A common misconception about confidence, is that there is either an abundance of it-or there is none. Understanding that the feeling of confidence is like most other feelings we have is important-it exists in a state of ebb and flow. Many factors can affect how confident we feel-or are likely to feel-long before we ever address the task at hand. I like to begin with riders by explaining some of the key points that will help them begin to understand a little more.
The primary job of our brain as a whole, is to preserve the life of its host. Understanding this key point can be highly valuable when beginning to address a confidence difficulty. When things happen in our day to day lives, our brains are working hard all of the time to assess risks, to create links, associations and pathways, and to avoid unnecessary dangers. If we look at riding a horse in its simplest of terms, we are attaching ourselves to half a ton of pigeon-brained calamity capable of making highly questionable decisions of its own. The horse as a prey animal is also prone to react first, think later-usually at speed. Again, the primary job of the brain is to preserve the life of its host.
So if we look at this from the human brain perspective, it’s a wonder anyone rides horses at all. Human and horse really aren’t compatible. Horse riding is dangerous, unpredictable and really, a quite nonsensical activity in the ‘staying alive’ stakes. However, we flock regularly towards these improbable mammals with gleeful abandon. And that’s when the trouble starts......
I liken confidence to currency when I’m talking to a rider. If you make regular withdrawals, then you must also make regular deposits. If you keep things in the black, then you have something to work with. If you end up in the red, then you are usually in a crisis situation. There are many things we can do to help maintain our confidence accounts. These include-
Building on a solid foundation of knowledge and experience.
Taking time to analyse an outcome with perspective, understanding and a degree of pragmatism. This is often a skill we have to build on, and need help with-but it is very possible to do so.
Using a large number of readily achievable process goals, on the way to an outcome goal. Like rungs of a ladder with you at the bottom and your intention at the top, it is easier to climb that ladder if there are more rungs, set closer together.
Celebrate your successes, no matter how small. Try to hold that feeling of joy, accomplishment and achievement for a little longer. Mark the occasion somehow-log it as a reference point for future referral.
Work with a coach who is supportive, open minded and teaches in a way that suits you. If your coach doesn’t work for you-change coach. Preserve your mindset, no matter what.
Take a step back, regularly. Don’t always ask your horse-or yourself-for optimal performance. Don’t always put yourself in the learning or competitive cauldron. Keep things varied, achievable and enjoyable. If you find yourself-or your horse-getting frustrated, put a pin in it. Change the subject and come back to the thing that caused the frustration, another day.
There are many, many other things available to us to use for confidence preservation and growth.
SO. If confidence is a key component to successful sport, what then is the nemesis of confidence? The answer is of course, fear. Where does fear come from though? One analogy I like to use when teaching is that of an airplane. Many people fear flying, but why? They don’t fear the plane itself. They don’t fear the height-at 39,000 feet, thats a moot point. What causes those afraid of flying to feel fear, is that if the plane gets into difficulty, the passengers can take no reasonable steps to save themselves. Remember that the brain’s primary job is to preserve the life of its host, and when the brain realises that it can’t achieve this, it can respond in various ways. These include things like mentally ‘freezing’, or the brain flooding with jumbled, anxious thoughts of ‘what if’. In my experience, a lot of the time riders begin to feel fear because for one reason or another, they do not feel adequately able to control a situation with a horse, or affect a positive outcome from a given situation with that horse. Of course, fear also often comes from a trauma based event, but I personally believe the knock on effect is the same-a trauma befalling a rider will generally lead that rider to feel that they are not in a position of power or control, or able to arrest a declining situation effectively. Thus, fear creeps in as confidence is eroded. In many instances, it can obviously be hugely beneficial to work with a rider both on and off the horse.
When I start working with a rider, we would typically tend to have one or two conversations away from the saddle. I ask a lot of questions, and try to get a good feel of what’s happening for them. Understanding their current mindset is important-if a rider is starting their journey with you in a very negative headspace, it is really important to be upbeat and positive. Where possible, I like to relay relatable positive outcome stories and to really help them to understand how and why things can and do go wrong-and how we can choose to deal with things differently.
Finally, here are some points to consider around the coach-rider partnership-
Avoid negative self talk. Beginning with a culture of reframing in the positive is extremely useful-it encourages the rider to think about what they are saying, and why.
Communicate. The rider must feel comfortable telling the coach how they feel, if they understand, being able to ask questions without fear of being belittled or rushed across, being able to say that they are beginning to feel strained rather than stretched etc
Celebrate the positives. If you do a thing well, then let yourself be delighted about it. Praise yourself, praise the horse.