05 September 2012

Today we answer the question, in a roundabout way, what makes a good coach?


Here's a video that, while not perfect, has me and Gustavo winning a Master's Jumpers class over the weekend. Yes, there's room for improvement, but nothing that will embarrass any of the following instructors about to be called out.

When I tell you who my agility instructors are, you are probably going to wonder, uh, why aren't you a champion yet? It's a little embarrassing. Hopefully it's not embarrassing to them when they see me do something totally lame in a trial, like screw up another snookers run, or E with both of my dogs during tournament finals in a Regional event.

What makes them all so good? That's an interesting question. They all teach really differently. I guess something they all have in common is excellence and knowledge in their field, an effective way of explaining things, and extreme patience with somewhat unteachable people like me.

Instead of trying to explain what makes a coach good, I think I'd rather just out them all. Sorry, coaches. You're about to go live.

Most of my agility knowledge I throw Rob Michalski under the bus for. He taught me Greg Derrett Handling system without listing rules or holding long discussions about where the turns are. Because of Rob I see courses and lines. He is sneaky and quiet, so he's teaching you things when you don't even know it. My attention span can be fuzzy and not always logical when I'm learning, and finding lines, over and over, has finally given me an eye for a course and, of course, the fastest lines.

Rob teaches by us all walking the course together. At some point, on some completely insane spot far off in a corner, he calmly says, "I think everyone can get in a front cross here."

Gauntlet thrown down. Enough said.

Sometimes, I see a fabulous, alternative, out of the box idea, that I will bust out as a surprise handling move. As I got better at agility, sometimes these would actually work. Emphasis on the sometimes. Many times they involve The Serp. Many times, though, my brilliant ideas have been cause of a bit of a train wreck.

Rob always stays calm in the aftermath. "Maybe you could try it like this."

And his way is usually the one that works. Rob taught me to be very consistent and to do things right. And to use good grammar whenever possible. And then see if we can serp it.

I learn best by watching somebody else do it, so Rob always ran his dogs first, and I would just try to do what he did. When I wasn't getting it, he then granted me the gift of his dogs, to see if that worked.

I ran the amazing and perfect Hobbes for years in class and in trials. So actually Hobbes was one of my good instructors as well. He taught me about border collies and 26" and to run faster and to only point in the right place.

Then I started running the beautifully trained but somewhat manic Soja. She taught me about very high drive dogs and holding the tuggy in such as way as to not get bit and to run a whole lot faster. And to do things right or else. And run even faster. And yell louder. And point really straight.

Those are just some of the things that make Rob a good instructor. I can never thank Rob enough for all he's taught me. Rob created a monster.

But wait. There's more. Rob is only one of my instructors. I am an agility machine. I need MORE agility learning.

Nancy Gyes and Jim Basic have much of the Bay Area agility community commuting to their house for class every week. People drive far for class. Much farther than I, and I drive back and forth over a mountain, in the dark, after a long day at work, every week, for my class with Nancy. For a long time, I came over once a month on Sundays and braved the beach traffic jams back over the mountain for lessons with Jim.

Jim is the reason I've learned to do Gamblers. It's his doings, the magical dark arts, that has made Otterpop a Gambler's machine who now only likes me to handle her at a distance. Jim's teaching style involves the saying of groanmaking puns that come out of his mind at an alarming rate of speed. And repeating things over and over til they sink in.

Lessons with Jim usually sound something like this:

"Hartwick, use the other arm."

"Team Small Dog lady, the OTHER arm."

"HARTWICK! Use the other arm!"

And so on and so on. And then when I get it, we sit around and talk about tractors. And then I try it again and I use the wrong arm and we go through the whole thing again.

This just happened over the weekend with a ratchet. Only Jim knew how to use it.

"Hartwick, you are a ranch lady. I can't believe you don't know how to do this. You gotta know how to do this."

And over and over again, with the whole ring waiting on us, the judge breathing down our necks, Jim taught me how to use a ratchet to attach a chute on to a chute barrel. Is that a ratchet? One of those thingies that no one knows how to use that looks like a belt buckle and has a spring and if you don't know how to use it, a giant mystery forever?

It took a while. And I know how to ratchet now, and Jim is happy because somebody else besides him  can ratchet.

