Showing with the Mindset of an Olympian

showing like an olympian

Are you showing with the mindset of an Olympian? We look to the US athletes as they prepare to compete at the Tokyo Olympics. This year’s athletes have demonstrated a particular fortitude. Elite athletes are known for overcoming challenges; however, even more so this year than in past Olympic years—they’ve dealt with a pandemic! When things get tough, the champions persevere, learn, and thrive. How do they do this? Let’s look at the Olympian’s Mindset—and one Olympian—to find inspiration for dog show owner handlers.

This year’s athletes are of particular interest in terms of mindset because they had to wait out a year. During that time, each athlete had to maintain a high level of competency, just as we have in the dog show world. Some benefited from the gap, especially the younger ones who had time to mature. Which athletes came back stronger, more skilled, and better prepared than ever? How did they navigate training within a lockdown? Who missed out on their opportunity to become Olympians? Perhaps they peaked too early, got injured, or decided that training for another year was not feasible and retired. The “Gap Year” changed things.

Mindset, Attitude, and Mentality:
An Exploration of Words

Mindset, per definition, is a mental attitude or inclination.1 With that said, let’s look at the word mindset as it applies to competitive sports. It has come to my attention that many readers may consider that the word is being overused. However, I took on the challenge to examine what mindset means and the nuances of its synonyms, attitude, and mentality.

We can find inspiration in how athletes exemplify the concept of mindset. An Olympian or top competitor embodies (or even becomes consumed in) their drive for excellence. It’s how the athlete completely embraces a growth or positive mindset to live in the Olympic spirit.

Stanford University Professor of Psychology, Dr. Carol Dweck, is known for her work on mindset. Dweck researched two main types of mindset, growth mindset and fixed mindset, and how these influenced students’ attitudes toward failure. As a pioneer in the field of motivation, Dweck examined why people succeeded, or didn’t, and how to foster success. She also theorized that a person’s mindset can be changed.

I am fascinated by Dweck’s research and how this theory is applied in a competition, specifically to see how competitors with a growth mindset are spurred on by their failures. Now this article is not a lesson on Carol Dweck’s work, but it does shed some light on why we use the word so much and why it is so highly valued as a concept.

Attitude, per definition, has an interesting range: Relating to a person’s physical posture or state of readiness; a mental position or state of emotion that can be both positive and helpful, or negative
and hostile.2

When attitude is related to behavior, the term can also be linked with physical behaviors. As Merriam-Webster defines, “The arrangement of the parts of a body; a position assumed for a specific purpose; a bodily state of readiness.” Isn’t that an intriguing definition in the context of performing in a show ring?

When attitude is related to a mental position or a state of emotion, it can drive an exhibitor’s performance, and as we know, influence that of their dog. In contrast, mindset as a driving behavior is often understood as subconscious and psycho-emotional. In our case, both the attitude and the mindset can make or break our own ring experience as well as that of our dog.

The dog physically presents with a “bodily state of readiness.

Let’s apply the term. The word “attitude” has a range of connotations. In a negative context, the classic situation that comes to mind is a parent reprimanding a teenager with a call to, “Watch that attitude of yours.” Or, alternatively, who hasn’t approached the ring with a highly spirited 18-month-old dog whose attitude needs an adjustment? Then again, there’s the attitude of, “You think you’re hot,” or “She’s got attitude!” Exhibitor to exhibitor, there could be some resentment in that “attitude.” On the positive side, let’s look at the stellar dog that is praised with, “That dog has attitude!” This last one has multiple layers as it implies that the dog is very showy and confident. The dog physically presents with a “bodily state of readiness.”3 Merriam-Webster’s sixth definition of the word attitude.

Mentality, per definition is, “A person’s particular way of thinking about things.”4

When we think about the word mentality, there is often a derogatory connotation. What about the up-and-coming young handlers who scorn the “old-school mentality?” That phrase gives the impression that it’s just so much “old news.” But with a positive mentality, plus attitude, we are in the ZONE! Which is exactly where a growth mindset gets you.

Why is this so important? It’s important because, as in any competitive sport, there is always something to overcome. For example, let’s look at the story of an Olympian who faltered in the trials; one who does not usually falter.

But with a positive mentality, plus attitude, we are in the ZONE! Which is exactly where a growth mindset gets you.

An Olympian’s Mindset:
Let’s Learn from the Best

The most decorated American gymnast, Simone Biles, has secured her spot on her second Olympic team. She is an athlete who consistently sets the bar high and delivers. Biles has won five Olympic medals, four of which are gold, and twenty-five World Championship medals at the age of twenty-four. It’s worth every minute to watch this awe-inspiring athlete in action. Why? Because she creates a Stellar Presentation nearly every time.5 Even when she does falter, she regroups and comes back stronger.

