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[Transcript] Episode 210: How to Goal Set for Big Events in 2019

This is a transcript of Podcast Episode 210: How to Goal Set for Big Events in 2019. There may be some errors in transcription.
[Esteban]
In today’s podcast we are going to be talking about “Goal Setting for Big Events”.

And I want to start off with the idea of why we goal set in the first place. In my opinion, setting goals helps you set your training agenda as part of your preparation for these big events and we also get a little bit of a feedback loop. So however you perform at the event, there’s gonna be some relationship to how many of your goals that you meant, and then you’re gonna be able to set goals for the next event the following year or whatever it is that you happen to be working on. Jennifer, why do you set goals? Or do you set goals? Maybe Jennifer doesn’t set goals, she’s just amazing but she sets no goals. Let’s find out!

[Jennifer]
Yeah, absolutely! You have to set goals because I’m a hundred percent in agreement with you. Having goals are what kind of dictates and drives what I’m training on or my training sessions or what I’m doing. You know, I kind of often will find myself in a big lull after a big event because I haven’t, you know, set the next goal or I haven’t established my training plan just yet for that goal. So you know coming back from worlds, I remember coming home and like two weeks of doing nothing–just sitting around because, I wasn’t–I wasn’t really thinking “okay, what’s the next plan? What are we working on?” So I think the thing that’s going to lead the training sessions, the thing that’s going to dictate what you’re training and what you’re putting your effort on is what your goal is. Whether it be short-term and maybe two or three months or a little bit long term in terms of the career of the dog.

[Sarah]
And I think for a lot of people, a goal that they might have is to qualify for AKC Nationals but what we wanted to highlight is okay, now you’ve made AKC Nationals, you’ve sent in your entry. You now need a goal for the event and so goal setting for the event that you’re preparing for, is where we really want to focus today.

[Esteban]
Before we go any further I want to distinguish a little bit between a dream and a goal. I think a lot of us have dreams and sometimes we confuse that with goals. I think a lot of people think of them as interchangeable and I know that for most areas of my life I do consider them maybe a little interchangeable but not when it comes to sports. And in my opinion dog agility is a sport. A dream, for example, would be for me to win AKC Nationals. That’s a dream, I’m not sure that that’ll happen but that’s not such a great goal. An example of a good goal for me would be to perhaps, hold Gitchi on the teeter until it goes down–to avoid using any quick releases because I have a tendency to do that in local trials perhaps I don’t want to do that in the preliminary round. So I can write that down, and say no quick releases on teeters in rounds one, two or three at nationals and then at the end of the event I go back and I look and I say “did I meet that goal that I set for myself?” Another goal might be “I want to increase my own ability to sprint” and so, I might have some kind of workout plan where I’m lifting weights or running or doing sprints or drills or exercises without the dog at my house in a yard or maybe, I get a personal trainer. So that’s a very different kind of a goal than to say. “Hey, I’d like to win the national and agility championship”. I think of that as more like a dream. What do you think?

[Sarah]
I think a nice shorthand for that is that goals are going to support your dreams so if you meet all of your goals, you’ve got a much better chance of meeting your dream, but the thing about dreams, especially in agility, is that when we think about these really results-based things–it’s not 100 percent in your control. So goals are things that you have a large amount of control over.

[Jennifer]
Yeah, that’s exactly what I was thinking: kind of separating the two. The goals are things thatyou can take action for. YOU are in control of whether you really Gitchi early on the teeter or YOU are in control of getting the trainer and sprinting faster but to win nationals there are so many external factors: you don’t know what everybody else is doing, you don’t know what training they’re doing and you can have the best performance of your life, have met all those goals, and your dreams still not happen because somebody else has a faster dog or somebody else is sprinting a little bit faster so I definitely think you gotta look at the element of how much YOU control it versus those results-based goals which you have a little less say over.

[Esteban]
That is such a great point, and I think a lot of unhappiness in general, in life, not just dog agility comes when the reality doesn’t meet whatever expectation you have. If you walk into a meeting with your boss and you happen to know that your coworker who does the exact same job, makes $50,000 a year and your boss says: “okay we’re going to give you $30,000 a year, and you were expecting at least $50,000 you are going to feel disappointed. But if you walk in there and you know the boss offers $75,000 a year, and you were only expecting $50,000–then you are going to be very very excited. So I think expectation is a really big deal and if I go into AKC Nationals and my goal is to win, as Jennifer pointed out, I can have great runs in the preliminary rounds, I can have an absolutely beautiful perfect finals round where I and my dog cannot run any faster, any better, and still finish 2nd, 3rd or 4th place.

