Mental Challenge of Competition
Progressing from psyched out to psyched up.
November 15, 2011
From The American Quarter Horse Journal
Do you know this competitor?
“Although I try to have a positive mental attitude, I’ve always been nervous about competing.
"If I could just handle my nerves, I have everything else I need to be a real winner.”
Managing your mind is like every other facet of horsemanship – it takes work.
A little nervousness is good. It is a sign that your body is getting a dose of adrenalin, which brings with it a sense of heightened awareness and edginess. With that acceleration comes temporary extra strength and sharpened, quicker reflexes. Think about the advantages that adrenalin can give you rather than worrying about feeling shaky. Many winners admit to being nervous when they compete. The key is that they have managed to make their nerves work for them.
Researchers studied U.S. Olympic-level athletes to find out who was more nervous before competition – the ones who eventually won or those who lost. They found there was about an equal number of each. The difference was in how the competitors, themselves, felt about their nervousness.
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The winners accepted the nervousness and shakiness as part of competition – maybe not a pleasant one, but a sign that competition time was near. The ones who were eventually losers perceived their nervousness in a different way. They thought, “Oh my gosh. I’m nervous; what if being nervous makes me mess up? I wonder if I can do well if I’m this nervous.” So, it wasn’t whether or not the athlete was nervous that made the difference in winning or losing. It was how he felt about it.
Define the situations that make you nervous.
When do you get nervous? What makes you nervous? Is it when your event starts, when the announcer calls your name, or is it when you think about the competition? Are there times you are more nervous than others? Knowing when and where and under what conditions you’re nervous will help you overcome the problem. Sometimes it’s a case of having too much time to think about the upcoming competition.
Have you ever been late to an event, getting there right before your class? You hurry in, unload the horse, saddle and warm up, finishing the warm-up as the announcer calls your name. You move into the arena feeling rushed and WIN!
What happened? Maybe you didn’t give yourself time to get nervous. If so, revamp your preparation strategy. Of course, you don’t want to rush through your warm-up every time, but you might want to start a little later so you have a task (getting ready) to occupy you when the butterflies hit.
How about the scenario? You get to the event, unload the horse, get entered and ready to warm up, and you know you can have your best day ever. You ride over to the exercise arena and here comes Sally. You know Sally. She’s the one who’s here to tell you that “I don’t think the judge likes your style of horse” or “The ground is slick around the first barrel,” or “You’re going to use that bit?”
Suddenly, you don’t feel so great anymore.
“It’s all Sally’s fault,” you might say. But it’s not Sally’s fault. You’re the one who let her do such a job on your head. You could have said, “Hi, Sally, it’s great to see you. I want to visit with you after my class, but I have to go lope my horse right now.” Don’t get trapped into talking with Sally.
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Then you ride up to the arena gate and look around. “My goodness, there are two world champions here!” Suddenly, you don’t feel so confident. You frantically think about how you could get more out of your horse. You think of every mistake you have ever made in the arena. Then, you get a little sick to your stomach and wish you were somewhere else. Even a piano recital sounds good.
You have gone from trying to win, to trying to run with the champs, to just wanting to get out of there without humiliating yourself. You’re not staying with your game plan. You have abandoned everything that works for you because you are intimidated by the competition.
And that competition will probably beat you in this instance. Although you’ve forgotten the game plan, they haven’t. They are going to give that same solid performance that earned them their championships.
Unknowns do beat champions. It happens all the time. They do it by doing the best job that they’re capable of and concentrating on their own performance – not on the competition.
Remember, every champion was once an unknown. And every champion was once nervous about going up against really tough competition.
The good news is, like any other competition problem, nervousness can be fixed. The not-so-good news is that the same cure doesn’t work for everyone.
For some, admitting the nervousness is a help. Telling someone that your nerves are bothering you helps if your nervousness comes from a fear of looking foolish.
If fear of failure is a problem, ask yourself whose opinion really matters anyway. Remember, those people who are watching didn’t pay your entry fees.
Some nervous competitors report that exercise – a few jumping jacks or running around the trailer a couple of times – loosens them up.
What helps you get over your nerves in the show pen?