Wednesday, February 23, 2011

For the Joy of it

I am reading a new book called "Finding your Zone: The 10 Core Lessons For Achieving Peak Performance in Sports and Life." I was looking for a refresher on some sports psychology and this book had the best reviews.

I finished the book this past weekend while i was at the Zamora sheepdog trial. Most of the ideas put forth in the book were things i needed a refresher on, but i have read and learned before. There were however a few concepts i have never internalized.

The author does a lot of consulting for the PGA so i got tired of his lovefest with Tiger Woods. This book was written before Tiger's public fall from grace. You could not say Tiger had his "life zone" too squared away, but the man does know how to handle pressure in sports.

The main idea that i took away from this book was something that i was not doing, but that i had recently told our 7 year old son about when he was competing in a wrestling match.  If we compete in sports we must do so for the fun of it, because we find joy in the game. We can't play for the prestige, the money, or so that others may think better of us. The "goal" must simply be the joy.

Such a simple idea, i am not sure how i lost that goal as my main focus. Ok i am pretty sure it was when i started to care too much about winning, and not enough about the process. If asked about my very best memories of my older dogs, it is not always a trial win that first comes to mind.  The best moments for me are when the dogs work and our team work transcends the "win" and is just beautiful in it's own right. Some times these moments are on the trial field, but many times they are not. Some times the best moments come in the runs when you don't win.

I have shared in my post about Blue the moment that is my favorite in our years as a team. The moment for my young bitch Mint came when she was about 14 months old. We were sorting some replacement ewe lambs that we had just purchased. These lambs were from a flock of 4,000 ewes, and they had been handled very little. I needed to take the lambs thru a small gate in  our handling system. The lambs did not see the gate as an option.

Even at such a young age, and with very little training, Mint just knew how to balance the push and finesse needed for this job. It was simply beautiful to watch. It took some time, and i mostly kept my mouth shut and let Mint do her job. When the lambs went thru the gate my husband looked at me and we both said "WOW!"  I have put many lambs thru many gates, but this job on this day was difficult for any dog. To watch a young dog figure it out in the way that she did, just made my heart sing.

Mint has been able to handle very diffucult ranch jobs form a young age, but she has been a handful to get ready to trial.  I will not move Mint up to open for a few more months, and i know she is not going to be the easiest dog to trial. I simply enjoy and admire the dog.  Of course i hope we have a long and prosperous career, but i would not have put the work into her if i did not enjoy her so much.

In writing this i realize that all the dogs i have kept to train to the open trial level have first given me that "joy" away from the trial field. Maybe for me that joy also equals a trust that i pass on to the dog. That trust is part of what makes us a team that can then do well on the trial field. 

When i went to compete this weekend i tried to put the 'fun" first in my mind. I will say that it made me much more relaxed as waited to run.  I still felt competitive, i just tried to focus on a good run and nothing before, or beyond that.  The zamora outrun is legendary for its tricky hills. I ran with Nellie first( her first time here) and i would not call her a natural outrunning dog.  When i sent her and she climbed the first hill, i held my breath waiting to see where she would come up. When i saw her climb the 2nd hill and run along the tops of the hills i was so thrilled.  We had some trouble later in the run, but for me that outrun was uplifting. Nell and i did not place at this trial, but my faith in her is strong for a long career as a solid team.

The next day i ran Kell. Kell had an injury this fall and this was his first trial back. I have started to get him back in condition, but i have trained him very little in the past 3 months.  Kell climbed the first hill and when i saw him running effortlessly along the tops of the hills i felt that passion that is the drug of many who run these brilliant dogs. Kell felt good that was the best part,  so the rest of the run was just gravy. We went on to have a nice run and place, and sitting here writing this i can still bring up that feeling that i had when i saw him running atop the hills.

Kell and i had a great year in 2008, but is 2009 we just could not put together a good run all year. In 2010 we went to a clinic with Alasdair Macrae, he pointed out some things i was doing that were "not fair" to the dog. He also showed me some exercises for keeping Kell supple on his flanks. That fall of 2010 Kell and i had our best year ever as a team.

The phrase "not being fair to the dog" really had an impact on me. I know that my dogs give me all they have and the thought of me not holding up my end by not being "fair" was very unsettling to me.

This book further brought into focus the fairness ideal.  If i am focused on the win, or my ego, or what others think of me or my dogs, how is that fair to the dogs? I am a driven, competitive and intense person. Much of that is hard wired and it is not always a bad thing,  but in the past few years i have often let that override the passion i feel for the dogs and the work. I think this past weeked the joy was added back in at the proper amount. The trick is to find the balance when competing, or in just living well for that matter.

I wanted to add a picture to this post, but i could not think of any working dog pictures that really captured the feeling.  I decided to post a picture of my 5 year old daughter playing basketball. Katy is too young to worry about all the outside pressures that sabotage many adult athletes. She plays because it is fun. When watching very young children play sports you can not help but smile and laugh. It is just such pure joy.
Katy takes her shot!


  1. LOL! We were watching Tiger implode today in a match play and we kept saying, "I thought he had the mental game all figured out. Didn't he write a book?"

  2. Tiger didnt write the book i talk about. I would not buy a can a coke from that ass. Maybe Tiger should read this book LOL

  3. "If we compete in sports we must do so for the fun of it, because we find joy in the game. We can't play for the prestige, the money, or so that others may think better of us. The "goal" must simply be the joy."

    So true. Thanks. Suzanne

  4. Very nice post. I think I experienced that same pure joy in our second round open this weekend when I saw Piper suddenly appear from the behind the hills at the top of the ridge on the last hill at Zamora. There is that moment of doubt when they are out of sight and then joy when they pop up in the right position.
    Just a thrilling course to be able to share with your dog.

  5. Excellent insight Lana, enjoyed your reminder.