And because the expectation and results aren’t matching up there, I think you can take a blow, psychologically–take some damage there and be very unhappy when you probably should not be. And so I think a lot of goal-setting is very much related to setting expectations. Okay, so I’m with somebody who’s listening to this podcast, I’m going to my first AKC nationals, I don’t really goal set and now I’m listening to all these big-time winning handlers talk about goal setting. It seems like everybody’s doing it. You’re telling me: “Okay don’t try and win nationals–that shouldn’t be a goal”. So what are some good goals? Well I’m going to give you some very common ones that I hear from people in the agility world and I’d like you guys to tell me if they’re good or bad or how they can be improved. And I think one thing people love to say is, “My goal for national is to go and run as fast as I possibly can me and my dog in every round.”

[Sarah]
{laughs}

[Esteban]
What do you guys think? Good goal?

[Sarah]
I think it’s extremely hard to measure, right? Like how do you know if you’re running as fast as you possibly can?

[Esteban]
Hmmm…I totally agree. A lot of goal-setting, when we look at the results, should be measurable. So let’s back it up again. Let’s say that I’m an athlete. I’m working to achieve some type of physical performance. I can look at my practice and say okay, on this day I wanted to lift 3 sets of 10, lifting 100 pounds. But I see, in looking at it, I came up short. I only made it 2 sets and the third set I only did two reps and then I just had to stop. I wasn’t able to meet that goal and now that I look at all of my goals during these training sessions as we’re getting closer to the big event, I see that I’m not on trajectory to meet perhaps a larger goal. But you see how these smaller goals that you were talking about–we can call them sub goals or mini goals–they can support a larger goal but being measurable, I think is a very, very important part of that.

So here I think the person is a little too vague. You know, everybody wants to run as fast as they can. Another word they might use is “best.” I want to run the BEST that I possibly can at Nationals. Fastest? Best? How are we gonna know? How are you going to measure that? Right? So what’s an alternative that someone can say instead of saying, you know, this time at Nationals, unlike my local trials, I am going to run me and my dog as fast as we possibly can. Well, I think some easy ones are contact releases. So you may say, very specifically, I am going to immediately release my dog as soon as they come into the contact zone–not earlier and not later, because I often do both of those at trials. I release them a little too early and then I release them after leaving them there for a good two or three seconds. Someone might say, “I’m going to try and do as many front crosses as possible and if it’s a tough decision between a rear and a front I’m just going to choose the front cross and really go for it.”

[Sarah]
So planning for an aggressive handling style?

[Esteban]
Right! So you see how planning is very much related to your goal setting so I think you can kind of tweak those things but you have to have some action to take and I think to say that you want to run as fast or as best as possible is really just too vague. Jenn, have you ever heard this one? “I want to go to nationals, and my goal is to have a really good time with my dog.”

[Jennifer]
Oh yeah! Of course you’ve heard that one. You hear that a lot from the first timers. You know, they get qualified, they maybe haven’t been, and they say that “I want to go and have a good time” and there’s so many things that we can try to change about that or tweak. It’s really not a great goal–it’s not specific, it’s hard to measure. Yeah, you can sit there and say “Okay on Sunday did you have a good time?” Well, you could probably go and have a good time and not be competing, go out to dinner with your friends and get to watch some of the best of the best in the country and you weren’t there with the dog so how do you measure that? So yeah, you hear that one a lot and that’s definitely one that we need to clean up. We need to reassess. That’s also one that makes it very difficult to set a training plan. So if I sit and say “Okay, two months out I want to go and have a good time.” How am I going to take that into class next week? How am I going to take that into my private next week? and use that to dictate and control what I’m training versus something that is far more specific, whether it be the contact releases or you know, one for me is, I’ll tell you–with Swift, one of my goals is I would like to have no knocked bars. I know that one’s a little bit iffy because you can get into factors like surface but what I’m doing right now is I’m doing a decent amount of strengthening because I think that there’s a lot of rear end power that’s coming through his jumping and I’m doing a lot of jump training. So knowing that my goal is focused on jumping and the jumping efforts–that’s really controlling and dictating a lot of what I’m doing in the months leading up to it.

