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Two Things We Need to Know About Our Dog’s Performance (and Ours), Part II

In the first part of this blog topic, I talked about how stress can impact both our performance and that of our dogs—with an underlying point in mind.  And that point was:  expecting better performances from our dogs than we could achieve with comparable training under similar circumstances is expecting way too much. 
Dogs are outstanding at being dogs, certainly: Tinker is aces at chewing bones, chasing raccoons and sniffing poo.  If the performances we wanted from our dogs were entirely up their natural alleys, we’d all have obedience champs.  But most of what we want them to do is not that:  we’d rather they did weird humany-type things like ignore food on a table, walk exactly at our sides like a couple holding hands and leave off chasing squirrels because they love us.  We want, in short, them to behave like civilized sort of folk dialed into our human lifestyles:  performances every bit as peculiar to them as dressing fashionably, speaking eight languages and dashing off algebraic equations are to me.   And just as I could, possibly, with sufficient education and training, become a fashionista, learn French and figure out the square root of something (x)a – (b), many dogs, thanks to thousands of years of domestication, can manage to meet our odd demands remarkably well.
But there has to be that sufficient education and training.  And the higher and more challenging the demands, the more they need of it.  Which leads me to my second, potentially painful point about performance—and expectations.
If you have a dog and you’re keen to teach the dog Behavior X, it makes perfectly good sense to look to someone who has taught many dogs to do Behavior X.  In fact, it looks even more fabulous to Go Big:  not just someone who has taught dogs Behavior X, but someone who has won trophies and ribbons for teaching dogs Behavior X.  Wait—let’s Go Bigger—let’s, by gum, go to the top of the mountain—the trainer/handlers who have won National or World Championships with dogs doing Behavior X.   Because golly, anyone who is among the elite of performance stars must surely know what it takes to get there. 
If you want to learn how to act, who better than Meryl Streep?  For golf, Tiger Woods.  For training a dog, the latest and greatest in world champion protection, obedience or agility dog trainers.  And if Ms. Streep achieved success using the Emotional Chameleon Method of Acting, surely we can’t go wrong adopting EC Method.   If Mr. Woods became the number one in golf by using Y Brand Golf Clubs and the Secret Tiger Swing Technique, that must be the ticket to golf success.  So naturally if Olag the exotic dog trainer from Bulgaria won his World Championship Schutzhund title with his Magic Bulgarian Police Dog Method, we should all run out and buy his DVDs and emulate the Magic Bulgarian Police Dog Method with our pooches at home.  Makes sense, right?
The appeal is obvious, even intuitive, and has just enough truth in it to get us into trouble.
Here’s the part that is true:  if we want to get better at something, we can and should take advantage of our very wonderful experts in all fields.  Whether it’s improving our cooking, our money management skills or our ability to get Fido to perform better around the house or in a doggy sport, there are people out there who can really help us.  Finding role models and emulating them is an excellent path to skill development.  Being inspired by the heroes and champions in our favorite performance activities is—well, inspiring.  There are a few “catches,” though.
I have no doubt that if I took a series of master acting classes from Ms. Streep, I would be a better actor for it.  I would likely make improvements in that performance craft, maybe get more in touch with my Inner Emotional Chameleon.  So, no doubt, have the thousands of hopeful young actors who have followed her career and attempted to emulate her.  What is immediately striking, though, is this:  not a single one of them has ever become Meryl Streep. 
They may have become much improved actors, they may have even gone on to great accomplishments in their own rights, but they don’t have what Ms. Streep has and never will, however great they become and however many Oscars they rack up on their own mantels.  Because, simply, there is only one Meryl Streep.  And her greatest performances were singularities--precious rarities, by definition.  The Oscar for Best Performance by a Leading Actress isn’t given out like candy--it’s one a year.  And what made her great performances great had very, very little to do with her acting method and very much to do with her acting talent
Among other things.  An Oscar-winning performance in a major motion picture isn’t just about an acting method, or acting talent—it’s a collaborative effort involving the right script, the right director, a damned good editor, composer, lighting director, marketing and boatloads of money.  It can also come down to some other amazing Oscar-worthy actress not having a particularly juicy part that year playing a beloved historical figure with a photogenic disease and a glorious death scene. 
It turns out, in short, that learning Meryl Streep’s acting method isn’t likely to get me, or those thousands of young hopefuls, an Oscar any time soon.   I also have to have some things comparable to Ms. Streep’s talent, Ms. Streep’s cheekbones, Ms. Streep’s writer, director and agent—and, I would venture, her years of experience honing her craft and a formidable professional work ethic. 
