By Margie Sugarman
Margie Sugarman is a leading board-certified psychotherapist and sports consultant based in New York. Margie’s desire is to enhance performance through the connection between the mind and body, and her current client list includes Olympic, professional and amateur athletes across the country. Her experience employing various therapeutic modalities has helped equestrians win classics, junior medals and grand prix. Do you have a question you want Margie to answer? Send questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
The horse I’ve ridden for the last few years was just sold and I’ve been given permission to ride a different horse. The problem is, I was comfortable, confident and felt bonded with the original horse. Because I don’t have a bond with this horse, I don’t feel as comfortable and confident, and it shows. We’ve done OK at the last two shows we’ve competed at, but not nearly as well as I used to do on the first horse. How can I ease the transition?
Self-confidence is the foundation of all great sporting performances. It’s important to understand that self-belief and self-confidence are not the same.
Self-belief is based on how we feel about ourselves: our core beliefs, our values and our character as a human. These traits are pretty much imprinted by the time we reach our 10th birthday. These beliefs have all been impacted by our parents, genetics and our environment. The challenges and lessons learned through actual experiences and development of our problem-solving abilities are at the core of our self-belief.
Self-confidence is based on “knowing” something. This is based on experience — what the individual has done or has accomplished. Confidence is important because one may have all the ability in the world, but if the self-confidence isn’t there, then they won’t perform up to their ability.
All too often, athletes are their own worst enemy rather than being their own biggest supporter. I often ask athletes with whom I work, “Whose side are you on?” If you’re against yourself, you don’t have a chance of performing well and finding success.
You have to make a choice. You have the option to practice either good or bad confidence skills. If you’re negative all the time, you’re ingraining those negative confidence skills. Consequently, when you compete, that negativity is what will come out and ultimately hurt your performance. You have literally become highly skilled at something that actually hurts your performance — being negative.
To change and correct bad confidence techniques, you must retrain the way you think. One must practice good confidence skills regularly until the old negative thoughts have been re-imprinted with new positive thoughts.
Practicing affirmation work, utilizing techniques to override the negative self-talk, can help to achieve an amazing transformation regarding confidence.
For example, imagine coming home from a show where you haven’t ridden well. You’re thinking some pretty negative thoughts. Write them down. These are the thoughts that need to be addressed so they don’t sabotage future rides. Rewrite the negative statements and reframe them into positive statements.
Instead of, “I always run to the oxers,” a more positive affirmation would be, “I keep a steady pace to the oxers.”
Affirmations are positive statements about qualities or abilities and goals that you want to be true about you. Using mirror work along with repetition at other specific times, these affirmations will boost confidence because they will become part of your beliefs, thoughts and behaviors. Affirmations are proven confidence boosters.
All athletes face a challenging time when they aren’t performing their best. The key here is to continue to work hard rather than give up. In time, performance does come around.
There are several key pieces of advice one can use to help master maintaining confidence in those challenging times:
- Understand that experiencing challenges is a necessary part of becoming the best athlete you can be.
- Be well prepared to meet the challenges you will find in the ring.
- Remain motivated and positive in the face of difficulty.
- Focus on what you need to do to overcome the challenges.
- Know that you may experience challenges when faced with new situations.
- Learn from your mistakes.
- Never give up!
It’s a matter of changing our focus, modifying our thinking and getting our minds back into a positive place.
So buy some carrots and mints, take your horse out for some grass, focus on your positive affirmations and remember: Your thoughts impact your reality.