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Daniel Stewart has been one of the favorite speakers at the USEA Annual Meeting and Conventions. A recap of his presentation at the 2011 Convention on Equestrian Sports Psychology will be appearing in the January/February issue of Eventing USA and a monthly blog post from Daniel Stewart will be featured on the USEA site. Interested in learning more from Daniel Stewart? Be sure an sign up for his monthly newsletter on the bottom of his website.
Question of the Month
Devon asks, I ride really well in my lessons but struggle when I compete. What can I do to make sure I ride as well at shows as I do at home?
The number one reason riders seek mental coaching is because they aren't able to ride as well in their competitions as they are in their lessons. The jitters, pressure, nerves and expectations sometimes make it difficult for them to replicate their practice skills when it really counts. They know their show performances are not as free and automatic as their lesson performances but don't how to overcome it. They know there's a misfire somewhere but don't know where to start looking. Sound familiar?
There are many ways to solve this problem including positive thinking, stress management and goal setting techniques but before we can start we must first understand that two different mindsets are required to create show success.
Many riders have a stronger schooling mindset than showing mindset. This is why so many of us tend to freeze or chock under pressure; not because our show skills are inferior but because we're still trapped in the analytical and critical schooling mindset. In sport this is often referred to as:
Paralysis by Over Analysis
When showing we must learn to turn-off our conscious self-critical and self-judging schooling mindset and simply TRUST that the skills we've learned in our lessons have prepared us well for the demands of the show. Criticizing and over analyzing every little movement in the show ring will only cause us to become stiff and mechanical, discouraged and disappointed. In our shows we must instead develop the subconscious and automatic ability to ride freely, believe in ourselves and focus on confidence rather than criticism.
Show with a schooling mindset and you might find yourself in a bit of trouble. So how can you learn to avoid training when you should be trusting?
I've always defined showing as "showing off what you've learned". When the jitters, nerves, pressure and expectations make this difficult try using these two simple techniques. In future newsletters I'll give you many more tips to help you overcome performance anxiety but for now always remember that lessons are for training and showing is for trusting.
Thanks for the great question Devon!
Tip of the Month
Cue Words Create Confidence
Cue words are acronyms that remind us to think of the important skills needed to create riding success. For example a jumper who rounds her back and forgets to release could think "Sit up tall, open my shoulders, flatten my back, relax my arms, follow my horse and remember to release". Unfortunately in the heat of the moment she probably won't have the time or ability to remember this long list. Instead she can simply summarize it into a simple cue word like STAR (Sit Tall And Release). My favorite comes from a rider who's pony refused to move forward. Her acronym is LUCKY, Look Up, Cluck, Kick and Yell!
Here are a few other great examples:
When creating cue words it's best if they form sentences rather than lists and are limited to five letters. Our minds just seem to process short phrases better than long mechanical lists. For example the cue word BAR can stand for Breathe, Arousal, Relax or just Breath and Relax.
When it comes to acronyms we're only limited by our imagination. The following examples from some of my great clinic riders are actually cue phrases with more than five letters but they use word play to deliver their message clearly.
As you can see cue words are just mnemonic devises that summarize the many great things we can do to create success. Without them the long and often clumsy lists that we create might just leave us feeling a little overwhelmed.