January 14, 2021

Episode 273: Strategy or Execution?

In this episode (25:09)

In this podcast, Sarah, Jennifer, and Esteban define strategy and execution while exploring the difference between them.

You Will Learn

  • The difference between strategy and execution.
  • How to use course maps to develop your strategies.
  • How to develop strategies without course maps.
  • Why visualization can help your strategic planning.
  • How instructors can tailor classes for strategy or execution.
  • Why execution applies to dog training as well as handling.


- You're listening to Bad Dog Agility. Bringing you training tips, interviews and news about the great sport of dog agility. (piano music) - I'm Jennifer. - I'm Esteban - And I'm Sarah. And this is episode 273. - Today's podcast is brought to you by hitaboard.com and the new Teeter "Teach It!" an easy to use tool that controls the amount of tip on your Teeter so you can introduce

motion to your dog in a gradual way. Go to hitaboard.com for the new Teeter "Teach It!" and other agility training tools and toys. That's hitaboard.com. Welcome to our first podcast of 2021. So happy new year to you, Sarah and to you Jennifer in Ohio. Happy new year. - Happy new year, thank you so much. - Alright, and we're gonna get this new year all started by asking the

question, strategy or execution? What do you think is more important than agility? But first let's start with some definitions. What's the difference between strategy and execution? It sounds like I wanna be good at both of those things. Jennifer, what do you think? - Well, the goal is definitely to be good at both of those things. I think that's what you see a lot of the top handlers able

to do is differentiate the two and excel at both of them but when we talk about the difference between the two, we're often thinking about the kind of mental part of developing the plan, the course walk through the strategy, you're walking your course, you're determining, are you going to front cross, Are you going to rear cross, kind of how it's running through in your head. What your game

plan is to get from one to 18. And then the execution is how it all plays out when you get out there with your dog, right? Everything's now going faster, clock's running, dogs going fast, maybe things don't go exactly as you planned, execution is your ability to do it. So where I think of the two coming into play and what I often see and why I've highlighted these

two elements so much in my teaching is I'll hear a handler come off a run out of trial whether it's a student or somebody I don't know and I'll hear something like, "Oh, I knew I shouldn't have done that front. I knew I should have done the rear cross." And the question becomes, was it really a bad strategy? Was it really a better decision to do the rear

than the front? Or was it just the execution that may be the execution of the front cross was the problem that the strategy of doing the front cross wasn't what was at fault, but the execution wasn't quite there, it was misplaced. It was mistimed. And that's where I think the two really come into play from a teaching standpoint is in thinking about, when a mistake goes wrong, which

aspect was it? And then trying to be proactive about training handlers for both aspects. - Yeah, I think that's such an interesting way of putting it when I'm looking at it from the beginner's perspective, you show up at your first trial and you might see other people walking the course and you're trying to copy them, right? You want to, you're trying to copy their strategy, right? And you're

trying to figure out what cross you should do where, but you also watch maybe some of the masters classes run that you're not in and you see doing these amazing front crosses, but every time you do a front cross you get a little bit lost and you're not sure where you go and you frequently sent your dog off course, right? So those are two different issues there that

you need to work on and really develop those skills. Sarah you made an interesting point when we were getting ready to preparing for this podcast about beginners and execution. Their ability to execute if someone provides the strategy for them. - Right, I think that what we see with beginners and honestly, I have seen handlers that have been in the sports for years, that continue to struggle with the

strategy aspects of agility. So when they go to a class and the teacher walks them through the course and talks about the handling options, they can go and run a beautiful course, but when they go and it's just them out there with a course map and they have to come up with their own plan they may not choose the best options. They may put some crosses in some

questionable places or they may be unsure whether they can get to certain parts of the course. And I think that you'll see this a lot with beginners, they may be a little overwhelmed planning their first course. I think with more advanced competitors what you may see is when they start tackling really advanced coursework, maybe you start doing premiere or you start preparing for international type challenges, they may

have struggle there. So it's almost like they become a beginner again, they have learned the more advanced maneuvers, they've learned how to do threadle and backsides and things like that, but they aren't always sure how to put it all together in a course. So I think we can see this at all levels. But yes, especially those beginners when they first or let off the apron strings of their

instructors may struggle. - Jennifer, what do you think about that? So I can think back in my own career to maybe the first couple of times where I maybe walked the course differently from what my instructor and my classmates were doing in whatever class that I was in. So when did you kind of reach that point or what do you think about when people are thinking about, "Are

people gonna look at me weird if I deviate from the plan of my classmates and my instructor?" "Am I gonna get something wrong and then people are going to say, aha, you shouldn't have done that. None of us did it." And is that holding back people's development somewhat? - Yeah, I do think you do often see in trial situations kind of people going with the pack, right? Everybody's

