E296: Working with a Dog Sports Coach

Denise Fenzi, Nancy Gagliardi Little and Megan Foster join me to talk about working with a dog sports coach — the differences between a coach and a trainer, the advantages to having a coach, and how to get some of the benefits even if you can't find one. 


Melissa Breau: This is Melissa Breau and you're listening to the Fenzi Dog Sports Podcast, brought to you by the Fenzi Dog Sports Academy: an online school dedicated to providing high quality instruction for competitive dog sports, using only the most current and progressive training methods. Today I have Denise Fenzi, Nancy Little, and Megan Foster here with me to talk about what it's like to have a dog sports coach.

Melissa Breau: Hi y'all, welcome to the podcast.

Denise Fenzi: Hello.

Nancy Little: Hello.

Megan Foster: Hey Melissa.

Melissa Breau: Hey guys. So I wanna start off just having everybody kind of introduce themselves, give us a little bit of an idea whose voice is whose, maybe you can share a little about yourself, about your current pets, what you're working on with them. Denise, you wanna start us off?

Denise Fenzi: I'm Denise and I'm working with Xen and with, well I don't really work with Brito, I just live with him. But, I'm working with Xen on foundation skills for lots of things. And then the goal is that I would do Mondioring sport at some point in the future. Nancy?

Melissa Breau: That was quick Denise.

Denise Fenzi: Right? Short and sweet.

Nancy Little: I have three dogs. Lover is my seasoned dog, older dog and this probably is gonna be his last year competing. He qualified for AKC Nationals in June and then promptly had a fracture on his wrist that we've been healing and he's back now. I'm just trying to get him ready and see if we can go there. He is. He's been very easy to, you know, he is kind of the dog now that's easy to handle. Pose is my, I keep forgetting cuz she's kind of a pandemic project. She was ready to come out during the pandemic when everything closed down during the pandemic. So she's five years old and I can't believe that. But I always look at that two year gap there and we're just kind of coming together as a team and she's in masters in Agility. Differ's my tiny dog and again, I got her as a foster failure. I was doing my Glue Skills class at that time. I was developing it and I thought she'd be great cuz she's a different type of dog. It would show mistakes and I, she never left. She was brilliant. So she, she's competing in masters in AKC, I also do UKI too. And so that's about it with them.

Melissa Breau: Awesome. Megan?

Megan Foster: Yeah. Hi, I'm Megan. I live with five dogs, two old retired ladies and they both did agility in their prime. We also have two middle-aged, so they're both seven and they're kind of on sport lights, the Border Collie Squeak. She does some agility with me when I feel like it. And the Parsons Russell Terrier Shrek does mostly Fenzi TEAM Obedience because that's his sport. That's what he decided he was good at in life. And I also have a 20 month old up incoming Border Collie Sprint who should begin her debut strategy later this year. And so that's really exciting to jump back into competing in agility at a more serious level than I have been in a while.

Melissa Breau: Yeah, super exciting. So I gathered the three of you here today cause I really wanna kind of talk about this idea of having a dog sports coach and I've heard you all kind of mentioned it in passing on occasion and you know, kinda what not. So to start us off, I just wanna talk about what the difference is between a coach. So what is a dog sports coach and then maybe how is that different from just kinda your typical dog trainer or your dog sports trainer? Can you kinda just share your perspective? Megan, you wanna start us off?

Megan Foster: Sure. So I kind of define a trainer as someone who shares knowledge and teaches skills that way. You know, it's in kind of the dog sport world–this is your weekly class. You go to class, you learn something, you get information, you get some tips on how to apply it, and then you go home and it's, the rest is kind of on you. Then you go to class next week, you learn some more knowledge, you learn some more skills and you know, and repeat. The coach side of things is much more collaborative. The coach isn't necessarily responsible for teaching that knowledge or those skills, but guiding that student through discussions and questions and kind of challenging their current ideas in order to get them on the path that they need to be on. And so there's a lot more back and forth and a lot more working together towards one common goal overall.

Melissa Breau: Okay. Nancy?

Nancy Little: Megan–her response was perfect, so it's hard to follow up, but generally I think of an instructor or trainer as kind of a superset and then the coach would be just kind of a, a small circle within that super set. And basically the coach is someone that's invested in your success, it's gonna keep you on track and interested in your future, kind of a student of the sport. Really learning a lot as much as possible, kind of just, you know, loving it and absorbing anything they can get. They focus on the training for that student and that dog in particular. So everything's kind of gonna be kind of geared towards, towards them. And also they're gonna adjust and any plans or training based on that student in that dog, which might be different than another student and dog with similar interests. So coaching is just much more robust than just being a trainer or instructor.

