Hobbling Horse Showing Nerves

You can be more than a spectator. Sports psychology is mental training.

From America's Horse

A pang of envy shoots through you when you watch your friends compete on their horses. It’s a twinge you don’t acknowledge to them, much less act upon. What’s holding you back?

Many people don’t want to look foolish, be embarrassed or not live up to their own or other’s expectations.

“These are the negative forces that keep people from competing,” explains James Millhouse, an Atlanta, Georgia-based sport psychologist. “Too often, when people think about competing, they automatically think about winning and losing. Thinking about winning feels good. Thinking about losing usually feels bad. And, thoughts about losing are the reason more people do not achieve the rewards they can from competing.”

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Everyone trying to improve their riding can benefit from applying sports psychology – you don’t have to be suicidal over second place.

“Sports psychology is mental training,” James says. “It doesn’t mean you’re sick or that you have mental or emotional problems.” Just as athletes go through physical training, and people put their horses through specific training, you can train your mind to perform at its best, he says. James says sports

psychologists teach athletes to use all of their resources: physical, mental and emotional.

“When you can focus mentally, you can apply yourself better to any life situation, not just sports,” he adds.

Some of his specific tips:

  1. Set short-term goals. A goal can be as simple as “to achieve results.” With every competition, you always get results. It doesn’t matter if you win or lose; you’ve accomplished the goal of getting results. Meeting the goal is winning.
  2. Make goals specific. “I will jump a clean round.” “I will compete at least three times in the next six months.” “I’ll practice on the roping dummy until I catch 20 times in a row.”
  3. Treat all results as part of learning. Sir Laurence Olivier said that winning and losing were both phantoms that should be treated the same way – forget about both of them. What’s left to focus on is the best thing to focus on anyway: the process. That is the training for competing effectively.
  4. Thinks broadly in terms of rewards. It’s not always blue ribbons and trophies. “Ideally, the reward should come from participating, not winning. Make the training and contest the reward.”
  5. Recognize factors beyond your control. You cannot control bad footing, bad draws or how a judge decides to rank you. But you have the control and focus to perform how you want to perform.
  6. Put perfection into perspective. Perfection is never achieved. The challenge is to see how close you can get.

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