Still, I would expect my imaginary acting lessons with Ms. Streep would be helpful to me as an actor:  given that I’m starting at, say, a 2 out of 10 on the Act-O-Meter, I might learn enough to achieve a 4 or 5 or even a 6.  When it comes to my hypothetical golf lessons with Tiger Woods, though, I think we would have more of a problem.
The problem is:  Tiger’s too good and unless he’s a brilliant instructor as well as a golfer, he may not know how to come down as far as he would need to.  Which would be, oh, around a .5 on the Golf-O-Meter.  I have swung a golf club before; sometimes the ball goes somewhere vaguely promising.  I know the difference between a Driver and a Putter.  I haven’t actually hit anyone with my backstroke, though I would advise Mr. Woods to keep a safe distance.  But for all practical purposes, I’m not ready for Tiger, and golf—unlike acting—is a physical skill that simply can’t be faked.  I can fake acting—that’s rather the point.  I can’t fake a golf swing.  And at my level, to learn the first fundamentals of a proper golf swing, I’d probably be infinitely better off with the lovely pro at our local golf resort, who is used to working with rank beginners like me.  I might, if I won the lotto, quit my job, and took up golf with an all-consuming passion, eventually become good enough to benefit from my lessons with Mr. Woods.  Or, I might not.  Probably not.
I can certainly become a better golfer, possibly even a reasonably proficient recreational golfer; a professional level golfer, no.  If I had started when I was tiny following Mama or Papa around the club (which is how most pros get started), I would have had the 10-15 years of practice perfecting my swing by the time I reached the age to compete in college.  If I was a naturally talented athlete with loads of practice in another stick/ball hand-eye coordination sport—baseball, hockey, tennis—I might have been able to switch to golf in my teens and still have enough years to get enough swing practice in.  Now, even with Mr. Woods’ brand of golf clubs (wildly outside of my price range, I’m sure) and instruction in the Secret Tiger Swing Technique, I still couldn’t get there—my days of athletic prime are a decade or two behind me, and I simply haven’t got enough physically fit years left to practice the Secret Tiger Swing.  Not long enough to get really good at it.
And as with Ms. Streep, what makes Tiger Woods Tiger Woods isn’t a method.  It’s having the talent, the athletic prowess, the drive, the ambition and the work ethic it takes to live, eat, drink and breathe golf for years from a very young age.  It’s having the right coaches, the chances to play the right tournaments, get sponsors, a good manager, etc.  It’s avoiding injuries (sadly, he hasn’t been able to for much of his later career.)  And sometimes, winning a Major Tournament, like winning an Oscar, comes down not to hitting the clutch hole-in-one but to the opponent missing a crucial putt at exactly the wrong time.
World-class athletes, like world-class actors, are unique, rarities by definition:  plenty of young golfers have Tiger’s clubs, Tiger’s outfits and try to copy Tiger’s swing.  They don’t necessarily have Tiger’s talent:  method isn’t enough.  In fact, what Tiger Woods brought to the next generation of golfers had precious little to do with method or swing technique:  what the new kids on the golf block learned most from his example was to treat themselves like athletes—go to the gym, work out, get in shape and stay in shape.
Which leads me, at last, to Olag the exotic dog trainer from Bulgaria with his World Championship title and his Magic Bulgarian Police Dog Method.  Or it might be Bessie the latest agility guru and her RUN! Method or Flo the amazing long-time obedience goddess with her HEEL! Method or Serena the lovely Freestyle champ with her PARTNERS method or… pick your doggy sport or behavior issue, there will be experts—the elite of the elite who consistently and reliably reach the pinnacles of their games.  They are amazing trainers, every darned one of them, and they have the titles and trophies to prove it. 
What they don’t have—what none of us has—is the slightest useful shred of scientific research or evidence to support (or deny) that they reached their successes because of a method.
And here it gets murky.  What, exactly, is meant by a method?   We could say that Clicker Training, Lure/Reward Training, Choke-Chain Training or Shock Collar Training are all methods—but that’s clearly not fine enough.  Lots of people—millions of people—use one or more of those methods, just like thousands of actors are emulating Meryl Streep and thousands more copying Tiger Woods’ golf swing.  Only a handful of them are doing it well enough to win world championships or elite titles.   If simply adopting the right magic method were the key to competition and training success, everyone should be winning.  Clearly not.
