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Competition for Horses - Sports Psychology

Questions (For answers, scroll down or click on question)

I am studying a BSc Hons degree in Equine Sports Science and need information for an assignment. The assignment title is: Psychological Benefits of Participating in Equestrian Sports. Do you have any relevant information or know of anywhere I might find some?

What is sports psychology? As a rider, what skills can I expect to improve with the help of a sports psychologist?

If you have a good instructor/trainer, done lunge work, stay fit, done yoga, had massages, feel good at home, have good warm-up and totally go to the unknown one you enter at A. What else is left? What is sport psychology? To reproduce everything you love and work hard for and have all totally seems to vanish at A. I got to find a way. Help!

My confidence was severely shaken by my horse who had a stop in him.  I now have a new horse that will jump anything as long as I point him at the middle of the jump.  At our first show we did well enough to move up to the adult amateur jumpers.  During the one class everything was going to plan.  I was focused and concentrating and was on my way to a clean round.  I panicked and started hoping I would have a rail, which I did.  Why did this happen and how can I keep it from happening again?


Questions and Answers

Q: What is sports psychology? As a rider, what skills can I expect to improve with the help of a sports psychologist?

A: [Answered by a Previous Expert] Sport Psychology is basically the study of factors that determine an athlete's success.  These would include personality variables as well as knowlege of and use of mental skills.  In addition, sport psychology investigates how these factors affect performance both in daily training and in competition.  Information gathered from this is then used to teach other athletes how to perform their best in various settings.

By using Sport Psychology principles an athlete will generally learn skills much more quickly.  When performing, the athlete will typically be more confident and successful.  As a result she will enjoy the sport more as well as continue to grow in overall confidence as a person.  This is even more important when training young athletes in order to insure optimal development throughout childhood and adolescence. 

 

Q: If you have a good instructor/trainer, done lunge work, stay fit, done yoga, had massages, feel good at home, have good warm-up and totally go to the unknown one you enter at A. What else is left? What is sport psychology? To reproduce everything you love and work hard for and have all totally seems to vanish at A. I got to find a way. Help!

A: [Answered by a Previous Expert] Boy have you come to the right place! After all that and you still have a good sense of humor! Good prognostic indicator!

First: What is Sport Psychology? Sport Psychology is the study of everything you can do mentally to improve performance. It also includes looking at all of the things we can do mentally to "mess ourselves up". It has been estimated that at the "elite" or top level of performance in any sport what makes the difference between champions and "almosts" is about 95% mental.

When you learn to ride, as you know, you must learn physical skills, usually systematically, in some sort of logical progression. These skills eventually become automatic and by understanding the underlying principles you can begin to apply what you know to new situations. In sport psychology you also start by learning skills, but they are mental skills instead of physical. These sills become the building blocks for the mental side of your performance and can also be applied creatively as new challenging situations arise. Some of the skills are relaxation, imagery, goal setting, and cognitive strategies including positive self-talk. Also important is to understand what interferes with your focus and concentration and learn skills to improve your abilities in this area. As with any skill, you must practice in order to become proficient.

When you work with a sport psychologist he or she will help you identify what areas in particular you may have trouble with. This is done both by interview and discussion as well as by assessment with paper and pencil tests of various kinds. More advanced sport psychology will include helping to identify and remove any more pervasive mental or emotional blocks to success. For example, some people carry beliefs, or scripts, about how their life is supposed to go such as "I try and try but success will never be mine." Or, "I really don’t deserve to be really good at this." Another very common area where the sport psychologist is used is to overcome fear. Especially in riding, this comes up frequently. There are some extremely effective techniques, some of them fairly new, that can rapidly eliminate any unrealistic fear.

At this point I would like to tell you about the two basic kinds of sport psychologists who work with athletes. To be called a "Sport Psychologist" you must have a Ph.D. in psychology (those with a Master’s degree can be a "Sport Psychology Consultant"). One kind usually works in an educational setting such as a college or university, and works with school athletes, and teams, as well as individuals. They can do anything relating to the mental side of sport short of dealing with what would be considered more clinical issues. The second type is actually trained in and must have a license in Clinical Psychology. They have additional training and experience in sport psychology. These practitioners can work with skills training as well as any "clinical issues" such as depression, staleness syndrome, drug or alcohol abuse, eating disorders, family problems, and any more personal issues such as self-defeating beliefs, and fears. Others who say they work with sport psychology and athletes vary in training, and depending on what you want and need may be perfectly okay to work with. I do believe in being and informed consumer – ask questions about background and training if you are not sure.

So, what about you? "Show Nerves" are not uncommon, but may have many causes. The good news is, they are very fixable. By the way, when we work with performance anxiety we now call it "intensity regulation". (You know how we psychologists are, we have to have fancy words for everything!) If I were working with you I would want to ask several questions: Is the only area in your life where you experience "going into the Unknown" when you show? Has it ever happened anywhere else? How important is it that you do well? What pressures might you have that could be contributing? What is your history with showing? Do you have past successes and this is a more recent occurrence or has it been this way since the beginning?

How sport psychology can help you would be by helping you identify the cause of your "trips to the unknown at A", and then by teaching you techniques for lowering your "intensity" level. Some possibilities would be learning how to apply relaxation techniques, using mental imagery to improve your expectation of success, setting clear realistic "performance" goals. If you are one of those people with high expectations and little tolerance for less than perfection, we would need to again assess what this is all about and develop strategies to make expectations realistic and channel perfectionism so it can work more for you than against you.

Very often when you "blank out" from nerves it is because your focus and concentration has gone somewhere other than where it needs to be. This is also a very individualized response. Everyone has their own unique pattern of focus that shifts under stress. Every sport has a particular optimal pattern of attention required for best performance. Most sports, including riding, demand that the athlete be able to rapidly shift attention from one dimension to another. Under stress overload, the ability to shift attention appropriately is usually impaired, and then so is performance. Stress can be externally caused by too many distractions and a predisposition to take in everything going on around you.

This is just a sampling of how sport psychology can work to help you. So, take heart! There is hope! All of your hard work will come to fruition with just a little of the same kind of effort spent working on the mental side of your riding as you have so diligently applied to the physical.

If you haven’t read it yet, get a copy of Jan Savoie’s book, That Winning Feeling. This book is an excellent starting place. If you would like to go further and actually work with a sport psychologist you can contact me again and I will see if there is someone in your area available to work with you.

 

Q: My confidence was severely shaken by my horse who had a stop in him.  I now have a new horse that will jump anything as long as I point him at the middle of the jump.  At our first show we did well enough to move up to the adult amateur jumpers.  During the one class everything was going to plan.  I was focused and concentrating and was on my way to a clean round.  I panicked and started hoping I would have a rail, which I did.  Why did this happen and how can I keep it from happening again?

A: Sounds like a hidden belief you may have about "not being able to do it." If that rings true for you start paying attention to the "self-talk" going on in your head about your ability jump successfully. Whenever you catch yourself saying something to yourself in the negative STOP and re-write what you were saying into a positive statement. (also see my article at http://www.global-abundance.com/drjontry/articles/talk.htm)

 

Q: I am studying a BSc Hons degree in Equine Sports Science and need information for an assignment. The assignment title is: Psychological Benefits of Participating in Equestrian Sports. Do you have any relevant information or know of anywhere I might find some?

A: A wonderful book to refer to is: "In Search of Your Image: A Practical Guide to the Mental and Spiritual Aspects of Horsemanship" by Jill Keiser Hassler. You can also check out this web page and the many links: http://dir.yahoo.com/Recreation/Sports/Equestrian/Disabilities

 

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