January 8

Agility Challenge Tip #2 – Ignition, And Staring At Who You Want To Become

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This week, I want to talk about something called Ignition and its role in developing talent, as well as give you the tip of the week, which is to stare at who you want to becomeLet’s get started!

IGNITION AND TALENT – what is ignition in the context of dog agility, and why is it important for developing your talents? Again, I’m referring to The Little Book of Talent by Daniel Coyle hereWhen you look at an agility handler you admire, or who is at the top of the sport, do you look at them and think “wow, they must be really talented,” or do you think “wow, they must have really worked hard to get where they are?”? We tend to think that talent begins with genetic gifts – that those dog agility handlers and teams that we see must somehow be able to effortlessly run their dogs around the course in a way that the rest of us can only dream of. But, let’s think on that for a moment. Of course that is a false notion! Whether it’s dog agility, playing the piano, or performing neurosurgery, “talent begins with brief, powerful encounters that spark motivation by linking your identity to a high performing person or group” (Coyle). This spark of motivation is called ignitionand according to Coyle, it’s a “tiny, world-shifting thought lighting up your unconscious mind: I could be them.”

As Daniel Coyle explains on his website, “Beneath every big talent lies an ignition story – the famously potent moment when a young person falls helplessly in love with their future passion.” Let’s for a moment disregard the ‘young’ part of that sentence, because chances are that most of us got ignited with our passion for dog agility as adults rather than young people.

Chances are that your passion has already been ignited, and chances are good that ignition went something like this:

  1. The moment you got hooked on dog agility was serendipitous. Nobody set it up; there was no mediator. It happened by chance, and thus contained a sense of noticing and discovery.
  2. The moment you got hooked on dog agility was joyful. Crazily, obsessively, privately joyful. As if a new, secret world was being opened. This is actually the most important point, because joy is the deciding factor between becoming a serious agility competitor and sticking with your pursuit of improvement in the sport, and moving on from it. Given the number of us who get completely obsessed with the sport, I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that there is a lot of joy involved in our discovery of this crazy activity!
  3. The discovery of dog agility as a thing you could do with your dog was followed directly by action. You didn’t just admire what you saw, those people doing agility –  you acted. You joined a class with your dog, and got started.

These three hallmarks are defined by Coyle and others in their studies of how talent and motivation develop. Coyle also mentions that these ignition moments feel a lot like falling in love! My own ignition moment followed Coyle’s three hallmarks almost perfectly. I didn’t even have a dog at the time of my ignition moment, but I remember it vividly. I was living on campus at my university during the summer session, working in one of the dormitories as a hostess, helping summer wrestling camp kids with whatever they needed, and making sure chaos didn’t reign in the dorm. I got to live in the dorm manager’s apartment, which was awesome, and I had free cable tv, which I watched a lot of. Animal Planet in particular. There was a show called “Breed All About It”, and on the episode I happened to catch, the Australian Shepherd was highlighted, and there was a lot of agility footage shown. I had no idea such a thing existed.

I wanted a dog when I moved out of the dormitory at the end of that summer, but I wasn’t sure what breed I wanted, or what I wanted to DO with that dog. I just knew I wanted to be active with it, doing something! When that show came on, it was total chance that I happened to catch it; I wasn’t a regular viewer of the series. Serendipitous. I was by myself. And I was amazed. It definitely was a whole world I knew nothing about – this was in 1998.

Finally, while I didn’t have a dog, I had plans for a dog, and this discovery guided my actions in a profound way – I wanted a dog, and I wanted a dog that would enjoy doing agility. I started looking for an Australian Shepherd at all the local rescue facilities. I ended up with a red and white border collie that I thought was an Aussie (because I didn’t at the time know that border collies came in colors other than black and white!), and the rest is history.

The first 12 tips I will be presenting to you this year will be aimed at:

  • Creating that ignition moment if you haven’t yet experienced it
  • Cultivating it you have, and
  • How to channel the energy of that ignition in the best possible (i.e. most effective) way.

These tips will cover the areas of mindset, how to design your training sessions for the skills you want to build, and how to improve your learning by stealing effectively from top agility handlers, and they all share the same goal: to create in you a spark, that spark of ignition, and to show you how to use the fuel for deliberate, purposeful, or ‘deep’ practice.

Let’s go back a moment and focus on something I just mentioned – yes, I did in fact say that I want you to learn how to improve your learning by stealing effectively from top agility handlers.

That’s right. Tip #2 this year is to stare at who you want to become. This is pretty easy in today’s agility world – everybody is sharing videos on FaceBook and YouTube! Videos of training, videos from competitions, and videos from online classes, etc.

Rather than just watching every video that comes across your path, really focus on watching videos of agility handlers who are currently better than you; handlers who are role models, or who you envision to be your “future self” in terms of your handling and training skills. Really stare at those handlers!

Rather than just marveling at what you’re seeing, look at those videos with a critical eye.

What are those handlers doing with their dogs in the video that you can see that are concrete examples of well practiced handling moves. If it’s a demonstration video for an online class, take some time to watch the handler without listening to the instruction – often, what the handler/instructor is doing provides insight in to the practices they’re engaging in even more than what they’re saying. 

If possible, stare at who you want to become every day. If you’re scrolling through social media anyway, make it work for you instead of just sucking up time in your day! Search out a video or two of a top performer, a “future you”, and stare at it. Watch the video 3-4 times. If it’s possible, watch it in slow motion. Imprint their quality of handling in your mind! Bookmark the YouTube videos that most inspire you, and watch them repeatedly. Watch them before a training session. Watch them at night before you go to bed.

It’s not just videos that can help fuel your motivation to improve – pictures work as well! Don’t be afraid to print out a photo of one of your “agility heroes” to use as inspiration for your desire to improve. Your vision board can be composed of images of you and your dog, but you can also include photos of top performers who you’ve identified as those who you aspire to be more like. It’s not hokey, and there are plenty of studies that show that just intently observing a role model or top performer boosts our own performances.

You can do this at local or regional competitions as well.

Make an effort to watch those who you consider to be at “the top”, and watch with an eye toward becoming more like those handlers. Don’t assume that they’ve gotten where they’ve gotten based on talent alone – nobody is born with the gift of being a dog agility handler! If you’re feeling brave, ask those handlers if you can video them for your own personal use, and explain that you get a lot out of watching their performances, but would like to be able to replay them, possibly in slow motion, to really see what’s going on.

What was YOUR ignition moment? Can you recall that moment? The serendipity, the joy, and the subsequent action?

Are you staring intently at top performers who embody your future self? If not, how can you find the time to do this on a daily basis? For me, giving up some time scrolling through Twitter or Facebook randomly has been replaced by pointed searches for videos that I can watch, and watch repeatedly. I have a Youtube playlist that I’ve curated for myself, and try to watch videos at least every couple of days, even if it’s only for a minute or two. It doesn’t take much time out of the day, and can easily replace a less productive activity, after all!


agility challenge tip, ignition, little book of talent, watch the stars

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  • My ignition moment was in an early agility foundation class where we working on handler-dog connections and I dropped my arm and my dog responsively came in to me and I realized that we were able to operate and communicate as a TEAM and that was a SPORT. I was totally inspired to continue building this bond and explore where this sport could take us.

  • My ignition took place a long, long time ago. Last century actually. For 40 years I had wanted a specific type dog. I knew what it looked like but not what it was, as I had seen them in a field as an 8 year old child. I fell in love but it took 40 years and an accident before I got my first Smooth Fox Terrier. He drug me kicking and screaming into agility. He wanted to try it, didn’t really care that much for it but training him in agility ignited my love for it. It actually changed my entire life.

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