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Where Have All the Junior Handlers Gone?

How can USDAA clubs encourage young people to take up the sport? By Katherine Dattoma 

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My daughter has participated in agility competition since the age of 11, but only rarely has she attended a trial where there were more than two or three juniors competing, and none of the USDAA trials she attended offered a Junior Handler division. While there is interest in attracting more junior handlers into the sport, many clubs don't know where to begin. The process of developing a Junior Handler program starts with dedicated people in the agility community who are willing to put forth the effort with long term goals in mind. Like any product, the program has to be marketed to the group that it is trying to attract.

How can a club attract more junior handlers?
*Form partnerships between agility instructors and 4-H groups to expand an untapped market

*Perform demonstrations at horse events

*Approach agricultural schools and Future Farmers of America programs

*Reach out to home-schooled kids who may be looking for extracurricular activities

*Offer seminars and mini-camps for kids when regularly scheduled lessons may be missed because of busy lifestyles

*Offer free lessons to scout troops and other children's groups

*Supply handouts for children to bring home

*Keep prices low! Discount entry fees, offer scholarships

*Raise funds for kid programs by selling raffles and supplying ring stewards for trials (after training sessions)

*Cooperate with several other clubs to offer Junior Handler-only trials and award dinners

*Offer recognition for accomplishments with participation ribbons, "first Q" trophies, sportsmanship awards, photos, announcements at trials, and public acknowledgement for volunteering

*Encourage family participation because parental support is essential

*Encourage peer support with invitations to friends and by involving your child's interest in dogs with school projects

*Make children feel welcome in the agility community

While some children introduced to agility may drop the sport after a period of time, an early interest can be revisited as an adult when more leisure time and disposable income are available, or even perhaps as a family activity.  We have to be mindful that today's children are going to be tomorrow's agility participants!

Katherine Dattoma lives in Cold Spring Harbor with her husband Marc, daughter Kayla, Border Collies Oreo and Ginger, and a Patterdale Terrier, Kimmy. She grew up in suburban Long Island and attended SUNY Cobleskill where she studied Animal Science. The adoption of a rescued Border Collie in 1993 led her to agility. A year later, her daughter Kayla gained her own puppy companion, and started taking agility lessons as well. Together they enjoy frequent traveling to agility competitions. Katnerine now dog sits, train dogs, teaches agility, and is active in dog rescue. She can be reached at or through her website


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