People watching you. people evaluating you. YOU in the spotlight. This type of fear is a common performance fear. For some, it’s intense and debilitating. For others, an occasional nuisance.
So what can you do about it?
The worst thing you can do once you feel the tingle of fear is try to deny it. So if you find yourself at a show starting to have the ever familiar gnawing sensation in your stomach, do yourself a favor: accept it. Tell yourself you know what’s happening and it can’t and won’t hurt you. It also will not prevent you from riding. Allowing for feelings does not mean you have to buy into them. All it means is that you are accepting what is in the here and now. You’ll find your sensations will begin to dissipate much sooner.
You train alone or with support and all of a sudden you have all these strangers peering at you. You’re visible and you don’t like it one bit. Or, maybe these people watching you are your parents, previous coaches or peers. You know them, but you still don’t feel comfortable.
There is a tendency to overestimate how much people are thinking about you in performance situations. Most of the time they have their own concerns to worry about. Most of the time, they do not wish you any ill will. And for those that do hope to reduce their competition by the transmission of evil thoughts, let them. It will give you an advantage as their energy and focus is consumed with you, and you will be happily focused on your riding. Learn to say “Great, bring it on. I’ll take that advantage, thanks!”
Put in the Reps
There is nothing quite like repetition to drill something in deep. In this case, what you want your mind to understand is this: there is no danger. So every opportunity you have to rehearse or simulate a competitive situation, take it and think of it as gold.
Invite your friends and barn mates to watch a lesson. Imagine your greatest competition striding through the door unannounced and standing beside your trainer to watch you ride. Then ride through that. Teach yourself that you can ride with people watching. Anyone watching. The more you can experience this, both in real time and through the power of your imagination, the more confident you will feel at your next show.
About the Author
April Clay is a rider and sports psychologist in Calgary, Alberta. Check out her site www.ridingoutofyourmind.com and selection of online equestrian sport psychology courses, including the Confidence Factor and Riding Through Fear, at www.outofyourmindcourses.com.