equestrian coach education international

67069083 gen or comp coachingTopics in the article

  • General coaching objectives
  • Competition coaching objectives
  • Consequencies of mistaking general with competition coaching
  • Timing of coaching
  • The primacy-recency effect
  • What competitors do not need to know
  • What career equestrians must know
  • Competition skills
  • The competition profile
  • Tuitional tapestries

Focus on coaching for competition 

If you’ve been thinking that a rider isn’t performing quite as well in competition as you’d like them to, or maybe not as well as you might expect, perhaps taking a look at the sort of coaching that you’re giving them could be useful.

But coaching is just coaching … isn’t it?

Well, no – it isn’t.

The kind of coaching you do doesn’t depend on what you know, or what you think the rider ought to know. Good coaching depends very much on what the rider wants to do. The content of your work will be driven by the standard the rider is currently at, and the standard they want to reach, ie. their goals. The skills in the gap between the two are what they still need to learn or have coached to a higher standard.

Remember that coaching is not tied to any particular standard of riding. Some of the riders’ skills will be good enough to coach, others of will still need teaching. How you go about doing this will depend very largely on whether they are a recreational rider or a competitor out there on the local, state or national circuit. That begs the questions, what is the difference between general coaching and competition coaching, and where does teaching fit into the mix?

General coaching is for every rider who rides well (at least in part) but wants to ride better

skillsGeneral coaching hones a range of existing skills. It raises the standard of these skills. The bigger the rider’s skill set becomes, the more general coaching (as compared with teaching) it’s appropriate for them to have.

Beginner and novice riders will have a tuitional tapestry which is made up of mainly teaching, but with increasing amounts of coaching woven through it as they improve their skills. Advanced and elite riders, on the other hand, will have a tapestry which is made up of mostly coaching with some teaching here and there as they learn new skills. Their tapestry will also include increasing amounts of polishing as the whole performance becomes more skilled, easier for them and their horse to deliver, and very much nicer to watch.

  • If you unwittingly teach a rider something at which they are already well-practised, when in fact they need coaching to refine that skill, you will bore the pants off them! They will not progress, neither will they return for more of the same.
  • If you coach a rider who has fundamental errors in their technique and you ignore or overlook these errors – even small ones – then you will nicely cement them into both the rider’s performance, and that of their horse. Again, they will make no progress. Of course, nobody would wittingly do that, but that’s how careful we have to be not to coach errors and embed them in our rider’s techniques.
  • If we’re to avoid this, it’s down to us to be utterly conscientious about the quality of our coaching at all levels. The more meticulous we can be that the rider’s skills are clean and error-free before we raise the standard at which we ask them to perform these skills, the better will be the results.

Competition coaching is geared to producing competition results

Competition coaching hones competition-specific skills which the horse and rider will need for their particular competitions. It’s appropriate to all levels except beginners. Competition riders need an increasingly sophisticated mix of general coaching (to raise their current standard), with some competition coaching (to tailor their existing skills to their competitions).

Coaching sessions will be a tapestry of general and competition coaching. Your coaching will define the main theme of the rider’s work and be pitched at their current level of competition. However, it’s good to keep a watchful eye on their longer-term objectives.

If they are to progress up the competitive ranks, these riders will also need continued teaching to progressively broaden their skill base. These teaching sessions will be across a whole galaxy of issues – big and small – that directly feed into their coaching. It will be a kaleidoscope of realigning or re-learning fundamentals that were ill-explained or poorly understood in the past, rescuing overlooked details, or finding gaps that need to be filled with new skills. This teaching will be woven right through their coaching, creating a tapestry of their riding present, aligned to their riding future. When this tapestry is complete and the current goals have been met, the rider will probably want to set new goals which will create new tuitional tapestries of teaching and coaching - and the cycle will start again.

And of course, competition preparation includes horse and rider polishing their suite of production skills, without which all the equestrian skills in the world are of little use to either of them. Both need to be de-sensitized to the rigours of the competition environment if they are to produce their best efforts. This includes learning to manage competition nerves, performance anxiety, concentrational focus and a host of other competition skills at which elite competitors excel.

Here are a few important points

  • If you give general coaching when the rider needs competition coaching, they will not be well-prepared for their event. There will be many aspects of the competition for which they will not have been trained, despite the fact that they may have put in many months or perhaps even years, of hard work.

    For instance, if they are entering a dressage test, but have not had coaching in a competition-style arena, the rider is highly likely to find themselves on a spooky horse which has obviously never seen a pot of flowers in his life nor apparently ever heard of the outside track!
  • If you press on with competition coaching when either the horse or his rider needs general coaching to upskill, then you will miss many errors in their technique which could usefully improve their competition performance.

