Okay, there might be more than one difference between me and those Olympians, but one big difference is confidence. They reek of confidence. And I'm the other kid in the lesson. It really struck me when PD said to me - after I flubbed a line and then came back around to do it just about perfectly - "the only difference between that good ride and last time's mess, was your confidence." Huh. Same technical skills, same take-off spot - totally different ride. In one I surrendered. In the other I fought with effective aggression. Determination. Commitment. Relentless. Willpower. Purpose. Grit. Go Big or Go Home. That's what Olympians are made of.
Okay, fair enough, the Olympics aren't on my short-term goal list. They're not even on my long-term goal list. But each and every one of us wants to succeed - whether success is the tadpole jumper class or Rolex Kentucky! And we all have the same freakin' mental battles to fight in high pressure situations - and don't tell me that tadpole class isn't high pressure! Have you seen people's faces going into the ring? That's no fun and games.
I watched the 2011 Rolex highlights DVD again last weekend - and there's Jimmy saying it over and over again. The difference between the riders that survive that course and those who don't is their determined focus. They all have the skill to be 4* riders. But its the ones with relentless focus on the ball (or next fence), despite all sorts of craziness (stumbles, over jumps, splashing water, lost reins...) those are the ones who get it done. The rest are stunned and surprised when it falls apart in an instant (don't I know that feeling). Gee, I just heard a repeat of my last talk with PD about upping my game to the next level. I have the skill, feeling, and awareness - and bursts of confidence when I ride damn good. But bursts are only bursts. Consistency is key.
I have to get my "GRRR" face on. When I rode with Mike Huber as a young rider, we used to make good fun of his GRRR face - teeth barred and evil eyes - over every fence... from the biggest World Championship fences to a 12" cross rail, Mike brought his GRRR face to every fence. This is what I need. A GRRR face so intense it scares show jumps into submission and makes trakehners shake in their boots (strike that - shake in their ditch!).
Mike Huber's GRRR face - over a novice fence at the 2010 AECs
Interestingly, just recently my office work has taken a venture into looking at some cutting-edge human performance research - including sports psychology. Why do some of the best athletes "choke" under pressure? Why do others nail the most important game in their lives? What can we do to make sure we perform our best when it really counts? Performance is only partially about the trained skill. It's also a whole lot about what's going on (or not going on) in your head. And I have way too much in my head.
I'm sure I'll be writing much more about this in the coming months - I am ridiculously analytical and I'm only just beginning to sort through the research and my thoughts. But, I'll leave you with something to ponder from research out of the University of Hong Kong (Dr. Richard Masters and colleagues).
Think about your riding (you might even replace "movement" with "riding"), and rate the following questions with "strongly agree" or "strongly disagree":
- I rarely forget the times when my movements have failed me, however slight the failure.
- I'm always trying to figure out why my actions failed.
- I reflect about my movement a lot.
- I am always trying to think about my movements when I carry them out.
- I'm self-conscious about the way I look when I am moving.
- I sometimes have the feeling that I'm watching myself move.
- I'm aware of the way my mind and body works when I am carrying out a movement.
- I'm concerned about my style of moving.
- If I see my reflection in a shop window, I will examine my movements [okay, this is a bit unfair to those lucky enough to be riding this winter in an indoor with mirrors!]
- I am concerned about what people think about me when I am moving.
If (like me) you strongly agree with most of these questions - you are more likely to be the athlete who will "choke under pressure" rather than be the "go-to player" in high-stakes games. Research shows that, in sports (an athlete with well-trained or developed skills - not beginners), excessive performance self-monitoring is one cause of severely disrupted movements (performance failure). Ah, I hear Jimmy saying, "Cherie, stop critiquing your ride in the middle of it!" Stop considering and start committing. Why is it the harder I try to monitor every little thing to perfection - the worse I get? Psychologists are calling it "Paralysis by Analysis". And I'll call the antedote - "Get your GRRR face on!"