“Firstly, many thanks to everyone who was able to make it to Hartpury last week, I hope you enjoyed the talk as much as you enjoyed the wine which didn’t hang about for long! There were many interesting questions about performing well under the pressure of competition, so I thought I would dedicate this blog to offering you a slightly different perspective!
As part of being a performance psychologist, I take great interest in people’s experience of competing under pressure. I am lucky enough to share personal accounts of how riders think, feel and behave whilst trying to deal with expectation, thereby building up a unique insight into the patterns that surround good and bad performances. Before reading on, take a moment to consider two experiences of your own, one when you performed at your best and one when things went badly.
The most common descriptions given to me from riders having a bad competition are:
• I feel like everything is rushed and slightly out of my control
• My thoughts and attention flick from one thing to another really quickly
• As a result I don’t make strong decisions, I snap at people and I get frustrated when my horse doesn’t go well
Does this sound familiar? In contrast, reports from a good competition tend to be:
• I feel happy, relaxed and in control of what I am doing – my horse responds well
• I don’t seem to be thinking about anything in particular – my head is clear and it feels like I am just doing it
So how can we ensure that we experience the good version? Naturally there are many ways to do this, but I would like to share with you a useful trick which I discovered during my first year in the Army. At the time I was going through Army officer training at Sandhurst Military Academy and struggling to stay awake in lectures having been woken-up at stupid o’clock in the morning to go on a gruelling endurance march. I tried for nearly a year to find a way of keeping my concentration and not falling asleep in lessons. Dipping my head in a bucket of ice worked quite well, but finding a bucket of ice was always going to be a problem. I later discovered a trick that was far more powerful, more simple and required no props. All I had to do was watch other people around me going through the same torment of trying to stay awake!
By noticing other people going through the same discomfort there was a realisation that I was not on my own – everyone felt the same. Upon this simple discovery my mind seemed to acquire a new sense of control that required no conscious effort on my part. As a result I found it easy to stay focused for the duration of the lesson!
So why does this happen and what relevance does it have in the equestrian world? Funnily enough, we learn more about ourselves through the behaviour of other people when they are placed in the same situation (hence the reason we are naturally competitive as humans). In riding terms, the mere act of appreciating the experiences of other riders can go a long way in gaining a sense of control over our own. In the same way, why do you think autobiographies are such hugely popular books? Perhaps we are not so much interested in the person they are about as we are in the opportunity to relate their experiences to our own? For me, this is what makes working with small groups of riders such a powerful environment for creating real “breakthroughs” in peoples’ experience of competition. All that without having to tack-up – can’t be bad!
Please visit my website (link below) for details of upcoming workshops or email Charlie directly at [email protected] if you would like to organise one for a group.”