February 11, 2021

Episode 277: What Are Your Nerves Telling You?

In this episode (34:35)

In this episode, Sarah, Jennifer, and Esteban share their own experiences with nerves before an agility run.

You Will Learn

  • What you can learn from your nerves.
  • How you can alleviate your nerves by taking a closer look.
  • How nerves change depending on the dog on and context.
  • How great athletes handle nerves at big events.


- You're listening to Bad Dog Agility, bringing you training tips, interviews and news about the great sport of dog agility. (soft music) - I'm Jennifer. - I'm Stefan. - And I'm Sarah. And this is episode 277. 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. Use discount code BDA10 to get 10% off your order. That's hitaboard.com. Today, we're going to ask and answer the question, what are your nerves telling you? And you know, when I think about agility, I get nervous. I get nervous when I run agility. And I know

that a lot of the people that I work with, a lot of students get nervous when they do agility. And I think that there is an opportunity for us to think about why we might be getting nervous and that may help lead us to what we can do about it. - And let's start with the definition of nerves then. So I think different people mean a lot of

different things. I typically associate it with anxiety, right? It's like a negative thing that I don't wanna be feeling because it can have a negative impact on my performance. - Right, yeah. When we were talking about this podcast, I asked Stefan if he gets nervous or when the last or if he could think of a time, he was nervous. - I think you asked like, when was the

time you were most nervous ever. - Right, like in agility. Right, and his answer was basically that he gets excited, you know, he gets amped up, right? But all of those are positive emotions and that's not really what I'm talking about. I think of nerves distinctly as a negative thing, something that people want to avoid. And, when people come and they say, I need help with my nerves.

They clearly are talking about something negative, something that they do not enjoy feeling and maybe affects their performance as well. They make mistakes maybe that they wouldn't make if they weren't so nervous. - Let's take a moment and get a little personal here. So I answered the question. And when I think about sports performance and nerves I definitely got nervous playing basketball, volleyball way back in the day,

like for my school, like middle school kinda stuff, definitely for swimming, swim meets. Not really in college, but more high school I think, when there are expectations and, you know, you're trying to help your team win that sorta thing. I think there were definitely performances I had that I thought sucked and were negatively affected by being nervous, by feeling anxious, really losing focus on what I was supposed

to be doing. So what about you, Sarah? So starting with agility. - Right, so starting with agility, and this is this is really kind of what made me think about this podcast to begin with, is I've always gotten really nervous and agility. And, and then I got a lot of experience in the sport. I did well in the sport and I would, you know got to the point

where I would be like 10 dogs to go and used to. I would be nervous like all day long, it'd be 10 dogs to go and I felt like stone cold, like a killer, like, you know, like I was just gonna go out there and nothing was gonna bother me. And I thought, this is it, I'm over it. I'm over nerves. I'm never gonna get nervous again, right?

And then like one dog before I go, now suddenly the nerves hit. So it turns out I was not over it, it was just, you know, a little bit more delay a little bit more under control. And so I discovered that the nerves never really did completely go away. But I think what was most enlightening to me was changing dogs, right? Going from a dog that I had

run for years and years and we were in that part of our career, where you know, he knew he knew exactly what I wanted him to do. He did everything I wanted, you know like it was a very good partnership. - That's going to be a nice lead, but before we get there, I want to hear from Jennifer. Jennifer, what's the most nervous you've ever been in agility?

- The most nervous. So I'm kinda with you, I associate nerves with like anxiety, more of a negative. I think for a lot of big events, there's some type of emotion paired with it, but I also think of like maybe another one adrenaline. And I always think of like okay, what scenarios am I very, like Sarah said, very hyped up. You're ready. You're ready to go and you're

excited. So it's definitely a different feeling than like a local show, but you're really confident and comfortable versus more of what I would call like nervous. So I almost think of like adrenaline field filled versus nervousness is kind of two emotions that are different. One more positive, right? Adrenaline like, yeah, I'm ready let's go. And then nervous going, oh, I'm not sure. And like in thinking about the

two the runs where I tend to be more nervous tend to always break down to something on the course that I worry about, versus like the adrenaline based runs of the courses where I walk and I'm like, I got this, I got these fields, I know we can do this, you know, there's big crowds. I think I have a lot of adrenaline based runs for me or Westminster.

