By Kathy Knox
(reprinted with permission from September/October 1998 The Working Border Collie)

We have all heard the expression, “You never get a second chance to make a first impression.” I feel the same is true about sportsmanship. Although it may seem that bad sports make more of an impression, get more attention, and are noticed more with a bad reputation of sportsmanship, what they are actually doing is drawing attention away from what the focus should be on, the dog. It’s very easy to get caught up in the complaining game. The judge is wrong, the sheep are bad, the course is set up wrong, everything is always wrong. What I feel is wrong is attitude. If we go to a trial with the attitude that everyone and everything’s against us, we’re not going to be very happy. I try to always find the positive side of adverse conditions. If the sheep are bad, I try to see how my dog and I handle it. Complaining is not going to change things, it only makes everyone either feel uncomfortable, or it adds fuel to the fire. Also, we should stop and really take a look at the sheep, are they that bad, or are they just being poorly handled? Unhealthy sheep are different, but wild or unmanageable sheep are nothing to complain about. I have yet to be at a trial where the sheep have seemed unmanageable, but a good dog and handler will make them very manageable. We hear people say, “They got the best draw of the day.” I feel they have made them the best draw. After that run you’ll usually see the standard of running improves. So when I go to a trial where the sheep are tough, and I can’t put together a serviceable run, I try to think what we did wrong. Did my dog flank too tight, or was he off contact? Did he push too hard at just the wrong time? Handlers should try to think of those questions before complaining about the sheep. Many handlers complain about the judging. At some point in time we will all be judged unfairly, either by a mistake or deliberately. Again, complaining about it is not going to do any good. If the judge is that bad, he or she probably won’t be doing a lot of repeat business. So if we can take our licks at the time, it should take care of itself, If that judge keeps on judging and we continue to run under them, then that’s our fault! If you don’t like the judge don’t go to the trial. We have no right to keep running under them and continue complaining. If one of the trials I’m going to has a judge I don’t agree with, I never look at the scoreboard. I just run my dogs and enjoy doing that, which is what I’m supposed to be there for anyway, If I look at the scores it might upset me, and I don’t want to get caught up in all that. We should also remember that we’re sometimes going to be placed higher than we should be as well, so it does come around. If you are unfortunate enough to witness someone being a bad sport, try not to fuel the fire by adding your two cents worth about how unfairly you also have been treated. It has a snowball effect which can be very damaging. Think of the trial hosts, they’ve worked very hard to put on a quality trial, they really don’t need to hear whining from poor sports. We should feel privileged to be at their place, not the other way around. Anyone who has ever put on a trial understand what I mean. If we don’t try to control ourselves with our sportsmanship, we are going to have fewer and fewer trials to go to, People just aren’t going to do all that hard work and be treated like that. I’m not saying I’m perfect by any means -- just ask my husband, Jack. Sometimes I feel myself getting upset at trials, but I try to keep it to myself and think it through. Most times I realize that it’s not worth being upset about. Finally, I always try to think of my dogs. I’m letting them down if I make a spectacle of myself and take the attention away from them. They don’t care about judges or bad sheep, they just want to try and please me and work. Unfortunately, I have been on the sidelines and heard people say they hope so and so has a terrible run, or they won’t even watch if they are having a good run because of their unsportsmanlike manner. I always feel it is such an injustice to that dog who is working its heart out. The dog is not getting the positive recognition it deserves. So, the next time you feel yourself starting to blow up, try to remember the trial hosts, your dog, and yourself. It’s funny, but people will always remember and talk about bad sports more than good, but not in a flattering manner. I want to feel that when I do well it’s because I actually did do well, not because the judge is afraid I’ll throw a fit if I don’t. Just remember, the focus is supposed to be on the dogs, not on us. Editor’s Note: Kathy Knox is the wife of Jack Knox, one of the founders of the WWSDA and the daughter of Vince Metcalf, past president of the WWSDA.