Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Curse of the Director

Today I'm going to address the Curse of being Training Director. For all the directors out there, I'm sure you will be shaking your heads and nodding; for everyone else, I hope to inspire at least a little understanding. Sympathy, perhaps. I am addressing schutzhund club directors, but it could well apply to a range of other volunteer director positions within other dog sports.

The training director is an unpaid position.  It generally falls to the person with the most experience in a club. This can vary greatly.  Quite often the training director is the person who started the club, a dual role with being President. In larger clubs, however, there can be obedience directors and the helpers who direct their own portion of the training. Or there may be no direction at all, and members simply do what they want and attempt to emulate more experienced members to figure out what they are supposed to do.  When members leave to form a new club, the new director may have limited skills but yet be the most experienced-- or most vocal-- of the new group.

Schutzhund is a gathering of people who may have nothing in common outside a desire to participate in the sport.  Even that participation has levels of commitment.  There are the social butterflies, who care not to title a dog or subscribe to the "if you throw enough shit against the wall, something will stick" theory of training, whose main desire is to belong to a group, and visit.  There are the extremely focused and goal-oriented folks who yearn for the podium.  The solid club-level competitor also has a place.  They might not have a dog that will go to the Championship, but they work hard to be the best team they can be, and respect what their partner gives them. Outside of the sport, the members represent many different careers and personalities.

And yet the training director has to work with them all. There are essentially three routes that the director can take.  One to let everyone do their own thing. Training begins, people take their turn and call for a group as needed, or gunshots, but are not given any specific training guidance.  If they want additional help, they will seek out private lessons or seminars.  For the most part, they try to copy what they see someone else do. The opposite end of the spectrum is the director who specifically dictates what training method they will use and does not allow members to attend any outside training. Somewhere in the middle is the director who provides guidance on request, helps to steer and mentor new members, and supports the goals of all levels of members.

End of the year awards do not encourage people to accomplish more, or to remain club members.  Even personal gifts for earning titles, while seemingly appreciated at the moment, do little to motivate in the long term.  I think that the USA organization discovered this with their GEC awards, which passed on for lack of support.

The curse of the training director is that schutzhund is a sport of volunteers, and not a business.  The training director has neither the carrot nor the stick to emply to motivate members.  Some clubs do carefully select and restrict members and therefore may be better able to choose a specific personality but some are simply grateful for more bodies, and enough names on the roster to remain active! For years I have included goal-setting as part of our annual meeting. Because goals are best accomplished when they are made public and the assistance of the group is enlisted,as well as peer pressure, this works well in business.  Accomplishment of goals in business is tied to pay and promotion. For myself, I like to list my goals for the year so that I am actively working toward something.  Sometimes life gets in the way, as it has when my mother had a very difficult heart surgery, or when my favorite dog died of cancer, and maybe everything doesn't get crossed off the list.  It isn't a sign of failure if you gave it your best under the circumstances.  You pick yourself up, and move it over to the "to do" column.  However, that isn't the reaction I got from club members. Little by little, the goals became more modest. It was not encouraging them to reach for the stars. Because we cannot subscribe to the business model, I think the best training director may, in fact, be one who has learned that he/she is not responsible for motivating the members and that they need to take on that responsibility themselves.

The curse of the training director is also that he/she uses so much time and energy helping and directing other people, that the director's own dogs suffer.  They are the last to be worked, and sometimes not at all because you just don't have the energy left.  Going first is not an option, because members are not present and ready to train at the start time and therefore, being first would be like working alone with no group, or distractions. 

The curse of the training director is that he/she is responsible for organizing training and being present. Someone has to be standing on that training field who is in charge, whether it be to collect waivers or fees, to make sure things are done safely or direct training.  The director, therefore, may feel restricted from attending seminars or visiting other clubs or events.  However, the club members do not feel the same need to be there.  When they want to take a weekend with the family, or attend another seminar, they don't clear it with the training director; this one way street can lead to resentment and attrition.

What is the first thing you hear at a trial when a dog team either does spectacularly well, or struggles/fails?  "where do they train?"  And the fingers point right back to the club and the training director... if they do well, other people want to come and train there. If not, the fingers point at the lack of good training at the club.  If points are taken for handler error, the director is on the line when the handler claims they were never told of such a thing! Own a rulebook? no, but the training director should have told me! If you learn new methods at a seminar and want to share them, you are accused of being inconsistent. The directors I see who handle this with the least stress are again those who do not feel any personal responsibility for the difficulties of their members.

The curse of the director is also that they are part of the front line of representation of the parent organization. When there are rule changes, they are tasked with understanding the and relaying them to the membership, even if they do not agree.  When they remind members of the changes, they are likely to hear the backlash of those personal frustrations.  The director has to let those wash over him or her, and not take it personally, despite privately thinking "stop bitching at me!"  I would bet more than one training director would like to be the guy sitting back on the porch, or in the lawn chair, chatting with other members or complaining about this or that instead of ending the day with aching feet and back from walking up and down the field a thousand times, helping people.

The other curse of being a director? You can't give it away.  Of course, every now and then a young, enthusiastic member will actually want to take over this position! Bless 'em! I don't think I am alone in hoping that my club continues long past my existence in the sport. In another 50 years, I hope that the Fox Valley Police & Schutzhund Club is still on the active USA club rolls, led by a new generation. The curse is that the people who are just in it for themselves and not to further the sport, are unwilling to donate their time.  The ones who are observant and sensitive see that there is no way to please everyone and choose not to have people target them for personal failings or frustrations.  The smart ones see how much work it is, and how responsible you have to be about being present and just want to be one of the masses.  As much as the director tries to bring members on board by asking them to take on small tasks, and learn how the organization works, with the hopes of someday turning those over, for the most part people are not volunteering. 

To summarize, the curse of the training director is that they are placed, by virtue of stepping up and doing a job other people are unwilling to do, with no pay, in the dubious position of the hated "supervisor."  The "you can't tell me what to do" attitude is true when there are no employees, only volunteers.  If awards and goals fail to motivate, and spending time with members trying to teach new training methods only creates jealousy and resentment, what is left?

Let members take personal responsibility for learning about the rules and organization.  It's on the website; look it up.  Buy a rulebook.  Let someone else be responsible for organizing training and being the bad guy, or even just being present.  Feel free to attend other training and seminars and show up at club training when it is convenient to you.  Do not feel responsible for the success or failure of club members.  Don't care if they do attend other seminars and create problems; that's on them. Don't expect them to share what they learned, either, even if it could benefit the club. Unless someone volunteers to coordinate a seminar or event, do not suggest it or push members to improve.  Providing gifts and awards are a waste of time and only serve to create a false impression of a relationship that does not exist.  Don't think these people are your friends.  You provide a service and once they are dissatisified or fall out of interest, they will tell you that they never liked you or your advice. Ever.

Wow! Pretty damned depressing, isn't it? If you can be the person described in the paragraph above, you likely have a very strong personal self-image and if people don't like you or appreciate your effort, it is because they are ungrateful idiots and not because you didn't find a way to help them, to motivate them.  Their knowledge is their own journey and not your responsibility.  I have never been able to separate caring deeply on a personal level, from the sport and the work itself.  

 The real curse of the training director?  Caring.