How to be more deliberate about your practice

By Annette Paterakis

The road to excellence is a long one and requires patience, grit and deliberate practice. That is at least if you listen to the experts in the field of expertise performance. According to Anders Ericsson, a researcher in the psychology of expertise and human performance, specific or deliberate practise is of one of the most, if not the most important factor to reaching the top in any given field.
Here are 7 specific tips on how to apply his research to training your own skills in the saddle.

1. Get specific feedback

The key to improvement is to know what exactly you need to improve to reach your goals. Therefore, getting specific feedback is crucial to avoid hitting a plateau and keep making progress. Ways to include feedback in your training are the following; Have someone video your training at home and at shows. You can then evaluate whether what you where feeling at the time, corresponds with what you can actually see on the video. It’s also a great way for you to become more aware of your body posture and small details that you want to improve upon. An experienced trainer can also give you invaluable feedback.

2. Find a good trainer

Finding a good trainer is key to improvement as they are able to provide detailed information on how to improve your skills. Keep in mind that not every rider is a great teacher. It’s important a trainer does not just knows what it’s like to sit on a horse but also how to effectively bring across their teachings. Also, having a role model that has already achieved what you want to do can be extremely motivating, helpful and create clear focus.

having a role model that has already achieved what you want to do can be extremely motivating

3. Focus

Another very important element to deliberate practice is to pay conscious attention to what you are doing. After riding for many years it is easy to get on the horse and ride on automatic pilot, but this way you will not improve much if anything. Instead, prepare yourself and think about what you are going to work on that day or with that horse and really focus on it during your training. When you notice you are distracted by other thoughts, just go back to your focus.

4. Time alone

An important element to focusing intensely to the process is time alone to practice. When you are always surrounded by other people, you can easily get distracted which makes practicing your skills that much harder. Furthermore, practicing new skills requires you to train outside your comfort zone, so making mistakes is inevitable. Being conscious about who is watching could be slowing down your process.

5. Get out of your comfort zone

Training things you can already do or on riding on auto-pilot won’t help you to improve your riding much. Therefore, in order to improve you want to practice things you can’t yet do or are not that good at yet. Challenge yourself to try more difficult turns, higher jumps or more technical courses to help push your brain and body to this new level.

6. One step at a time

Picking one thing you want to improve on and making a plan how to get there can be far more effective and actually save you time in learning new skills. Trying to train complex skills all at once will only confuse you and derail your focus. So be clear about what you want to work on and practice only that until you have mastered it. Then celebrate your progress and pick your next skill to work on.

7. Try something new

Even with feedback, guidance and focus, you can still hit a plateau in your development, which can be discouraging you to keep training hard. If this is the case, try mixing up your training programme or try something new all together. Perhaps training your physical strength in the gym could help you improve much faster in the ring. Training your mental skills to improve your focus, confidence and positive attitude could help you to crush your goals and stay more motivated along the way.