walking, doing the teeter with dog on right and so even if it kind of sparked in your brain, like what if I was on the other side, there might be a little bit of peer pressure going, well, nobody else is doing that and they probably know more than I do. I think a couple of times from an instructing standpoint, a learning curve for has been, a lot of

times my students will debut at a show on that. I can help them, we can go over the course map, we discuss the strategy and the only aspect they have to worry about is the execution. That's the part I can't do. I can't go out there and do it for them. But then a couple shows later, you'll hear them come back to class or in private and they'll

say, "Man, I went to that show you weren't at, and it was a disaster. It did not go well." And usually that's a cue for me that maybe I'm holding their hand a little too much. Or maybe there just needs to be a shift in the direction of my teaching, that instead of having every lesson plan to be about execution, that we need to have a couple lesson

plans working on strategy. Because I wasn't there, they were at the show without me, or without a friend that they knew or their classmates and they got out there and they weren't quite sure what to do. And I think, you see that a lot more with the beginners, as Sarah is mentioning maybe being afraid to walk something that they don't see other people doing. But I think expanding

the learning from execution to strategy and strategy strategy to execution. And I think the big thing that I would point out to anybody listening if you're an instructor. Think about your lesson plan, think about what tendency you have to do in your teaching. And are you seeing your students have a strength in one versus the other? For example, if you tend to do a lot of like coursework

run throughs, they show up, there's a course, they walk it, they run it, you might be working more on strategy. It's just kind of walk it however you wanna run. Oh, that front cross didn't work maybe you should rerun it and try the rear. You're not getting real detailed and then nitpicky and so you're seeing some flaws in execution. They did choose the front cross, which was what

the person who won the class did but their foot work wasn't right. Or the position wasn't right. Or maybe you are an instructor and I tend to shift this way, that's more technical. I used to teach that every week there was a lesson plan. You come in today's theme is serpentines, you come in today's theme is rear crosses. And I was getting really, really good execution from my

students. Really happy with what I would see when they did it. But then without me, when they got the course map or they were at the show that's when they're like, well, where should I do the rear? Should I do it at three or four? Or should I do the front? And that's when I started to shift over to trying to really find this balance of both where

some weeks there was a lesson plan. You're gonna come in, we're gonna work on XYZ skill. But then other weeks I would say, "Alright, guys, no restrictions. We're gonna take a look at strategy." And those weeks you might run it a couple of ways. You run the 10 obstacles with the front, with the rear, with a blind. And I think that's what the nice balance that our small

spaces do, is that they give people a chance to work both because we recommend two or three different ways and we're gonna get feedback on the execution of how they did it, but we're also gonna take a look and go, you know what, I really did like the rear cross best for your dog. And they can learn strategically speaking maybe they should look at putting more rear crosses

into their lesson plan or into their courses. - I was thinking exactly about small spaces when you were talking a couple of sentences ago and you're right. VIPs definitely get the best of both worlds, right. Feedback on their execution certainly, but because they're forced to do the front, the blind and the rear in the spot, they suddenly discover things strategically that they can apply to their next trial.

They run into a very similar sequence and they say, "Hey, I've already done this, I already have the answer." Whereas their classmate or co competitor at that trial, they're like, oh, I wanna do the front but and I kind of wanna do the blind, but I'm afraid I can't. So I think I'm gonna have to rear, and they kind of have to walk it all three ways. Whereas,

the VIP can just get out there and say, "I've been through this. This is definitely gonna be my choice here, I'm gonna blind. And then these are the execution points I need to look for and then they can go out and execute. I think you made a very interesting point about instructors and how much instructors can really impact the development of their students just based on what they're

teaching, what they're presenting in the classes and how you get really great execution, but then they go out and struggle. What about, have you ever had the student that likes to be contrary just for the sake of being contrary? And what does that look like? - Oh yeah, of course. There's always someone. I mean, but that's all you could almost argue that with anything.. - I think we

were that someone. - There's always someone who also wants to try to prove the instructor wrong when you're like, guys I really think what is best. But watch me do it with the rear, I can do it. When the dog goes off course inside, you're just going, told you so. - Yeah, yeah. I think the really good part about that. Like if you're that person is every once

in a while you hit upon something that no one else would have thought to try and now you get to add something to your arsenal and have a positive impact on your classmates and that sort of thing certainly, and I think as long as you all are also practicing the other execution points and understand the strategy involved, I think that you're okay. You had made the point Sarah

about strategy when you enter premiere. - Right - So I think that's a big step for a lot of people, especially people here in the US who compete in the American Kennel Club, the AKC and there's a big difference between doing your masters class and then doing these premiere classes, which for non AKC people have more international handling elements. Backsides, threadles, that sort of thing. Trap your courses.