I feel very comfortable with AKC courses. I feel comfortable with pacing skills, where there's crowd and there's cheering, those are very adrenaline based. Where as the courses get harder, I think of more like the world championship, running Swift, courses are harder, more things to go wrong, I have a little less trust in his skills, I get more nervous. So I think those are two big events for me

in a calendar year, Westminster and AWC, both of course, bringing in big crowds. But I would say I'm actually more nervous if we want to use that term with Swift at the world championships than in past years with Pink at Westminster. So I don't know if that kind of, like those two emotions, like very, very similar yet coming from two different aspects, like confidence in the course, versus

feeling to have like some kind of weakness or deficit in the course. - Right, exactly. I mean, it's basically like excitement versus fear. I think about that Armageddon, where the guy's like it's yeah. - The movie. - Yeah the movie, - where he was like, I'm 98% excited 2% sacred. Or maybe he's 90 I'm 98% excited, 2% scared or maybe it's 98% scared, 2% excited. I don't know,

that's why it's so crazy and mixed up. But I think about that, there's like there's excitement and there's fear. And I think nerves and adrenaline, they, they really kind of feed those two things and you may be more on one than the other. And, when I was talking to someone, I said, but, you know if you're excited, like you don't think that's negative, right? You aren't like, man,

I wish I wasn't so excited to run. Like, no, it's not a negative thing, whereas the nerves are. And so, then let's... - That's exactly, yeah, that's exactly kinda how I think of it. Like, you know, excited is like, yeah, I'm ready and it's more a paired with a positive and the nerves, you know a little bit more of the worry and negative side. Spot on with that.

- And so then let's go back to the story of about me switching dogs, because this is when I really kinda honed in on what my nerves were telling me. And that was, you know, I went from this dog that I was very comfortable with, to a new dog in novice. And, you know, honestly he had some amazing skills. He had great speed and, it was a novice

course, right? And I was so nervous and I finally realized that I was nervous most of all about whether he was going to hold his start line. And, once we started the course, I was fine. I felt totally fine, but I had all this anxiety about whether he was going to hold his start and I didn't know like how well he was going to do it and if,

you know, especially like that first trial. And I realized, okay, this is the reason that I'm nervous, you know? Yes, I have all this experience and agility. I'm very confident on the agility side but there's this deficit that I have, or that I'm worried that I have and that, is what's producing all the nerves. And so, for people out there who do get nervous I think it is

worth examining what exactly you are nervous about. Are you nervous about your start line? Are you nervous that your dog is going to miss a contact? Are you nervous that you're going to be put in a position where you have to make a split second decision on whether to use your, your fix and go or not, right? Because these things are not, they're not mental management problems. Everybody

thinks, I get so nervous, tell me how I can be more mentally strong. Tell me how I can... - Its something in sports psychology. - Right, exactly or they're thinking, I'm just a nervous person, this is a problem with me. But I bet that the majority of people if they analyze what they're worried about, what they're nervous about, what fear is driving that nerves, they're gonna find something

that can be fixed on the training field. Not in their heads, not in their brains, you know, not by having a shot of peppermint schnapps right before you run to hide your nerves from your dog, right? But by going and fixing the training problem. - Wait, what? Do people do that before their race? - You haven't heard that? - I've heard people chewing gum or having a piece

of candy. I've never done that, but I've heard people say, wait, Jennifer's nodding her head, I need to hear about this. - Yeah, it's peppermint, the peppermint schnapps. Sarah's going one direction, you're going the other with the candy and the gum. But yeah, I remember in high school they would give us peppermints, right before big tests. They'd set them on our desk and come around say that we

could eat it as we began our test, to be calming and soothing. - Really? - So I think peppermint solves the idea there is, the alcohol helps calm the handler and the smell of peppermint masks whatever like hormones, stress, hormones that your dog is smelling. That's like the old wives tale version of that, I think. - Gotcha. - Yeah. So I'm not saying you should do that, I'm

saying instead you should fix your shirt line. That's the advice that I'm giving here. - Right. - I think that this is a really, really important idea because it gives you something concrete and within your control, to work on. And so, you know, everybody out there who gets really nervous, I would encourage you to you know, the next time you feel that way, don't just think bout the

fact that you're nervous. Think about what it is that you're worried about. What fears do you have? What things are you trying to avoid? What skills are, you know, what part of the course is making you nervous? Are you nervous about the start? Are you nervous about a particular, you know three obstacles sequence in the middle but take note of these things because you can go and work

on those in the training field. - Well, now what you and Jenna said has really triggered something in my head. Two things that I can remember. One, I can remember being nervous and that's the last time I debuted a dog. So this would be a border collie maria. She's a retired, didn't have much of a career, she had hip dysplasia, but I remember getting her ready for a

