Focus on Focus Part 2
Learn to Change Gear quickly
Under stress, our ability to shift focus breaks down and we tend to clin to whichever focus quadrant we find most comfortable. There, that ‘comfort zone’ quadrant has the potential to become an athlete’s achilles heel. For example, if you are best at analysis and planning, you might get ‘ stuck in your head’, thinking too much.
If you tend to be hyper-aware of your surroundings, you might have difficulty narrowing your focus to just you and your horse. That water truck going by might grab your attention for long enough to cause you to forget your test!
Learn to Control Your Focus
Everyone can improve his or her ability to focus. The process may take practice but the components are actually quite simple.
Gain mastery over the following, and you’ve got your focus mostly where you want it:
Eye control- you choose what you look at during the ride.
Ear control- you choose what to listen to during the ride.
Thought control- you decide which thoughts will help your riding and you keep your brainwaves on those thoughts.
Here are some strategies for putting eye, ear and thought control into practice.
See no evil. Keep you eyes on your horse and on your immediate surroundings. Develop a blindness for anything that could distract you or shake your confidence. Deal with unexpected events or problems as quickly as possible and then get your eyes and your mind back on your job. Watch your competitors only if doing so boosts your confidence. If it make you more nervous or lowers your expectations that you’ll have a good ride, stay away from the ring.
Her no evil. If some is talking about how several of your competitors have gotten scores over 70 percent and you start to feel pangs of self-doubt, tune out htat conversation. Focus on a positive thought instead; “We’ve been doing really well the last few time out” or “my horse feels really good today”, for instance.
Think no evil. Stay away from worry, fear and anger. Negative thinking leads to negative feelings, anxiety, sadness, lack of confidence, or even hopelessness. If you have trouble getting yourself to think supportive, positive, performance-improving thought, consult a sport psychologist. A trained expert can give you techniques and strategies for eliminating distracting or negative self-talk.
Remember that, as a rider, your realm of focus need not go any farther than the arena. When you fret about hearing the dreaded water truck approach, you’ve temporarily lost your best quadrant of focus (narrow external) and shifted to broad external. When this happens, you may find your-self scanning the area outside of the arena until you locate the truck. You’re no loner thing about your riding but formulating a defensive strategy for coping with a possible spook.
If you find your focus similarly wandering, immediately shift back to concentrating on your horse and your riding. The trick is actually to stop youself from falling into the trap of worrying about the truck or distraction. Which will break your focus. For optimal focus your eyes, ears and thoughts must all be attending to the same thing.
Relaxed and Confident
As you now know, when you are tense or experiencing stress, you may lose the ability to shift your focus back to the task at hand. This is why relaxation is a crucial part of focus. Relaxation-skills training teaches the practitioner how to lower his or her start of arousal. Increase relaxation decreases distractibility and heightens the ability to shift attention back to the desired subject.
Confidence also contributed to physical and mental relaxation. People with good self-esteem tend to be positive in their approach to life, with higher expectations of success. As a result, they view them as ‘just errors’ and not as indicators of self-worth. They are less likely to get stuck in negative thinking and they’re less fearful when the unexpected happens. Focus comes more easily because they experience fewer internal distractions and because reactions to external distracters are held to a minimum.
Just relax. Some time-tested methods of relaxation training include but are not limited to:
Belly breathing. Learn to breathe correctly by breathing deeply and slowly into your diaphragm instead of your upper chest.
Autogenics. The use of word cues to induce a particualr state. Use ‘relax or loosen up’, breathe slowly or use whatever word/short phrase that works for you.
Burn off excess energy. Engage in another form of exercise before your ide if your body tends to tighten up physically in response to stress.
Listen to calming music. A set of headphones and your favorite mellow tune will work well.
Limit distractions. Arrange your environment to be as quiet and calming as possible.
Practice visualization. In your mind’s eye, see every detail of how you will give your best performance.
Train relaxation to the sound of the bell. Like Pavlov’s dogs, you can learn to relax with the sound of the judge’s bell as a cue.
Communicate your needs to others. Let your trainer, family and friends know if you need quiet before your ride. Work out a pre-competition plan with your trainer. Ask friends and family to wait until after your ride to socialize.
Build Yourself Up
Here are some hints for confidence-building.
- Look the par. Your physical posture can actually influence your degree of confidence. Keel your eyes up, your chin up and your shoulders back. Act confident and you will feel more confident as well.
- Keep you self-talk positive. Talk to yourself the way your most supportive friend would talk to you.
- Surround yourself with positive people. Have people with your best interests at heart around you whenever possible. Limit contact with negative or critical people.
- List your successes. Write them on an index card and carry the card in your pocket. When you have self doubts, pull out the card and remind yourself of what you can do.
- Pretend you are your favorite rider. This one can be fun. No one else has to know you’re acting and it can help with the show jitters.
Preparing for Distractions
One final step you can take to improve your ability to focus is to prepare for those situations that could cause you to be distracted. In your daily riding, practice dealing with as many situations that you can cook up. Expose your horse to noise, music, running children, tractors, flapping flags, flower boxes, strollers and audiences. Most dressage instructors help their students to prepare for typical problems they may encounter during the test. Even more important is to prepare for what might make you nervous. Remember, if you practice shifting focus in your everyday schooling so that you train yourself to remain relaxed and confident, then you should be able to shift focus when necessary in competition as well.
Create a list of your own personal distracters. These may be situations, people, thoughts or circumstances (weather). Create three columns on a piece of paper. In the first column, list the situations that could cause you to lose focus. In the second, list all the ways you can think of to maintain focus of that situation should happen. In the third, describe what you will do to regain focus if you do lose it. Ask yourself:
“What situations can I prepare for?”
“What unexpected problems might occur?”
“What responses worked?”
“How would I like to respond the next time this situation occurs?”
Go over your list with your trainer and fellow riders. You might even plan to schedule a group focus-strategy brainstorming session. Problem-solve before your next show. Then practice your chosen strategies in your everyday riding until they become habits.
Plan for Success
To focus optimally for any sport, you need to learn to control your eyes, ears and thoughts. As a rider, learn how to direct your attention to the desired focus quadrant and to shift your focus back to where it needs to be if you lose it. Practice positive self-talk and watch your ability to focus improve. Work on boosting your confidence or ‘fake it until you make it” until you’ve learn to relax when the pressures on. Prepare your personal list of distracters, work with your instructor or other riders to devise strategies for maintaining or regaining focus and then practice, practice, practice. Now get out there and ride!