And I also think about big competitions that I've been to, I guess the biggest one's that have an international flavor here in the US Jennifer probably tryouts, right? Like trials for the European Open, trials for the Agility World Championship, FCI, IFCs, maybe some of the WAAO events, biathlon, things like that. And that's where I see even very experienced competitors really slow down in their strategy and planning and

they look at people. I mean, I've been watching some of your trials through the camera, on the walk here. - Like the live stream. - The live stream. And I see people will watch you or other handlers that I know are instructors. And they really don't seem to have the experience that they need which makes sense. All of us have done, we've been in the sport over a

decade, all three of us here. - Two decades - Two decades. - I was trying to be polite. So literally we've run hundreds of regular courses. But even amongst the three of us, we have run a significantly lower number of international more complex type courses, especially those that have been trending to higher complexity in the last maybe five to 10 years, right? - Right. - And so what

do you think, do either of you have a suggestion for a nice, cheap, easy way rather than going to entering these classes for people to work on their strategy or planning for these more complex spots, things that they really aren't good at? - Yeah, I think, well one thing, one skill that I think is really important for people to develop is the ability to basically make a plan

off of a course map. Now, always, always, always the most important plan is the one that you make when you get out on there and slight differences in angles and distances from what's on the map can make a difference that changes your strategy. But that being said, there's still definitely a skill to be developed and looking at a map and being able to kind of visualize the distances,

the differences, the speed of how your dog is gonna move through that course where they're landing spots are likely to be and how that's going to affect their turns. And one of the ways that you're going to do that is by constantly reviewing runs that you are able to do, right? Every run that you are able to run lets you build this skill a little bit better so

that eventually you can get to the point where you can come up with pretty decent plans from a course map alone without actually running the course. And that then if you were asked to run that course, your plan would work out fairly well. - I'm glad you mentioned visualization because course maps are a luxury in some organizations, right? So Jennifer, have you been in situations where there are

no course maps and the courses were a little bit hairy? How does it look different then? Like strategy and planning for the competitor? - Yeah, I agree 100% with what Sarah said. I mean, even when you asked the question, my brain went immediately to course maps and the idea of having those and being able to build your skills off of those. But as Sarah mentioned, sometimes the angles

are different, the jumps are tweaked, the lines are different and that's where the actual course, being able to look down on it or look from the different rings side angles and walking it are helpful. And yes, there's been several instances when you don't have the map. I think it's very, very, very common in international competition not to have the map in advance. So the first time I attended

EO, we got one map per country, I think, I'm trying to recall and then we would all stand around and snap it with our phone but they were handed out after the course was already built. And then same thing at AWC, you would often get one map per country and the coach often had it and it might be distributed after the course was built. I know in more

recent years they've become more readily available. But yeah, I mean, absolutely having a course map is a luxury. We don't have to have it. Even AKC is rules don't state that we have to provide it. So I think being able to look at a course map and valuing how important it can be to look at it and get feedback. I know there's a particular VIP who I once

told her assignment is to take a photo of a map and message me her plan. Like all I had her do is coach I have just the map. I said, "You're not gonna get your dog out and run. I want you to tell me your plan and why. So not just here's what I'm doing, but when we talk strategy, why are you doing it. Not just I'm doing

the front cross here I want you to tell me why not just, I don't know, it feels right. And the other thing that I think course maps can help with is they do allow you to have I think a more objective look at the course because you're not following the crowd, right? We talked about how a lot of people will walk in a particular way you fall into,

well, when you're looking at a map you don't have that. Other little things too, I mean, I can easily trick students into walking in a particular way based on where I put the cone. - I know, or the numbers of the map. - Yeah, exactly. So I feel like the course map maybe gives you a little bit more of an objective view because you're not as skewed by

those types of things. You have to look at it before you've watched anybody run. I know recently I was at a trial and I saw a whole bunch of dogs making mistake and I changed my plan. But the course map wouldn't allow that. So it does give you a chance to kind of work through things in your head with your dogs skills and your understanding of strategy without

being skewed by so many of those other factors. So it can certainly be educational on that standpoint as well. - Very good, very good. So I think we've got the three main points. One is to try a specific sequence or course several different ways. So you can take a look at the strategic pros and cons of each choice as opposed to maybe just doing one way and saying,

oh, I'm done, I got through it. Yeah, and then number two, looking at course maps if they're available to you and number three incorporating that with some visualization. So you can start to develop this mental picture of you and your dog so you can kind know what strategy might be optimal for you together as a team. Alright, now let's take a look at the execution side. So let's

say I'm a beginner, I've had my first trial, it went okay. I made a lot of mistakes. I got confused, I turned the wrong way. How can I get better with the execution? What are some key things that I need to think about? - Well, I think first of all people need to have a very clear idea in their head of what a great execution looks like. And