Melissa Breau: Denise?

Denise Fenzi: I see it very similarly. So I'm, I'll say the same thing in different words. To me it's the difference between are you process-oriented or outcome-oriented. So to me a trainer teaches you a process; they're gonna teach you how to do things. A coach is looking at the outcome, did we get there? And if we didn't, what do I need to do to help you get there? So I think it's more holistic, it's bigger picture and it covers if you didn't get there, why not? And they're part of that process. Is it a mental management problem?

You know, so they're, that's the person when you, you know, you're crying over your, you know, spilled porridge. The coach is the one that you call because they recognize that you're part of the team, your happiness, your contentment, your feelings of comfort are a huge part of the outcome. Whereas I think of a trainer as being like, that has nothing to do with me. Right? And I don't mean it that harshly because I don't think it is that harsh. I think there's a lot of flow between the two. But when I feel like I'm coaching someone, it's actually almost more painful for me than doing it myself because I feel so vested in their success and I so want for them to be successful and I'm very big picture about that process.

Melissa Breau: So I think kind of the common thread I heard there was a little bit about customizing and training both the person and the dog and the team. Is that, does that kind of, does anybody disagree with that? Does anybody kind of wanna add to that at all?

Denise Fenzi: No, that's great. That kind of fits it.

Melissa Breau: Okay. So if that's what a coach is who can benefit from a coach, kind of at what phase of training or what level does the handler need to wanna kind of reach, how does that kind of factor into this and kind of who should kind of reach out and try and find a coach? Nancy, you wanna start us off?

Nancy Little: Sure. Well everyone can use a coach and it, it just gets a little trickier with both ends of the spectrum cuz if you're dealing with somebody that's very new to the sport, you're gonna be dealing with somebody who doesn't really know exactly what they need. It might be more difficult to find a coach that they don't know enough to ask the right questions, but still they're, you know, they're just as beneficial for the beginner. It's just that we don't see as many there. And then it's also trickier for the skilled trainers because they have their own system and they have learned to be self-coached a lot.

But it's still beneficial because, you know, I don't know about anyone else, I'm sure no one's different than I am, but I love learning how different people process information and ideas. I'm just a sucker for that. It helps me and my students and so that in its, you know, I'll take occasionally online classes or participate in seminars, which puts you out there, which is good for other people to see too. But you learn a lot sometimes not the things you really wanted to, but you still learn how to be an effective instructor or coach. And the other thing is that a lot of times when you're learning a new skill, like for me, I had stopped contacts on my dogs until I had Schema,nwhich was the dog before Lever. And I really, once you really wanna learn to do something different, a different type of skill, you'll seek out other coaches that are experienced in that area. So that's the other piece of that puzzle too.

Melissa Breau: Nice.

Denise Fenzi: I'm kind of thinking anytime you wanna make a leap, so if you're brand new and you've never been to a dog show, now you need something. You know, if it may not be a full on coach, but at least a mentor, somebody to hold your hand or let's say you're, you've been to the dog shows, you're feeling all right, you're moving along, you've trained a few dogs, but now you wanna go to a higher level. So now you want something that's just new to you and you don't know how you travel with your dog on an airplane? How do you go to an international event? Where do you stay like, so I think whenever you're going to leap to a new thing is where I tend to think about it. And then as Nancy was speaking, I was also thinking if you're not careful and if you always have the privilege of a coach, cuz it is absolutely privilege, there's two sides to that equation. But if you're not careful, you won't learn to rely on yourself because if you always go out and ask somebody else to solve your problems, you can inadvertently lose the problem solving aspect. That is what really where innovation takes place. So I'm a huge fan of coaching. I'm also though a huge fan of how you do the coaching as the coach i.e. letting other people find their answers and guiding them as opposed to sort of in a dogmatic fashion telling them even if you are correct because you're taking away from their learning process. But I would say anytime a person wants to leap into competition higher level, that's when I think it sure helps to have someone who's vested in you.

Melissa Breau: Megan.

