I love this saying… (paraphrased)
Beginner handlers want to train advanced things.
Advanced handlers want to train expert things.
Expert handlers want to train foundations.
There really is nothing wrong with these sentiments. They are judgement free. Of COURSE people want to train the higher level stuff! It’s SO MUCH FUN! We all want to get out there and trial and have all the experiences. That feeling is really very normal. I get it. Right now I’m actually starting two new sports with my 4 year old… Brava is learning Disc and Agility and I can’t wait to trial!
At the same time, it can be hard to remember what a “trial” really is… it’s a test and a showcase… in our excitement to do All the Things, we can often pass the test but the showcase aspect is more passable than perfection. It’s possible that perfection isn’t your goal… that’s fine! Regardless of your goals, I would like to share a story with you about golf balls…
When I was a little girl, I remember spending lazy Sunday afternoons at my grandparents’ house in Houston, Texas. There wasn’t much to do. Golf was always on the TV…. BOR-ING!! especially for a young 7 or 8 year old girl. I remember the small net that was in the backyard. It looks like a modified soccer goal. It was small, but enough to catch golf balls. I assume my grandparents, who both were avid golfers, would practice their swings there. I remember hunting around the net and finding the most peculiar thing. It was a broken golf ball. There was a deep cut in it. I was a very curious young girl who always wanted to know how things worked. I remember pulling the hard white skin off the ball only to find something that completely surprised me! It was like a tiny ball of yarn… only it wasn’t yarn… it was rubber! I slowly pulled the tiny rubber bands off the ball, excited to find out what was at the center. I remember it being a little anticlimactic as it was just another piece of rubber.
The point of my story is that to my 7 year old self, a golf ball was something hard. I had imagined that there wasn’t much to it. I mean, what you see is what you get, right? I was “sure” that the golf ball must look the same on the inside than the outside. But as I slowly peeled away the outer layers, the golf ball gave up its secrets.
Interestingly, golf balls are actually highly engineered pieces of sports equipment! Depending on how they are made, they can vary by flight, spin, and trajectory. Some balls are great for golfers with slower swings and some get great distance but tend to have less spin so it’s easy to hit them them into the rough. In fact, the golf ball itself has transformed over the years. Prior to the 1920’s there was actually a caustic liquid center. So I guess it’s good that I was born a half a century later!
After many years and after I “grew up” (though that phrase is generally relative and I certainly don’t believe that I’m there yet!), I started to play golf. I was never very good and ultimately decided to do other things with my time. But the point of this isn’t golf at all! The point is that when beginners start out in a new sport, the golf ball, or the perceived knowledge required for the sport is based on an assumption of what the handler can see and perceive. Then with time, the handler starts to peel back that ball and unravel that rubber core. The sport starts to reveal itself and the handler starts to learn how critical that little rubber core is to keeping the ball in the fairway. THAT is why “experts” focus on foundations and fundamentals. It’s NOT because they are looking down their noses at all those just starting out.
In my Nosework journey, I have pursued the desire to get better and better as a handler and have tried to train to improve the little things… because I know that little rubber core is what will ultimately get my girls to the top levels while maintaining and building on their competitive edge.
Unlike a golf ball, where you finally get to the center, with dog sports, when you get to what you think is the center, you really just open a whole new world of new possibilities and things to improve!
I get that folks want to learn those sexy skills and start to trial. You can do that too! But don’t forget to peel back that golf ball a little. Focus on the CORE and building your foundations. Ultimately, you will struggle way less and you will be MUCH more effective.
I wish very much that Foundations were seen as “sexy”. I know they aren’t. They really are only sexy to those who see how they lead to better “flight, spin, and trajectory”, just like a golf ball.
June 1 term is getting close to starting at Fenzi Dog Sports Academy! If you are interested in peeling back that golf ball in a very fun way that based on games and lectures choc-full of information, check out my class NW175 Fun with FUNdamentals: Progress Games for Success.