Top Tips for Competition Success and Overcoming Setbacks
For the last week I've again been involved in running a British Dressage Regional Championships (my 4th one now). Its so lovely to see lots of people competing at an event they've worked really hard to qualify for and doing their very best to qualify for Nationals (including many of my clients - I'm so proud of you all!).
I also get to see a lot of people who are nervous or desperate to pull out their best performance and because of this they are tense, distracted, allow mistakes, get flustered etc and actually pull out what is in fact one of their worst performances at a time that really matters. I saw countless tests that I watched thinking how tense the rider was and then the sheets stated the horse was "tense". Often it is the rider causing this - especially on horses who aren't normally tense out competing or at home.
Have you got a big competition coming up or do you get nervous when going out to compete? Performance anxiety is very common and can have all sorts of effects. Its how you deal with nerves that count and that is a set of skills skill that can be learnt - just like in the physical riding itself. Of course you can be lucky and work these out on your own or if you get the right mindset coaching and support in place then you will get exactly what you need and accelerate the process (without having to make costly mistakes in learning it by yourself). These are some tips to help you to be successful in your competitions and how to deal with setbacks…
1 – Have a clear goal for each competition that is based on your training programme. This includes Qualifiers or Championships (the goal isn't to qualify or win by the way - that's just the result!). For example: at home you have been working on keeping your horse in front of your leg. So this is the focus at the competition. Then you can gauge your success based on how well you feel you executed this. The score will improve as you improve in your training, use the first score as a baseline and go from there. At competitions with qualifiers or medals etc then its more important than ever to focus on what you have been training. It keeps your mind in the now and stops you getting distracted into results focused thinking - this is what often affects performance.
2 – Keep goals personal and process based (not product). Product goals are often way outside of our control, such as %, placings, qualifiers, or medals as these depend on the other competitors or the judge’s opinion. Product goals do come as a result of good process goals but if the focus is on product alone it can be demoralising and affect your performance. Process based goals (such as keeping the horse in front of your leg or clean transitions) are small things that you judge and are within your control. You will know if you have achieved them and can work out a plan to keep improving.
3 - Analysis is ok but comparison to others is not. There is no comparison between yourself and another competitor. Unless you are riding the same horse and have exactly the same background, skills, body type and even coach. Comparison simply add judgement and self-doubt. Keep your thoughts in analysis mode instead. Analyse your behaviours and riding only. Analysis is without judgement and based on observable behaviour (things you physically do or say). Think about what you can change and create a plan to do it. Then focus on this plan and work out how you are going to execute it. Keep it to just a few (3 max) things to work on in training and then make these the focus of you next competition. There is no point trying to boil the ocean!
4 – Keep things in perspective. There will have been loads of good parts to your test/ round and if you think about how they have improved you will realise your hard work is paying off. Of course there is always something to improve on, that’s dressage! However focusing on the negative often takes it out of perspective. For example: if you messed up a couple of transitions or had a couple of poles it can be easy to end up thinking the whole test/ round was awful. So think of at least 3 positives for every less than ideal aspect. Then use analysis to work out your plan to improve it and keep the other great parts too. There is always another competition or opportunity to shine.
5 – Keep a track of your progress. I can be easy to forget how far you have come. You only achieve the bigger goals through a series of little ones being completed. Again celebrating your successes puts you in a positive frame of mind.
6 – Remember why you ride or compete. Keep this at the forefront of your mind. This helps you to make decisions and stay focused if things don’t go to plan. As a guess – it’s your love of horses that means you ride? Remember this and take a moment to appreciate how lucky you are to do what you do. Lots of others would love to be in your boots.
To help you keep a track of your competitions and make sure you are able to analyse and plan easily then you can download this simple to use Competition Checklist here.
Of course personal bespoke coaching is the most transformative way of discovering the very best tools for you to use to overcome nerves, stay focused achieve your own personal best. So do drop me a message if this is something you would like to explore further.