novice course and just being really nervous about what was going to happen. So I think there, I didn't know what was going to happen. I knew that she was running well. I felt like she was ready. I just taught her starting line maybe a week before the trial and I wasn't sure what would happen, right. As it turns out, as soon as I took the leash off and

tossed it to the side and I released her into the tunnel, she ran in and got the leash and brought it back to me. I wanted to tell you, she kept jumping on me. - Perfect start line stay. Let's be clear, she didn't chase it after it when you tossed it. Perfect start line stay. But when you said okay to release from the start line station, she went

straight for the... - Yeah, yeah. So, you know, cause you don't know what to expect, you don't have that history with the dog, right? - And I think that's a real big part of nerves... - And that's what Jennifer was alluding to, the difference. We'll, come back to Jennifer in just a moment. The other situation I was thinking, suddenly is the one and only time I ever attempted

to run a sheltie. Okay, so my friend Brittany asked me to run her dog. I think she had to be out of town for something I don't know. And a great dog, very fast. I was excited to run the dog, but I was really nervous about it because I was like I really wanna get this cue for my friend, right? But I kind of don't know what's gonna

happen, you know I'm walking the course and I'm trying to walk it like her and thinking about all these things, well, sat her up at the start line, as soon as I released her the dog gone, right out the ring. Right out the ring, never took an obstacle. So I think that was probably the only other time, that I think I've had these kinds of nerves. - And

I think what that highlights is, in addition to like fear, I think that nerves are really influenced by uncertainty, right? - If you don't have the confidence from prior outcome. - Exactly, like if you know something bad is gonna happen, you don't feel nervous, you feel dread, right? When you don't know, but you're worried that's when you feel nervous, right? - Right, or have anxiety. - Right or

have anxiety about it. And so yeah, I think that uncertainty in the outcome. So, you know that can happen whether you have a training deficit or not. But, the more success that you have in training the more you're going to, that uncertainty is going to get less and less, right? - Right. - You're gonna have more and more, like you said confidence that your dog is going to

do what they've been trained to do. So every successful time is going to build up that confidence, reduce the uncertainty and reduce the nerves. - Right. You know, that's interesting because I've never been to the world championship to watch you run and Sarah has been, right? And been there with Jennifer. So you've gotten to see her up close. I see Jennifer at all the other events Westminster, National

Agility Championship. And when I look at her, it's like looking in a mirror, you know, I feel like we prepare the same way. You know, we're fine. Whereas you talk with other people and some of them, you can kind of tell you just need to stay away from them before a run. They're very stressed out. You know, they're obviously feeling a lot emotions or immediately after a run.

So it's interesting for me to hear you, Jen talk the difference between running Swift and Pink in these two different competitions. Like the context is different. And so, tell me a little bit more about that. - I think the difference in context is honestly, primarily the difference in the courses. You know, you go to Westminster, AKC nationals, AKC courses, skills that I'm on doing more regularly, right. I'm

trialing on at local shows on the weekend. I tend to have a higher percentage of training. So I feel more confident. I have more deposits in the bank in terms of having been successful on those skills in past competitions, right? I've done a lot of 180s in competitions and been successful with them. So that then when I go see it at Westminster I feel, you know, very confident

with it. So the nerves are very low. But at the world championships, you're dealing with courses that we get to train on, but we don't really get to compete on. So you don't have as much history on success to build off of. So you get a little bit more unsure, you know. Okay you're gonna be coming down the dog walk, you're going to quick release and you gotta

go to a backside and there's a tunnel three feet away. You know, that scenario hasn't been presented as much for me to feel comfortable and confident and therefore I become the question. Okay, well maybe we did that one time like 13 months ago it went okay, but I had never done it in a competition because with the exception of like our tryouts we just don't have a lot

of opportunities to do that. So I think primarily it comes down to the courses as the major difference, more so than even the dog. I say Pink at Westminster because she's done well there and Swift at the world championships. It's less about the dog and more about the level of challenge. - Well, now I have a nuance question for you. I was just thinking about this in my

head. I know that there are courses because I was thinking to my own time at Westminster, I think there was one time where there was this long stretch and I wasn't sure if I could get there. So I didn't know if I wanted a front or rear or what and I really agonized over it. But it didn't make me nervous. But I guess there was some anxiety about

picking the right thing but there was not anxiety about the run itself. You know, when I step to the line I don't feel anxious about the run or nervous about the run or how I'm going to look. And so I think there are some things that you can you may tell yourself. You may use the word nerves or are nervous. You know, I'm nervous, is this the right

