Sunday, 18 September 2016

Feeling inspired for top competition

Tomorrow we leave for Spain for the 2016 AWC (Agility World Championships). This is the highlight of the year in the agility calendar bringing together the top handlers from over 30 countries around the world.

I often hear people talk about going to agility competitions to compete and meet their agility family; it's like that at the World Championships too. It's a chance to catch up with our overseas friends, fellow Team Leaders and competitors to enjoy this amazing sport.

This year Team GB will be travelling in separate groups. Some leave today by ferry, a couple have already left to drive down and have a min-break on the way and the rest leave tomorrow by coach. We will also have support from a number of agility supporters who fly out later in the week. We all really appreciate the support we get at the venue.

At home you can follow the competition on the AWC website, through live streaming, updates will be posted on Facebook on the KC Facebook group and the Team GB supporters group. And this year we'll be posting live from the ringside on twitter [use the agilityteamgb #tag]. So there are lots of ways you can keep up with the action.

Inspired by the Olympics, I've decided to introduce a new 'signature practice' into the team. At each international competition we attend the invitation to be flag bearer for the opening ceremony will be awarded to the top performing team / individual at the previous competition, or someone who has recently achieved outstanding performance while on team duty. For the AWC 2016 the large team who finished overall 8th at the European Open will lead the Team GB in. The flag bearer for the closing ceremony will be awarded to the top performing individual / team at the championships.

I'm off to finish packing now, ready to meet the coach tomorrow morning.

Monday, 22 August 2016

And we're off...

My young dog Moog had his first experience in the agility competition ring this weekend - wow! I'd forgotten how exciting it is to take a new dog around the course. He was great, hopefully this video clip works.

I tend to focus on foundation work until my youngsters are 18 months old at least. Moog needed all of this time and more. He has strong herding instincts due to his breed lines which has meant I needed to adjust my speed, timing and commands so we work together. I think we're going to have great fun together. I love his attitude, work ethic and speed.

For a an experiment I entered Devo in the Lower Height Option (LHO) at the same competition; that was interesting. Obviously he was a lot quicker, you don't need to be rocket scientist to work out lower height means more speed and his jump action was different. I wouldn't say better or even cleaner, just different; probably more of a hurdle than a jump.

The courses were quite straightforward, not particularly testing, although enough to give me a feel for the difference this height makes to overall handling. Would I enter another LHO with Devo? Probably not as I would want to continue competition in qualification classes.

I did notice older dogs entered in this class, I wondered if they had stopped competing at full-height and are now back running in the lower height...

Watching the Olympics and reading about how these Olympians prepare and dedicate so much in their quest for medals got me thinking about the level of commitment and work our top agility athletes prepare for their international competitions. There is certainly a lot to take from Team GB's fabulous performance in Rio and how their success will filter down to other sports.

Quite a few people have asked me why agility isn't a sport and if it'll ever be at the Olympics.

I wouldn't suggest I'm a world authority on what is/isn't a sport, however through Agility1st and working on Coaching programmes, it's clear that to be recognised as a sport in the UK there are number of criteria agility needs to have in place such as: programmes have to be available for all age groups; certain policies have to be in place about data protection and training children; structured development and training programmes need to be established, common rules and governing bodies etc. and the one big one... it's the performance of the person that counts, not the dog. All of our awards are based on the dogs performance. 

Agility1st is working in this area and will gradually address these topics through the various programmes offered to instructors. Meanwhile dog agility as a sport appears to be moving on in other countries while we're hung up on the minutiae...

Monday, 15 August 2016

It's basic dear boy.....

Apologies to anyone I didn't get the chance to see or speak to at the KC Festival. As usual the fun of the event, trying to run Devo and catch up with people meant I didn't see everyone I had hoped to.

The Festival was as big and full on as ever. I managed to maintain my annual routine of missing one of my important classes. This year it was the Championship class. Totally my fault, I did as my mate Tim would have said 'a basic school boy error'. The term 'practice what you preach' also comes to mind. 

Anyway I did manage to pull off two good clear rounds in the British Open which got me a place in the semi-final.... or was it finals I get confused over these classes. Unfortunately I didn't qualify in the top 9 (unusual number) for Crufts 2017.

Although it's only August this was one of the last major competitions of the year for me. Now I start thinking about the World Championships in Spain next month and then on to the autumn training / cool-down season.

I'm excited about this autumn/winters training. Moog's training programme will be ramping up, Devo is going on a new fitness programme (I never did find those two seconds I was looking for) and I'm taking a fresh look at my handling. So anything could happen next year.

For those of you going on to Dogs in Need I hope you have a great holiday and for those who are not, enjoy the lovely summer we're now having.

Saturday, 6 August 2016

Glue, sticking to the Team

So why was this years Team GB at the European Open (EO) one of our best?

Over the last five years the number of people competing in agility and the number of shows in the UK has grown enormously. I estimate that most weekends there are at least six competitions being held around the country. There are weekday shows throughout the summer and I've lost count of the number of camps that are held. 

At what I call the Premier Competitions, Championship shows, there are regularly 100 - 150 dogs in each championship height category. The result of this is we don't get to mix with other height groups, watch competitions outside our own level, socialise as much around the rings and develop any real team work because we're scattered around the country or the competition rings.

Being aware of how closely linked strong team work is to performance, I look for team qualities when selecting the international teams. There is strong evidence from other countries and other sports and our own large dog team, that teams who work together and build strong bonds together, perform better.

So going back to the challenge we have of building teams given the number of people and shows in the UK, this year I made additional effort to build a team of handlers who not only have good team attributes but also people who could bring handlers of different ages, dog height groups, levels of experience, etc. together as one team. These people were the 'glue' in the team.

