Over the last few months or so, I have been pondering athlete performance blockages. I’m sure most people have a story of a technically-skilled athlete that wasn’t achieving “success” in relation to performance. There can be a multitude of reasons, all of which are unique to the individual. Firstly, it may be useful to consider what “success” means. As a coach, it is a timely reminder that this question is about the athlete and not about your skills, performance goals or achievements as a coach. On my Facebook page I recently shared a video on the importance of grounding, which has been further reinforced through Equine-Assisted Learning / Equine-Assisted Psychotherapy intensive training I am currently attending.
How do you do this?
Firstly, it is recommended that you assist your athlete to relax and ground themselves. Only after this, genuinely and authentically ask the athlete what they see as success for themselves. This needs to be in a completely non-judgemental and non-leading manner. Listen fully to both verbal and non-verbal language and the answers may surprise you. Is the athlete feeling pressured to achieve, either real or perceived, by yourself as a coach, their peers or parents? Depending on their age and inclination, their sporting goals may be more aligned to participating and just having fun rather than being the best athlete in their chosen sport. Even if the athlete has a competitive nature, it doesn’t mean that their view of “success” is about winning. Remember, this is about the athlete not about you as a coach!
As an equestrian athlete, achievement blockages can be further compounded by horse-related anxiety and confidence issues. Has the athlete had a previous injury that has left them with small window of tolerance (comfort zone) for horse behaviour that may trigger memories of their previous trauma? Is the horse new to the equestrian discipline being introduced and still in a training phase where their behaviour may not be consistent? Has the athlete not yet developed a mutual understanding / relationship with the horse they are riding / vaulting / driving? Is the athlete worried about what other people are thinking about their performance, appearance (both themselves and their horse), horsemanship abilities etc. As I said, the list can be endless. The important consideration is to really listen to the athlete and explore any concerns they may have. That way, the athlete has the opportunity to understand themselves and feel supported.