[Sarah]
I think a great goal that would lead you to having a good time with your dog is to say “My goal is to design and perfect my into and out of the ring routine. Knowing how I’m gonna get my dog from the crate to the ring and then how I’m gonna get my dog from the ring to the crate? That’s going to affect the dog’s happiness quite a bit in terms of what you do there but that’s something very specific that you can work on in the weeks leading up and developing that routine for you and your dog.

[Esteban]
I completely agree with both of you. I think there’s something that’s maybe a little bit related and that would be for people who generally have a very negative outlook on life and competition and especially if they haven’t had success at these big events before or perhaps they are first-timers. If you know you’re that kind of person, just like with agility performance, you can create goals for your happiness. It sounds weird but Jen kind of gave you a little bit of insight there. Something that I like to do to make sure I have a good time no matter what happens at Nationals is to eat a lot of dessert.

[Sarah]
I was just gonna say that…I was literally just gonna say that!

[Esteban]
Leading up to the event I tried very hard in the gym, out there in the field, I eat right, and when I get there people are very surprised to see me order two, three desserts. I don’t necessarily finish all of them unless they’re good but I don’t hold that and it’s a little bit of positive reinforcement for me there. Something that other people like to do is spend an extra day at the site if it’s some place cool perhaps like the AKC invitational in Orlando. You can go sightsee and then suddenly the feelings that you have about the trip are not based only on your performance in the ring.

So I think that’s kind of a legitimate goal setting but that’s a way that you can tweak it and people use that all around the world. Right? When they go to the Olympics, Olympians do that. You know, when it’s an Athens, Greece they’re gonna go sight seeing as a team or individual. They’re gonna take a lot of pictures. They’re going to enjoy that experience as well. Other people want to stay very very focused on just the competition–they have really good attitudes, they’re not really concerned about doing poorly and then being devastated by it or anything like that. So it’s something that you want to tailor to yourself and I love Jennifer’s example so maybe we should do more of that. We should talk about some of the goals that we have coming up for these competitions. And we’ve got a ton coming up: we have Westminster in about three weeks and then a month after that is AKC Nationals, not five or six weeks after that is the tryouts for the agility world championship here for Team USA and I think in most parts of the world, people have their try outs there. And over there in the UK we have Crufts. So there are a lot of big events in the spring and what are some things that we are working on.

I will tell you that it depends on your situation and I’ll give you one specific: Gitchi is actually, and I think this is unknown to people, coming off of double arthroscopic surgery, both shoulders and they found some damage in there to the articular surface. They kind of cleaned it up in there and she got the PRP and stem cells and so she is rehabbing. So we very much have goals and our goals are even daily. Today, we’re going to walk five more minutes than we walked yesterday. Today we are going to introduce the BOSU ball and start doing stabilization work. Today, we’re going to look at her in the weave poles but we’re only going to do two or three repetitions and we’re going to video tape it from the side and straight on and examine her striding. Today we’re going to do the a-frame. The first contact that I actually started her back on was the teeter.

And it’s all planned–talking with, in our case, the orthopedic surgeon (the doctor who did the surgery) and our vet, and Gitchi’s co-owner. You have this plan, a progression, and you’re going to work through it and we think she’s going to be ready to show at Westminster. We will have the trial before hand but that’s something where goal-setting is a very very big deal. Now when I go to Westminster, that goal is going to be very different from when she was at Westminster…I think it was maybe three years ago…she was in her absolute prime. She went to the finals as the top seed. She did end up having the bar down there that cost her the win. The goals there were very, very different. They were “I want to control these turns” “I want to trust her in the weave poles and leave,” “I want to do more rear crosses than front crosses in order to help her keep up the bars”.

