Monday, February 14, 2011


jump grid In the summers, many of our weekends are filled with dog agility trials, triathlons, trail races, and camping trips.  In winter, the competitive season eases up a bit – we still have trials once or twice a month, and the occasional winter race, but the schedule itself isn’t quite as packed.

In theory.  In actuality, we’ve been going non-stop since the new year, planning for the season ahead of us, setting goals for ourselves and the dogs, and starting to do the work we need to do to get there.

Admittedly, we have a lot of interests.  And we joke that life in our house is like a military operation, with a packed schedule of what we have to do, and where we have to be, when.  We are all Border Collies at heart in our household after all.

This winter, I decided to finally make the commitment to improve my swimming technique.  It was clear that after my initial improvement in my first couple years of triathlon, I was no longer getting faster doing what I was doing, and remained a confident, but middle-of-the-pack, swimmer.  Fast swimming relies so much on good form, and while I understood the theory of proper technique, I couldn’t identify what I was doing right or wrong.  I needed coaching if I wanted to improve.

tri swim2 The swimming leg of a triathlon is almost ridiculously short in comparison to the other two legs.  The majority of your time is typically spent on the bike, then the run.  But to become a good swimmer can be a considerable investment of time and effort.  Consequently, a certain percentage of triathletes seem to take the opinion that as long as they know they are strong enough to not drown out there, that is good enough.  And, for some, maybe there’s a slight argument to that.  Those of us who are strong on the bike do like to joke about “fishing,” or chasing the fast swimmers down on the bike leg, which often gives us ample time to do so.

But the thing was, if I’m going to do something, I like to do it well.  I don’t expect to be perfect and master every new activity I try.  I’m not really aiming for agility World Team, or winning the local triathlon. But if I’m interested enough to spend my time doing something, I want to do the best job I can, given the time and resources I have available to invest in it, and whatever genetics has given me to work with.

swimstuff So this winter, our schedule has consisted of two nights a week of swim conditioning class, two nights a week of dog training classes, bi-weekly swim coaching sessions, and now monthly tri-focused swim clinics.

Although I like to do things well, historically I have been quite resistant to taking instruction or feedback.  In the past couple years, I have tried to really work on this – to fight the voice that wants to argue with or defend myself to an instructor who is giving me constructive feedback.  Instead, I listen, consider the information, give what they are suggesting a try, and decide how it is working for me. 

A recent example:  I was at a “stitch and bitch” knitting circle earlier this winter and was doing Fair Isle color work on a hat, which is not something I do a whole lot of.  A much more experienced knitter noticed that I was doing something wrong, and pointed it out to me.  In the past, I might have been annoyed and ignored the advice, coming up with some reason in my head to justify the way I was doing it, but I had to admit I knew she was right and I was being lazy in not bothering to learn a particular technique.  Instead, I asked her if she could show me what I should do, and she taught me the correct technique in seconds.  The hat might have been a stretched-out disaster otherwise, but instead it turned out pretty cool, if I don’t say so myself. 

Since making this change, I’ve been noticing how many other people also struggle with feedback.  I’m amazed to watch people spend considerable amounts of money on classes only to argue with and ignore the instruction of people who are well-qualified to help.  These people never improve and then wonder why.  They refuse to try new approaches, and state their conviction that “That won’t work for me/my dog” with no real justification of why not.

Certainly, it is important to pick your teachers wisely, and one always needs to be the judge of what is best for yourself, for your dog, for your ultimate goals, etc.  But considering that you have done your research well in selecting your instructors, and that there are no physical, safety, or ethical concerns in following their advice, I’ve discovered that letting go of ego can really open up your experiences and bring about new successes.

So far, this has been a very productive winter.  I’ve taken 10 seconds off of my 50 yard swim time already.  And I am getting closer to being able to execute a flip turn without somersaulting around like a drowning drunk person.  I’m delighted with how Cadence’s classes have been coming along – he is more focused on me and on the task at hand, is getting more able to deal with distraction, and he has been showing me some really nice things that make me pleased with all the time I’ve been spending just on foundation work.  Django is continuing to please me with his renewed drive and enthusiasm for agility.  It is obvious that taking the time this past year to train and work within a consistent handling system has given him new confidence, as he no longer needs to make guesses about what I want him to do. 

Do I follow every bit of instruction given to me?  Heck, no.  Sometimes I’m just too lazy, too reluctant to give up bad habits, or I have found that something else really does work better for me or my dog’s particular situation.  And I still feel resistance rising in me when I’m hearing something I don’t want to hear, or learning that something I thought I did well actually needs improvement.  But I’m learning to bite my tongue, shut up, give something a try, and see where it gets me, because often it is right where I wanted to be.

This winter, I have been grateful for the good instruction that has been available to me, and to the continual opportunities I have to learn new things.

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