Agility Challenge Tip #1 – Get A Notebook

Over the years, I’ve talked a lot about something called purposeful or deliberate practice, and how important it is to your dog agility handling and training. So, each week this year, I want to give you a tip designed to help you stick to purposeful and deliberate practice and training with your dog.

Why is purposeful practice and training so important? Well, I strongly believe, and the evidence supports that we just don’t get better if we’re not being purposeful with our training and handling! In his book The little book of talent, author Daniel Coyle states that:

A high percentage of top performers keeps some form of daily performance journal. Tennis champion Serena Williams and former World Series MVP Curt Schilling use notebooks; the rapper Eminem and the choreographer Twyla Tharp use shoeboxes, which they fill with ideas written on scrap paper. What matters is not the precise form. What matters is that you write stuff down and reflect on it. Results from today. Ideas for tomorrow. Goals for next week. A notebook works like a map: It creates clarity.

~ Daniel Coyle

This is one of my favorite little books, THE LITTLE BOOK OF TALENT, so I’m going to be referencing it throughout the year – you don’t need to own it, I’m just letting you know where I’m drawing my material from!

You’ll also notice, if you already have the book, that this isn’t actually Tip #1 – however, I wanted to cover it first, since it’s the beginning of the year, and the sooner you can get a notebook, or means of keeping records, the better!

There are all sorts of different ways that you can keep a recordbook or notebook. If you’re in to fancy papers, then a nice notebook might be just the thing. Maybe you’re more the engineering type, and in that case a composition notebook might be the thing for you (I prefer mine with graph paper inside).

Maybe a bullet journal, or a private Facebook page that’s just for you where you can keep records and upload videos. It can be electronic or paper – I recommend a paper and pen or pencilnotebook, simply because it’s more convenient. You can put it in your training bag, and have it with you wherever you go. You can jot notes in it, draw lines through things, sketch sequences that gave you problems or that you’d like to revisit, and make plans for your next training session or competition.

You can use a 3-ring binder for your recordkeeping and notekeeping. The nice thing about a 3-ring binder is that you can always change the order of the pages! I have pocket dividers in mine as well, so I can stuff loose sheets of paper in there when a hole punch isn’t handy.

Here’s the thing – It’s not important that you even be GOOD at recordkeeping. You WILL get better at recordkeeping. It’s a skill like any other, and the first thing to do is to create the habit of JUST DOING IT.

 And, your recordkeeping doesn’t need to look like anybody else’s recordkeeping. Try not to spend too much time digging around online for the perfect EXISTING notebook to copy – just start, let it be messy, ugly, pretty, sloppy, neat…It just needs to work for YOU. It can be written in the most cryptic language, the worst penmanship, the most unique shorthand – as long as it makes sense to YOU, that’s all that matters.

Your notebook will not only help you keep track of your results from today, ideas for tomorrow, and goals for next week! It will also help you get more effective support and feedback from your instructors and coaches. Coming to a class or a private lesson with a list of things that you’re looking for help with will help you make the most of your time in classes, private lessons, and at seminars and workshops. Recordkeeping will also help you streamline what does and DOESN’T make the cut with respect to the information you assimilate in to your personal program.

There’s a LOT of information out there. Some of it’s good, and some of it isn’t as good, but that’s not as important as being able to spot whether or not information fits in to YOUR program in a useful way.

It may be that you see a top handler make some fancy ‘move’ at a competition – and it may be worth jotting it down in your notebook for  later reflection. What WAS it that that handler did? How could it be useful to you? Or, is it something that isn’t really going to fit in to your program at this time, to be set aside for future consideration?

REMEMBER: A notebook works like a map – it creates clarity!

Different handlers are going to start in different places. If you’re new to the sport, or if your dog isn’t ready to run full sequences yet, I suggest that you focus on foundation skills like those found in my online agility training and handling membership, THE AGILITY CHALLENGE. If you’re a little further along, you’ll want more challenging stuff to train, but don’t ever get TOO far from solid foundation training.

It may be that you’re going to take a break from agility training and handling due to scheduling, or bad weather, and focus on the human or canine conditioning side of things. Or, it may be that you decide to focus on some mental game challenges, for either you or your dog.

Don’t feel as though you’re falling behind if you can’t train every day! The FOMO (fear of missing out) can be real. If you can’t train, you can THINK and PLAN for when you CAN train, and jot all those thoughts and plans down in your notebook!


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