But at the end of the day, I can look back, reflect on the event and say: “Did I meet those goals?” and ask those questions. Okay, I met those goals and this still happened, “What do I need to change for the future?”. You know, there’s that whole feedback loop that we were talking about and so this time you’re going to tailor it to the dog and handler. It’s going to be very, very different and so let me ask Jennifer–she talked a little bit about, I think, it was more nationals specific right? What do you think about Westminster, so you’re in a very interesting situation and in fact I think a lot of people are, where maybe when you’re doing both events one event might be a little more important to you than the other or if that’s not the case then maybe, one event requires a little more preparation than the other or a unique kind of preparation. How are you toggling between the two and how are you thinking about Westminster?

[Jennifer]
Well, I definitely agree that if they have a series of events in a row like for for me, Westminster and the Nationals, one is gonna carry a little bit more weight than the other. For me, personally, nationals carries a little bit more weight than Westminster. Westminster is fun–it was definitely a great experience the last couple years that I’ve been, but given a choice I’d rather be hitting my peak at Nationals than I would Westminster. Where I’m at with Pink in terms of my goal for Westminster, and how my goals for Westminster lead into Nationals, is she is still very young and last year our series of events where she got to do some big, fun, high-crowd events, right? We had Westminster and people cheering and screaming and then we went to Nationals after that and she was in finals there; we did the Incredible Dog Challenge–we have lost a little bit of our impulse control outside the ring and our ability to get to the ring and control and she is kind of hitting a whole nother level of wanting to pull me in the ring, dancing a little bit on the start line–not yet breaking them–whining, barking when I’m trying to line her up. So lately what we’ve been really working on after coming off of such a great 2018 is really trying to control her headspace, and my concern is if I let her get too high at Westminster–two, potentially three runs where the crowd is around and people are cheering and they want to see them go fast and she really feeds into that–how that might then detrimentally impact my performance at NAC.

So my goal for one of the things I’m working on is trying to change around and figure out exactly what is the best routine. I’ve been going to class the last several weeks and each week doing something different, like consciously writing down, okay here’s what I’m going to do for my warm-up. Here’s what I’m going to do and seeing what works and what doesn’t but I really want to make sure that I keep her in a good headspace at Westminster so that I can carry that over to NAC. I worry if she comes off of Westminster just high as a kite and wow! that was so much fun that it risks pushing me a little bit on start lines, kind of that pulling me into the ring and and just being a little more on edge and a little less thoughtful on the run. So I’m really making sure that as a handler I’m diligent about what happens at Westminster so that it doesn’t impact me. I think the same would be true for a lot of people with contacts. If you go to Westminster and you let them rip off those contacts and you let them do a bunch of early releases–is there enough time between Westminster and NAC to get them back under control? Do you have a couple local shows lined up where you can reinforce that behavior? So you’ve definitely got to kind of look–planning more than just one event–you don’t want to wait till Westminster’s over to realize what problems you potentially created a few weeks later.

[Esteban]
That is fantastic, I think what you’ve done there is identify a weakness and you’re gonna address them in training and I think basically that’s what we’re doing here. People need to understand that and once they do I think goal-setting really starts to make sense. Oh, my dog flies off the a-frame, this is what I need to be doing in practice and not just practice but think of local trials as extensions of your practice, of your daily work or your work at home or your weekly class. I’ve had runs at local trials where I say: “All right we’re three weeks away from nationals, I don’t know that I can make a front cross here”. I am not sure, let’s find out, I’m gonna try it. I’ll pick another run and say I would normally do front crosses here I’m just gonna do all rear crosses or holding your contacts. I think that’s a big one that a lot of top handlers do when they have stopped contacts heading into Nationals.

[Esteban]
And so that is going to form the basis of your training and that’s how your goals are going to inform your training. And I think that athletes are really good at doing this–having little bench marks and check ins. So one week before, you’re probably gonna look at Pink and say “Okay, where’s your head at now at this local trial right before this event?” And then even at Westminster, “Well, where was her head out there and what this mean for the month that I have before nationals? How is this going to affect my training?” And so, I think that is a very good thing and we had talked about it, I think, in a different podcast, right? Implementing a taper? Did we talk about tapering on a podcast yet?

[Sarah]
I believe we talked about planning your season and and how that affects the work that you do right before the event versus right after the event versus kind of in the middle and all of that kind of stuff.