    For instance, let’s say you have an event rider with a horse who is only intermittently on the bit. They would do better with a solid session of general coaching to get the horse properly and reliably on the bit, (because this will result in better overall marks) than they would with a competition coaching session rehearsing their dressage test. Better to organise their horse first, and practice their test later. And if the rider is in such a raging hurry that they are hell-bent on practising the test, I suggest he/she isn’t really on the same page as their horse. If practice proves that they don’t actually know how to get the horse on the bit, they are definitely not ready for competition. Any competition.
  • It’s not a great idea to mix the teaching and coaching in the same session immediately before competitions as this has the potential to cause confidence issues. Better that teaching is scheduled separately from coaching, so as not to interfere with competition preparations.
  • Do you know the primacy-recency effect? This is all about the first and last thing you learn being the things you remember best, and the middle ones being the first ones you forget. In practice, this means that your rider is likely to remember things they knew well, in other words their old ways of doing things which may or may not have been useful, and they will remember the very last things they learn. However, the bit in the middle is likely to be the first thing they forget.

    As far as competition goes, this translates as riders having a good memory of how they used to do things (which usually just gets in the way of their learning of new ways to improve their performance), and a good memory of the last thing they learned – which may have been how well their horse performed once you got things sorted out! What they are most likely to forget, are the reasons why it was necessary to correct the horse in the first place, and the intervening lesson which taught them how to do this. Until this learning is thoroughly bedded down, the primacy/recency effect will continue to operate. This is why it is a total waste of time to teach a competitor any new techniques immediately prior to a competition. They will remember the beginning and end of your lessons – and forget the rest!
  • Even an elite competition rider doesn’t need the breadth of teaching or coaching that a future professional horseman or career coach will need. There are many schooling techniques that the competition rider simply doesn’t need to know – so don’t waste their time and effort! Their focus needs to be on their discipline-specific skills and the demands their competitions. Don’t distract them with any more general stuff!
  • The career coach on the other hand, must know all the bells and whistles associated with a very broad range of schooling problems, they must be able to implement the solutions to a huge number of riding problems and they must understand and be able to apply a massive amount of technical equestrian information. Although the career coach must be a highly competent rider they will probably not have had the competitive exposure of the elite competitor. Their breadth of their education is quite different from the vast competitive experience (but comparatively narrow equestrian experience) of the elite competitor. But don’t worry – career coaches are few and far between! I think I’ve only met about four in my entire life.
  • Competition skills are quite distinct from and arguably at least as important for competition riders as actual horsemanship skills. Given two comparable riders competing at the same standard, the one with the stronger competition skills will be the winner. This goes for any sport. At elite level the technical skills of the sport are a given, otherwise why did the competitor bother to leave home... What matters is whether or not riders can use their competition skills to call up their horsemanship skills when they need them, to the same level of excellence that they can produce at home. And the same story goes for their horse. This is what makes winners. This is the content of advanced coaching and polishing sessions.
  • Never underestimate how ‘big’ a competition may be to the rider. Even a small, local outing can be as formidable to the novice rider as a really big comp may be to an experienced competitor. For any rider who’s feeling this sort of pressure, there’s just no room in their head for unnecessary information, so you should be the very last person to try to put it there. Even more reason to separate out and/or prune your coaching and teaching topics.

Tuitional tapestry

The rider's tuitional tapestry is this mix of teaching, general and/or competition coaching and polishing that makes up their lessons. Each rider will have a different tuitional tapestry depending on their skill level, and what they are trying to achieve. Here we’ve explored how competition changes a rider’s tuitional tapestry. By carefully selecting which topics you address and organising them with regard to the competition dates, your coaching immediately becomes better and more closely tailored to the rider’s needs. It won’t be long before you can expect this improvement in the quality of your work to be reflected in your rider’s results.

No matter whether you are coaching juniors at state level or adults at Olympic level, the quality of your work can never be too high if it is to contribute to their success. This means knowing what to discard from their general coaching because it’s irrelevant to them, what to include in their competition coaching because it’s vital to their competition preparation, what to polish because it’s going to be the difference between winning and losing and what to teach them in a quiet moment.

So how well do you target your competition coaching and separate it from your general coaching? Do you separate out teaching issues from coaching issues, and deal with them later? Would you like to be better organised...?

To take your work to a whole new level

Jot down a few notes during your next session and then in the privacy of your own office/home/study split the work up into:

  • Topics for general coaching, to address in the next coaching session
  • Topics for competition coaching, scheduled as part of the next competition preparation
  • Topics for polishing, to secure the standard of performance
  • Topics for teaching, scheduled for after the next competition.

You can start your new coaching life, anytime. Like today!

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