Team Practice, Thoughts On Volunteerism

This past weekend AKC USA World Team Practice #1 was held at It’s a Dog’s World in Sumner, WA, my back yard and the place I train and teach locally at. It was great to not have to travel, to be able to sleep in my own bed, and to also be able to drive just ten minutes and practice with the best of the best for three days in a row.  On the other hand, I was exhausted mentally before practice even started, having overextended myself a bit with the preparations for the practice. There’s a lot going on behind the scenes to present the AKC USA World Team as the package that it is, and because we don’t have a sponsor as of yet, I’ve been helping with supporter shirts, and with putting together an eBook of exercises and articles written by team members. I’m looking forward to cutting back on some of that shortly and focusing more on my own training and preparation for World Championships.

Back in March, when I was in the UK for Crufts, I went out to dinner with several Brits who were there to compete and/or judge, and we had a really enlightening conversation about some of the differences between USA agility, UK agility, and European agility.  Turns out they’re a bit different, all three of them, although I’d lumped the UK in with European agility previously.  In any case, I was interested in an event they hold every year, called the International Agility Festival.  **EIGHTEEN RINGS** of agility.  Can you imagine? Their local trials are almost always **SIX RINGS** of agility.  It’s mind boggling.

Here’s where it gets even more interesting.  The judges AREN’T PAID. They get their travel expenses paid for, but no more, aside from perhaps a small gift. NOT PAID. They volunteer their time and services.  And, it turns out, they tend to bring their own club or family to crew their ring. I just can’t imagine being able to pull off SIX RING local trials here in the states, in terms of volunteers OR judges. I listened open-mouthed as the Brits explained all of this to me.  HUGE shows, unpaid judges, somehow the volunteers are there to staff the rings….and the tradeoff? REALLY inexpensive agility runs.  But still!! Then, they listened open-mouthed as I explained how SMALL our local trials usually are by comparison, how our NATIONALS aren’t even as big as their local trials, how our judges are PAID, and how it can sometimes be a struggle for Chief Ring Stewards to get ring help.

Now, keep in mind, as I write this, anything I say with respect to a comparison between the USA and the UK, I include myself in the USA category; meaning, I don’t except myself from the problem of volunteerism, or lack thereof.  I’ll readily admit I don’t volunteer nearly as often as I should, and I’ve got a million excuses as to WHY, but none of them are really valid. It seemed that by comparison, we in the USA seem to think that there are two classes of agility competitors – those who are there to compete, and those who are there to put on the show for those who are there to compete. Perhaps those who are there to compete think that those who are there to put on the show enjoy THAT more than the competition aspect, and those who are accustomed to putting on the show feel a bit of annoyance because they feel they’re doing a whole lot of unpaid work for those who think they’re above volunteering.  Perhaps at one time or another any one of us might be in one or the other of those categories.  Maybe that’s just a broad generalization that I’m in err in making.

In any case, in talking to the people in the UK, there just didn’t seem to BE that sort of divide.  EVERYbody was there to compete; you can’t advance out of Grade 1 unless you “win out”, so right from the start there’s a competitive aspect.  And yet, EVERYbody is prepared to volunteer, whether it be as ring crew or judge, which is also a volunteer position.  It can’t be one or the other, it HAS to be both.  I admit, I want to go to a show primarily to compete.  I frequently have a lot of other things I’d like to do with my day, and try to bug out of the show ASAP when I’m done running.  So, I’m guilty of not volunteering to pave the way for my own ability to compete, which seems to be more the attitude (that I got) in the UK.  Because everybody volunteers to pave the way for their own ability to compete, NObody has to work too long or too hard.

I’m not sure what conclusions can be drawn from that particular exchange, which left both sides of the table open-mouthed.  Perhaps those who do most of the volunteering should spend more of their time and mental energy thinking of themselves as competitors, and those who do most of the competing should spend more of their time and mental energy thinking of themselves as volunteers.  Both shifts would be self-serving, after all 🙂