Archive for the ‘mental prep’ Category


An Epidemic of “Buck Fever”

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

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.


Rehearsing Success

Monday, May 11, 2009

When I was a kid I loved to play and watch hockey. As an adult, I rarely watch and haven’t had an opportunity to play in quite some time. Playoff hockey is pretty much on the TV all the time right now up here in Canada. John likes watching playoff . . . any sport. Being that we are still living in this one room apartment, I am osmotically forced to watch hockey again (while I work at my computer). The game has gotten a little less violent from what I remembered (possibly because it is the playoffs and no one wants to jeopardize their team’s chances by getting into a brawl). So it is still an awesome sport, but the fighting got to be way too much for me back when I did watch it more often.

Any sport at “crunch” time has more significance for the participants and often times makes it more exciting for the spectators.  Running agility is always fun, but when a championship is on the line, the excitement is that much more heightened.  Now I don’t have to be referring to  a World Championships here, it can be an special event, or possibly just a certain class, or venue, or certain people watching that causes your adrenaline to run a little high.  Learning to do your best at these times really is a matter of rehearsals. The way you get better at anything is to create opportunities to repeat those successful events over and over.

One thing that I like to do when I have some spare time is to re-run big events with my younger dogs. It all started about five years ago when we were in Hawaii teaching (now that was a seminar venue!).  I was doing some laundry and the laundry room was in the underground parking lot so I didn’t feel comfortable leaving our clothes unattended. I ended up having to sit around this tiny room all alone. After reading the 6 month old issue of Golf Digest cover-to-cover for the second time,  I made up this cool game that I have played many times since.

I started re-running important agility runs in my mind. I am a great visualizer, I actually get an increase in my breathing and heart rate when I visualize myself running agility. I just close my eyes and see my dog beside me at the start line and then I lead out and way we go! Anyway, after I was finished (and still had time to kill) back in Hawaii,  I decided to run all of those runs again with my puppy (who was “Encore” at the time). Now Encore back then was less than a year old and had never been on any real agility equipment, so I had no idea how she would look going over jumps or through weave poles. However I could see her little puppy face and had seen her run and jump while out on our walks, so I just put her at the start line in my minds eye and started to re-run all of those courses with her.  It was really cool. What ended up happening was by the time Encore had her first real run at an agility trial she had already run hundreds of runs with me in my mind. 

This may take some practice before you get really good at it but do try it. If you have no history of big events of your own, watch someone else on Youtube or on a Championship DVD.  Pick a handler that you can see yourself handling similarly to and try to see the run through that person’s eyes but it will be with your own dog. You end up rehearse success for yourself over and over and over and that is never a bad thing!

Today I am grateful for Mike and John H. showing up to help John clear out some of the downed trees this weekend. It was a little scary to have three men with chainsaws and a guy named Jason helping (ok he was my brother).  All we needed was a few hockey masks to complete the scene from a horror movie!  I am happy to report no such horrors occurred and the view behind the new house has improved dramatically!