Megan Foster: Yeah, I like what Denise kind of bounced, it's bouncing nicely because I agree with that. Like that leap up when you're not sure what the path is. You can't problem solve your way outta that if you don't even know what the steps are to take in order to reach the goal, right? You have to have some sort of starting point. So that's where a coach is really nice to seek out and acquire and if they're coaching well they're not just feeding you the information because that's the definition of a trainer, right? So the coach should be still helping you develop that problem solving side of the the process. So I do believe that anyone could benefit from a coach, but obviously you don't know what you don't know. But the people that I work best with in the coaching realm of things is the people who want a deeper understanding. So when I was teaching my weekly group classes and you know, they all had questions on occasion, but you–if you teach any sort of thing, you all have those students that can't function unless they've asked why about 12 times.

They can't go do the thing until why. And then you answer them and they go, but why? Those people need a coach. Because they require it. They can't just, here's the process, here's the recipe, go bake the cake. They want to know why does the egg… and why, where does the egg go? They want to know like how does the egg become not an egg in the cake? They have to know those things. So they're curious about more than just doing the thing and maybe they're also hoping to train others. So they need that deeper understanding and they're not afraid to go find some resources on their own. They're not afraid to, you know, look outside their weekly class. They are like information-seekers and they want to be able to apply it to more than just the dog in front of them. They want to be able to discuss it and write that dissertation on it if necessary.

Denise Fenzi: Which is so interesting Megan, because it's one of the reasons why students like that are simultaneously exceptionally frustrating to work with and exceptionally gratifying is because sometimes I'm like, damn it, just do it. But at the same time I recognize that that curiosity pushing one clarifies my thinking because if you can't explain yourself, well something's not right with that picture. But it's also so frustrating when they're slowing you down. You're like, could we just, could we just do it and appreciating the quality cuz that's the person who's actually going to push the bounds of whatever it is when the time comes. The ones who simply wanna follow your recipe may be exceptionally successful in the sport, but they don't tend to push the bounds into the future.

Megan Foster: Yeah, I definitely, very early on in my teaching career when I moved to the Pacific Northwest, I had that one student and she already knew this about herself that she didn't belong in a group class format because of these things, right. She couldn't, she just, she knows she can't go do it without understanding the why. So we immediately had like a one-to-one situation. But she was huge in the development of myself as a coach because everything I taught her, she will, well how did you do that? Because as a trainer you get so good at just demonstrating and saying the things that you don't really recognize all the pieces all the time of what goes into what you just showed this student.

And she would always ask just the right questions to make me think more about it. And, so I had more ways of explaining it; I had more ways of breaking it down. I had more self-awareness. So it was, it's definitely, I think we sort of skipped a little bit, but that's okay. There's so much benefit in those students, even if they can be frustrating in more of a training environment, but they're like, they're so great to coach, They make you grow as a coach.

Melissa Breau: Exactly. Yeah. So I think Megan alluded to kinda skipping ahead. I think think you were kinda, you were skipping ahead a little bit cause we were, I had on the question list, you know, what does the coach get out of this relationship and is it a two-way relationship and how does that all work? So since we're kind there anyway, let's, Megan, since you're talking, is there anything you wanna kind add on that point?

Megan Foster: Yeah, because it's everything that I was just saying. And also I think Denise said it earlier that sometimes it's more painful when you're coaching a client who doesn't quite get something or when they're, they are going out in trying to achieve that goal, you're like more nervous for them than you are for yourself. Or when they do hit big, when they reach that goa, it's as if it's my own. And so their wins are my wins, their losses are my losses. I'm deeply concerned about their success and I want to always be there for them regardless of how it's going.

But also they push me to be as good as they are, like bare minimum, you know, when they have solved a problem that I know that I will have or maybe I'm currently going through the same thing, it's like, okay, they just did it using your coaching, you better, you know, use your own advice lady. And so they also keep me accountable to continue pushing the boundaries on my own training, which I think is unique to dog sports, right? Because in all the other sports, once you're a coach, you're a coach, you're no longer like competing yourself. So dog sports is unique in that we are competing alongside our mentees. And so that, that's an extra layer of excitement for me.

Melissa Breau: Denise?

Denise Fenzi: So I'm listening, I'm thinking just my natural personality tends more towards the coaching side. I become vested in my students naturally. The advantage to me is I get a lot out of their success. I find it very gratifying to see that I have contributed to somebody's well-being that's important to me. The downside is, it's kind of the same pressure I feel with my own dogs: their success or failure. And when you're dispassionate, when you're literally removed answering questions, it's a two-way street. No, you don't get the highs, but you also don't get the lows. And sometimes those lows, I remember I was trying to teach Brito some odd years ago a go out, this is not a big deal, it's 50 feet out to a fence. And you know, well three years later I still did not have a go out and one day I'm thinking, this is outrageous, like it's three years. And I, and I did solve the problem and the way I solved it was asking myself, well what would I do if this was someone else's dog, I.e, not as a coach, as a trainer?

