News & Events

Dog Sports are Team Sports

And why that matters to be successful in dog sports.

This article originally appeared on the Fenzi Dog Sports Academy (FDSA) blog and is used here with permission.

It's easy to forget that dog sports really are team sports. Not a lot different to competing in the doubles kayak or pairs figure skating. It involves two individuals working towards a common sporting goal. Sometimes in dog sports we erroneously put too much emphasis on one member of the team — either we think the whole competition is about our dog's performance, or we put too much pressure on ourselves.

As the human in this partnership, it is often useful to divide our job into two distinct roles: one as teammate and one as coach. Progress in training and success in competition can often be greatly improved if we look closely at specifically fulfilling the responsibilities of each of these roles.

Rachel Brostrom

Our role as coach

A good coach:

  • Ensures the athlete is well prepared for whatever is required (i.e., the required skills, as well as the ability to function effectively in the competition environment).
  • Develops each foundation skill separately and then trains the athlete to combine skills as required.
  • Trains the athlete in the lead up to a competition and prepares and supports the athlete at the competition.
  • Does not highlight deficits in performance on the competition day, but identifies all training gaps that are affecting the competition performance and then addresses those in training.
  • Offers encouragement to the athlete before and during the competition performance.
  • Supports the athlete immediately after the performance, regardless of the performance or the outcome.
  • Generates individual plans for that athlete.

Generating individual plans for that athlete means the coach:

  • Determines the best preparation for the days leading up to the competition.
  • Develops the best warm-up and cool-down phase for use at the competition.
  • Identifies the optimal arousal level for that individual, for that sport, in that setting, and puts protocols in place that assist the athlete to maintain the required level of arousal.

Sometimes as a sports coach we can be assigned an athlete that, for one reason or another, represents a challenge to us. Sometimes the athlete is talented but lacks drive or work ethic; in other instances, the athlete may be keen, but lacks the specific physical or mental attributes required to be extraordinarily successful at a given sport.

It is our job, as a coach, to bring out the best in each individual.

This may involve determining what really motivates that athlete; it may involve calming an individual's over-enthusiasm, so they can develop the precise skills needed to be successful; or in some cases, it may even require us to redirect that athlete to a different sport (e.g., we might determine that an individual who originally was targeting sprinting, will be better suited to marathons).

It is also extremely important as a coach to understand that not every athlete is going to the Olympics and that's ok. The role of coach is to develop that individual to be the best that they can be! 

Sports coaching for our dogs

It is not that different when we are coaching our dogs.

Some dogs present more challenges than others. They each bring different skillsets and different levels of emotional tolerance to the table.

Our job is to utilize their strengths and to identify and work on their weaknesses. In many cases the dog can be successful within our chosen sport, but in some cases, it becomes evident that the dog has no passion for the requirements of that sport, and we may instead redirect them to a more suitable sport. These are all decisions that we make in our role as coach.

When working with our dogs, one of our primary roles as coach is to ensure that the dog is fully prepared to compete.

In practical terms this is usually broken down into two key parts: competency in the skills required for the competition, and the mental preparation required for the competition environment, such as being comfortable with the crowd, the noise, the ring/field set-up, the nearby fellow competitors (dogs and handlers), the closeness of officials (judges, stewards, etc.), and the competition format itself.

The dog will also need to be physically fit enough to comfortably undertake whatever is required, as well as have the mental stamina to remain focused on the task for the necessary time.

Remember this may not just be a single event, but may require multiple efforts within a day, or repeated efforts over several competition days. The heightened arousal of a competition environment can further exacerbate this issue. Many times, the dog is mentally or physically fatigued in later rounds, if the trainer has not specifically targeted this aspect in their training program.

Most importantly in our role as coach, it is our job to encourage and support our dogs in training and in the competition setting. Identifying training gaps as they become evident, and then working on these in a training setting, in an unemotional and systematic way.

Rally Abigail Shoben -toby_wcrl_original

Our role as teammate

In our role as teammate, we need to recognize that we can only fully control our actions and emotions, so we need to hold ourselves accountable for that aspect of the competition performance. Being a good teammate means contributing to the team and supporting the other member/s.


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