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Marche, or How Teams Work.
On the road in northern Canada, “Marche” was the word that translated as “Mush” and was used to drive the dog teams that were once the only source of power in the frozen north.
What was not translated was the original meaning of the word “Marche”, which was the French imperative, “Walk”.
Don’t run, don’t rush or go faster, just walk.
In fact, there are only three commands that the dog team understands, “Stop”, “Go” and “Take it easy”.
I was lucky enough to take a dog sledding tour in Canada with “Snowy Owl Tours” under the careful guidance of Connie Arsenault.
He began the tour by introducing us to the dogs with an attention to detail born of genuine respect and care for their teams.
He explained how the team worked.
All dogs are attached to the sled by a common line to which each dog is attached by a separate harness, the direction of this line is the direction the sled will take and the effort of each animal could be measured by its alignment with the direction of trip. of the sleigh
Connie talked about the importance of selecting the correct dogs for each team.
The positioning of the dogs in the team is determined by their size, level of courage and willingness to perform.
“When we put our dogs in a team, we have front and rear dogs, guide dogs, point dogs, swing dogs, and wheel dogs.
In an eight-dog team of four pairs, the first pair are the guide dogs.
They are not the strongest, but they have the intelligence, focus, character, and speed that allow the other dogs to follow.
If the lead dog doesn’t lead, the team won’t follow and the sled won’t go anywhere.
Then there are the top dogs, the apprentice guide dogs that are usually one year old.
At the rear of the team are the wheel dogs, these two are the nerve center of the team, strong and undramatic.
They take their direction, then, putting their shoulders in the tracks, they do the work.
In the middle is the schoolyard, the swinging dogs.
This pairing will usually consist of a young dog and an older dog, perhaps an older guide or wheeler dog that is coming on in years and has been replaced in its leading position by a younger and more capable animal.
Its usefulness is not over, strength is not the only asset of the team.
The old dog in the schoolyard or in the swing position now has the job of attracting the younger dog through his example and experience.
He, in turn, responds to the enthusiasm of the younger dog and gets new energy from it.
These eight dogs will comfortably carry three people all day, or wrestle and play in the snow with equal joy.
These eight individuals make up the team.
Driving is done exclusively by praise and recognition.
Praise for the team effort, and for the individual.
Connie explained the importance of our position in relation to the team.
We were part of the team, but just like the dogs, we still had to earn the right to be there.
Unless we were prepared to jump off the sled and give them a hand when they needed it, they would lose respect and stop pulling.
That included helping by pushing when going uphill and holding the sled so it didn’t run over the dogs when going down.
Our job was not to tell the team what to do, they already knew what was better than us.
Our job was to provide them with the physical and verbal support they needed to tell them we appreciated their efforts.
There are no passengers on a sleigh.
Connie’s reason for making this explanation was because she cared about her equipment and didn’t want us to upset or upset them through accidental mishandling or abuse.
There was a concerned question, “What if we’re wrong?”
He could see the image this man had in his mind, dangling grimly as his howling team sped out of control toward the horizon.
Connie saw it too and knew the answer perfectly well.
She told us: “If you are in charge of a team and you make a mistake, the team will stop working.
This means that they will stop pulling in the same direction and therefore will be unable to start towards any horizon, but they will warn you long before that all is not well.
All you have to do is be aware of the signs that they will give you”
She said: “The first thing to understand is that these are working dogs.
Dogs that get so excited at the prospect of pulling that at the start of the day when they’re fresh sometimes go too fast.”
If you stick to the three instructions they know and understand, “Stop”, “Go on”, “Take it easy” and you give them the support they need, then they will do everything they can for you.
If you confuse them with unnecessary or contradictory commands, or yell at them, they will stop working as a team. They will take their weight off the rope while holding it taut to make it look like they are working, or they will just step off the line and start eating snow or fighting.
The first sign of this in the team is when the dogs begin to look over their shoulders at the handler.
Normally the guide dog is the first, he turns around without stopping pulling and in his eyes you can see what he has in mind.
He’s saying “Just let me know what you want, I’ll do it” or “We’re doing our best, why don’t you get down and help instead of yelling?”
Unless you pay attention to these early signs, the team breakdown will follow.
Connie told a great story, but we couldn’t wait to hit the trail behind our teams.
I was initially paired with a guide, she started the dogs up, stopped them and told me when to hit the brake.
The rest of the time was dedicated to praising the team and the people.
At first I thought he was exaggerating this support and was taken aback by the thorough way he named each of the dogs and cheered them on, again going back to praising the entire team.
initially it sounded like overkill and I couldn’t see any effect.
What I really mean is that the team just did what a dog team was supposed to do.
They didn’t make a fuss, walking together in the same direction and keeping their eyes forward, except for the occasional glance to acknowledge our guides’ words of appreciation, as if they knew she, too, needed to know that her efforts were appreciated. .
There was a lot of shouting and noise coming from the sleigh behind us.
They had no guide and we had to constantly stop to allow them to catch up with us.
Our guide had her hands full trying to give the same attention and care to the team behind us who were clearly not having any fun at all and needed help.
It was then that I realized that what I was doing was something physical.
Not only was he being “nice” to the dogs, but he was providing the fuel the team needed to work.
Without the support she gave our team, the team behind it was falling apart.
The more the equipment stopped working, the more the drivers yelled, cajoled, and instruct.
That was exactly what Connie had told us would stop the equipment from working, and she was absolutely right.
Halfway up, a few of us switched sleds and I ran into the team that had been behind us on the outward journey. One of the drivers from the first leg also stayed with that team.
We set off to a chorus of screams and cries, all with the intention of the driver to motivate and push the team to a greater effort.
Clearly this confusing set of signals was not working, the dogs were turning and looking at us, not pulling and the sled was not moving.
More shouting was added and the driver launched into a litany of the team’s faults and how it was really spoiling the day that we had such bad equipment.
I remembered Connie’s words and suggested that we try something different.
“Why don’t we save our breath and see what dogs do on their own?”
The driver stopped yelling.
With a spoken “Hike up” (the modern version of saying “Mush”), the dogs pricked up their ears, looked straight ahead, and began pulling.
We gave no other order to the dogs.
They knew where they were going.
We help up hills by sliding or running alongside and brake going down.
The rest of the time we spent providing the team with the fuel they needed to do their job.
“Good pups, good pups, well done Misty, good boy Laredo, well done Midnight, good girl Mexico.
Good boy Butch, Well done Sundance, Good girl Cinders Good boy Butte. Good boys! Good girls!
And only once did I catch a sort of backward glance from Laredo, seem to say, “Look, that’s how it’s done,” and then he went back to his job of keeping up with the sleigh ahead and taking care of the young man. on his shoulder
The reason for telling us how to make teams work was not because Connie Arsenault had heard a theory on leadership principles and wanted to test it.
The reason was because she runs in dog teams. She competes in dog teams the same way they have been raced for hundreds of years, and she knew this was the way to win.
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