And the answer was so obvious and I just fixed it like in a matter of a week it was a done deal. Coaching also has the, you can end up too vested in their process and then that means it comes along with all the emotions, the frustration, the sadness, the worry. And if you're not careful, that starts coming across to your student who is now, you know, stuck with your emotional problems on top of their own. So it's just a bit of a tricky thing is to remember, not to take out your frustration because you do become a part of that process. But that's a big part of why I want to do that because I do care. It does matter to me that people are successful.

Even if it's something as silly as you give, you say something online and somebody says, I tried it and this thing happened, and you say, oh, try this thing and then they send you a note back saying it worked. It worked–like that to me, that's huge. It's very gratifying to me to be a part of someone's success, but it's not the same as someone who I've held their hand over a long period of time. It's the highs are high and the lows are low.

Melissa Breau: Go ahead, Nancy.

Nancy Little: Well, I, like I said before, I really crave the learning. I love learning and my students, my coaching students are my source of learning in my local classes. I get a lot of hands-on experience there and that's benefiting me a lot. So I enjoy that. But the online student coaching that I do, I get a lot of joy from seeing their success and like Denise said, it can really be a joy to see people all of a sudden get something. It's like training. Well it's the same thing as training a dog. We're training the people and to see the joy like, oh my goodness, this worked. You know, just see that, that look just the dogs do the same thing. They have that joy and enthusiasm to see that look like, you know, it's just a major breakthrough is to me just extremely, it's very gratifying to me. One thing I wanted to mention too about coaching is my dad was a coach, a football coach, and I learned a lot of my dog training from him in a really brutal sport. It was football and kind of a sport that never really did any shaping. They just kind of followed tradition. So I kind of learned from him and I feel pretty, pretty lucky that I grew up in that environment where we talked about mental management at the dinner table and coaching and what he was doing and he was very open with that and he was the best shaper. I mean the, his players over the years told, you know, talked about how he introduced them to breaking things down into little pieces and detail. So I learned a lot from him and he was like, he was the winningest football coach in the country. So that I feel just kind of contributed to my emotions as a coach and what I wanted to do with my coaching because you do get so much joy in not just the dog training, but just seeing the person light up with whatever they're doing. So yeah, coaching's a big deal for me. I love it.

Melissa Breau: So building off that and kind of returning to our original order of questions, but can you each just talk a little bit about kinda what your experience has been with coaching? You know, either from, you know, as the coach or as the coachee–there's gotta be a better word for that–as the person kind of being, I think that is the word though. Is it coachee? Yeah, I think so. Okay. It's just an awkward word. Denise, do you wanna start us off on this one?

Denise Fenzi: I've done a fair bit of coaching and the thing that stands out for me is standing outside the ring with my heart racing sweat pouring down my body in a way I never experienced when I'm the one in the ring or haven't for a long time,I'm so vested in every movement of that person and wanting them to be successful, not only for me because I know what they put into it. I was with them as the student. Unfortunately, I am usually doing things differently than most other people and that makes it very hard for me to be coached within the sport because so often, like, so for example, I was using basically positive reinforcement techniques 20 years ago in a sport where that was just really not happening. And so I feel fairly confident that I could say that I would be at a dog show with 100 other trainers and none of them knew what the hell I was doing and it made no sense to them and whatever. So finding a coach in an environment where you basically just want to get along, forget being supported, forget anything. So I have unfortunately had relatively little experience with that myself. I've had to make my own way and again, I find myself in sports where I often have to make my own way. Having said that, what I have figured out is that the fundamental principles of how I train are shared across sports. And so now I am more likely to be able to find a coach and I don't really worry that much about what sport.

So a simple example, I contacted Nancy several months ago, really struggling with my dog's position changes and asked her to coach me through this problem. And I don't think Nancy, to the best of my knowledge, Nancy has not competed in AKC obedience since the time when they added this position change exercise. And as far as I know, has shown no interest in the sport I was doing them for, which was Mondioring. And yet when I was mentally going through my thing of I'm stuck and I need help, where can I go for help? I wasn't looking as much for a person who had experience with a thing as much as a person who, this is the interesting thing, thinks like me, but not too much like me. So Nancy's not who I would've picked if I wanted someone who thinks the most like me, actually I'll just tell you it would've been Laura Waudby. Laura Waudbe is the closest of anybody I know to how I train. But that's not helpful. I don't want somebody who thinks like me, that hasn't worked. So what I needed was somebody who was philosophically aligned, who I felt that their style of coaching, their style of presenting information was gonna work and understood me and which was great fun and thank you so much Nancy. It helped a lot, but my personal experiences have been a little limited on the taking side. But I will tell you, I find it enormously relaxing to be able to say to somebody, okay, I've done what I know. I'm stuck, I'm too close to this. I'd love it if you can pick this up for a while because I need a break. And it's a, it can be a very emotionally freeing thing when you, when you find yourself in that space.

