Are you a positive coach?

Nowadays, more attention is paid to topics such as anatomy and learning theory of the horse. It is a great advantage for you as a trainer if you have a basic understanding of how the horse learns, but understanding how a rider learns is an entirely different thing. Equine Support International (ESI) brings you a series of three articles that will guide you through some basic principles of coaching. Anne Loosveld, one of the ESI’s co-founders, focuses on sports psychology for riders and trainers. In this series, she aims to help readers understand the mental role of a coach and to provide some basic tools for becoming a more effective trainer.

Introductory note

The first article, which appeared in HQ116, was about coaching philosophies, objectives and styles, since these are important basic factors for being successful as a trainer. This article provides insights about giving feedback and instructions. When we are teaching, we are usually busy with the technical aspects of riding, such as posture and straightening the horse. However, are you aware of how you formulate your technical instructions?
Sports psychology pays attention to the way in which instructions and feedback are given. Do you know whether you give more positive or negative remarks? Many trainers in the equestrian sport are not aware of this, although the way in which instructions are given can make a big difference to the rider’s experience and performance.

Positive mindset

Trainers who mainly give positive feedback create an environment that is pleasant for the rider, and therefore the rider is more motivated to improve. Riders who enjoy riding will train more, and will ultimately perform better and continue to ride. As an instructor, you achieve more when the rider experiences your lessons as pleasant and enjoyable. It is even scientifically proven that if you have a positive mindset and good self-esteem, your co-ordination and processing of information improves.
However, every instructor will recognise the moments where a rider is not quite getting it. You can help your rider a lot by giving effective feedback at that precise moment. Giving critical feedback at the wrong moment or punishing riders will lead to aversion and fear of failure. While receiving negative feedback, the brain will create hormones that cause riders to perform even worse, for example by tensing or having a blackout. However, this does not mean that you can’t give negative feedback as a trainer, it just means that you need to go about it in a careful manner that does not knock the rider’s confidence.

Negative feedback

Negative feedback given correctly is crucial and helps the rider to develop in their riding skills. It is very important as an instructor to observe keenly and share your observations with your rider. Try to be tough on the content and soft in the relationship. In scientific literature, this positive way of giving negative feedback is called ‘change-oriented feedback’. This implies that the focus is on changing to make something better rather than pointing out the wrongly executed things.

Text: Equine Support International

The full article appears in the December issue (117) of HQ magazine > Shop now