I am a parent of a child in the cross rail division. She hopes to move up to the next level as soon as possible and compares herself to some of her barn mates constantly, which often results in her feeling unaccomplished and badly about herself. How can I best support her? This is a universal challenge for all athletes. Compare equals despair no matter what! A useful tool for working with this pattern is to look back at one’s personal journey of learning/training, successes, and challenges. This is an actual cycle that is repeated in all aspects of life in a variety of ways. Reflecting on one’s patterns of learning to talk, walk, and read can be helpful models for understanding learning to ride and show. After a brief reflection on your daughter’s learning processes, shift the focus to learning how to compete with herself. There will always be someone who is better at an endeavor and we need to learn to see them as inspiration, rather than trigger self-judgment. Having just re-entered the show ring, I am very aware of this challenge. Some of my same age friends/
competitors are beating me in the ring over and over again! I would be lying if I didn’t admit that I want to win too! But when I tell myself the real story of what’s happening, I realize that I am doing incredibly well, actually winning, given my personal circumstances! So the upshot is, have empathy for your daughter while supporting her to focus on a personal narrative that includes only the details of her journey. Factor in the environmental factors like how much sleep she got the night/week before, how well she ate, lessons leading up to the show, her actual level, and reasonable expectations. When you honestly assess your own situation, the successes are easy to spot and the challenges become focus for improvement. As I said, this is a lifelong practice and we can never start too young!
What do I do when I have tons of down time after the course walk or between rounds at big events like medal finals? I get so tired just hanging around! Single-focus events require a different approach to developing a heightened focus at the appropriate time than typical show days. On a typical show day, I encourage athletes to have awareness of their attention in terms of a spiral. The center of the spiral is the goal each time you enter the show ring. The outer edges of the spiral are the goals for rest and transportation times. Being aware of where you are on the spiral throughout the the day helps you to be purposeful about how you are spending your energy and where you are allowing your thoughts to travel. On a single event day, consider the spiral with two parts. Focus and physically warm up for the course walk. Eat regular meals and hydrate to keep mind and body balanced with calories to burn at game time. Watch no more than 10 rounds before taking a walk, purposely disconnecting from the show ring. Visualize the course and your intended plan periodically, but allow your mind to focus on other things too so it doesn’t become dull. Stay off your phone and social media as these are mental energy drains and have the potential of triggering negative self-talk. Socializing too much burns a lot of energy. Reading, studying, and writing are excellent
Carrie Wicks,Ph.D. |
ways to keep the mind engaged without emptying the focus tank. Take time to stretch. Rest with feet higher than your heart to restore energy. Meanwhile, visualize your intended round from your perspective, from your horse’s perspective, and from the judge’s perspective. When it is time to get dressed to ride, do some breathing exercises to center and channel your mounting adrenaline. At this point you are on one of the inner circles of the spiral. If your heart races a bit too fast for your comfort, inhale slowly through your nose for up to six counts and exhale slowly through your mouth for as long as it takes to completely empty your lungs. Repeat three times. Take one last glimpse of the course before warm-up so it is sharp in your mind. As you approach the back gate, recognize your heart rate as a signal to sharpen your mind-body connection. Review the plan once more. Trust that your analytic mind will tell you what to do when. Enter the ring with awareness that you are now at the center of the spiral. The next 1-2 minutes are all about the connection between mind-body-horse. Be present for each moment. Be clear with the cues you give your horse. Enjoy the ride, you have arrived!
Dr. Carrie founded The (W)inner’s Circle for Equestrians, a membership-based program that supports riders to develop a mental practice for peak performance. She regularly consults with riders and trainers. She is also a parenting guru who guides teens and parents through challenges while deepening their bonds and navigating adolescence. Dr. Carrie was a top Junior/Amateur competitor, a young professional rider, and mother of an elite gymnast and an equestrian. She has worn all the hats! Her doctoral dissertation, “Adolescent Equestrienne Athletes’ Experiences of Mindfulness in Competition” is in the Library of Congress and is currently being revised as a book for the public. If you would like to ask a question for this column or ask about a complimentary Performance Strategy session, please contact Carrie.