What makes a competitor great? I’ve been mulling this question over for quite a while. Because I think, at the heart of it, a great competitor is composed of much more than just what can be gleaned from the surface. Is it based solely on results? On how many nationals/ invitationals/ tryouts/ worlds an individual has attended? On how many Qs, or titles, or championships? I’d like to think it’s a little more than that.

Success in a sport is the byproduct of being a great competitor– and it’s a lot more than just results. Titles, championships, and the like are credentials of competitors. At the heart of it, they have key characteristics that allow for success– characteristics I hope to better adopt, adapt, and continue fostering.

There seems to be a negative connotation with the word “competitive”– at least in my experience. Many times when someone is described as competitive, it’s not meant as a compliment. Instead it feels more like an accusation. As though the person may sacrifice important things in order to win; or they are committing some sort of affront against others. All of us who show (yes all) are competitive to some degree. Why else would we enter trials? It’s not just for fun. It’s fun, yes, but we enter shows to compete. No matter what your individual goal for agility may be, you’re entering shows with competition in mind. It may be a competition against yourself, or your friends– it could be that you’re looking to compete with the best in the country; or the world. No one goal is better than another. But no matter what you’re looking to achieve these characteristics will help further that goal.

Great competitors are disciplined.

Goals require discipline. The bigger the goal, the more disciplined one must be. No matter what we are looking to do in this sport (or any other sport for that matter) our discipline must be in line with our goals. Going to run thru’s once a week will not make for a realistic expectation to make an international team. This does not mean running drills for hours a week will (that’s another post in itself)– but much more effort must be put in. Those with international team dreams are training (smartly) multiple times a week; they are studying courses, and video; they are keeping themselves fit– they are especially working on keeping their dogs fit. Those with different aspirations still require discipline. We cannot expect results where the work has not been done. Which leads nicely into:

Great competitors are realistic.

Those who compete are aware that they are at the mercy of the day. Dramatic? Maybe. But competitors understand that every day cannot be “their” day. They know they cannot win everything every time. They know that there will be slumps and dry spells and silly mistakes. They understand that they are communicating and directing a dog– a non-human creature– through a complicated dance of hand signals, and verbal commands on an obstacle course at the fastest speed they are capable of completing it (total magic, by the way, if you haven’t previously acknowledged that). They know things will go wrong. They recognize the greatness of their teammates no matter what the outcome and know to keep expectations in check.

Great competitors focus on the journey, not the winning.

One of the best lessons I’ve taken away from agility is this fact. When I was younger (perhaps not much younger than I am now, unfortunately) I was hung up on results; on winning in particular. It made everything else seem secondary– I wasn’t focused on what it took to get there, but more what it would be like to be there. You cannot have one without the other. The greatest competitors in agility, and in other sports, all have had a journey to reach the goals they set for themselves. When you start to focus solely on the result you want, rather than process, you lose sight of what you’re doing this for. Make smaller, more attainable goals that lead to your ultimate goal. Understand the journey you are undertaking, and know that if you’re not willing to take what will inevitably come with it, you should not set out on it at all. (I’m still practicing this daily, by the way).

Great competitors know how to lose.

Like knowing the journey we undertake, we must know we will lose along the way. But losing cannot be the end all to the journey, but rather act as a way to jettison us further along. Competitors recognize their faults and work to improve them. They congratulate their fellow competition, and truly celebrate the success of others. They are gracious winners– but they are gracious when they lose as well. There is a quote I’ve seen quite a bit of, and it is something I want to carry forward with me as this journey continues: “Sometimes you win, sometimes you learn.”

We should always strive to keep learning– at all levels in this sport, and in this life. If we can do that, if we can apply these characteristics to whatever the goal we’re searching to reach, then we can become great competitors too.

We’re almost there.