So it looks like the method itself isn’t the point: it’s how excellently and precisely the method is being executed.  And this boils down to:  what is the trainer doing?  Not sayingDoing.  And therein lies a whole other kettle of fishies.
Elite competition dog trainers, like athletes in all sports, are a diverse bunch who achieved their success on the Many Roads to the Mountain.  Some of them actually do have Ph.D.’s in animal behavior or the like; some of them are outstanding communicators with dogs but not so much with fellow human beings.  Some of them are entirely aware and fluent in why what they’re doing works; some of them merely know that it works and that’s good enough for them.  So some of them will say things that are absolutely astute and accurate to the science of animal behavior:  what they say really is a reflection of what they do.  Some of them will talk mystical mush or weird faux ethology that may refer to dogs on another planet somewhere, but not this one here:  what they say is miles and miles away from what they actually do.  But it may be entirely irrelevant in either case.
I could memorize every word Meryl Streep ever said about acting or every word Tiger Woods ever said about golf.  It will get me no closer to her talent or his golf swing.  There may—or may not—be kernels of wisdom I can glean, provided I can find a way to translate them from theory to practice.  There might be other equally accomplished actresses, though, who believe the secret to their success is making sure they drink enough orange juice and always have a blue feather on the set; there may be other almost equally accomplished golfers who attribute their winning ways to not washing their socks on Sundays and keeping a lucky rabbit’s foot in their golf bag.  Performers—even elite performers—can be extremely stressed in their rarefied air, and extreme stress can lead to the wackiest sorts of magical, superstitious thinking.  These folks—we often refer to them as Naturals—are brilliant performers who really haven’t got a clue how they do what they do.  Their actions are fabulous but the action bone isn’t connected to the thinking bone.  They can make outstanding competitors but often lousy coaches:  what they really do is intuitive, even unconscious, and not something they can explain.
In dog training, this often shows up as the followers of the elite competition gurus doing the equivalent of drinking lots of orange juice, waving blue feathers, not washing their socks and keeping a rabbit’s foot handy.  The rabbit’s foot might have some merit as a motivator in a pinch; the rest, of course, is rubbish.  Using our dog training guru’s exact cue words, brand of leash or preferred line of tug toys likely won’t hurt, any more than wearing Tiger Woods’ brand of golf shirts will cause harm.  I’m sure the cues, the toys and the shirts are all excellent, first quality choices.  They just may have little or nothing to do with the skills actually at stake:  wearing Tiger’s line of shirts will not improve my golf swing.  It may provide a bit of a placebo effect:  more confidence, inspiration, feeling better about myself as a golfer.  These things do count in the mental aspects of performance and in my athletic sporting days, I loved my little quirks and rituals.  But these superstitious grace notes, however endearing, aren’t the cause of performance success.  There’s a lot more to it than that.
And if we ask:  “What are the elite trainers doing when they train?”  I hate to say, it still may not help us.  Olag, Bessie, Flo, and Serena have years and years of experience getting ridiculously good at their methods, whatever they may be.  Olag has spent literally thousands of hours practicing the Magic Bulgarian DPM—he’s a 10 at it.  Bessie and Flo and Serena have also paid serious dues in terms of practice hours and hard work to get their 10’s in RUN!, HEEL! And PARTNERS!  Buying their DVDs and adopting their “methods” might get us on a path to taking our 2’s or 5’s or 6’s up a few notches, but there’s an excellent chance that what’s really going to count in that improvement is simply the practice, dues and hard work part of the equation.   Being a 2 or 3 on the Magic Bulgarian PD Method-O-Meter is no more going to win us a World Title than what we’ve been doing already.  Winning World Titles comes from becoming a 10 on some Method-O-Meter, whatever the method may be.  It comes from achieving real excellence and mastery.
It doesn’t come from picking a shiny new hot method and continuing all our sloppy old training habits.   The pitfall is, we’re a 3 at Method A, we get frustrated that we’re not “winning” (whatever that is for us) so we look for a new method.  Method B, because it is new, reinvigorates our training.  We work harder for a while, get up to a 4 on the B-O-Meter, until we get frustrated, so we swap to Method C.  Since we’re actually not as good (technically) at C as we were at B, we’ll slip back to a 3—but it’s new so we work harder and maybe get to our 4 again… until we get bored and frustrated and start “method” shopping again.  If we’re not careful, we end up being wonderfully mediocre at a dozen methods and not truly good at any of them.    
