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Performance Coaching Tips

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


Many people are surprised to learn that searching for perfection can be a highly negative influence. The first thing to remember is that a 10 in dressage does not mean perfect it only means excellent and that is how riders should plan to perform- search for excellence and assess your progress against the image of what excellence means in every pace and every movement.

For a rider who thinks of striving to achieve perfection, every small detail that they perceive as not being perfect is effectively a minus against their perfect 10. A positive rider thinks the other way round with every improvement taking the rider and horse closer to that elusive 10-consequently they are more relaxed and positive. The rider who seeks perfection will give themselves a hard time when they feedback after a test and when they review the test sheet. They will tend to read the sheet and focus on all of the negative aspects of the judge’s comments. The rider who is looking for excellence will be looking for all the opportunities to improve and the comments from the judge will help that process.

The rider that is inclined to look too hard for perfection will not appreciate the improvements they have made and will become disappointed, maybe even disillusioned. The answer is to make regularly assess and consider the improvements that have been made in the last 12 months and 1 month. Whilst the judge is not looking at that aspect (they merely judge what they see on the day) it can help the rider to remain positive and enjoy their journey. SO, it is important that you understand that you and the judge are coming from a different perspective- they are trying to explain to you why they couldn’t give you a higher mark against their image of the excellent performance whilst you are there to assess your own progress and take note of your areas for greater improvement so that you can make a plan.

So remember that dressage is about excellence in training and put your perfectionist tendencies aside. Avoid Social Media if you feel it makes you compare yourself to others and make sure you only use positive self talk.

(Claire Knowles on Pendragon of Independence)

 Rider Nutrition (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

Developing resolve and resilience

Being strong in the face of problems is a very positive attribute to have as challenges and disappointments are an inevitable part of life. Every aspect of our life can produce stresses and worries and our horses and competing are certainly no exception. Whilst financial stability or even great wealth can be give us may things it is not as effective as resilience against trauma. Resolve can help to maximise performance, improve health, prevent depression and help in our relationships with friends and loved ones.

There are two main characteristics that resilient people display, emotional control and openness to new experiences. The ability to stay calm in a crisis and the ability to express what you feel in words but resisting acting out your emotions (i.e. not throwing a tantrum when people let you down) are aspects of emotional control that can level out the roller coaster of emotions that some people are prone to experiencing. Those people who are open to new experiences are more likely to embrace change rather than fight it and to be able to rebuild their lives after experiences that could shatter others. By regularly pushing yourself out of your comfort zone, meeting new people, trying out new activities or taking on additional responsibility you are likely to be more ready to cope with any challenges.

Reframing your thoughts in a more positive way can also help- expect good things to happen, think about what you want rather than what may go wrong and do everything you can to deal with setbacks with humour, courage and positivity. Compare the behaviour of people you know (whether they are celebrities or close friends) when things go wrong- which would you prefer to model yourself on- what behaviour so you admire- how can you replicate that behaviour?

Resilient people are also usually well connected with other people- they listen to those with problems and are generous in their help, they also accept help and support from their friends as needed. Make sure you take responsibility and seek solutions to your issues with those close to you- if you don’t feel you get to spend enough time with them, do not complain or blame them but instead ask for their help in making sure that quality time happens. Try to control your emotions, avoid shouting or becoming aggressive- try to recognise when you are likely to be stressed and make sure that you do not take it out on friends and family.

By managing your emotions, learning to handle obstacles, focusing on positives, have task based goals, maintaining perspective and behaving in a manner that you would admire from someone else then you will find it easier to deal with the traumas and problems that occur regularly in our lives- and especially with horses.

Christine Kershaw with Uri

Goal of the Month - Improving your internal Dialogue

Internal dialogue is the term for the voice with which people speak to themselves. Internal dialogue is often outside of consciousness, but as you start to become more aware of it, it becomes much easier to hear it consciously. In some eastern traditions, internal dialogue is referred to as ‘the chattering monkey’, and years of practice are spent in meditation with the aim of getting the monkey to stop chattering (among other things.) The reason for this is that they believe that internal dialogue can be a barrier to clear perception and enlightenment. Internal dialogue is often the channel people use to ‘beat themselves up’, reinforce limiting beliefs and generally stop themselves having more fun or achieving their potential. Would you say, out loud, to your closest friend, all of the negative things you say to yourself internally? There are many techniques to deal with this, particularly using NLP. This month the goal is to practice your positive self-talk by talking to yourself with kindness and positivity. For this month, in your journal note down all of the negative thoughts you have and then change them as if you were a coach to yourself. For example if you catch yourself thinking "I messed that up, how stupid am I ?" ask yourself "What did I do, why did I do it and what have I learned from it?" Remember that the most successful people are those who have made many mistakes but have learnt from them. Practice complimenting yourself and give yourself permission to try out new ideas without being judgemental about the results. Tell the “chattering monkey” to be shut up if he/she feeds you with self-doubt or questions what you might achieve. Counter each negative thought with a positive statement- for example if you arrive at a competition, look at the scoreboard and see a particular judge is judging you today and your instant reaction is “oh no she doesn’t like me I’ll never do well today” then immediately say to yourself “this is my opportunity to show her how well I can do when I ride with focus and positive thoughts”. Focus on what you have achieved. There are many obstacles we face in life that are out of our control. Our self-talk is the one thing that we, alone, can regulate. Why make things more difficult for yourself than you need to? When you can master your thoughts, then we can master your life.