5 key tools for toughness training

By April Clay, Sports Psychologist

Building resilience requires conscious effort. Everyone can benefit from a little “toughness tuning” every once in a while. How is your toughness quotient? Read on and find out.

1. How well do you accept and adapt to adverse conditions?

Judges aren’t always right, you’re not always right and competitors can be annoying. Coaches aren’t a perfect species and your horse is not as talented as you would prefer. There are many unfair and adverse circumstances that can come your way in sport. If you deny this, you run the risk of getting stuck in your anger and frustration because you don’t like the way things are. If you accept it, you’re one step closer to getting through or around it. It won’t surprise you; it will simply become “part of the game.”

2. Do you train at a level higher than required for competition?

Some riders like to train safe, to remain in their comfort zone. But how well does this prepare you for the challenge of competition? If you train at a higher demand than you compete, you’ll find a new confidence in your performance. To up your toughness quotient, don’t train safe, look for opportunities to challenge yourself.

3. Do you keep your eye on the prize and your mind on the path?

Elite riders do not walk into competition thinking about how good they are and how much they have to win. Winning riders have their minds squarely on their job, the process required to complete the goal. Process (path) goals build confidence and can sustain your focus during competition.

4. Do you consciously teach yourself how to recover?

Distractions happen; responses are chosen. Which responses will you choose and then train? Too often riders forget that you can and should teach yourself the skill of recovery. So instead of stopping in training every time you make a mistake, choose some days where the object of the game is to keep going no matter what. To facilitate this, you can begin to build a new response to errors by using word anchors, visualize changing channels, or key phrases: “what next”, “move on”, “park it.” You can also try a physical cue, brush the mistake from your shoulder or turn your back on a bad ride.

5. Do you watch your language?

As everyone knows, it’s hard to will yourself out of a bad or negative mood. Shifting your emotional state is not a simple task. The easiest way to change how you feel is to change your thoughts. Identify poor programming areas, situations that tend to bring on negative thinking (when you’re tired, have made a few mistakes, your coach yells). Next, replace this thinking with an alternative. Choose a word that has meaning to what you are trying to accomplish (attack) or phrase (one ride at a time). Finally, anchor your new thoughts through rehearsal: your mind and body should know exactly what to do when it is cued with certain words (not unlike your dog when he hears “sit!”). You can retrain your responses through conscious effort and planning.