In the end, there is no method born that can cover up poor fundamentals, not in any performance sport and certainly not in dog training.   Getting from a 3 or a 6 or an 8 to a 10 takes hours of practice, payment of dues and putting in the effort it takes to reach true excellence.  And, obviously, getting from a 3 to a 10 takes more hours, dues and work than getting from an 8 to a 10—we have much farther to go.  The old saw that the journey of a 1000 miles begins with a single step is true.  The adjunct to the saw ought to be that we can’t walk that thousand miles if we keep hiking off in all directions looking for shortcuts.
Paying patient attention to perfecting our fundamentals, striving for quality in technique and execution, taking care with the details, practicing and working hard are all keys to achieving excellence in performance.  Unfortunately, if you’re like me, words like patience, fundamentals, technique, details, practice and hard work aren’t always as alluring as guaranteed, immediate results, and so easy a child could do it.  I would prefer my 5-star gourmet dinner to come in a can I can heat on the stove, you bet I would.   Reality is so darned annoying at times.
But Reality is Our Friend—and can be our dogs’ Very Best Friend--if we embrace it.  Olag, Bessie, Flo, and Serena train their competition dogs every day, three times a day, in rigorously planned sessions.  Olag and Bessie, bless them, both use a motivational technique to improve drive in their dogs that involves hideous amounts of dashing--suddenly bursting into excited sprints and then whirling their (Malinois and Border collie, respectively) around at the end of a tug toy.  Reality:  I am old enough to be Olag’s mother and my dog outweighs Bessie’s by thirty pounds:  I can dash and tug only so much.  Lots of the exercises Flo uses are very effective and work like a charm; others, though, require patience and attention to detail that bore me silly, never mind my dog.  Serena’s Freestyle exercises are amazing and great fun, but the one where her Papillion jumps up and rebounds off her thigh doesn’t look like a good idea with my linebacker of a dog.
So in the end, unless I find a training guru who is very much like me (only better) and who has a dog very much like mine (only better), I’m going to have to pick-and-choose from all the wonderful methods, exercises and techniques spread out before me.  If I can only train once a day, find dashing problematic and can’t get Tinker interested in tennis balls, I’m going to have to adapt the Magic Bulgarian Police Dog Method or whatever to what Tinker and I can actually do without crashing into walls or wrenching my back.  And it just may be that the pieces of Olag’s program that I select as doable aren’t the pieces that led to his World Championship success.  It even may be that what led to Olag’s success has less to do with Olag—and his Method—than it appears.
It may be that Olag--in addition to his years of experience, thrice daily training sessions, ability to dash, excellent timing, true passion and dedication, a work ethic that won’t quit,  athletic body of an Olympic sprinter and opportunity to devote himself full-time to nothing but training, training and more training—has something else that you and I probably don’t have.
Olag has a purpose-bred dog from champion lines that was specifically bred for his sport.  So does Bessie.  Both of their sports require the highest levels of canine drive and athleticism, among other things.  Flo’s sport is less exacting athletically but requires precision, biddability and trainability; likely she, too, will have a breeding of choice.  Only Serena—in Freestyle, a relatively new sport where the competition isn’t yet as cut-throat and value is placed on artistry, inventiveness and creativity—is likely to be less fussy, since in theory she can take what a dog has and make it beautiful in its own right.  That’s one of the charms of Freestyle.  Though even for her, a three-legged Basset Hound or a dog with bad hips is probably out.
That having the right dog matters, and matters hugely, is obvious but somehow frequently over-looked in the unending quest for the Magic Performance Method.  Starting a new puppy and training it up to world-class level is an enormous investment of time and energy; top competitors aren’t going to gamble that investment on dogs of unknown quality regardless of their method.   People who compete at top levels or who need dogs for particular important jobs (leading the blind, search and rescue, police dog work) don’t just go out and snag any ole litter of random puppies in a box in front of a store.  They select very thoughtfully and carefully (and often obsessively) from lines of top breeders or they breed their own specialty lines to get, as much as they can control for it, exactly the physical and behavioral traits their sports require:  sound conformation, size, speed, quickness, courage, biddability, trainability, intelligence, nose and drive drive drive.
Because they know--the difference the right dog makes is simple.
