Performance Coaching Tips

Charlotte DuJardin on the morning of her gold medal winning performance 2012

Doing Your Best  

As we start to approach the Summer Regionals, Area Festivals and many other championships I often ask clients what goals they have set themselves. Most have aware that they want their goals to be within their own control and achievable so I regularly hear the client say that they want to “Do their Best” or “Not let themselves Down”. Whilst this can form the foundations of a good set of goals, in itself it is not a positive goal. The main problem is that it is not measurable and it may not lead to improvement, at worst it may lead to frustration if the rider feels they do their best but their score is lower than they feel their “Best” deserves

The first step is to decide what elements make up your Best both in terms of preparation and performance. The rider who has failed to practice, has a late (alcohol fuelled!) evening the night before the competition, turns up leaving little time to warm up and spends most of their test time worrying about where they are going rather than riding their horse may perform to “their Best” given all the circumstances but not the best they could do if they have better goals.

So the goals would better if they included, plans for the final two weeks of practice/schooling; at least 7 hours sleep every night for the week before the major competition, avoiding over-eating or excess alcohol for the 3 nights before the show; learning the test so that they are very confident that they can perform the correct movements ; a plan for the warm up including maintaining focus by not comparing themselves to other rider/horse combinations, not chatting to their friends but knowing how much time they have until they will be called to the arena for their test; ensuring they remember to breath before every corner or transition and to smile! You will have your own important elements but these should give you some ideas.

That might sound like a lot of elements but by splitting them into goals for the preparation and goals for the day they will be manageable and measurable. Add them to your journal and ensure you carefully assess and record against each goal how well you performed -then you can truly say you Did your Best

(Claire Knowles on Pendragon of Independence)

Rider nutrition/hydration (2) 

We are all aware of the need to feed our horses little and often and to feed according to the work done, but how many of us apply the same rules to ourselves? And here stands one who admits that an increase in down time is often matched by an increase in food intake- certainly the worst combination. Times of stress can add to the problems, our bodies tell us that we need increased energy to support our flight mechanism ie taking us back to early days when threats meant getting away as quickly as possible. Our bodies cannot differentiate between mental and physical stress so we are fooled into thinking that we need more food. In addition, at times of stress the body lays down the excess fat around the organs where they can be converted quickly into energy but for us in modern times all this does is to increase potential for ill-health.

So we need to eat smart and also not to make the mistake of thinking we are hungry when we are, in fact, thirsty as described in the previous article. We need to maximise our intake with foods that will aid our body to digest and use the food values to a maximum. When you have eaten, assess how you feel 1-2 hours afterwards- if there is a feeling of bloatedness, heaviness in the gut area or renewed hunger then the food was not what you required. Also assess how long it takes your body to fully digest a meal, during the digestion process there is usually a period when you cannot operate at optimum level- remember the lessons at school straight after lunch where all you wanted to do was sleep- that was a sign that your body was using its resources to maximise digestion, So know at what point your body feels fit and raring to go again (usually 2-3 hours after a good meal) and time your schooling and competing sessions accordingly. Do not skip meals, your body will have cravings and encourage you to eat sugars which give temporary highs but big dips afterwards and also promotes fat storage. Also note if you feel differently after eating various food groups such as wheat, dairy sugar, citrus or yeast in foods as these can cause an intolerance which affects performance so aim to avoid them for 24 hours before an event if they affect you in anyway

The main food groups that you should aim to eat daily are wholegrains. 3-5 servings each of raw organic fruit and vegetables, low GI (Glycemic Index) carbohydrates such as lentils and buckwheat noodles, 1-1.5g of protein per kilogram of your own bodyweight, semi skimmed milk and use olive oil on salads and in cooking. Nuts such as brazils, almonds and pumpkin seeds are ideal for snacking and you should aim to eat 3 portions of oily fish such as tuna, mackerel or salmon each week. The good news is that alcohol is not necessarily a bad thing- but only if you can limit your intake to 1 unit a day- again little and often is the way forwards!

Former RoR winner Cheryl Jackson

Using STOPP techniques 

Cognitive Behaviour Therapy is a technique that encourages the individual to think differently and can use a technique called STOPP. This month you are going to use this technique when you experience a situation that is challenging or daunting, thoughts that are intrusive, or distressing or negative triggers or memories.

Stage 1 is STOP and step back from the situation in your mind. Stage 2 is to Take a few deep breaths- particularly breathing out. Stage 3 is to Observe- (ideally write these down) what is happening? what are you reacting to? What are you thinking and feeling? What are the words that your mind is saying? What physical sensations do you notice in your body? Where is your focus of attention?

Stage 4 now Pull back and put in some perspective looking at the situation as an impartial observer.. Is what is causing the issue fact or opinion (yours or someone else’s)? Is there another way of looking at it? What would someone else make of it? What advice would I give to someone else? What is the “helicopter view” ie look down from above at the situation? What meaning are you giving the event to react in the way you are? How important is it at the moment and how important will it be in 6-9 months time? Is your reaction in proportion to the actuality of the event? What will be the consequences of your action?

Stage 5 Now Practice what works. What can you do that will be the most helpful? What will be the most effective and appropriate? Are your actions in keeping with your values and principles? What is the best thing to do, for yourself, for others, in this situation? By taking yourself through these steps then you can maintain perspective

Christine Kershaw with Uri

Goal of the Month -

Accepting Compliments  

How do you react when you are paid a compliment? Next time you are paid one then note your reaction. Ensure you learn how to accept a compliment simply & without embarrassment- just say Thank You! Make sure your reaction is positive not negative- how often does someone compliment you & your reaction is "what? this old thing!". By effectively rejecting the compliment it makes the giver less inclined to offer one again. Rejecting compliments is a small indicator of fear of success, having to live up to being "that good". Allow yourself to succeed.

Over the next month, try to pay someone a (genuine) compliment each day- see how often those compliments are repaid & allow yourself to enjoy them & be gracious in accepting them. It will also start to bring you into a more positive mind set. A friend of war correspondent Marie Colvin who was killed recently in Syria, recalled how he had paid Marie a huge compliment just weeks before she was killed- it is never to early to give a compliment but one day it maybe too late.

On this subject- avoid fishing for compliments- it can often be a sign of insecurity or low self esteem especially in a particular relationship Those who are needy never seem to get enough validation from others, and getting affirmation from someone you’ve had to psychologically beat over the head for a compliment is ultimately not very satisfying. Similarly, being in a relationship in which neither party is really very sure of how much they are regarded and approved of by the other is destined for eventual failure. The best course: be genuine in your regard for yourself and others. Offer compliments sincerely and freely. Accept compliments graciously. Avoid “fishing” and beware when someone else is setting the “bait.”

. And remember that failing to achieve 60% in a dressage test does not make you a bad person!