Through this method, Jim has taught me and Otterpop, who were about the worst pair at getting gambles of anyone in the whole history of USDAA, to earn the coveted Jedi Master Title of Gambles. We are currently working on breaking Flint's record of not missing 19 gambles in a row. It may take a while, you have to start over every time you miss one and the farthest we've ever gotten is 9. But it's a goal that I guarantee would never have happened without Jim's teaching methods.

Jim uses patience, humor and stubborn repetition until I get it right. That's made him a very good instructor for me. Otterpop's loads of gambler's Q's are proof that it works.

And then there's Nancy. Nancy Gyes has been teaching me not to give up.

Everyone knows Nancy is an agility genius. She's a world class competitor and coaches world class competitors. She can always tell me exactly when to run and where. That's easy for her. I think she doesn't even have to think about it. Just happens now, from so much experience.

But she's also an amazing dog trainer with an unbelievable amount of knowledge about training in her head. I've nearly given up on Gustavo many, many times. I love him to infinity, but he has been infinity hard to train. Nancy doesn't really buy, "I can't" as an excuse. When something goes wrong, she looks for a solution. And if it doesn't work, then she looks for another one. Nancy's a champion problem solver and solution seeker. And not that Gustavo is a problem, but knowing how to train him sometimes is. So, while I'm learning gobs of excellent agility handling every time I go to class with Nancy, I've also been learning  huge secrets of the dog training universe the whole time.

Right? How can you top that? Secrets of the universe. Nancy doesn't hoard them, she's spreading the knowledge. That's what makes her a good instructor.

I have so many friends who have helped me learn things, and have taken some seminars with great instructors over the years. I need a lot of help. But if these three coaches can take someone like me, and help me work towards being a champion, they've got to be pretty good. You should have seen  the material they started with. Frightening. Watch that jumpers video that I put at the top of this. It didn't always look like that. And they obviously still have their work cut out for them.

Thanks, good coaches.

8 comments:

maryclover said...

Yay for you!! It's great to have instructors willing to adapt (or not) until you get the information you need. Also that is one long video ;-)

Kristine said...

I've had two instructors and both of them were pretty great in different ways. Now that I've read your post, I've thought of all the different things I love about my current instructor and forgot to write about. Oops.

Congratulations on all your success! This agility thing ain't easy, that's for sure.

Nancy Gyes said...

Good Gooie, good Laura:)

shawn said...

Great Post...

Kathy said...

fantastic post, great run ;-) Kathy with Liz/Breeze/Cricket

Jenn said...

" and extreme patience with somewhat unteachable people like me."

Oh hell, yes. And there are a lot of us. My coaches will say something and it's like it just misses my ear. I hear it, but I don't comprehend. And whatever I'm doing doesn't work. And so they say it again, patiently. Ding! The light goes off. It's amazing.

And that patience is golden stuff. Rare and wondrous!

Mary said...

What a great post! It makes me want to thank those same people for what they have given me! Thanking teachers is good! I like it when my students thank me, not for me but because it means that I was able to give something of value to someone else. What could be better in life than that?

For me, the most perfect moments in running a course have been with Rob. I'm not talking about competition or technical excellence or anything like that. Simply the transcendent feeling of partnership with Ariel when Rob inspires us in his low-key way to push beyond what we can actually do. And then do it. Nothing feels better.

I joke that my mission in life is to beat Jim Basic in Gamblers (happend once). And by god, it will happen again, but probably only if Jim makes a (rare) mistake. Jim is the kindest, most astute and patient "handler issues" instructor I know, and a pretty perfect fit to help me get over the single most difficult problem I have: self-consciousness. He proved that if he tells one of his lame jokes (and I mean lame) just as I step into the start line, that I, reduced to helpless laughter, I am perfectly capable of running a logical, efficient course when not carrying the self-indulgent baggage of self-consciousness. It's the pleasure of that kind of run that keeps me believing that it is possible for me to be a better handler.

I have only worked with Nancy Gyes a few times, but I have to say that I learned more in one ten-minute period just watching her work with someone else's young dog, analyzing a problem, and finding a solution, than I have in many, many hours of watching videos, taking lessons, and attending day-long seminars. And Nancy is as funny and kind as her husband, in her own way. And to watch her in competition is to see the winning precision that comes from self-discipline and attention to your dog.

Anyway. I agree one hundred-fold with everything Laura says in her post. Thank you Rob, Jim and Nancy.

Elf said...

Good post. I see the same thing in these instructors, although I haven't had much teaching from Rob.