It’s the difference between Ms. Streep taking me, with my measly starting 2 on the Act-O-Meter, and turning me into the next Oscar winner—versus taking an ambitious and extremely talented young actor who comes to her with an already established 7.   Or between poor Mr. Woods attempting to do something with my .5 pathetic golf swing vs. the game of a hot college golfer who already is a 6 or 7 or 8.  Give a seriously talented coach a seriously talented performer and amazing things can happen.  Give them me and the gap between 2 and 10 or .5 and 10 may be too wide for any method, however brilliant, to overcome.
We never like to hear this, in any form.  Our culture is steeped in a mythos of frogs turning into princes, Rocky winning the boxing match, the unlikely David slaying Goliath.  We love our underdog stories—the firm belief that anything is possible if we work hard enough, have enough faith and wish upon the right stars.  And I’d be the last person to deny it, because I love those stories too.  Of course miracles happen.  Sometimes. 
But the math is a little scary.  According to one good source that crunches a bunch of statistics, only 1 in 16,000 high school athletes go on to play professionally.*  At the end of the day, there are only so many teams in so many leagues with so many positions to fill:  not thousands.  Hundreds.  In dog agility, to pick one sport, there are only so many leagues holding so many trials—only one dog in each height of each class will finish first.  Getting titles is one thing:  in most doggy sports, the dog/handler team has to earn enough qualifying scores for that, and anyone (with the right dog) who is reasonably skilled, committed and puts in the effort has a shot at that.  Becoming a National or World Champion is another formula.  Elite world-class handler/dog teams, like in professional sports, are measured in a few hundreds, perhaps, not thousands.  Olag and Bessie are famous in their sports not because they are many but because they are so very few:  there’s only one spot for number one and it’s one.
What saddens me about this is how “method” gets unduly emphasized with little regard for the rest of the package.  This shows up in endless debates about “method” on Facebook or other social media groups, with the primary hot point being the use of punishment in dog training.  Inevitably, when the debate gets heated, somebody will trot out, “Nobody ever won the Muckety-Muck Dog World Title without using corrections.  Olag uses corrections.”
Olag, as we’ve already seen, does a heck of a lot more than that.  The proof is that most of the folks he beat in winning the title (and there are far more that lost than won) also use corrections and they didn’t win.  Winning a sporting event, especially at elite levels, is simply never a one-trick pony with everything riding on “method.”  Winning an elite event is always a Perfect Storm.  A talented handler has a talented dog, uses a solid, scientifically sound training system that fits the dog/handler team, prepares endlessly, practices their hearts out, gets to the trial and puts it all together.  They have a great day.  The handler avoids making any dire mistakes; the dog doesn’t make any dire mistakes.  They don’t get sick or injured at exactly the wrong time; another elite contender does twist an ankle just before the match.  It doesn’t rain—or it does and Olag’s dog loves working in the rain.  They’re showing under a judge that happens to like their style (yes, it matters) and the judge doesn’t mess up any calls (it can happen.)  All of Olag’s—or Bessie’s or Flo’s or Serena’s--hard work and experience, all of the dog’s talent and training, come together for a few magic moments and they give the world-class Winning Performance.
Perfect Storms are beautiful, swirls of all that talent, all that preparation, all that hard work, meeting just a bit of luck and the right circumstances and timing.  They can’t happen without the front end:  the talent, the preparation, the work—the 10 on the Train-O-Meter.  But there are marvelous Hall of Fame worthy golfers who didn’t win nearly as many golf tournaments as they should have simply because they had the misfortune to be playing their prime in the Age of Tiger.  There are beautiful actresses who gave heart-stopping performances who didn’t win their Oscar because they were nominated in a Meryl Streep year.  That little bit of luck, that dash of timing, a single tiny slip—it all matters.
And for every ambitious, talented child who rises through the ranks of the sand lot to the Big Show (the 1 out of 16,000) there are thousands and thousands of kids in Little Leagues and Pee Wee Leagues who leave the field in tears of shame and frustration.  The coach yelled at them; their parents yelled at them.  They dropped the ball or struck out.  They tried—they played their tiny hearts out—but they didn’t quite have the needed skill, the extra time to practice, a tip from a mentor that would have helped.  They weren’t as tall as the other kid, or as strong or coordinated.  They were on the team—and in sports there is always one on that end, too—that lost.  Many of these kids come away from the experience soured forever on sports, or with rotten memories of their parents, or with a terrible message installed in their heads at a fragile time:  I’m not good enough.  If the only thing that counts is Being Number One, only one in the field will count.  The rest are losers.
