We are surrounded by information, thanks to magazines, the internet, seminars, books and videos, we have access to training techniques from the top trainers all over the globe. In the end, however, it’s the teacher and coach who works with us in our regular lessons who can help us the most. How does one go about choosing the right instructor, and, having done that, how does one get the most out of each lesson to maximize the investment of time and money? What can we learn from athletes in other sports to improve our ability to get the most out of our coach’s expertise?
Before you can choose the right instructor and training program for your team, you need to have some idea of your goals. You don’t have to be too elaborate, and goals can change, but without an idea of what you want, it is hard to get it. Goals are not the same as wishes or dreams, we can all dream of winning but unless we’re willing to put in the work it takes to get there, it’s not a goal. If your goal is simply to play agility as an escape from your everyday world, if you mostly enjoy the socializing with friends and the quality time with you dog, then you might not follow the same path as someone who dearly dreams of one day winning a top event. Spending a little time really thinking about what you’re really willing to work hard for will make it much easier to attain your goals in the long run.
In some parts of the country the local options are huge, there might be seven or eight training facilities and clubs within easy driving distance and each of those facilities will offer multiple training options as well as a plethora of seminars and workshops. In other parts of the country you might feel as though there are no options, there might only be one training facility or one club, with a limited choice of classes or instructors. Either way, you still want to create the best plan possible for meeting your goals.
Many people do all or most of their agility training through class instruction, often through a local club. Classes are often chosen based on what day is convenient, or what classes one has friends in, with the choice of instructor being secondary. This can certainly be a fun way to spend time, but it might not be the best way to achieve ones goals. Classes are wonderful, they are a chance to train in an environment that is similar to the trial environment, a chance to see many different teams master the same challenges, a chance to socialize with like minded people, and they are generally relatively inexpensive. However, not all classes are equal, and class instruction does not offer the same benefits as private instruction. No matter now brilliant the instructor, a class is still a class, you will not get the same personalized attention that a private lesson will give you.
Private instruction can be scary for some people, they feel more comfortably anonymous in a class where the instructor’s attention is not 100% on what they and their dog are doing. Private instruction also can seem much more expensive than class instruction, which is off-putting to some people. Another perceived negative of private instruction is that people enjoy the social aspect of getting together with friends for class time. All of that might seem reasonable, but if the goal is to really improve your game, then private instruction is well worth the cost.
Go to trials and watch teams in the Masters classes, when you see people who impress you, ask who they train with. Watch videos of National and International Championship finals, and make note of which handlers stand out to you. When you have a few names of possible instructor prospects, look them up online and poke around their website. In this day and age, you don’t have to limit your search to trainers who are physically near you, many instructors offer both private and group instruction via internet, and even if the instructor you are interested in working with does not offer such a choice, you can always email and ask, maybe they just had not yet considered the possibility.
Visit classes without your dog (offer to pay a drop in fee) so you can really pay attention to how the instructor works with students and how the class is run. Book half hour private lesson with instructors who you think you might like to work with. If the person who most interests you lives across the country or across the ocean, ask about the possibility of lessons via internet.
Having done the research, you’ve found the right person to train your team, now what? This is where agility competitors tend to diverge from athletes seriously involved in other sports, quite possibly to their detriment. Your instructor, if you have taken the time to choose carefully, should be someone you trust to know what is best for your team. Consider your instructor the way athletes consider their coach, the person who will help you make all your sport related decisions. You are paying this person a good amount of money and devoting a lot of your time, trust that you have decided intelligently, that your coach knows more than you do, and that your coach’s advice is worth taking.
An Olympic hopeful gymnast does not take classes with three different instructors whose methods are at odds with each other simply because they have friends in those classes they want to hang out with, or because those classes are convenient, or because they need to get on different equipment. A serious athlete takes the coach’s advice as to whether to take additional classes and who to take them with. A serious athlete will ask their coach’s advice about whether attending a given seminar or workshop or camp is in their dog’s best interest. Consider that most competitive athletes follow their coach’s advice not only about training, but also about everything related to their sport. When considering whether you should enter trials and which ones to enter, ask your coach. Do not neglect the areas that are somewhat peripheral to agility; nutrition, exercise, and physical therapy are all areas that your coach can guide you in.
Agility instructors, the good ones, devote a tremendous amount of time and energy toward being the best they can be. They care tremendously about their students and are constantly thinking of ways to improve every team they train. Where I teach, the work day does not end when the last class is taught, we spend many unpaid hours each week discussing our students needs, analyzing videos, studying what other trainers all over the world are doing with an eye as to whether any of it can help our own students. We are emotionally invested in our students, we really care about them and focus on figuring out what is best for each team. To get the best from us, our students need to trust us to know what is best for them.