Practice makes proficient

Louisville – Present Day

My oldest son, Josiah, accompanied me to clean yards today. He is in kindergarten but school was closed due to Labor Day weekend. Instead of taking him to day care, I decided to teach him about work on his day off from school.

When he was younger, Josiah would tag along with me on occasion. He has always had enthusiasm towards my job but I wasn’t quite ready to relinquish my tools over to him until now.

For this very occasion, I bought another set of tools so he could assist me.

In the first yard, I said, “You start over in that corner,” as I pointed to the far side of the yard. “But first, let me show you how to do it.”

I briefly demonstrated how to perform a grid pattern search in two rows at my end of the yard. “Got it?”

“Yes,” he said.

“Good. You start over there and we’ll meet in the middle.”

He started on his part and I started on mine. In a short while, he began to whine and protest.

“I can’t do it!” He proclaimed with exasperation. “I’m not like you, Dad! I don’t know how to do it.”

“Josiah,” I said patiently. “When I first started doing this, I wasn’t any good either. It takes practice.”

“No it doesn’t!” He interjected. “I’ll never be as good as you.”

I could see he was discouraged. I decided not to rebuke him. I knew to respond sharply while he was frustrated would have been useless.

“If you’ll let me,” I said, “I can be your coach. You will get better. But it takes practice.”

Radcliff – Ten Years Ago

If I was going to succeed at being a professional pooper scooper, I knew I needed practice. I secured four yards to practice in: Apostle Jimmy’s mother’s yard, Pastor Terry’s yard, and the yards of two ushers (one in Radcliff and one in Vine Grove). But before I could get started, I needed tools.

So I drove to Elizabethtown and bought a rake/spade combo and litter pan poop scooping set. The tools were crafted out of aluminum. The upright handles were just shy of being waist-high on me. The flat litter pan lay at a right angle from the handle and was big enough to scoop one pile of waste. Obviously, I had chosen my tools poorly.

I carried Wal-Mart bags in my pocket and emptied the litter pan after every scoop into the bags. Much bending occurred during these early practice sessions and I began to feel sore in my lower back. To continue working like this would have been futile.

I went to the discussion board at and began studying the section Tools of the Trade. Eventually, I heard people talking about lobby dust pans so I went out and bought one. This was a standard dust pan with an upright handle. The pan was big enough to secure a Wal-Mart bag in place. It could collect more waste and was an exceptional upgrade at the time. But I still wasn’t satisfied with my equipment.

The rake/spade tool had a head with a flat side and a rake side. The tines were round like fingers. Unfortunately, the aluminum couldn’t withstand the force necessary to scoop waste out of patches of thick grass. Several times, the rake would bend and fold flat against the spade.

That’s when I discovered the Corona Extendable Cultivator. Because it was extendable, this was a worthwhile tool upgrade. When collapsed, it is 18″ long (about the same length as my current tool). When fully extended, the rake could reach up to 32″. This meant no more bending and also that I wouldn’t have to get too close to the waste.

I still needed more upgrades. Wal-Mart bags weren’t the best option for scooping. They work great for picking up waste while walking a dog but are lousy in the dustpan because they are easily torn. They can also get messy making it difficult to tie off without getting my hands dirty.

As for my dust pan, I had heard of a model that had a larger pan. Scoopers had nicknamed it “Big Red” because the pan was red in color. After I completed all of my upgrades, it was much easier to practice.

Had I not adapted my tools, I probably would have quit this business altogether. I learned to adapt and practice truly made me proficient at what I do.

Louisville – Present Day

After we finished cleaning the first yard, we boarded the Jeep and drove to the second yard.

“Josiah,” I said. “It really does take practice. I was terrible at this when I started. It took me 9 years to get really good at this. I don’t expect you to be like me on your first day.

“In fact, don’t worry about doing a grid pattern. Just walk around and if you see something, pick it up. I’ll do the normal pattern and you will be my second set of eyes.”

He agreed this was a better idea. And while we worked on the second yard, I pointed out the usual locations of the dog waste and he set out to scoop those spots. He managed to collect a good amount from his first attempt.

“Dad!” He exclaimed proudly. “You were right! It just takes practice.”

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