[Esteban]
Right, so I think you can probably link to that podcast but the idea here is that there’s no real cramming for big events, sometimes you have to for very specific skills–the ones that come to mind are contacts and start lines–but in general if you’re having problems with say, a weave entry, you don’t want to do 50 sets of weave poles the day before you leave on a two-day drive to go to a big national event. You want to put that at the beginning of your eight-week training cycle. You want to carefully plan your training so that you’re tapering down the dog’s activity so that they’re at peak form, not under peak strain or duress or workload right before the event.

[Sarah]
Here’s my logical argument against cramming and especially extreme last-minute like the day before and you’re asking yourself well should I do one last session of hard entries and when you look at the range of possible outcomes: if they do it great, you feel great, but you probably didn’t change anything. They had it already and, if they miss it, you feel horrible going into the event and they may or may not miss it at the event–there’s no time to change it. So all you’re getting is information–50% of the time it might be bad if we’re saying flip a coin and they either get it or they don’t, and it doesn’t affect anything. So there’s no real reason to do that to yourself.

[Esteban]
Alright, I think the next key thing that I wanted to talk about was “doing the work.” So, lots of people are really good at setting up goals, they set them up very similarly to how we’ve talked about but they don’t actually put in the practice. So just remember, you actually have to put in the time, you have to make the effort, you actually have to do some things. Otherwise, things may not go your way and lastly you’re gonna get to the post-event analysis–and I think this is the part of goal-setting that no one talks about and that very few people frankly do–they just go on and start setting goals for the next event. They kind of think about what just happened but not in a very systematic way.

[Esteban]
Once you have an event, you have information. You have a lot of information and failure should not be viewed in a negative way but all too often it is. It’s such a part of our sport that I find it difficult to talk with people, even my training partners or friends, about what has just happened. I will say something like Gitchi had four bars and three of them were on back sides. I’m gonna go a head and really work on that I think in the next couple of weeks and the first thing they might say is: “Oh no, but she was great and…”

[Sarah]
Say oh, but her contacts were amazing!

[Esteban]
And so hey, okay, I didn’t know we were still congratulating about the event. I’m not making a value judgment or anything, I’m just already mentally planning for the next thing and I’m already analyzing when I look at these videos, where we made mistakes, where we were weak, where we were strong, where we could be better, and then I need to partition that training time. Right? If my dog never misses the weave poles and they can do all kinds of crazy entries, does it make a lot of sense to do 90% of your training as weave poles? No, it does not. And so I think as people we tend to practice what we’re good at, we tend to avoid what we’re not good at and you have all this information about what went wrong and that should inform your goal-setting as you move forward. Jen what do you do after an event?

[Jennifer]
Well, very similar to you–a lot of analysis of what just happened. So you know at all the big events you’re getting your runs filmed whether it be by your friends or your family or you’re buying the runs that somebody has done at the event and then it’s a lot of watching them–kind of seeing what things needed to be tweaked. I have watched my AWC runs over and over and over again and actually, I’ve watched the runs that were clean way more than I have watched the faulted runs and kind of made my list of like okay, what did I leave on the floor? Where was I getting beat? What things, even though they were clean runs, need to be cleaned up and need to be improved? And I think I’m very much, very much like you, you know you come off of a big event and my brain goes “okay what do I need to work on? what do I need to go home and improve?” and it is hard sometimes people–“oh no you were great, you were great” and yes, I’m not taking away from what we did accomplish but it is kind of like you said–the action–you got to do the work, you got to identify, you got to get out there and you got to change it. You can’t just say, oh! my dog walk was slow and I got beat there. That’s identifying it, but you’ve got to actually be having a plan and going out there and figuring out what you’re gonna do.

[Esteban]
I really like that because I think it’s dog trainers especially, ESPECIALLY dog agility trainers, we view ourselves as very positive, in perhaps comparison to other dog sports and general pet owners, dog owners. And we want the dog, just like we do in training, to think that failure is not a big deal. You fail, it’s information and so now we’re going to change something about the way we train. So you go to a big event and it’s a disaster. Everything goes wrong and I think the novice person is gonna look at that and say everything went wrong–I shouldn’t go to Nationals anymore. Where as I think the experienced competitor is gonna look at that and break down everything–this is where my dog first went of course and I see now that the tunnel was obviously a very tough off course in this situation, multiple other dogs did it and my handling was late here because I was out of position. What are some things that I can do? I could have maybe opted for another maneuver. I needed to be standing in a different place. I’m gonna look for those spots in my training. Okay, what was the next mistake? Ah, we missed–we popped the tenth weave pole. Okay, I need to practice being able to move away from my dog laterally while they are in the weave poles and so I think that those are the the approaches we need to take when dealing with big disaster runs. You kind of want to just break it down and go one at a time. But again, it informs your training and your goal setting for the next, however many weeks months or the entirety of the year, until you get to that next big event.