There were occasions during the training and lead-up to the EO that these people could be seen bringing groups together, helping each other, sharing ideas, laughing and enjoying themselves, picking each other up after runs that didn't go to plan. It really did feel like we were one team this year.

I'll be looking for more glue in the future.

Wednesday, 3 August 2016

The European Open - just another Champ show??

This years EO was unlike any other I have been to. I've heard it said before that this competition is the same as a regular champ show we have in the UK; this year it certainly wasn't for many reasons.

The organisation at our champ shows is generally good, this years EO unfortunately wasn't. I won't go into details here, all I would say is I'll be giving the organiser constructive feedback. I would add that this isn't usual for the EO. The organisation and running of the event has improved each year, I hope this was an exception.

Another reason the EO isn't like a champ show is because it attracts world champions past, present and future and the top dogs from across 35 countries. The overall standard of competition across all heights has increased exponentially. The accuracy and speed of handling, the dogs ground speed and the overall performance has moved on a lot since the 2015 competition in Germany.

We took a strong team this year. The strongest and tightest team I have had the pleasure of working with. As a result we had the highest number of dogs qualifying for the Sunday finals we've ever had: five large, two medium and two small. This is a good benchmark of our overall performance.

It would be unfair of me to single out individual performances on a public forum, what I would say is that our handlers competing in the large height category have continued to improve their overall standard. Judging by their performance at this EO, we have at least three dog/handler partnerships in the top 10 of the world. We have a three times world champion who continues to perform at a world class level in the medium category. And the standard of our small dogs has increased in the last 12 months. This height group have closed the metre per second gap significantly since 2015.

I’m pleased that the lessons learnt from each competition are contributing to our performance each year.  The work we’re doing on squad days and team training is definitely paying dividends. The actions we’ve taken on performance distractions have allowed the handlers to focus more on the competition; this is showing through in the results too.

So in summary:

This was a challenging competition for the Coaching Team. Sunday was one of the most exciting finals I have witnessed. Agility Team GB continue to grow and perform up there with the best in the world. Our overall strategy is working. We need to keep looking for for those small incremental gains that when put together, make a big difference.

I'll be asking the team to write to write some short articles of their experience for future blogs.

Monday, 25 July 2016

Ready for the European Open

On Wednesday morning Agility Team GB leave for the European Open in France. It's an exciting time for the 19 handlers who have trained hard to prepare for this competition.

International competition is quite different to the domestic game, as I'm sure anyone who has competed in any sport overseas will know. For a start it involves spending time away travelling, living, eating and socialising with a group of people you only usually see at the weekend. For the dogs it involves travel, hotel rooms and many different environments. 

Then there is the competition itself. Although the game is mainly the same, albeit with a few different rules, the competition is different. The vast majority of the dogs and handlers have gone through a selection process like our team. So they are the best of the best, all 800 of them.

The journey to international competition is a long and tough one. Each handler has had to make many sacrifices to dedicate the time, energy and resources to make it to this level in their sport. Their reward is to represent their country. It's only when you work and support these top handlers and dogs do you realise just how much they've put in to earn their place on the team.

Like any sport there are casualties along the way. As Team Manager I have to make some tough decisions. Those decisions are always easier to make when it's about the dogs fitness and health, there is no decision, that always comes first. Thankfully handlers at this level make those decisions for me. Unfortunately two of this years team members have had to withdraw through dogs fitness. It's a terrible blow to the handlers, but their dogs come first. 

The Team GB handlers going to the EO this week are well prepared and excited. The Coaching team have supported them throughout their journey helping them prepare in many areas needed for the competition. One of our final jobs is to make sure they get to the start line on time. 

I know the agility community will be supporting the team next weekend, you can follow the event on live stream and on the usual social media channels. Or, the competition is only in Calais come and join us, it'll probably be quicker getting there than the M1 on Friday night.

Friday, 22 July 2016

Junior Guest bloggers

I have two more guest bloggers today from the Junior European Open. Sammy and Adam. Both members of the team who won Gold in the Team Agility and Bronze overall

Here's Sammy Peggs review. Sammy was the first competitor to get a clear round in the extremely tough individual agility class on Sunday. She stayed in the end up to the last 20 dogs!....

I was thrilled to be selected for the junior GB Team to head over to Slovakia for EOJ with Blaze and Rave, and honestly it was better than I expected! The venue was amazing, as were the hotel rooms which thankfully had air conditioning, mainly for the dogs in such hot temperatures. 

Sammy & Blaze under the silver horse - she is there honest!
I had a fantastic time getting the know the team better and making some great friends while over there, as well as meeting some of the other teams from the other countries. The highlight of me over the time we were there was the Saturday evening when our large team (Team GB Red) had the ceremony for the Gold in the agility round, the atmosphere was phenomenal! Nothing beats standing on the top of the podium knowing you’re representing your country. 
I’m so pleased with how both dogs handled everything; the heat, the pressure, the courses, the atmosphere - I couldn’t be more proud of them both. 
It’s definitely an that experience that I’ll never forget. 

Next up it's Adam Stretton with Jet

I was amazed to have been picked as part of the first Team GB to go to Slovakia and compete in the European junior agility championships. 

The venue was a build dedicated sports venue  and massive, truly amazing to be competing in such a high quality arena in a spectacular surrounding area alongside the Danube.
I was part of Team GB red that gained Gold in the Team Agility and Overall Bronze for the team event.

We had an amazing time and I loved supporting my fellow team members whom all did so brilliantly well at our first Championships. 

My dog, Jet, is a Pyrenean Sheepdog Face Rase who competes at large height and is one of a select few currently in the United Kingdom. It was a great honour to go and represent the breed, as well as my country. 

I would like to thank all of the management team and all the sponsors for their contribution and support during this exciting and wonderful time.

Thank you all.