I think a lot, for any given maneuver, right? So let's just say front cross, I think a lot of people just think of a front cross as turning towards the dog and changing sides between two jumps and that's all they really think of it as, and they don't have like a picture of what the perfect front cross looks like. And so just like how we wanna be very

clear with criteria with our dogs as clear as possible, you wanna be as clear as possible with yourself of what great execution looks like. And that's why I think it's really important for instructors and for students to recognize the more technical aspects of handling and to really give that some focus in the training plan. So as Jennifer was saying, some days that's all she's looking at It is

just practicing that execution, getting the footwork right, the timing right, the position right and being really, really clear on that. So I think that's super important. - Yeah, I think that's really good and so essentially we've already talked about the execution side, but one thing I wanted to bring Jennifer in for this, again, from the live instructor perspective is that there are some execution issues that aren't necessarily

handling or strictly agility related. I think there's some dog training execution stuff that we can talk about. Maybe like when to mark or whether to mark or when are you gonna use your click, when you're gonna say yes. When do you give your toy, what hand do you hold the food in? - Oh, the toy, yeah. - Right, right. What do you do after you finished the sequence

and before you reattempt it? What do you do after the dog makes a mistake? These are things that have nothing to do with handling execution and yet they are absolutely critical to success in all dog sports, sure but dog agility very specifically. Jen I'm sure that you give a lot of feedback to your students based on execution that isn't necessarily handling related. - It is so funny that

you bring this up because just 24 hours ago at the end of my class, and hopefully at least one of those students is listening to this and can vouch for me. They were doing some poor timing on their reinforcement on contacts and releasing. So what they were doing is a bunch of them, a big group class, they would put their arm up and then say, okay, or put

their arm up and then say break or start to move and then say jump. And basically what was happening is because they were using that action right before they send the release, the dog started to release on other cues. All of them were doing six people, every single one of them. And, I said they really need to separate these out. They need to either be in motion and

just give the release or release and then move. So we did a little water bottle exercises and here's the objective. The objective is I just told the person right you know what, I said, you're gonna tell me to take this and then you're gonna hand it to me. So I told her take, and I hand it to her and I said, okay, your turn. And sure enough, what

did she do? She handed it to me and then said, take. I'm like, right there is a mechanical execution error that has nothing to do with contacts and releases, it is a dog training that ended up stemming into and building into a bunch of different issues. So I just was getting on them about their dog training execution issues. But dog training's hard. Dog training is so much harder

than agility for sure. - Almost as hard as marriage. Just a rumor, just a rumor. - And I do think that a lot of times people want to blame an issue on handling. It's easy to blame handling. It's easy to blame the execution. Oh, you know. I get in me Odisa one time. So my dog didn't grab the correct end of the tunnel on the tunnel threadle and

so they wanna.. Well, you know what, there are gonna be times when you are perfect, like you timing was spot on, you were great. And the skills just aren't there, your dog's tunnel threadle's just not rock solid and it's dog training. I know that's not quite the example that you guys were giving with mechanics and releases and reinforcement and toys, but I mean, execution is everywhere, right? I

mean, you could argue the same thing for strategy and one would easily argue that dog makes a mistake, what do I do is a strategy. Should I instantly reward? should I ask for something easier? - Great point. - Should I ask for just a simple sit and then reward and then go back and ask for it again? So I think this concept of execution and strategy plays into

all aspects both on the course and off the course. - Yeah, absolutely. Yeah strategy is really just all of the decision-making that you have to do. An execution is all the doing, all of the action, all of the physical things that you do. - Well I think it's a great start. - And I think we have to learn from this. I mean, I use this as a lot

of directing where I'm gonna go from this. So, now we know this. We know execution, we know strategy. Maybe you have, or haven't thought about it in this way, but use that to build on it and get better. So watch your video back and ask yourself, was the knocked bar because I chose the wrong plan or was the knock bar because I was late on the lateral motion?

If it was a plan, I'm gonna go into my training a little bit different than if the issue is my execution. In one situation I'm gonna go out and I'm gonna pull a course map and I'm gonna to sit down and I'm gonna come up with a plan or I'm gonna go to a run-through where I don't know what the course is and I have to show up,

walk in blindly, no map and decide if it's execution, that's different. Now I'm gonna go out and I'm gonna work on my lateral pressure. My lateral motion towards the dog's line, my lateral motion away depending on the skill. So learn from it. It's not just saying, okay, here are these two things, but what's learned from them and let's use them to direct where we go and how we

make improvements as a team and I think instructors you guys can, those of you out there you guys can help control this. Start paying attention to what trend you see in your students. Are you seeing good execution weak strategy or vice versa, but it's also in looking back and using that information to get better. - Alright, well this has been a very good discussion that's gonna start off

hopefully a great 2021 for everyone in Dog Agility. And that's it for this week's podcast. - We'd like to thank our sponsor, hitaboard.com. Happy training. (piano music)

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