Be More like an Olympian

Tag: equestrian mental health

I watched, and enjoyed, the Tokyo Olympics for many reasons. I loved the excitement of the sport and, of course, the delight of seeing how well our GB equestrians performed but I think what will stay with me are the things I picked up from post competition interviews and the words of coaches and experts throughout the fortnight.

Since completing the APEC Advanced course with Centre 10 I have become far more aware of the mental training of serious competitors and was recently able to listen to reflections from Charlie Unwin who has coached many athletes at this level.

However, “Being like an Olympian” isn’t just for elite athletes, I think there are many things that we can all learn from the way they think, behave, perform and react which we can apply to ourselves in all areas of life. There is a lot to be learned from elite athletes which is applicable to horse riders competing at grass roots level and also to those who never go near a competition too!



So I will mention FIVE things which I think we can all learn from Olympians (and just for fun each will be in one of the colours of the Olympic rings!).

FOLLOW YOUR PROCESS

In just about every post performance interview I saw with the athletes they talked about having a process, or a plan, which they followed for their performance. They will have worked on this for a long time and tested it under all sorts of different conditions making adjustments as and where necessary.
The reason to follow the process is that it includes all of those things which are under your control and where it is most beneficial to expend mental and physical energy. The athletes will know how to return to their plan even when the unexpected happens so that they don’t “lose it” when something outside of their control happens.

Of course, it goes without saying that all Olympians are prepared to work extremely hard and to give up a lot in order to fulfil their goals. They may have to move abroad to train or live a long way from family and close friends and I can’t imagine there are too many nights out for pizza and a few drinks with their mates!! Not all of us mere mortals have to sacrifice quite so much but if we want to achieve then we do need to consider how our whole lifestyle affects our riding.

As everyday equestrian athletes we too can have plans and processes which we work on and which will help us to make progress towards fulfilling long term goals and dreams.

LEARN TO COPE WITH PRESSURE

The pressure experienced by Olympic athletes is something that few of us will experience BUT we can all benefit from learning to cope under the pressures which occur in our day to day lives and when we find ourselves out of our comfort zones.

Learning to be able to handle the heightened level of emotion and all the physical symptoms of our natural stress response is a game changer. Instead of being frightened of this level of emotion we can learn to embrace it and use it effectively.

This means that as a rider you are less likely to panic and “freeze” ie to “stop riding”! Instead you can learn to use your body’s stress response to help you to achieve what you have set out to achieve at that time.

SEEK OUT EXPERT HELP AND SUPPORT

Our Olympians have a whole team behind them and live in a different world to most of us. Increased funding to support athletes in their training has led to the fantastic results over many different types of sport from BMX cycling and skateboarding through to our wonderful equestrians.

As a grass roots rider, a serious amateur, a leisure rider and also as a professional rider we all need expert help and support.

Whatever your riding experience and your riding goals it is important to get help when you need it. That might be with care for your horse, it could be to develop your riding skills or to strengthen your mindset.

Rather than struggling on your own, my advice would always be to consult an expert in whatever sphere you need help.


BE AWARE OF WHERE YOUR MOTIVATION COMES FROM

This comes down to the question “WHY?”. Why do you do what you do?

Most of the athletes I saw being interviewed during the Olympics appeared to be very much internally motivated. They were there for the love of the sport, for the desire to do their absolute best.

Some athletes did appear to be working on the expectations of others with all the accompanying concerns of “Should and Musts” and these athletes were the ones I saw who appeared to be struggling to accept their results the most.

This doesn’t mean that the internally motivated athletes weren’t hugely disappointed if things didn’t go well for them. They feel that disappointment because they care so much and it is completely natural.

I saw many athletes talking about how happy they were with their performances even when they didn’t end up on the medal podium. Charlotte Dujardin talked about being absolutely thrilled with her bronze medal this year, and perhaps even more delighted with it than previous gold medal performances. I believe that this was because she knew that she and Pumpkin had done their absolute best given the circumstances and their level of training and experience.

At the end of the day I believe the greatest satisfaction comes from living according to our own internal narrative rather than according to external pressures and expectations.


LOOK AFTER YOUR MENTAL HEALTH

This was the Olympics where the mental health of athletes was spoken about more than ever before and the challenges of performing at this level were finally acknowledged.

There were well publicised mental health difficulties during the games and plenty has been said about those elsewhere.

For all of you reading this, I hope that mental health is something that you are aware of. Are your riding experiences helping you with this aspect of life or vice versa?

For many riders “horse time” is “down time” away from the pressures of work, family and life so it is important that this goes well. If the time you spend with your horse and the things you wish to do with your horse are causing you to worry and become anxious then please do reach out for help.

People like me, trained in helping riders with anxiety issues, can help and there is also the wonderful new initiative that is Rider’s Minds.

Remember that you don’t have to be alone and please do reach out if you feel the need.