Melissa Breau: Yeah. Megan, you wanna talk a little bit about your perspective? Yeah, so I started agility in like 1998, 99, and I was very quickly really invested in the sport, very passionate about it. And similar to Denise, I found myself, I gravitate naturally towards more coaching rather than teaching. I had a harder time fitting in a group class model because I wanted to coach them all individually and I had to really work towards like, what does group coaching look like versus just that weekly class and you know, working through the mental fatigue of coaching and having that high level of investment in, you know, 150 students every week. And it's a toll, but that makes me kind of look back and go, wow, it was a long time in my own career before I found coaches because it wasn't until I had that student pushing me to develop my own coaching skills that I knew what I was looking for in my own coach.

And so I have found coaches in a lot of different areas of my life. So like for mindset and competing and business and my own fitness and a little bit on the teaching side of agility, I've had some coaching and it's no surprise that I like to push my clients through questioning, right? And asking them question and leading them to the answers because all of my coaches have given me that space to kind of figure it out for myself because that's who I am.

That's what I naturally bring to the table. That's how I got into this sport. And so my experience has been, and hopefully the experience that I give to students is that I allow them to be who they are in the relationship and just help them get to their next level of who they are, rather than trying to create a bunch of robots of mini Megans running around.

Like I would rather my students be recognized by their really great attitude and how they connect and treat their dogs rather than like the word, the cues that they use and how they look when they move. So I want them to be themselves in the process and the same way that I was kind of allowed to be myself and all the coaching processes that I've been a part of making.

Nancy Little: Yeah, that's a, that's a hard question because it's kind of a question that evolves over time, but listening to both Megan and Denise, it's the, the path is gratifying, but I, you know, I'd have to give a lot of credit to many different people for over the years and years that I've been doing dog sports, starting in obedience. I knew that I wanted to do things a little bit different and I know that in the, that world I was kind of looked at as a little bit different and I would tell my students when they would go to run throughs, just tell them, you train with me and they'll usually just leave you alone. That's, you know, just gonna be something crazy. But the main thing is just, you know, letting people know that, like Megan said, they're all, they're individual. The way they're going to come to the playing field, whatever that is, is gonna be different. Their movements are gonna be different, their style's gonna be different. I don't want them to appear so much like they're following techniques that I've given them as much as just kind of evolving on their own. And it's been the same way with me with different coaches over the years in different areas too. Most recently fitness. That has always been something that I've done on my own. And I don't know if it was working, but it seemed to be working and now I realize how little I really knew and, and that it's good. I think it's a good thing that Megan had mentioned previously too, I think it's really important in dog sports as coaches we are out there. So what we do out there is really important. And I feel like we can even teach people the right way to handle mistakes. In agility, we live with mistakes in the ring.

I mean, things do not go, I mean, sometimes you can have the best trained dog out there and it's gonna look like a mess. I mean, it just does. So you learn that, but it, it's how we handle ourselves out there, how we leave the ring the dog, you know, the best compliment to me is that, you know, people don't really, they, they have no idea if we pass or fail just based on the way we exit. And that's a coaching moment. Same thing at seminars too, trying different, you know, that's when I'm being coached by somebody different and it's, it's important to open myself up to new ideas, you know, still keeping, you know, my system and what I want my dogs to learn as key, but I wanna make sure that I, you know, give it a try and it's an opportunity for me to learn from somebody else. And you know, again, another, it's a coaching moment for people that are watching just to see how I handle things that don't necessarily go right.

So that is really important to me, you know, is that my dog is always feeling like their effort is being appreciated and I want people to notice that. So yeah.

Melissa Breau: Awesome. So we've now talked up coaching and coaches and said all these awesome things about them, for everybody listening who's like, okay, but where the heck do I find this mythological person?

So let's talk about that next. Where do you find a coach? How do you find a coach? I know Megan kinda alluded to the idea of, you know, there's certain questions maybe you need to be asking to find the coach that's the right fit for you. So, let's kind of dive into all of that. Megan, you start off.

