Wednesday, 19 October 2016

Working for the future

Someone asked me the other day if there was a break in the Agility Team GB calendar, I replied that there was a wee gap between the World Championships and the Planning day; a couple of weeks. People are already asking for the dates of team events and where the championships will be in 2017/18; our planning process is always working far into the future which we need to keep ahead of.

The Planning day was very productive and generated a lot of discussions amongst the Coaching Team. We reviewed the 2016 performance, we looked at the results from a recent survey and then armed with this information, spent the rest of the day planning for 2017.

One of the dynamics I really like about the current coaching team is, everyone has something original and interesting to bring to the table. I feel very lucky to be working with a diverse and professional group of people, all dedicated to building a successful team.

As I write we haven't announced the 2017 squad yet. We're waiting for a few dates etc. to be confirmed so when we do write out (early November) we can give the new squad the full picture for 2017.

Meanwhile at home our dogs are having a well earned break from competition agility. We'll focus on their general fitness and health over the winter. We're feeling enthusiastic and keen with our winter training plans which are taking a different tact this year; more of that in another blog.

I've had a calf muscle strain fixed, so I'm out running again and planning to do my first Cani-cross run with Moog over the winter.

And Agility1st will be holding their annual conference on 06 November. If you're an Agility1st member it'll be great to see you there.

Friday, 7 October 2016

The highs and lows...

Thank you to Kathryn Stickney for writing a blog article on her experience at the FCI World Championships for me.

From the moment Mark informed me that I had been selected, it was a bit of a whirlwind of preparation with team days, training sessions and planning! Whilst it is up to every individual to ensure they are ready for the event, the support team were always on hand to answer questions and guide us in the right direction. This meant that when I stepped onto the coach to travel to Spain, myself and Coco were both fit, healthy and ready for the event. 

At every stage the support team were with us.  They ensured my mental game was on form, I had my course plans, that the team warm up was effective, and that Coco was properly warmed-up.  They got us onto that line ready to go and were there to celebrate with us or forget any disappointments. Whilst my runs may not have gone to plan, the support from the whole team made such a difference in how I handled it. Having Maria (Team Physio) and Hana (Team Vet) treat Coco immediately helped her recover quickly. 

The whole team supported every single Agility Team GB run, the highs and the lows. It was an emotional rollercoaster with so much to celebrate. I could not have asked for more from Coco she was a superstar, together we have learnt so much, FCI AWC 2016 was an experience I will never forget! 

Sunday, 2 October 2016

Reflecting on the future

Next year will be my fifth as Agility Team GB Manager, the European Open in Belgium seems a log time ago...Back then I set out a five year strategy for the team and some ambitious plans.

A lot has changed in agility over the last five years:

  • Increased number of countries attending the EO and the AWC;
  • More technical handling systems;
  • Faster more flowing course designs (in Europe);
  • Social media has made a huge difference to how we communicate and keep up with change;
  • Changes in the format of agility competitions in the UK.
The list goes on.

Each year at the World Championships the team members tend to get in to long debates in the evenings about UK agility. The pros and cons, what works, what needs addressing etc... Thankfully over the last five years these debates have concentrated increasingly more on performance improvement opportunities rather than performance distractions (what's wrong).

One of the topics dominating a lot of discussions this year was how do we attract more supporters to international events and generally get more people involved with Team GB. Having strong support helps the team in a number of ways. Obviously having more supporters mean a louder crowd cheering the team on. Everyone I have spoken to who has been to the World Championships tell me  they come home feeling inspired, motivated, wanting to be part of the team and keen to incorporate what they've seen into their training and clubs. All of these things filter down through the agility community and help to improve the overall standard.

Countries like France, Italy and Germany always have many, many supporters, but then they are in central Europe so you would expect that. This year I estimate more supporters travelled from USA, Canada, Japan and the Nordic counties than the UK. I wonder why? Are we more interested in attending a local show than watching the best in the World? Are we not prepared to forego one or two week long competitions to afford a weekend supporting the National team and developing our knowledge of top level competition?

Or is there something in our culture playing out here. We invented the sport, we're the best?

Five years ago the strategy was about developing high performing teams and cascading the knowledge, skills and learning down through the agility community. Mostly I think we've achieved this.

Looking to the next five years, we obviously need to continue increasing our performance to gain that competitive edge and I think we need to help shape the direction of agility in the UK.

Wednesday, 28 September 2016

When a plan comes together

This years FCI World Championships was another fantastic competition. I'm planning on writing a couple of blogs taken from my notes while there; I may even get a couple of guest bloggers to contribute too.

For this first blog I'd like to acknowledge the hard work, dedication and commitment made by so many people who helped get the team to Spain and of course to the team members themselves who were brilliant.

I've written many times about the work that goes on behind the scenes in Agility Team GB, and it's great when our plans come together like it did in Spain. Yes it was a shame that we didn't bring home any medals. However there were many positive experiences and a lot of progress made by the team again this year.

Agility Team GB highlights from the championships include:

From the team competition:
    • Small team - 20th
    • Medium team - 7th
    • Large team - 10th
From the individual competition:
    • Small - Lucy & Fling 40th
    • Medium - Christine & Zev 19th, Tash & Dizzy 13th
    • Large - Jess & Cara 5th (highest placed team member)
Once again the international judges set up some great courses. They were fast, flowing, cleverly designed and testing; some were very testing! The medium team agility and the large individual agility were two of the toughest courses I've seen at these championships. 

There were some shocks too. Some of the favourites didn't win, some of the outsiders did incredibly well. I'm sure everyone went home feeling inspired and motivated to go back next year for another fix. There really is no other championships or agility competition that compares to the atmosphere of the FCI World Championships.

Highlights for me include
  • No injuries or illnesses to any of our dogs or handlers;
  • All our travel arrangements went to plan. Everyone arrived where they needed to be on time and safely;
  • All the performance distractions that existed in previous years have been resolved;
  • Our small and medium teams both improved their performance from 2015;
  • The team atmosphere, partnerships, support for each other and general togetherness, was fantastic. I felt this was a very close knit team.
  • Not bringing any medals home;
  • The large individual agility course was possibly too hard (IMO); only 12 clear rounds from over 100 competitors.
Over the next few weeks I have reports to prepare, we have a 2017 Planning Day later this month and then 2017 squad selection. The fun starts again.

I'm hosting a twitter chat on Monday 3rd October and then a Facebook Q&A on the 17th November. This is an opportunity for you to ask any questions you like about Agility Team GB and the Coaching Team and I will attempt to answer them. 

For the twitter chat use the agilityteamgb hash tag, type away and one of us will come back to you.  

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.