End The Year With A Championship Mindset

Darby Bonomi PhD offers some helpful tips about how to frame your show year and how start 2021 feeling strong and confident. Be sure to continue reading her articles in Flying Changes for more sport psychology tips and exercises!

Show season is over! Time to relax in the easy chair and watch some TV. 

Umm. No. Well, not for long, anyhow. 

While it is a good idea to give yourself and your horse some rest and relaxation, the off season is also an ideal time to work on skills and habits that will set you up for a successful start to the show season. Remember: mental and psychological fitness is a year round, daily pursuit, just like physical fitness. You know that you can’t work out once a week and expect to stay fit or gain strength; same goes for your psychological health and fitness. 

Want to come into that new year feeling strong and confident? Time to get to work, pronto. Here are some ideas to get you started. 

1. Begin with a review of this year. 2020 was a weird one, but given all the challenges, what were your successes? What were your failures? Take a moment to write down each and make a quick note about why and what you need to work on. 

One note: I realize ‘failure’ is a strong word—it’s kind of forbidden to use it these days. Don’t be afraid of it. Being able to unemotionally face our failures allows us to make different choices next time. For instance, I failed to stick to my plan in my last handy round of the year. And in that moment of doubting my plan, I failed to ride the turn effectively with my outside leg. What I learned: ride the plan with fierceness and determination. 

2. Now spend some time thinking about what you envision for next season. Set an intention about where you want to be at the end of next season, and craft your plan. What you think is what you create, so set your intentions accordingly. Do you have regrets about this year? If so, that is a good place to start your intentions for this year. 

Are you in the right situation to accomplish your goals? Do you need a horse change, trainer switch, or enhanced fitness? If something is amiss, evaluate it and make a plan to rectify it. Offseason is a perfect time to adjust the support team. 

3. Cultivate a championship mindset and practice it on a daily basis. You may not be competing right now, but you can still make every decision a championship decision. If you’re not sure what that means, ask yourself: does this choice align with my highest purpose and ideals? Being a champion means that every choice you make, every thought you have, is informed and guided by your highest intentions and aspirations. 

In calling it a championship mindset, I am referring to a perspective and way of being, not a win itself. For instance, someone who has a championship mindset always puts her horse’s welfare first. She has the long- term view, and makes the very best decisions she can in every moment move toward her goals. 

4. Work on or develop your meditation practice. Even a small practice (10 minutes a day) will help you manage your energy and establish a productive habit that you will carry into competition season. The ability to quickly meditate to get in your optimal mindset is key to top performance—whether it’s in the saddle or at your desk! 

For me, meditation is an easy way to ground myself, clear out unwanted thoughts, and fire me up for whatever task I have at hand. Develop a meditation practice so that you can manage your energy and focus, both at home, at shows. 

5. Root out and challenge any negative thinking or self- limiting thoughts. Negative self- talk or self- limiting thoughts pervade not only our riding, but the rest of our lives as well. If you don’t already, notice your self talk and take charge of it. Don’t just accept your thoughts as gospel. Managing your self- talk is a skill that can be learned, and is vital for competition. Off- season is a perfect time to develop good thinking habits! 

6. Own this time. It may be off- season for showing, it’s on season in so many other ways. Make it work for you. Do what you need to do with your goals in mind. Don’t expect to take 8 weeks off and then jump right back in where you were. While we’ll all be rusty when we get back in the show ring, the prep you do now will provide a platform—both mentally, psychologically, and physically—for optimal performance right out of the first start box or in gate.

— Darby Bonomi, PhD

Darby Bonomi, PhD is a Sport and Performance Psychologist. She works with equestrians in all disciplines, as well as other athletes, to achieve optimal performance in and out of the competition. We are thrilled to include this ongoing element in our publication to help riders improve in all aspects of the sport.

Learn more about Darby Bonomi and how she might help you and your riding at: www.darbybonomi.com

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