Megan Foster: Sure, I'm gonna talk mostly about agility, but I don't know that it's all that different in any of the dog sports, but I think you definitely, you probably need a little bit of both. You need a trainer, but you also need that coach. And I just, in my experience, I feel that it's not always clear how each professional defines themselves. Because if anyone asks me, I will 100% tell them I'm a coach. So if you're not looking for a coach, I'm not the person for you and they may not know the difference. So hopefully now that we've discussed it for the last 40 minutes, it will be okay. So you want to do a little bit of digging in, you know,nwhat are their expectations of you when you're working with them and what are your expectations of them? And so is it just feed me information or is it question me to the solution? And obviously I want to make sure that our values align because otherwise if we start off in completely different universes, then we're not going to mesh well together. So making sure that the values are aligned and that there's at least some evidence that the coach understands the path, right? Because I think that that's like the most difficult part and this whole dog training universe is that there are so many different ways to get to the solution and a coach needs to have more than one path because that to me is just a process. So a coach kind of can understand that there's going to be an infinite amount of ways to get there and it's not predetermined for you.

It's okay, this is what happened today. It's a choose-your-own-adventure versus a straightforward path. So often a conversation is needed. So anytime for example, I get that question in my inbox, I really wanna work with you la la it's so much easier to send them a link and go, can we just jump on a, on a zoom and have a conversation because we can hash this out in 15 minutes whether this is going to work for the both of us or not. And so it does take a little bit of that first step of being vulnerable and asking for what you want in the relationship.

Melissa Breau: Nancy, what about you? Where, where, how do you find a coach, which should people be thinking about as they're kind of evaluating folks? How's that all fit together?

Nancy Little: I think you can find a coach by asking friends, you know, or knowing who one of your friends works with. And like Megan, I think there's a lot of value in having an in-person or local coach that can help you with things like in agility, coursework, breaking skills down, things that you can work on away that you don't really need any input on. And then a regular coach, somebody that's more invested in you can kind of keep you on that path but, and also, you know, know the skills that you need to work on kind of sends you away for skills in terms of what you're looking for with the coach. You really wanna make sure that your training philosophy is similar because it's not gonna work if, if you have completely different philosophies. It's gonna be challenging for both and maybe not as much fun. I've found that, you know, certain communication styles work best with some people and not with others. They're–you wanna make sure that you're communicating well and that's a key issue too. Flexibility that instructor I think needs to be flexible and creative because it's not necessarily, you might have a dog with very similar issues or needs, let's say. And just based on what the handler is bringing about to the table, the suggestion that a good coach is gonna give them might be very, very different because we might be dealing with some confidence issues in the handler. And so things need to be simplified a little bit more. So you need to have somebody that really understands how to break things down and really respond to the needs of the trainer. I really feel strongly about instructors or coaches being a really good listener plus being very curious, asking a lot of questions and it, it just helps that communication process instead of jumping to conclusions. You know, you might, somebody might be using words that are a little bit different than what you use, but just asking them what they mean by that or getting definitions is gonna help that rather than just judging them for that. And then I also feel, you know, once I have a student I, you know, I really want to trust them and, and let them know that I trust their training and trust their process because that builds confidence in them as well.

Melissa Breau: Denise, anything to add? Yeah, I mean we talked about this question once before, so I'm gonna address it from a different angle because I am often in dog sports where I'm doing something radically different than what other people are doing. I get a lot of requests from other people who want to do something similar to what I'm doing. So they wanna do–I'm gonna use field as an example. They wanna use positive training methods to teach their retriever field skills and there's not a lot of positive opportunities in the world of field. And I get overwhelmed when people ask me the question because I so want to help them and I recognize their goodwill and I see all of the wonderful parts but I also, I know that it's a hard path to go forward and those are the people who need the coaches the most and are gonna have the most trouble getting one because they are the trailblazers. They are the ones who are gonna have to find their way. So I wanna speak to those people quickly for a minute and say a few things. First of all, don't get stuck thinking you need to talk to a person inside your field.

A really excellent trainer, a really excellent trainer. Look, if I talk to Megan or Nancy about my field dog, I know I would make forward progress because they understand good training. So don't, don't feel like your only options are people who know your sport. Be prepared to explain exactly what the thing is you're looking for, what the final result is and let that person help you break those exercises down and you may end up with something that doesn't look anything like how anybody else taught it and there will be bumps in the road cuz pieces will get missed.

