"Most people have the will to win; few have the will to prepare to win." Bobby Knight
If you know me at all, you know I must REALLY, REALLY like that quote, because I don't like that man who said it. I may be a Hoosier by birth, but I'm a Boilermaker by choice! I was a freshman at Purdue University when the great chair throwing incident happened ... but I digress.
Next, I have casually watched some of the Winter Olympic coverage. I'm not into winter sports. I've skied a couple of times in my life and I'm terrible at it. I fear falling, which I did a lot, and I have very little upper body strength to push myself up when I do fall. Ice skating is more frightening for me.
But what I have enjoyed watching is how these elite athletes handle the pressure of the spotlight they are in. Some of them don't handle it well. Some of the pair figure skaters fell on their jumps, prompting commentators to say, "They've been having that problem all year," or "The weakness in their performance is his jumping." After a particularly beautiful performance, the commentators said, "Oh they needed that! They've had a terrible year and they pulled out all the stops on this performance."
Last night in the women's downhill, Lindsey Vonn fought through a badly bruised shin to win the USA's first Gold in that event. What I found interesting is that she was running on men's skies, something no other woman was doing. She did that to give herself a technical advantage, and she'd been running on them all year long. As you watched her come down the hill on the replay, not only was her technical form the best of the entire field, but she was favoring her injured leg. In fact, there were times in her run she wasn't putting any weight at all on her injured leg, effectively skiing on one leg. And her line down the hill wasn't the best (compared with the Silver medalist), all in an effort to pull the pressure off that injured leg. But when you watched her run, you knew she was going for it. She attacked that hill all the way down.
Contrast Vonn's run to the run of her best friend, German competitor Maria Reisch. Both women have battled their share of injuries from bad crashes. Both women knew the course was rough, icy and fast. There wasn't any margin for error. And right before Reisch's run, there was a bad crash of a top competitor. Reisch had to wait in the starting gate knowing the delay was due to a crash.
And her run showed it. Reisch was visibly controlled down the hill. The commentator said, "It's as if she doesn't want to go fast and she's slowing herself down on purpose." The result was that the only woman who has beat Lindsey Vonn this year came in 8th in the Olympics, 2.07 seconds behind Gold.
Why did Lindsey Vonn win Gold and Maria Reisch place 8th? I would guess it's a number of things: heart, the will to win, confidence, and preparation. The mental game is hard to master. Put heart and the will to win together and you get a confidence you might not have had before. But preparation cannot be overlooked.
The course those two women ran was the toughest they'd seen all year. They never got a full training run on it; in fact the first time they'd seen that last hill was in competition. I find it interesting that Vonn chose to work in men's skies all season long. It gave her an advantage because the men's skies are longer and more forgiving.
I don't ski, but I imagine the transition to these skies took some practice and getting used to. Reisch actually tried the men's skies on the last training run before the finals but they didn't feel comfortable. Of course not, she hadn't practiced on them. And she never got to practice on the course in her actual skies. Makes me wonder if this lack of preparation combined with the wait at the top after the crash did a number on her mental game.
Preparation, foundation, whatever you call it, it's important. In my mind, preparation and technical skills were the key to Vonn's win. So, what does that mean to me? It means I need to get my butt out to the training building even in the snow and cold weather and train my dogs.
The longer I am in the sport of dog training, the more foundation I put on my dogs. Each dog knows more than the last before we ever step to the line to compete. Preparation eases my nerves, because there's very few things that are unknown. My dog and I have seen every thing out there, maybe not in that order or in this facility, but we've done our homework. My dog is confident on every piece of equipment. I have anticipated every off course or factor. I know how to handle my dog.
I may not be an Olympic athlete, but I go to the line to be tested. I put together our training program, and I trained the dog. Does our training hold up? If there was one bobble, even a minor one, do I go back and fix it or let it ride to become a bigger problem next time?
What I've realized is that accomplishing my goals isn't necessarily about winning. It's not about the act of passing or getting the blue ribbon. It's about the hours and hours of training. For example, my last four dogs do not have good contact skills. I thought I fixed that with Devon, but I didn't. I fixed it with Page. She has great contact skills right now, and that's because I worked on my training program. And the burden to maintain those skills through her competitive career will also be on me.
Devon's head was dropping in heeling. During our last lesson, Linda got on me for allowing it to happen. What an epiphany I had that day! It's my responsibility to tell Devon her head needs to be up and not allow it to drop. As Linda said, ask more of her and she will give it to you. The same applies for fronts and finishes. With just that extra effort in training, I now have a dog with beautiful fronts and finishes and heads up heeling.
It doesn't take a lot of time to train; it just takes the will to get out and do it day after day. And each day of training builds the foundation to accomplish the next goal -- and maybe even one never dreamed of!