny.  She won every other class including the Steeplechase where she was running against all dogs, not just novice. Encore won only 1 class, place in another. We had a couple bobbles in Standard and a complete disaster in jumpers. As I was walking to the car someone offered to carry one of my crates and making small talk, asked me “I see the videos of you at World Championships and you are consistently great, why do you think you do so crappy at these trials?  The question made me smile inside, as I had just won or placed in 5 of 8 classes but when Encore and I screwed up we did it in style and that is what gets remembered. I smiled and told him these trials are just that, a trial, an evaluation to see what are my and my dog’s limitations and skill level. Feature did at least 3 nose touches on each of her stopped contacts, I wasn’t concerned with her times, but she still had a faster time than any other dog in all the other heights (note, it was a VERY small trial). With Encore in Jumpers I tried a 8 obstacle lead out that was a disaster to the point of being funny actually. I would never have done that at a world championships because it would have been too risky (and I don’t think as fast as running). At local trials I am experimenting and exposing holes in my dog’s understanding in order to give me something new to work on when I get home.  For example here was Feature’s novice standard opening.crcd1


Even thought I was well ahead of her when she took obstacle 3 she curled in front of me and tried to go in the wrong end of the tunnel. I managed to call her back and we finished up very nicely. Someone in the classed asked why I didn’t handle the opening with her on my left rathe than the right. The reason is simple. I know she would go into the correct end of the tunnel with me on that side but I also know she should drive into the correct end with her running on my right. I needed to see where her understand was.  So do I feel pressure” to win? No. Those of you that have had success no matter the level. It could be you are the fastest upcoming novice dog in your area. Or you may have been blessed with the good fortune to have won a class or two at the nationals. It doesn’t matter, any success can be a distraction. 

As much as we all love to hear wonderful things about what we are doing or have accomplished, I tell my students to keep the trophies in the closet. The moment you start polishing them in public is the moment you will lose a step heading towards the ultimate goal of being the best you can possibly be. I have a boat load of trophies that I have won over the years. I won my first agility trophy in 1992 so I have been collecting them a while. Up until last year the they all lived in boxes in the basement. When I would win something I would put the trophy on the kitchen counter and leave it there in the middle of everything. Each time I walked into the kitchen I would look at it and feel proud about what my dog and I had accomplished. Then one day I would walk in and I wouldn’t see the trophy but I would see my kitchen and think “what is this big junky thing doing in my kitchen?”  That would be the day the trophy went  to a box in the basement. Sometimes that “day” would be the very same day I put it there (like if the “win” to me really felt was a “loss” —see  blog post from a couple of days ago). Other times the trophy may sit there for 4 or 5 days. I would wait until it hit me that this thing looked out of place and I need to move on. Never has it been more than a few days. When we were packing the house to tear it down last spring John wanted to throw all of the trophies away (I couldn’t let him do that) so all of the boxes were transported to our training building where two of my instructors decided some of them needed to be on display. For me the “box” imagery that has developed in my head will always be the same. The trophies will sit on the kitchen counter and then be put in “the box” to get me thinking about what else me dog needs to know. 

I leave you with two more random thoughts from my good friend Greg Louganis that best describe what I am trying to saying; “It is important to do your homework to succeed, but most important to know what your homework is.” and “Freedom is being independent of the “good” opinions of others. Flattery is very seductive and can derail goals”


  1. Great post. I think it is important to try things in class, but equally important to try those same things in a trial – otherwise how will you ever know you’ve got it? I think people can be too conservative in a trial atmosphere. I suppose we become afraid of losing the q or failing beautifully. We lose sight of the big picture and get sucked into winning on that day, finishing title x. What I am hearing in these recent posts is it is not only okay to fail, but sometimes it’s necessary and that is a great reminder.

  2. I really understand your point of view, the races that I loved more whit my bitch were ones when we did great things, they were disqualifying ones, but I never care, they were better than others. Risk or challenge yourself in a competition to know where you are, is important. About prizes, I put the medals on the tin to recycle metal, because honestly they aren t what it last in my mind.Apart 2 medals, I only kept one cup. Reason: We were 4 months without training and they told me that 2 days after there was a competition of our club. After we have enrolled, I knew that the sister of a girl (M.L)of the club, that was less than 30 years old died of cancer (our parents died of cancer so we have an idea how hard it is). when I was at the competition I ve tought how stupid was being all running with dogs (even if I love agility). We did two nice runs (even if my mind wasn t there), and when we finished the second, M. L was there with her boyfriend smiling and clapping about our clean run… we won a cup called best in show in degree 1 (we have 2 degrees), by that time I didn t know the rules to won it, and it didn t care to me, but at least I knew a competition can make smile (at least for a minute) people that aren t having good days, and that s enough, and was less stupid than I tought those minutes before the run.

  3. I really like this post. Very very insightful.

  4. That’s where I keep ’em. All my trophies. In a box. In the basement. Thinking about getting a storage unit. I’d show them to you but, hey, that would mean unpacking.

    That’s my story and I’m sticking to it. ;~)

    • You are a crack up Kathryn!

  5. To me, the trophies or ribbons or medals are just stepping stones along the way, a means by which to gage the skill level or the bond or the good luck I had on a particular day with a particular dog. They are an important roadmap of the journey……..I would never dream of tossing them away; it is a joyous way of remembering a special dog once he has passed.

    Something fun we do here at the ‘Custer Disc Dog Dojo’ is to label each award……….not just date, time, class, event, place, etc. But I also include important info including what we accomplished at this event, silly things that happened there. Truly, who cares if we win some silly $5 ribbon or trophy; it’s what our dogs are teaching us along the way that really matters.


  6. Thanks for the post Susan. It all makes great sense…. of course. 🙂 Now the trick is to go in the ring BE IN that same ring with the same intentions and not get caught up in the moment. 🙂 I find its much easier to do this at a trial in a venue where I really feel I’m there for practice and not as easy to do in my venue of choice….hmmm something to work on.

    You know now that I think of it – I think that my insecure feelings aren’t so much worrying what people are going to say if I really blow it (I’m not anyone people would ‘watch’ anyways) cuz that’s easy to do even when trying really hard.

    Its trying too hard to meet my or my teams expectations for that day and putting the pressure on myself to get that Q to finish that title or help get that pairs Q for my teammate. I think the internal, habitual goal is there to get the Q and move on and up (even if I’m at the masters level), its easy to forget the bigger goal of improving and treating the run as a test or training. I think I’m going to have to do something to remember this more often and over-ride the 16 yrs of Q and go mentality.

    Blog therapy… I like it… 🙂

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