Judges, coaches, and competitors are all important to the success of dog sports, but they are different. There’s not much value in asking a judge a question that is more suited to a coach and likewise, you may not get much help asking a competitor a question about training that is specific to you.
A good judge is an expert at scoring for their given sport and organization. They observe carefully, know the rules extremely well, know where to be and when to be there, hold a lot of detail in their head at any given time, and can appropriately rank class placements at the end of the day. Ideally, this person also has an approach which is welcoming and open to people new to the sport. Judges are invaluable to the success of dog sports competitions.
A good coach is a person who is talented at guiding a team in training. They know how to work with people, understand training methodology and how to apply it effectively, and have excellent skills of observation as it applies to training. They see what is right most of the time (I hope) and help to improve on what is wrong. A coach can provide practical solutions for fixing errors, and with some luck they work with you over time, adapting their style as you advance your skills. A coach is invaluable if you want to progress in the dog sports.
A good competitor is a person who is focused on success in the ring. They tend to handle their dogs exceptionally well even under pressure and have a good temperament for competition. They enjoy preparing their dogs for whatever levels they will compete at, and are often goal-oriented individuals who work extremely hard over a long period of time. They may, or may not, have any real knowledge of training or possess strong communication skills; it’s not unusual for an excellent competitor to only have familiarity with training for teams that are extremely similar to them. Competitors are also invaluable to dog sports.
Each of these categories are different; no one is “better” than the other. If you have questions about judging, ring procedure, competition trends over time, or any specific points that you may have lost in the ring, then the judge is the appropriate person to ask. But if you ask them about training or problem-solving? You’ll get what you get. Many judges have not trained a dog in twenty years and have not kept up with current training methods at all, so there’s no more point in asking a judge for training advice than there is to asking your grandmother who picked up a few titles in 1985.
Heck, I put agility titles on a dog around the year 2000, which may well give me the titling qualifications needed to judge for some organizations. However, you do not want my advice on handling for agility because my knowledge is totally out of date. Believe me on that.
Coaches should be quite good at training and problem solving for a wide variety of dogs and handlers, but they cannot necessarily tell you why a given judge did or did not give you a specific score. They may not even be familiar with the organizations that are most important to you, but if they can train a dog and you can explain what you need…they have value to you. A coach is a flexible person who enjoys the process of helping other teams, and who can adjust to the needs of the team in front of them.
And competitors? Like the other categories, they may fill multiple roles very well, or maybe not! They may not enjoy coaching other teams. They may not have good people skills. They may not have the patience for people with different skill levels and goals than their own. But a competitor could tell you all about preparing for competition. They can tell you exactly what has worked for them, and what has not. They can tell you about handling, selecting judges and venues and give advice on mental management techniques for competition.
Plenty of people fill two or three roles, or they have in the recent past. Awesome! But not required. Value each group for what they bring to the table, and don’t expect (or demand) more than what they really are. Ideally, each group of people is clear on where they stand, what they do, and what they have to offer, but not always! It’s up to you to identify what a person brings to the table, but don’t assume, or you may find yourself sorely disappointed with the result.
On another note, Fenzi Dog Sports Academy is now enrolling for the October 1st term; come join us! I’m teaching Relationship Building Through Play and my new class, The Art of Training; Developing Confidence and Flow.