choice? You know, I'm worried, you'll say the word worried. I'm worried about this off course track here, but I don't think that's what we're talking about here, right. Am I right here? - Yeah, I mean, I think that's certainly a part of it, but yeah, I think you're right, there's, some nuance there about, just trying to decide in your head what's best, right? And really waffling because you're

not sure you know of your choices, versus I've made a choice but I don't really feel good about it. - Sure. - And you know, I'm feeling very nervous about whether my dog can do it. I think that the one thing that this can help us, just this idea that what's causing your nerves. I think one thing that it could help us do is kind of reprogram ourselves

a little bit in the way that we react to uncertainty and the way we react to training deficits. So I think when, you know there's a problem when you were there at a trial it's kind of too late, right? Like if you know, your dog has a problem with contacts it's kind of too late to do anything about that when you're going to the line and you know...

- So you're saying no need to be nervous because whatever's gonna happen is gonna happen. - Well, I guess a little bit that, but I guess mostly I'm saying like at that point it's kind of too late to fix the cause of your nerves, right? - Right. - Because you know, if you know that they're unlikely to hit their contact or maybe there's a 20% or 30% chance,

you know, there's not much you can do there. but I think one way that we can help ourselves is on the uncertainty side. So let's say that there's a reasonable chance that your dog is going to do everything correctly. Maybe it's your first run and that's part of the nerves. Like you said, you don't know whether your dog you've trained them to have a good start line or

you've trained them to have good contacts. but you don't know if they're going to do it in this situation, you know... - Sure. - For the first time. And so I think one of the ways that we can reprogram our response is to say to ourselves, well, let's find out, right? Like that's what this run is for. We're going to find out. And kind of think to yourself.

Okay, so, you know, I'm feeling nervous. I'm not sure if my dog's going to hold their start line. Well, what if he doesn't, right? What do I do? First of all like, what do I do? Like let me be prepared, right? And second of all, how catastrophic is that? Right? Is this, you know, can I just take this as information and then go and visit more different facilities

so that I can generalize better or whatever, just view it as an opportunity to find out where your dog is at. And then maybe that will take away some of that nervous pressure where it's like, okay there's some uncertainty here, but that's okay because I'm okay with the outcome, whichever way it goes. - Right, right. I think maybe the COVID era might help people with that. You know,

we're all just gonna be happy to really get out there and trial on a more regular basis, if you're barely trialing now. Some people, you know, like me we're not trailing at all right now. So just to get back out there would be great. So having, I think a lot more appreciation, you know what like you said, what's the worst that can happen. Hey, we are all winning

just by being here by having this event, having this great turnout. And so hopefully I think that would calm many people's nerves, right? I think when we zoom out too, so you know, this topic has been great. You're zooming in on a very specific thing. You feel nervous. People say, I feel nervous, I feel nervous, but you're making the case. You and Jen are making the case. That

is very specific, it's very contextual. And if you really think about it, you take some notes you really interrogate your own mind. You're going to find a problem that you can fix in training. - Right. - Right. And then reduce the nerves going forward. And anecdotally, you know, I, I felt this way would get you to the difference between year one and year five. By the time you

get that fifth year, it's like an old glove. You guys are very comfortable. You've been through a lot, you've battle tested in that sense. And so you might even feel less nervous than you ordinarily would. - Even though you might be, have more on the line, right? - Sure. - You're at nationals instead of in novice, right? - Yeah, absolutely, absolutely. Maybe your first time in the national

final instead of like your, you know, your 20th time, you know, you may feel different. But when I look at great performances, great performers in sports, I look at kinda all the big athletes in the sports that I follow, which is at this point, basketball and swimming. And so, I think I'll end with like these three very helpful tips. And so Steph Curry, three time champion, you know

if you talk about LeBron James as being the next Michael Jordan, just remember LeBron, lost to Steph three times in NBA finals. Steph's a great shooter and he's all about the consistency of the practice, the warmup. So he's a very strict routine, right? No matter what arena he's playing in, whether he's, you know, at home in Golden State or on the road, he takes the same number of

shots from the same parts, places on the court, right? And his warm-up routine is legendary. Like fans show up early, an hour before the game, just to watch him shoot around, right. And so getting into that rhythm, it's almost a ritual and it has the effect of calming your nerves. Okay, so I think that's one big one. We all know people who do this. And you probably do

do this yourself, right? You'd get the dog out of your crate maybe 20 minutes before your run, right. And you probably do it about the same time every time. You take them to the same, their favorite places at the same trial over and over again. You go to the wall jump, you probably do kind of the same routine you try and everyone has a different number of dogs

