The question for today’s dog agility blog event is one that has given me pause. It’s not just about navel-gazing this round. Instead, agility bloggers are meditating on what makes a good coach or instructor.
I’ve written before on the things I look for in a dog trainer but the criteria changes a little when I think about what coaching style suits me best. Having been an unathletic child enrolled in numerous team sports against her will, I have a lot of experience with the kind of coach I don’t like: loud, easily frustrated, and hell-bent on winning every single game. Unfortunately, I don’t have a lot of experience with from whom I could actually learn.
Let me just say right out, my current dog trainer/agility instructor is awesome. She is a good friend now after three years of working together and I am so grateful I happened on her website that desperate day in September 2009. She not only helped immensely with Shiva’s many, many, many behavioral issues but she also is probably why I am still in this crazy dog sport despite many, many, many setbacks.
We were ridiculously lucky to have found her.
Since I can count on one finger the amount of good coaches I’ve known, my opinion may not be as well-informed as some others. Nonetheless I think there are some very clear reasons as to why our agility instructor has been so great for us. Here are the qualities I would look for in the future, and not just when it comes to dog agility:
1. Passion – A good instructor loves the subject she teaches. It sounds like a no-brainer yet I’ve had soccer coaches who didn’t seem to care what we were playing as long as we were beating the other team.
2. Enjoys sharing said passion with others – I think everyone has had a teacher who may be very knowledgable but doesn’t seem to like interacting with students. Several former university professors come to mind. It’s not enough to love the sport of dog agility. To be a good coach, I think you have to love helping others attain their goals as well. In fact, this may be even more important than the former.
3. Believes in positive reinforcement – Obviously a good agility coach would only use positive methods when it comes to training their dogs in the sport. In my opinion, this should apply people training as well. There are many agility coaches who would never raise their voice to a dog but see nothing wrong with hollering at their human students when they make a mistake. Some people may learn this way and power to them. Maybe I am just sensitive but If I am yelled at – and not in a fun, joking manner – I will probably shut down.
4. Seeks new information – A good coach or instructor spends as much time learning as he does teaching. If not attending seminars or workshops, they should at least be aware of the latest trends. Dog agility is a fairly new sport. There are constantly new ideas being experimented with. The rules change constantly. Good coaches acknowledge the fact they don’t know it all and are open to new things. In any area, I want an instructor who is constantly looking to improve her methods as new theories emerge.
5. Realizes that most people have no intention of going to World’s – As in any sport, there are a lot of people who are pretty competitive when it comes to dog agility. Some people take their practice very seriously and dream of international events. However, most are probably like me and got involved for the fun of it. Most just like having an organized activity they can enjoy with their canine family members. A good coach thinks winning is great but having a good time and achieving specific training goals are far more important.
I am sure there are many more things I could come up with if I thought about it harder. These five points are just the ones that stand out the most. After years of being berated in gym class, there are millions of bad coaching examples I could share! Rather than dwelling on the negative, I’d like hear what you have to say.
Whether agility-related or not, what do you think makes a good coach or instructor?