Nine Mental Skills for Successful Training – Laura King
Imagine, for a moment, that a high level dressage rider is interviewing you as a potential trainer. The potential student, who is just the kind of rider you really want to have as a student, asks, “What would you do as my trainer?”
What if you answered, “First of all, when you sit in the saddle, I’m going to say, ‘You look terrible! Can’t you even sit properly in the saddle?’ And then if you miss a transition, I’ll say, ‘That move was terrible! How could you miss that transition? You jerk!” If you forget a movement, or mess up a lead, I’m going to really be harsh. ‘You can’t even ride!’ I’ll yell, ‘Why don’t you give up?’ Then, at night, I’ll come to your bedroom just before you fall asleep and remind you of all the mistakes you made that day in the ring. The last voice you hear as you’re falling asleep will be mine, saying, ‘You’re an appalling excuse of an equestrian!'”
Do you think they would hire you? Of course not! They would walk out and you would never see them again.
In my years of experience in the equestrian world, I’ve noticed that the most successful trainers at the higher levels of competition – the ones with the longest tenure with riders – are the ones who know how to do exactly the opposite of what I just described. They have a knack for giving their rider words of encouragement that are framed in such a way that the rider finds them credible. In other words, they aren’t going to give false flattery, but if the rider needs to hear something positive, the good trainer gives them what they need.
Whose voice is the student really hearing, whether training or competing? It’s not their trainer’s. It’s the voice inside their head, the voice they use to talk to themselves. Do your students know how to give themselves what they need?
The subconscious mind does not judge the input we give it. It does not discriminate when it gets input from the conscious mind. If your student is telling themselves that they are a terrible excuse for a dressage rider, their subconscious will start to believe it completely. If your student is talking to themselves in this way, it’s like filling a backpack with heavy rocks and bricks, and wearing it while they ride. No one would intentionally hamper their performance in this way.
I’ve been around horses and equestrians most of my life. My daughter rode, and I remember when she first started jumping. I always gave her words of encouragement, like most parents and even the trainers of these young children. If I asked you right now, “Would you berate your child who was learning to ride and chipped a fence, or got a wrong lead?” No! You would probably be hurt by that suggestion. I have heard many parents saying things like, “You can make that fence, honey. You are a good rider.”
Most people realize that they need to calm down and speak patiently and kindly to their children if the child has misbehaved. Yet they will unload all their anger and frustration on themselves. Telling themselves how terrible they are as a rider. In fact, they think it’s all right, even a show of strength, to be tough on themselves. But it’s not all right. In fact, it is actually counterproductive.
Teach your students to talk to themselves as they would talk to their own child. It is fine to review their performance after a competition briefly, and determine some areas they want to improve – the areas that were not as good as they had wanted. While in the ring, however, their inner voice should be the one saying, “You can remember all of your moves, and make each transition easily, honey. You’re a good dressage rider.”
Self-talk is one of nine mental skills of successful riders. Is it enough? No. But it is a start. If you want to truly be the best trainer you can be, to help your student become the best they can be, you also need to understand the mindset of the successful athlete. As a trainer, these are the most important skill set you can teach your students.
1. Attitude – First and foremost, teach your students that attitude is a choice. And choosing an attitude that is predominantly positive is vital to all aspects of riding. Teach your students:
- That riding is an opportunity to compete against themselves, and to learn from their successes and failures.
- To pursue excellence, not perfection, and to recognize that they, as well as you as their trainer, teammates, officials and others are not perfect either.
- To respect their sport, their horse, other participants, their trainer, officials and themselves.
To maintain balance and perspective between riding and the rest of their lives.
2. Motivation – Why is your student competing? Successful riders:
- Are aware of the rewards and benefits they expect to achieve through their participation in a competition.
- Are able to persevere through difficult times and difficult tasks, even when the rewards and benefits are not immediately forthcoming.
- Most importantly, realize that many of the benefits come from their participation, not the outcome.
3. Goals and Commitment – Setting goals, both long-term and short-term, is important for improving. Successful riders:
- Make sure their goals are realistic, measureable, and with a timeline.
- Are objective about their current performance level and are able to develop detailed plans for attaining their goals.
- Are highly committed to their goals and are willing to carry out the daily demands of their training programs.
4. People Skills – It’s easy to forget that you are a part of a larger system that includes family, friends, other participants, trainers, and others. Realizing this is so important so they can:
- Communicate their thoughts, feelings, and needs to these people, when needed, and listen to them as well.
- Deal with conflict, other riders and with other people when they are negative or oppositional.
5. Self-Talk – Earlier in this article, I suggest having your student talk to themselves as if they were their own child. What if you simply taught your students to talk to themselves like they are their own best friend? Most of us are encouraging to our best friend, so this might be easier if you are working with a young student. Successful riders will:
- Be able to maintain their self-confidence through difficult times with realistic, positive self-talk.
- Be able to stop negative thoughts, and use positive self-talk to regulate their internal dialogue, their feelings and behaviors while competing.
7. Dealing Effectively with Anxiety – The best riders know that anxiety is just a part of competing, and realize that:
- Some degree of anxiety, the heightened awareness of this state, may help them perform well.
- They can also learn to reduce the anxiety if it becomes too strong, without losing their focus.
8. Dealing Effectively with Emotions – Strong emotions are part of the experience of competing.
The best riders:
- Accept that excitement, anger, and disappointment are human responses to life events, and are a part of the competitive equestrian experience.
- Are able to mentally step back from the emotion in order to evaluate the feedback from their performance; and to use this to improve, rather than interfere, with high level performance.
- 9. Concentration – Knowing your routine is an absolute when you are a rider. As a trainer, how many times have you seen a rider who performs extremely well in the practice ring go into a competition and forget a transition? The best riders:
- Have learned how to maintain focus and resist distractions, whether it is from their personal life or something happening during the competition (crowd noise, an old trainer who is in the audience, etc.).
- Can regain their focus when concentration is lost while competing.
Stay in the moment, without regard to the past or anticipated future events.
These nine mental skills can be tough to master unless you are consistent. The fastest way to make the change is with hypnosis and NLP techniques. In the next issue we will teach the “instant alpha” technique and how to use self-hypnosis to create change.
Laura King will be teaching a Sports Hypnosis Certification in Marlborough, MA, August 9-10, 2017 at the National Guild of Hypnotists (NGH) convention. For more information go to NGH.net to contact.