[Sarah]
Yeah, we are often positive with our dogs but not positive with ourselves and we need to give ourselves that same treatment of failure as information, not failure as failure, “I’m a failure,” you know.

[Esteban]
Right, because what happens to the dog who can’t deal with these mistakes because they get punished for it. They have bad feelings about it. Right? They give up, they go into avoidance, they start sniffing in the ground. They don’t want to be there, they move more slowly–the same thing is going to happen to you as the handler. You’re gonna go, you’re gonna have a bad experience. You’re not gonna be able to analyze it properly and then you’re gonna say, “I don’t do nationals. I don’t do big events, I’m not going to go to Westminster even though I secretly really, really want to,” and so you don’t want to end up in that situation and so I think goal-setting in that sense can really help you out.

[Jennifer]
The other thing that I think is important with goal-setting that I’ll add kind of from the instructors side as well is make sure it’s a conversation you have with your instructor, with your coach, if you have one. A lot of times, I have students that come once a month. They’ll come in and I’ll be like, okay what are we working on? Where are we at? What do we need to work on and address today? And they’re like oh, I don’t know–whatever. If I get that response, typically the very next question is “okay, well what are your goals?” Because your goals should be dictating and directing what we’re working on what your training. Often, if somebody comes to me and doesn’t have a real good training plan it’s because they don’t have real good goals, so we might have to spend a little bit talking about setting some goals, making sure that we have good goals and then letting your instructor just know what they are so that they can help with the training session.

Like you were using the weave poles before–I don’t want a student to come in and I say “Okay we’re gonna do a whole bunch of weave pole stuff” and afterwards, the person say, “Well, I always felt pretty good about my weave holes, I didn’t need to be doing that last thirty minutes”. You know, let me know where you’re at, let me know you know what you’re working towards. And a lot of people out there that are coaching or teaching, they might have some valuable insight as well. Into how to tweak your goals to make them more specific, to make them more attainable, to make them more measurable and those things. So I think it definitely needs to be something that you have a conversation with, if you have an instructor or coach or someone you’re working with.

[Sarah]
It turns out that I actually am really good at setting hair care goals. I just realized this because every time I go to the hair dresser and they ask me “Okay, what are we going to do today?” I say, I don’t really know but I’m not gonna spend more than five minutes and I’m not gonna blow dry it and they say, “Okay” and then they cut my hair, it’s perfect!

[Esteban]
There you go, it’s about setting expectations and then it makes you happy, and they know exactly what to do. “Hey, I like that”.

[Esteban]
Alright, to wrap up everything–talking about goal-setting for big events, you should definitely do it. That’s the first thing so if you’re not gold setting go ahead and try it out. Pick an event, do it, if you’re not going to a big national event, pick a local trial. You can certainly goal set for that as well. Why should you set goals? Of course to set your training agenda so you know exactly what you need to do in training, and when you look at your post-event analysis it’s going to help you set your goals for the next event. Goal-setting is definitely about expectations. A lot of times people are unhappy when the reality doesn’t quite meet the expectation, and there’s a big difference between your dream and your goal, and so make sure that you can distinguish in your mind the two, there’s nothing wrong with having big dreams.

We all have big dreams in agility but we don’t want vague goals. We want them to be very specific so we can create sub goals or little mini goals that kind of support that larger goal, and the last thing we want is to have things that we can measure, things that we can look at, and say “Hey, I have met these goals. Maybe I need to set more goals, harder goals, things along those lines.” Also don’t forget, once you have these goals, you actually have to go out and do it, so I think a lot of people forget that part.

[Sarah]
Alright! Well, that’s it for this week’s podcast. We’ve got to let Esteban and Jennifer go get their training sessions in to meet their Westminster and Nationals goals with their dogs. And we’d like to thank our sponsors HITITBOARD.COM and ELITE SCIENCE.

Happy Training!

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