Sportsmanship. It’s a word we hear often. It’s written in every AKC competition catalog. It’s bandied about in professional sports. Lots of people have different opinions on it. We know what it means. But for the most part we don’t really think about it. Except we should. Sportsmanship is the essence of all sports. Sportsmanship requires conscious thought and action.

First and foremost, we need to remember that competition is a privilege. Now, more than ever. No one is getting paid lots of money. There are no huge endorsements. We are not going to end up on the Wheaties box. We are a group of people that are passionate about dog sports. We love dogs. We wanted to spend quality time with our dogs. We found a dog sport (or 2 or 3…). Our dogs love it. We love the relationship we have with our dogs because of it. We make some friends…and down the rabbit hole we go. Sometimes, somewhere along the way, we forget that this was just supposed to be something fun we do with our dogs. Suddenly we have goals. The result matters. Really matters. We get nervous. We get caught up in what everyone else is doing. We want a certain outcome. We want to beat certain people, get a particular score, get a placement. We look up to some people, look down on others. We get impatient. Sometimes with other competitors, sometimes with the stewards, other times with people on the trial committee. Sometimes we complain about the judging. We often say it’s to hot, it’s to cold, it’s to crowded, it’s to loud, it’s to quiet… Sometimes we are unhappy with the schedule. With how the club is running the trial. We don’t mean to be unkind. But we are nervous and tense. We have worked really hard for a really long time. We are on display. Just us and the judge… and all the people watching…. It gets even more intense when working towards a larger title. Like a UDX or an OTCH. One mistake can “ruin” the day. We have to beat people. Placements are often decided by a half point. Often, secretly, we hope other teams fail. Because that increases the odds we can place. We are all human. It’s just how our brains work.

But we need to be aware of what we are thinking and how we are acting. We need to remember that there are large parts of the country where there are no trials. That running a trial is hard enough in the best of times. And beyond challenging in the current times. Clubs can choose to just cancel the trial. And many have. The clubs that ARE holding trials have even more work now. And figuring out how to hold a trial and keep everyone safe is pretty stressful. We need to be incredibly grateful to all of the club members and volunteers. Grateful to the judges. Always. Now more than ever. They are not showing their dogs. They are giving up their weekend to put on a trial so that we can compete. They put in countless hours of work before the trial, and after the trial is over. The do NOT need to do this! The very least we can do is take a few seconds to genuinely thank them. When you pick up your armband number, take a few seconds to look the stewards in the eye and say “thank you.” It takes less than a minute. But the effect of those words can last hours. Before you enter the building, take a minute and feel grateful. Grateful that you are healthy. Grateful that your dog is healthy. Grateful that you have the time and money to show your dog. Grateful that these people are willing to be out there …. FOR YOU. Believe me. I know things are not optimal right now. Sure, we all miss crating inside. Watching the other competitors. Hanging out with our friends. And that time will come again. But for right now, just be grateful that you have a trial.

Dog sports bring a wide variety of people together. Different ages, backgrounds, belief systems, different training methods, different socioeconomic status….different people that may not see eye to eye in the real world. But when we are competing under the same roof, we all deserve respect. We all have something in common. We have all worked really hard to get there. It doesn’t matter if your dog was awesome that day, or not so great. We ALL deserve to be there. We don’t have to “like” each other. We do need to respect one another. If you are fortunate enough to get a placement, you should thank the judge and congratulate the other competitors. Differences should always be put aside in the ring. If you are outside the ring watching placements, you should clap. It’s not always easy, especially when we are on the “wrong” side of the ring that day. But it’s the right thing to do. The kind thing to do. The sportsmanlike thing to do. If you are watching a runoff, you should clap for every competitor. They worked really hard to earn a score that entitled them to a runoff. They are in the ring not only in front of the judge, but in front of all of their peers. So nerve wracking! The fact that they are in there at all deserves respect. And we owe them that.

If you see someone that puts on an exceptional performance, instead of feeling envy, feel inspired!! Feel motivated! I know I do! Learn from that performance. If you see someone that is having a rough day, pull out some empathy. Let’s be realistic. If you show long enough, you have had the same experience…or at least some version of it! Rather than judging them or putting them down, walk over and give them an encouraging word. Find something nice to say about their performance. Trust me, it will mean the world to them.

Be kind to the judges. They are volunteering their time and standing on their feet all day. We don’t always have to agree with them. But we absolutely must respect them. Personally, I really don’t know how they do it. I know I couldn’t. I can’t stay focused for that long. So many details they have to attend to. They do an amazing job. Yes, they are human. Yes, sometimes they may have missed something. Or maybe they make a call that we saw differently. But that’s just how it goes in competition. Learn from it, train harder, move on. If you have questions about their judging, ask. But by all means be respectful. Remember, they are human. Just like us. The divide between judges and competitors would be far less if we all realized we are just trying our best and none of us are perfect.

This, and only this, is how our sport is going to continue on. Kindness. Empathy. Respect.

All of these things only take a moment. But they have the power to change our sport. The world is rife with conflict, fear, confusion, stress, and animosity. Where we spend our free time should be a haven. A place to get away from all of that. Let’s work together to create a friendlier, kinder, lighter and more supportive atmosphere! Sportsmanship. It’s not just a word. It requires action. Consistent and purposeful action. One word at a time. One person at a time…

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