Mark Laker: Set goals to get motivation and drive in agility training

Mark Laker has done agility for over 30 years as his main sport. Currently he and his wife Karen have 7 dogs and they both deliver seminars on applying sports psychology principles to dog agility handlers; goal setting being a big part of these seminars. He’s also a team manager for Agility Team GB, and if you’ve seen the interviews of the team members in the Agility Mental Prep Facebook group, you know that team management has done an exceptional job and pushed the team to amazing results and runs.

Mark has devoted a lot of time to goal setting. But why? What made this topic so important to him in the first place? Mark says that many years ago he flopped spectacularly at a large agility competition when he should have done okay. “When I reflected on my performance, I realised that I was approaching the sport in the same way as I had always done: practice a lot, turn up and run. I realised this is fine for learning the sport but when I'm up against the big boys, I needed to be far more prepared and focused. This event taught me a valuable lesson and set me on the path of setting goals and learning about sports psychology; a topic I've been studying and running seminars on for the last 10 years.”

Who should set goals in agility and why?

According to Mark, it’s important to set goals: “Setting goals taps into parts of our brain that provides us with motivation and drive. Our brains have natural 'processes' running that control our reactions and emotions. When you set good goals you fire up these processes and start a journey to achieve them.”

Setting goals taps into parts of our brain that provides us with motivation and drive. Our brains have natural ‘processes’ running that control our reactions and emotions. When you set good goals you fire up these processes and start a journey to achieve them.
— Mark Laker

“When you set goals, successful achievements start coming your way. You gain confidence, your anxiety levels drop, your motivation levels increase. Goal setting is the key to success in sport.”

But is goal setting important for all agility handlers? Or only for those who want to succeed in big competitions? “Yes, it's important for all agility handlers to set goals. I believe you should set goals for anything significant you want to achieve in life; a new job, a different house, a holiday of a lifetime, competing at the FCI World Championships.”

However, Mark points out that before you can set a goal you need to know what you want to achieve. “This is easy for finding a new house for example, but not so easy for a less well known sport. How many people knew the FCI AWC existed when they started agility? In practice, if you have a good coach or are experienced in goal setting, then set goals from the start. If you're starting out fresh, just go out, enjoy the sport, get involved, find out about the different classes, competitions and events etc. and write your goals when you know what you want to achieve.”

A simple and effective starting point for goal setting

Mark states that there are many different types of goals and varying views to which the important ones are. Here's a simple and effective starting point for anyone new to goal setting: “Long term goals (two years) and short term (three to six months). It's basic, but it gets you into the habit of setting goals.”

“Long term goals should be related to the outcome you want to achieve e.g. qualify for a national championships. Short term goals should relate to a process e.g. increase the dog walk speed by 5% by x date.”

“Start with the end in mind is a relevant phrase to setting good goals. Think about where you want to be in two years’ time; this will be your long term goal. Now think about the steps you need to take to achieve this. These steps now become your short term goals. Write these down so that you know what success is going to look and feel like and give it a done by date.”

According to Mark, you need long term goals so your brain has something to hang on to and work towards. And you need well defined short term goals that will get you out of bed in the morning to go training: “The process of ticking off short term goals as 'done' has a magical effect on our brain. It sees this as a success, it gives us a confidence boost and drives us on to achieve the next goal.”

The process of ticking off short term goals as ‘done’ has a magical effect on our brain. It sees this as a success, it gives us a confidence boost and drives us on to achieve the next goal.
— Mark Laker

The 4 most common mistakes in goal setting

Mark says that if your goals motivate you to get out of bed to train your dog on a wet and windy morning, then you know your goals are motivating you: “I remember an Olympic runner talking about her goals and training plans. What motivated her to go running on Xmas day was the thought that all her competitors would be at home unwrapping their presents while she was out preparing to win gold (and she did).” However, there are some common mistakes people do with goals, and miss the positive outcome they could get out from them:

  1. Mistaking training plans with goals, they are a way to get to the goals

  2. Not writing goals specifically

  3. Setting unrealistic goals

  4. Forgetting about the already set goals

Be specific

According to Mark, to engage and motivate our brains, we need to write down goals with clear defined outcomes so that we know when they've been achieved. “For example, if my goal is to save up enough money for a holiday to the Caribbean, I know I've achieved this goal when I board the plane. If my goal is to 'run a faster dog walk' (I see this a lot), how do I know what fast is? One needs to be specific in goal setting.”

Be realistic

Also, your goals need to be realistic. “I've often heard it said that you can be anything you want to be ...really? Could you be the next Prime Minister? If you're not realistic, you are setting yourself up for failure.” Mark thinks it's better to set small achievable goals and build up your goal setting experience, than set goals your brain cannot relate to and therefore won't provide you with the motivation to achieve them. “A good coach will help you set goals that are challenging and achievable.”

Revisit your goals regularly

In addition, Mark thinks that goals need to be revisited regularly: “I often hear about people who invest a lot of energy and time defining and writing their goals down and then leave them in the drawer gathering dust. Goals need to be re-visited monthly. Get them out, dust them off, tick-off those you've achieved, review those you haven't. This is a crucial part of goal setting.”

Use AgiNotes to reach your goals

AgiNotes is the perfect app for all agility geeks out there, because it helps us to have a clear overview over training and competitions. It makes it easier to see the achievements and the goals we have!
— Becky Schiltz
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