Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Sharing some thoughts

I thought I'd share an article I've wrote with you. It'll appear in the November Agility Voice which will hit your doorsteps any day. The idea is to share my thoughts and ideas with the agility community and how I see the role developing. 

When Virginia asked me to write an article for the Voice my first thoughts were, am I ready to write anything yet? Looking at the job of International Team Manager from a business perspective, I would usually give myself 100 days [or thereabouts] to fully understand the role, get to know the people I'm going to be working with and set clear objectives and then write an article. However this is different to your usual new job, and although I will be taking time to review these points, I need to get into the role quickly; my deadlines are set.

So I thought I would take this opportunity to talk very generally about how I see my role developing as International Team Manager for both the European Open and FCI World Championships, and share some thoughts with you.

At the recent FCI World Championships in the Czech Republic, I witnessed the best agility I had EVER seen. Unbelievable displays of dog agility at all heights. How Natasha Wise and Lisa Frick performed under the immense pressure of a world championship final, on tough courses, with huge amounts of focus on them demonstrated what elite athletes they truly are. So what an honor for me to be appointed to the role of Team Manager in the year when Natasha won the Mediums for a record third time, Team GB performed admirably at all heights and Britain hosted an incredible [probably the greatest ever] Olympics. What an amazing opportunity for me. And it's this sporting theme I'll be focusing on for the next three years, my mind very firmly set on reliving these fantastic achievements.

Within the above context I have three areas to focus on: 
1) The selection process
2) Squad development
3) Introducing a coaching programme

I know the squad selection process is in the forefront of many handlers’ minds. All I will say at this early stage is, it will be different. I have thoughts which I'll share with the International Working Party in November and the agility community in time for the 2013 season - not something to rush into.

My thoughts on the health of GB agility? I truly believe in GB we have the dedicated handlers, the talented dogs, the training knowledge, and the opportunities to compete with the best in the world to stand on the podium - Natasha has already demonstrated this… many times. So have David Munnings, Bernadette Bay, Greg Derrett, the GB large team in 2003 to name just a few. We now need to work on creating an environment that develops these core skills, and more, to increase the number of podium places for our elite handlers. This may mean having a closer look at the top level classes, course designs and above all handlers’ motivation for winning. 

How else can we develop these 'elite handlers'? Without giving too many secrets away at this early stage, I go back to the Olympics. Why was it such a great success this year? Strong support from the country; 10 years+ of lottery money invested in GB sport; dedicated and focused sports people using advanced training techniques; the use of technology; an incredibly strong 'can do' attitude towards team work and many other reasons. We don't have 10 years of lottery money invested in our sport, however we do have 10 years’ experience of competing internationally and building up a wealth of knowledge - let's not forget agility was born in the UK. We have the ability to use all those other Olympic success factors in agility to develop our handlers. We just need to focus our efforts in the right places. 

Where is GB agility against the rest of the world? Previous Team Managers have done a grand job of setting the foundations for our international teams and establishing GB as a team who everyone in the FCI stadium sits up to watch, where crowds gather around the rings at the European Open to see team GB; tough acts to follow. Each year at the FCI World Championships we see amazing handling, very fit powerful dogs, well drilled partnerships and strong team work. I guess every team comes away thinking "we need to do more of that..." etc. Karen and I went to the Border Collie Classic [BCC] in Germany this summer. I watched many top European handlers use this as their warm up event for the BIG ONE. My first thoughts were "I need to do more of that…" Then I 'really' watched the handlers, I mean studied them, analysed their handling systems, watched their positioning, their cues, the body language used etc… I came to the conclusion that "they're good…… they're very good…. and so are we".

There is no magic one system that fits all, there is no secret turn or manoeuvre that guarantees a winning place. No, it really is all about the partnership, dog and handler fitness [mental and physical], and a whole raft of other criteria that creates winning combinations. We have all those ingredients in GB agility. We have the potential to far exceed the majority of what I saw at the BCC. I see one of my key roles as GB Team Manager being to help handlers develop their own winning combinations on the international stage.

So what's the plan? In my presentation to the interview panel I talked about developing strategic objectives that lead to strategic plans. Business speak you may think, and you'd be right. Natasha had a training plan for this year’s FCI that kicked in many months ago. Think of anything that's worthwhile achieving: building the Olympic park; putting in the Olympic bid; winning a Grand Prix and there's a plan. I believe this is a key area to focus on in order to win even more medals. 

Part of my strategic plan is implementing a programme that gives development opportunities to handlers wishing to compete at the upper levels of agility. A programme that spots and identifies handlers with that potential. Develops them through coaching, experience, knowledge sharing etc. Prepares them for international competition at the World Championships and the European Open and any other international event we take part in i.e. the British Open. And then we support them through the strength of a team. A lot of work leading to a lot of rewards for the agility community.

The next three years are going to be exciting for me and I will be working hard to make it exciting for Team GB and anyone wanting to be part of it. It's early days and I have more preparation work to do over the coming months. One of the first events to focus on is the 2013 FCI World Championships in South Africa - I love a challenge.

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