Trainer Tips: Five Coaching Strategies to Bring Out the Best in Your Students

Trainer Tips: Five Coaching Strategies to Bring Out the Best in Your Students

Lately, I have been getting more questions from trainers about how they can improve their coaching and training to positively influence their students’ performance. When it comes to helping riders reach their full potential, honing focus while instilling a sense of confidence can make all the difference. So just how does one do that?

From setting goals and coping with pressure to giving each student his or her own room to grow, here are five coaching strategies to help you get the most out of your riders.

1. Understand that pressure doesn’t work the same way for everyone.

When training others, it’s important to know how they respond to pressure. In other words, how do they get into their optimal performance zone? Performing under pressure follows an inverted U-curve. When pressure goes up, performance goes up. However, there is a tipping point. At the top of the curve, we are in flow. When we go over the tipping point, we can crack under pressure and get nervous, anxious, or stressed.

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As a trainer, you might need pressure to perform better; however, your student might not! Pay attention to how he/she responds to pressure. Does she get tense, insecure, or start riding differently? If so, take pressure off and help her focus on the process (in other words, stop talking about results!).

On the other hand, if you find that your rider is not focused enough or is too relaxed, especially when there is less at stake, you can apply more constructive pressure. Ways to do this include: asking her how she will prepare, what her warm-up will entail, or by helping her visualize her course in detail.

2. Set realistic, achievable stretch goals.

Based on how your student responds to pressure, you can adjust the goals you set together. Especially if you find that your student’s performance is being compromised by too much pressure, set process-based goals that are exciting and challenging, yet realistic. Having big dreams and goals is great, but remember to look at all the steps in between. What do we need to work on and improve in order to get there? For those who need pressure to stay engaged and excited, setting more results-based goals can be helpful.

3. Recognize that talent is as talent does, but grit is underrated.

I still too often hear people talking about other riders and whether they are talented enough or not. Research is showing that talent is massively overrated. Yes, having a natural ability to judge a distance can be helpful as a show jumping rider, but it is not enough. There is plenty of proof out there that less “gifted” riders can also become very successful in the sport. A far more predictable factor, therefore, is whether a rider gets back up after setbacks and keeps working toward improvement—in other words, grit!

4. Give your riders their own space to grow.

In a recent interview with Lorenzo de Luca, he talked to me about his first six months training with Henk Nooren. To Lorenzo, who had just arrived from Italy with little to no experience at the five-star level, the most powerful thing about the whole experience was the fact that Henk gave him the confidence that he was still lacking in himself.

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Walking the course together, Henk would give his suggestions, but would also add things like, “Do what you believe is best [in this line].” In other words, I trust you to know what to do and to make your own decisions. In the end, a rider who feels he has the trust of his trainer is empowered, a fact that can make a big difference in his performance.

5. Don’t just believe in your students, tell them that you believe in them.

Being able to trust your student to make the right decisions in the ring is crucial. In addition, having an unwavering belief in your student and their ability to learn and become a better rider every day can have a profoundly positive influence. In the end, self-confidence and belief in one’s self must come from within, but there is no harm in letting them know you believe in them and backing this up with your words and actions.

-Photo credit: Bret St. Clair.