March 4

Agility Challenge Tip #10 – honor the hard skills

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We’ve been talking about hard skills and soft skills as though they’re entirely separate, but in reality, most talents are not exclusively one or the other. They’re some combination of the two. You have to have the hard skill of good front cross footwork and the soft skill of knowing when to start that footwork in relation to your dog on course to successfully execute a front cross, for example. However, in his book the Little Book of Talent, author Daniel Coyle suggests we prioritize the hard skills, because in the long run, they’re more important to developing your talent.

Many top performers place great importance on practicing the same skills they practiced as beginnersCoyle gives these examples:

  • Cellist Yo-Yo Ma spends the first minutes of every practice playing single notes on his cello
  • NFL quarterback Peyton Manning spent the first segment of every practice doing basic footwork drills – the kind that twelve-year olds are taught.

These top performers, rather than saying “I’m one of the most talented people in the world, I don’t need to be doing the simple stuff, shouldn’t I be doing something more challenging?” stick to the task of honing and maintaining their hard skills – the foundation skills, because those foundation skills form the foundation of everything else.

This is so true in dog training and in dog agility. As I’ve said many times before, you should never have to go “back” to foundation training, because you should never have gotten that far away from in the first place! Foundation skills are called foundation skills because they are the root, the basis, the foundation for everything else! And, if you neglect them, they will weaken, and everything else weakens too. So, if you have time for nothing else in your training, make sure you’re addressing the foundations of training, the fundamentals – because strengthening the fundamentals strengthens everything else as well. I’m talking about hard skills here, primarily!

Coyle recommends the following analogy, which is a good one (obviously!) – picture your talent as a big oak tree – a massive, thick trunk of hard skills with a towering canopy of flexible soft skills up above. First build the trunk. Then work on the branches!


agility challenge tip, daniel coyle, growth mindset, little book of talent, Mindset

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