All the common knowledge from a hundred years of teaching field dogs won't be there. So you're gonna end up making crazy rookie mistakes and that's just, oh well, right? It's part of the process of learning when you need a coach of someone who's inquisitive and like, wow, what an interesting set of questions. I wanna help you with this because sometimes you just have to accept that you can either get someone who's simply familiar with the sport and who's super interested in trying to learn something new, which I'm just gonna tell you straight up is rare. Or you can find somebody who's not familiar with the sport but understands your philosophy of thinking and has that desire to learn something new, which is also rare. I mean the reality is people like what they know and are comfortable with. The other thing I tell people who kind of contact me about this when they wanna do something in a new area, people like me are keeping an eye on what's going on out there. If I keep seeing your name and I see you working your butt off by yourself, putting up video showing how hard you're working on something, I am noticing you, you may not know that I'm noticing you but I am noticing you and I'm paying attention. And when I see one year later you are still out there working, working, I can tell you that I will send you a private note and I'll say, Hey, I was looking at your last video, I got some ideas for you. Like I will just, I will reach out to you and try to get you on the path. I can't be your coach, I don't have time, but I can at least let you know that I care and that I'm paying attention.

And I might also, in a case like that, give you a couple of names and I might tell you something like, I'm gonna just tell you right now, this person is not philosophically aligned with what you're doing and I believe they will be interested in your process. So you might wanna reach out, this is the first, can't coach you, but they can train you, they can help you. And then this person over here, I think this person just thinking about how you think about things and what you like, I think this is a person you might wanna talk to, they don't know your sport, but I still think they'll be curious. Now you better be prepared to pay for it cuz most trainers aren't gonna be running out there doing it for free.

But you may be surprised at how much people are paying attention to young up and coming hardworking people who engage. You know, we see you on social media, we do know your names. People are like, I didn't know who, I can't believe you know who I am. Of course I do. You show up all the time on my wall, you make comments all the time. I see your videos, you tag me saying you learn something from me. Of course I pay attention to that. I do notice those things. So that's my look if you're gonna do your own thing, I'll just tell you that it's made my life very interesting and worthwhile. And there have been times when I would've given a lot to have somebody make it easy for me.

But it doesn't mean it's not possible, it just means you have to recognize the commonality in your philosophy, which is different, the commonality in your sport. And you need to be willing to mix and match to create a route that's gonna work for you. So you're gonna be doing a lot of self coaching, but it doesn't mean you have to go it alone.

Melissa Breau: That's fair. So, but kind of despite all of that, if somebody is listening to this and they've kind of put out feelers and they're not having much luck in finding a coach, are there other ways to kind of have some of these conversations and get some of these type of help or kind of recognize some of these same valuable pieces here? You know, even if they don't have a specific coach, Even online groups offer a tremendous amount of value.

Denise Fenzi: When you ask a question, I'm amazed at how good the quality of 10% of the responses are. So what did I just say? 10% of the responses offer a lot of value. So now you are gonna have to just toughen up your skin to that 90%, which are mean-spirited poorly, you know, executed whatever to toss those out and just stick with it and just keep reading and pull the 10%. Cause I mean, Melissa, you and I have had this conversation recently, like I do a ton of reaching out to the community when I want things and I just recognize that I'm gonna have to do a whole lot of picking and choosing and sorting and I'm good with it if I went into it looking for that.

So don't discount the value of the community out there, just be prepared to do a lot of sorting between the various responses you get. Cuz I have seen people say things that in my opinion we're absolutely spot on and they put a ton of time into that response, but I don't have the time to put into a response. But it didn't, it does not lower the value of the quality of that response, even if nobody knows who that person is. It was still an excellent evaluation of the situation.

Melissa Breau: Megan?

Megan Foster: Yeah. So I encourage people to build a cabinet of people that kind of together they make that one person, and I think it could be built either because you compete with these people or you already train with these people, or you are, you've filtered them out of the internet responses. So you take those 10% and you realize that, you know, over a month you've posted five or six things and that 10% of great advice is the same. Five or six people reach out to them. Maybe they would love that to have like their own little accountability group, little private messenger or a group where you are bouncing ideas off of each other.

So coaching can be created if you can't find that singular person and you can look elsewhere, right? It's been said a few times already, but it doesn't have to be in your sport. It's kind of like this, it's an inside joke with the people that I train with that if I help them with a sport that's not agility and they thank me and because we're just training together and we're having a good time and I offer some advice and or I ask a question, well, what if you do it like this? I don't know anything. Try that. And it works and it's really great. And you know, they thank me and I say, yeah, but don't tell anyone I teach those other sports. Don't you dare. This is a secret now, right? Because it's, but it's, it is just training.

