Preparing to Compete
For many riders, preparation for competition is an on-going process with fitness programmes for both horse and rider and technical coaching to ensure the partnership is as strong as it can be. At what point in your preparation do you begin to address your psychological readiness to compete? When asked this question, many of the competitive riders that I have spoken to appeared a little surprised, then thoughtful and most admitted that they hadn’t really considered their mental approach to their sport. Most riders told me that they don’t really think about how they feel about the competition until the event is close or even on the day of the event. Is dealing with a quite sudden rush of emotion on the day of your competition really the best way to ensure a winning performance?
As you think about show days you have had, can you remember a time when you got really annoyed with your horse because they wouldn’t stand like a statue as you platted up? Did you have loading problems on the day of the show that you don’t normally get? Was your horse tense as they unloaded with every fibre of their body quivering as they gaze around the lorry park with wide, darting eyes? Did you feel like bursting into tears when that button fell of your jacket, or your horse shared the contents of a snack over your clean white jodhpurs, or your boots took ages to pull on? Would those things usually bother you to such an extent? I would guess not. At this point, thought patterns and perhaps even belief systems have changed and your horse, with their empathic sense, feels every variation, every shift. You are now communicating with your horse at the unconscious level and the messages are most confusing. All that calm, relaxed training has now been replaced by confusion, uncertainty and perhaps even fear. Performance is suffering already.
Just as flatwork is as important as the jumping work, mental fitness is as important as the technical training. Spending time on the ground, away from the horse, to work on your mental approach to competition is what separates good riders from great riders. A good programme of mental fitness should work in unison with your physical fitness and technical programme and should include:
- A clear and well written goal for the season or competition.
- Removal of all negative emotions and limiting decisions regarding performance.
- Removal of all self limiting beliefs.
- Installation of total motivation.
- Control of emotional state.
- Confidence and self-belief, on demand.
- Integration of personal conflict and values alignment.
- Great mental strategies for competition.
Imagine how your show day performance could be enhanced if all of these were present and under your control? In this way, your communication with your horse at both the conscious and unconscious level will be clear and certain, producing a confident, calm, willing ride.
When it comes to competition performance, it really is the thought that counts. The maintenance of a healthy mental state is critical during the competition itself. Months of preparation to produce a tightly wound package, can be unravelled in seconds if your thinking becomes unhelpful in the show ring. Sometimes, just pulling at one stray thread can make the whole rich tapestry collapse.
Mental control takes practice, that’s why your preparation months are so important. Using NLP techniques, your neurology begins to re-wire itself and the more you exercise it, the stronger it will become, resulting in permanent positive change. Excellent riders are able to control their emotional state as they compete, maintaining belief in themselves and their horse at all times. The unconscious mind learns fast, so you may be in the middle of a move in a dressage test or show, approaching that fence with a ditch, or the big upright with strangely coloured poles, reining and turning on a dime, your unconscious can initiate changes so quickly that you need not miss a stride.
With practice also comes flexibility to adapt to unexpected change in a positive and helpful way. Have you ever been completely thrown by a change of ring, in rider order, in timing, a long wait due to an accident, a change in judge, a course alteration or rule change? Adaptability is crucial to success and a strong mental approach will make adaption easy.
Maintaining a strong mental attitude during a competition is about so much more than just ‘positive thinking.’ Unless you know how to generate positive, helpful thinking, just being told to be positive becomes extremely difficult. Learning a complete system of thought management will reward you with the mental strength to produce optimum performance whenever you need it. A strong, positive rider equals a positive and compliant horse. The system provided by NLP thinking is a leader in the competitive field, there is no other form of sports coaching quite like it. NLP is the difference that makes the difference.
It seems to be an integral part of human nature that we focus heavily on what went wrong and let the successes pass us by. Have you ever had a really bad show day and stewed over it for weeks? Most riders have and many carry that thinking forward to the next event. ‘Remember what happened last time, it was a disaster?’
Back on the ground, after the event, reflective learning is an important part of your competitive programme. First of all, provide a clear focus on what when well. Appreciate your success. Think about what the conditions were that made the success so wonderful. Note those conditions down as you can replicate them over and over, this is your model of success. Allow yourself to re-live the wonderful feelings of a winning performance and enjoy them, smile about them and share those smiles with your horse.
The things that could have gone better are of equal importance. Acknowledge areas of your performance where you could have done something differently and take positive learning from them. Learn something of positive value from each point that could improve and then let it go. By letting all of your negative thoughts and emotions go, you will approach the next competition with only helpful learnings and positive emotions. That’s the secret to success.
How we can assist…
Coaches, instructors and trainers who would like to provide a mental fitness programme to their clients are invited to join us at our next NLP for Equestrian Sport© Practitioner Certification Training. You will learn how to create a programme of psychological support for your clients, adding a whole new dimension to your business and service portfolio.
Competitors who would like to learn a system of techniques for preparing, competing and reflecting will also benefit from the course, and you can also have a programme of mental fitness created specifically for you by a highly qualified Quest for Success NLP Coach.