Most of us know better.  We know that sports for kids should be about things other than winning.  The competition should be a celebration of effort, of improvement, teamwork, building character and learning to do our very best and be gracious regardless of the result.  We—most of us—take a very dim view of tyrannical “stage parents” who bully and punish their tiny tots through all manner of performance weirdness—fashion shows and beauty pageants for 6 year olds, all the junior sports, school musicals and talent shows.   We—most of us—frown on parents and coaches who get so wrapped up in “winning” that they project their own frustrated egos and power trips into a game that should be fun and make the kids miserable for it.  And most of us would be seriously upset to find out that Coach took little Jimmy behind the barn and took a belt to his behind for missing a curve ball in the sixth inning.
I think we should consider this for our dogs, too.  For every one of Olag’s dogs that win a world title, there are thousands more competing in canine sports with no choice and no voice.  Those of us who own them—most of us without Olag’s talent, Olag’s dog, his experience or ridiculous work ethic—are amateurs in minor leagues.  And a 5 on the Train-O-Meter using Olag’s Magic Method is likely no more winning than a 5 using any other method, because 5’s are 5’s, not tens.  Merely adding permission to punish because “Olag does it and he wins world titles” isn’t going to boost our sand lot skills to Major Leagues. 
It is likely to send a whole lot of dog kids home in tears.
For those of us who enjoy performing in local theater or recreational sports, looking up to heroes like Meryl or Tiger or Olag doesn’t mean that we have to play the same game with the same values.  We don’t.  We’re not in it for Oscars or Majors or World Titles.  We’re in it for something else, something I find very beautiful.
The word amateur comes from the Latin amator—a lover.   We do it because we love it.  We participate in doggy sports because we love our dogs and want to do something together with them.  We know—most of us—that dog training and competition should be a celebration of effort, of improvement, teamwork, building character and learning to do our very best and be gracious regardless of the result.  We should also know and be proud and confident in this:  winning is only one measure of success. 
Another is Joy. 
Sure, I’d love to win a title or competition with Tinker.  I just have additional criteria for what counts as winning.  Because I am an amateur, because a World Title isn’t on the table, because I still have about 899 miles on the road of a 1000 miles to reach expertise in my method of choice.  I made a deal with my dog:  not at your expense.  Never at your expense.   If I can’t get a performance from Tinker that’s joyful, it doesn’t meet my criteria.  Because for me, joy is a measure of consent.  
So I’m not Olag, nor Bessie or Flo or Serena.  Maybe I’m not as strong, or fast, or patient, or graceful.  Maybe I’m not as experienced, organized or precise.  Maybe I will be one day--striving for excellence is part of the fun for me.  Until then, though, to copy their “methods” without copying the things that make their “methods” work is to stick a Rolls Royce hood ornament on my aging van and hope it’ll fix the engine.   It’s orange juice, blue feathers and unwashed socks:  magical thinking.
And it’s wrong.  Not because they are wrong—they aren’t the least bit wrong for them.  It’s wrong for me because their methods don’t always include my criteria:  that victory for us—for me and Tinker as a team--isn’t about putting winning first.  It’s about putting joyful, willing performance first.  It’s about a kid who leaves the sand lot beaming because she caught one ball, even if she muffed two and struck out twice.  It’s about the twinkle in the eye that says, this is fun, let’s play again.  It’s about, if I can’t train this with joy, I need to get better as a trainer.
It’s okay to put joy first.  It’s okay to play for love.   It’s okay to admit we will never win an elite world title with our dogs using our “methods.”  Neither will hundreds of people using Olag’s.  Methods are only direction; excellence is a 1000 miles of steps with no short cuts.  It’s not a trip everyone cares to make, and that’s okay, too.  If our goal is a part in the local theater’s production of Annie, a few strokes off our golf score or a better behaved pet dog around the house, Meryl, Tiger and Olag may be the very best at going 1000 miles but plenty of talented, experienced folks can get us the 89 miles we really need for success.  That doesn’t make us losers, less than the elite or less serious about achieving real excellence in those 89 miles.
It makes us lovers on a field of play that is every bit as valid as World Championships, only smaller and defined by victories more personal.
Of course, we can all drink more orange juice, borrow a blue feather from a movie set and get a super cool Tiger Woods golf shirt… who knows how far we might go?
(*From High School to Pro – How Many Will Go? Copyright 2006, Georgia Career Information Center, Georgia State University and its licensors.)

Note:  For anyone who wants a marvelous look at how true mastery and excellence is achieved in sports and other endeavors, I recommend Malcolm Gladwell’s outstanding book The Outliers.

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