How sports psychology helps show jumpers

What exactly is sports psychology and how can it help in show jumping?

By Jim Hickey | Sports Psychology

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What is sports psychology and how does it help show jumpers?

By Jim Hickey


INSIGHTS

  • In training the focus is 90% on the physical aspect, but in races 90% is mental as all of the athletes are well trained.
  • Sports psychologist do two things: They offer performance enhancing strategies, and provide counseling for a variety of issues affecting the life of an athlete

WHAT IS SPORTS PSYCHOLOGY?

According to Elka Graham, an Australian swimming legend, in training the focus is 90% on the physical aspect, but in races 90% is mental because all of the athletes are well trained.

In the past three decades, applied sports psychology has become very popular because coaches and athletes have realized the important role that the mind plays in performance. Sports psychologist do two things: They offer performance enhancing strategies, and they provide counseling for a variety of issues affecting the life of an athlete. In 1985 sports psychology was recognized as a subspecialty of the American Psychological Association. In show jumping, sports psychology can provide imagery training, substance abuse management, relaxation training, competitive pressure management, programs to cope with retirement, weight management, and more.

Experts believe that applied sports psychology is both a science and an art. It takes basic principals from psychology and applies them to sports to boost performance. But it can also be considered an art because finding the right combination of intervention takes skill, imagination and creativity. Sports psychology is not a recipe that can be followed in a step-by-step process. It must be applied artfully depending on the athlete, his situation, and many other factors. A good sports psychologist will give an athlete a repertoire of mental skills and interventions to be used during challenging moments. Sports psychology is about empowering athletes to conssistently access their greatest capacity.

SHOW JUMPING AND SPORTS PSYCHOLOGY

Show jumping involves a unique relationship between a human and an animal. For improving performance, the psychology of the animal is as important as that of the rider. Effective methods in equestrian disciplines include teaching riders the basic of cognitive therapy, teaching riders how to recognize and control the emotions of anger, anxiety, and frustration, prior to competitions. It is also important to include sensorial experiences like imagery or music to connect the rider and the horse. And riders are encouraged to talk with the animal or look at a photo of the animal if it is not present.

The way riders moves in relation to the horse is one of the most fundamental elements of horse and rider performance. Empirical findings may soon describe functional parameters for movements to ensure that they are safe and effective.

In the equestrian setting, the idea of an idealizing self-object is very applicable. Many horse owners and riders derive pleasure from showing or racing their horse. Aesthetic appeal is one of the most important factors in the purchase of these animals. This ties in with the concept of "oneness" that is present in many riders during races. According to a study by Keaveney (2008), many riders report that when they are with their horse, they are one in both heart and spirit. Some riders say that their best riding experiences have come when the horse reacts to their mere thoughts and no effort is required. Dutch researcher Inga Wolframm, of Wageningen University and Research Centre, conducted a study of 73 U.S. show jumpers. They were asked to fill out a questionnaire before a show jump performance. After evaluating the results Wolframm noticed that there was a difference in the automaticity (doing something without consciously thinking about it) of top-level riders and amateur riders. And Wolframm also observed that women in general were more negative in their outlook than men. In the future sports psychology may shed more light on the anthropomorphic thoughts that horse riders generate. And these might be considered useful for enchancing performance.

CONCLUSION

To wrap it up, applied sports psychology has become very popular in the last three decades because coaches and athletes have realized the important role that the mind plays in performance. In show jumping, anthropomorphic thoughts and a feeling of oneness with a horse seem to enhance performance. 

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About the Author

Jim Hickey is an author, business mentor and international peak performance for show jumpers.