Opinion

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In sport, you often hear coaches, performers and athletes talk about maximising potential through the marginal gains approach, leaving no stone unturned in their pursuit of performance excellence.

The phrase “two athletes, one performance” is used, but how often does the rider cater for themselves as an equestrian athlete and, importantly, what can they do?

Rider or athlete?

To move into the realm of becoming athletes, riders need to incorporate the core elements of sport science into their routine; fitness, nutrition, strength and conditioning, biomechanics and sport psychology. Many riders pay attention to their diet and fitness, leading to a healthy body. But fewer also look after their mind — and therein lies part of the problem.

Sport psychology becomes something to turn to in times of crisis: a performance dip, loss of confidence or decrease in motivation. Rider testimonies of sport psychology at these times justifies its importance.

However, this leads to two problems. Firstly, we are seen as “fixers” rather than an integral part of the development team — and the final piece of the marginal gains puzzle.

Secondly, there is the myth that sport psychology is only for those at the top of the sport.

Developing resilience, being able to create a positive performance environment, pre-performance routines as well as new skills and techniques that can help a rider stay in the performance bubble are not reserved for the few. By working with a qualified sport psychologist, every rider has the chance to be excellent at their own performance level.

A team approach

It’s not only the rider that we work with. Developing a solid working relationship with the coach reaps rewards for all concerned — both working to the same goals.

I also like to involve the riders’ support team; if we are working to create a positive performance environment, they are a part of that, as are the parents of young riders. Their role is crucial, and helping them become positive sporting parents is essential.

A team approach and philosophy to integrating sport psychology, so riders enjoy what they do and are able to maximise performance, is one of my key mantras.

However, the benefits of sport psychology don’t stop there. Having a sport psychologist on hand at team competitions and during the build-up to develop team cohesion adds to maximising performance outcomes.

Underused

The benefits of working with a sport psychologist are numerous, but I still hear comments of “I’ve no time” and “it’s too expensive”. Making time is a marginal gains question and one for each person to ponder.

The cost may not be what you think; it’s not all about individual work as group sessions can be beneficial.

With all things in life, there must be a word of caution. You wouldn’t allow an unqualified vet or farrier to tend to your horse, so it’s important you work with qualified sport psychologists registered by the Health and Care Professions Council.

Ref Horse & Hound; 19 October 2017