So if you can just create a group of people that you trust and that you can feel okay asking, and again, they're gonna, you're not gonna take everything that they have and go immediately apply it. Not everyone's opinions weigh the same in your head, but it doesn't mean they're not as valuable in the same cabinet, so you can create it.

Melissa Breau: Nancy, any ideas to add? I think they both covered it real well, the creating your own environment. That's kind of what we used to do before the internet, is just get together with a bunch of people and train and we would watch each other and, you know, suggest different things. I think that can be done now too. I don't think it's done quite enough.

We kind of rely a little bit too much on online at times. And building a community locally is, you know, just, we need that as human beings. We need to have something out there that makes us feel part of a group. And so I think that if you're in a sport and you see people that you regularly talk to that may not be, you know, they might not even be close friends, but you just, you value their opinion. They're encouraging, they're positive. You can find a few people like that or put your feelers out and say, Hey, what would you guys think about if we got together and did a little bit of training and we can decide ahead of time what we wanna work on. Or if you have individual things, you, it, I mean, you can basically structure that however feels best for you and the group. So I think it can be done and you know, like I said, I wish more people would take advantage of that.

Melissa Breau: All right, so I've got one last question to kind of round out our conversation today. And I'm just hoping you can each maybe leave us with a final thought or kind of drill down the conversation into one key piece of information you really want folks listening to understand or kind of walk away with. And, Nancy would, do you feel, start us off?

Nancy Little: Sure. Basically, finding a coach is easier now than it ever has been. And I just think that you have to realize that you don't necessarily have to work with the most successful person in this sport to accomplish anything. There's a lot of people that understand training, understand how to build a good, good communication procedure with your dog. They understand that whole, that whole type of environment. And so if you seek these people out, you know, you have a chance to, to evaluate them and, and grow and decide if that's the right coach for you. Give it a try. You just need somebody that's gonna support you, somebody that's excited for your progress and somebody that feels invested in your success. And that's easier now than it ever has been. So give it a try.

Melissa Breau: Awesome. Denise, you wanna leave us with a final thought?

Denise Fenzi: Yeah, I've actually really enjoyed this conversation. The value is there and I hope what I want people to take from it is a positive sense of, one, I can find someone. Two, it's gonna bring a lot of value, it's gonna enrich my activity, it's gonna provide support beyond the dog training that it's worth finding it, even if it's a little bit piecemeal, some online, some in person, some from other sports, some from within. It's worth putting a little time into thinking about what it means and considering if you could create a route to allow yourself to have whatever it is you need. And don't forget to be nice to your coach, okay? Be thankful because they're putting out more than just information. So, you know, it doesn't hurt to recognize that they're giving you their soul, not just their information. And so take that with some care and I think it's worth the time, time to find yourself this kind of help.

Melissa Breau: Awesome. Megan, you wanna leave us your final thought?

Megan Foster: Yeah, I want everyone to hear me very clearly and that all of your goals are worthy of that extra investment. It's not just for the elite, however, we're defining the elite. It is for everyone and all goals are valid and deserve that extra care should you desire to seek it out. And so I encourage you all to defy that little voice in your head that might tell you differently.

Melissa Breau: That's a great note to end on. Thank you all so much for coming on the podcast. This has been a fantastic conversation, but of course I knew it would be. Look at who's here. Thank you all.

Denise Fenzi: Thank you.

Nancy Little: Thank you.

Megan Foster: Thanks for having me.

Melissa Breau: And thank you to all of our listeners for tuning in. We'll be back next week. Don't miss it. If you haven't already, subscribe to our podcast in iTunes or the podcast app of your choice to have our next episode automatically downloaded to your phone as soon as it becomes available. Today's show is brought to you by the Fenzi Dog Sports Academy. Special thanks to Denise Fenzi for supporting this podcast, music provided royalty free by bensound.com. The track featured here is called Body Audio Editing provided by Chris Lang.

Thanks again for tuning in and happy training.


Today's show is brought to you by the Fenzi Dog Sports Academy. Special thanks to Denise Fenzi for supporting this podcast. Music provided royalty-free by BenSound.com; the track featured here is called "Buddy." Audio editing provided by Chris Lang.

Thanks again for tuning in -- and happy training! 

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Effective coaching for dog sports

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