in front of them, that they prefer before they get in there. So we all have a little bit of a ritual there and that can bring you comfort when you're in a new venue, first time, national event, the same routine it kind of really focuses your mind. That's Steph's approach. Michael Phelps, multi time gold medalist swimmer, right. Largely considered the greatest swimmer of all time. Likes to plan

for every contingency, right. Every possibility. And when I think of Michael Phelps, I think of Jennifer planning out like her snooker or stuff. - Right, right. - She's like, okay, if the dog does this, I'm to do this. If the dog does that, I'm going to do that. And because she thought out all the contingencies, she's literally prepared for anything. Like she has prepared herself for this very

big moment. And I've done that even on regular courses. Like if I'm up ahead, I'm going to do this blind cross. If I'm behind and it's just not reasonable, then I've prepared for the rear cross as well. Preparation. And then the third one is from Michael Jordan himself, won six championships, never lost a championship in the NBA basketball player. And, he was all about staying in the moment.

But that means executing what you are there to execute. You do not worry about the outcome, right? You don't think is my shot gonna go in or out. And if it's out, we lose and if it's in, we win the championship. No, no, no. You're thinking about how do I get open for the shot? Right? You're thinking about execution points, right? That's where visualization, I think really comes

in. Jennifer, what would you like to tell beginners? Like people who are like this is their first dog, you know, they've been training during the COVID era and they've been going to classes and sometime this year they're going to be in their first trial. And even now they're listening to this podcast and their hands are sweating and they're already starting to get nervous about it. - Well, I

don't know that I have any like one statement to say, okay, you know keep this in mind. But going back to you talking about, you know being nervous when you debuted a dog. I actually had the exact opposite emotion, debuting Vento. Because I had no past history of mistakes. I trained for it... I trained harder than what I was gonna debut. - That's interesting. We trained on 12

leap holes. I knew I was only gonna be C6. We trained on courses that were 18, novice was only 14. So I think kind of building on this idea that sometimes our nerves come from training deficits, which I totally agree. You have to have identified the deficit to know where the nerves come from. So in a debut, you have nothing to go off of. So when I walked

Vento's first course ever, which was actually in June of 2020, so debuted during COVID. I walked in, I'm like we got this. There was nothing, I had no baggage, right? I had no past trials, no mistakes, I had trained for this, we had worked for this, I felt great on those first two runs. Now, what I will tell you is then once we had those two runs, on

day two, the emotions were a little bit different because of the runs on day one... - That is so interesting. - Our jumpers run went great. Our standard run, he decided, Oh my God, I'm not sure how I feel about these contacts, which I totally wasn't prepared for. I was like, he's gonna be great, we're going to nail this. And he got on him and he's like, these

are different than home. So day two, when I debuted, then I would say I went from that excited state, over to that nervous state because now I had a history. Now I knew he worried about the dogwalk. So I was nervous about the dogwalk in the context of the dogwalk and the teeter. So they became my hope, I went home from that show, pulled them, made my little

tour of teeters, where I traveled to all these different facilities. We had several podcasts where I talked about it and then went back at it, having worked through that. So, be excited, you know, you have no history of mistakes you have nothing to worry about, so you get out there and see how it goes. You know, you've trained for this, hopefully you've trained a little bit harder than

what you're gonna see at your first show. And so I guess that's what I would say. Don't be nervous. Get out there, be excited about it and then use your results to kind of adjust and tweak your training and your plan going forward. - Very nice. I mean, that's basically what you Sarah. - Right, right, exactly. Now that's perfect. But it's a very interesting perspective to hear that

first run you weren't nervous, but then, you know, second day you were. It makes me think of like allergies, right? It's not the first exposure that, you know. It's not the first bee sting that makes you swell up, it's the second one, right? Like that's what they always say when you have kids that have allergies, it's that second exposure. So, yeah or like a vaccine response, right? -

That's right. - So, all right. Well, I hope that this helps those of you who are feeling nervous. I hope that you take a minute to think about where that is coming from and make a plan so that, you know this isn't something that you have to feel every run. It's not necessarily who you are or, you know, your personality type. There are likely things that you can

do to really build up your own confidence, your dog's confidence and just build up the likelihood that they're going to do the right thing. And you know, that's just going to feed into less nerves neck the next time. So, all right. That's it for this week's podcast, we'd like to thank our sponsor, hitaboard.com. Happy training. (soft music)

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