As we saw in the June 2021 Olympic Trials, Biles had a rocky start. She literally fell off the balance beam and stepped out of bounds on the floor. These are mistakes that carry heavy deductions of 1.0 point for every infraction. How did she bounce back from those losses? She regrouped for her final routine on the floor apparatus and dazzled the crowd with her performance—which was awarded the highest score of the night. Significantly, Biles performed her signature move, a double-double dismount, a move that was named after her, “The Biles.”

Let’s look at her mindset. What happened when she finished the first day of her trials in second place? Did she stop competing and give up, thinking, “Aw, dang, I’ll never make the team?” or “Oh, I don’t want to try because I can never win and if I’m not really trying, then it won’t count if I lose.” Of course not! That is a fixed mindset.

Nope, she took it as a challenge. And when you hear her interview, you really get it;
you get that she has a growth mindset. “I kind of got in my head today and started doubting myself,” Biles told reporters. “And you could see that in her gymnastics. But just go home, work harder. This is just the beginning of the journey.”6

With every competition, she raises the bar higher and higher. I find inspiration in such excellence, the mindset, and the focus. I draw great insight from elite athletes ranging from football players to sprint runners. Who are your competitive heroes? As you know, Simone Biles is just one of my heroes outside of dogs.

How does this apply to dog shows?

With a growth mindset and a positive attitude, you too can make it to the podium. I have intentionally set up the Dog Show Mentor program as a strategic approach and mindset academy, rather than a skills-based program.

OK, so you have a growth mindset in the dog show arena, and you set your sights on your dog and his capabilities of winning Bests in Show; you have to practice, and groom, and train your dog. Embrace it every day.

Showing dogs is a competition. Yes, it is a show. Yes, it is fun. But I call upon you to treat it like it really matters. It’s a way of life and it’s a way of thinking. We live and breathe dogs; our Olympian counterparts live and breathe gymnastics.

Develop constructive habits. Practice to create a team with your dog and think in terms of what your expectations are for your canine companion. That’s what the Olympians do. They set goals—big goals! They create a plan to get there. Execute. Review. Repeat.

My goal is to influence your mindset in a positive way and to give you the tools to compete on the world stage. I want you to have a ripple effect on the dog show world, just as Biles has had in her sport.

Biles is going into this Olympics with four moves named after her. (She has shared with reporters that there may be a fifth after the Tokyo Olympics.) It’s this growth mindset of being the best she can be, knowing what she’s capable of and where her talents lie, that drive her success. She knows exactly what she has to do to create that spectacular performance! She is changing the sport of women’s gymnastics! She is super competitive! She has mental steeliness! Do you have a fire in your belly like Biles does.

  • Ms. Lee Whittier has been involved in the sport of purebred dogs for over three decades. Her involvement began as an owner, exhibitor and, subsequently, a breeder of Rottweilers. She has owned Akitas, Bullmastiffs, and a Sussex Spaniel. She currently owns, breeds, and exhibits Tibetan Terriers. Ms. Whittier began judging in 2000, and then took a hiatus for several years to work for the American Kennel Club as an Executive Field Representative in the Pacific Northwest. She returned to judging in 2011, and currently judges the Working, Terrier, Toy, and Non-Sporting Groups, seventeen Hound Breeds, ten Sporting Breeds, Bouvier des Flandres, and Best in Show. Ms. Whittier has judged dog shows around the world, from the United States, Canada, South America, and Asia, at shows large and small; all of great importance to each and every exhibitor. Some of the larger shows are Westminster Kennel Club, Kennel Club of Philadelphia, Del Valle Dog Club of Livermore, Great Western Terrier Association, Northern California Terrier Association, Hatboro Dog Club, Inc., Malibu Kennel Club, and the Kennel Club of Palm Springs. Ms. Whittier is a standing member of Dog Fanciers of Oregon, The Central Florida Cairn Terrier Club, Columbia River Cairn Terrier Association, and the Tibetan Terrier Club of America. As an active member in numerous clubs, she has worked in the capacity of Show Chair, President, Vice-President, Secretary, Board Member, and Constitution & By-Laws Revision Committee Member. In addition to judging, Ms. Whittier developed the Dog Show Mentor program, exclusively for owner handlers. This is an online program where owner handlers of all stages and levels learn to develop an individual, strategic approach to showing dogs. She also travels to speak to owner handlers all over the world. She currently lives in Vancouver, Washington, with her husband, Wayne, and their three Tibetan Terriers. Her other interests include gardening and hiking with the dogs.

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