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  • Writer's pictureAnna Beattie

Dare to Dance Academy Spotlight. A guide to NLP and Sports Performance Coaching with Alison Calvert.

Updated: Sep 2, 2021

What makes a Champion?

Have you ever been inspired by someone you’ve watched from afar, dreamt of

being able to ride the way they do, have a harmony with their horse the way they

do and achieve the results they do?

Every once in a while you meet someone who has achieved the same things you aspire to achieve.

They have dared not just to dream but despite the challenges we face they have gone that step further and actually done it. These are the people to surround yourself with, to watch, be prepared to learn from them and be inspired in your own life because this is how champions are made.

Often the difference between those who achieve their ambitions and those who don’t is their mental attitude. We all have one, there is no opting out and it either works for you or against you throughout your whole life, imagine that! How powerful this is to know we are actually able to choose your level of success. In short, we become what we believe be that negative or positive. Which will you choose?

Sporting success is about aptitude and mental toughness and in a hypothetical sense it doesn’t really matter how talented we are. An average athlete with mental toughness can achieve far greater success than a naturally talented athlete who lacks the drive and ability to apply themselves. It is thought that sporting success is around 99% attitude and only 1% skill and elite athletes know there is as little as1% difference between being the best and being at the back of the field. How can you achieve the extra 1%? Through NLP techniques and sports psychology.

NLP in a nutshell.

Neuro – the mind and how we think.

Linguistic – how we use language and how it affects us.

Programming – How we sequence our actions to achieve goals.

NLP has been used by millions around the world since the 1970’s in fields such as sports, business,

education, therapy and personal development.

Take some time to ask yourself 3 questions:

What are your hopes and dreams?

What is important to you?

What is possible?

Imagine a way of exploring these questions to help you become the rider you aspire to become. NLP provides a toolkit to enable you realise your dreams and ambitions. It’s exciting and it’s incredibly empowering.

Our specific thoughts, actions and feelings consistently produce specific results which we may be

happy or unhappy with, yet if we repeat these same actions, thoughts and feelings, we get the same results. So you see the process works perfectly. If we want the change the results we simply need to change the thoughts, actions and feelings. It’s very simple when we think of it in this way, once we understand how we are producing the current results, it’s a simple matter of changing the process to a winning mind-set.

NLP Made Easy.

Bad Habits. It’s important to know that as we go through the process of breaking our bad habits we will make mistakes and to accept that this is totally ok, it’s how we deal with these mistakes that

counts. From each mistake find the positive and write it down. Get a notepad and keep it just for the purpose of your riding goals. The physical act of writing things down will help you to remember it. Writing also involves the frontal lobe of the brain which area is responsible for reasoning, planning and problem solving so not only will you remember the positives but you may also find you start to work out how mistakes occurred and how you will prevent it next time.

Take control. Be aware of what you can control and cannot. Give yourself permission to let go of

the things you cannot control such as a door banging shut halfway through your test or a pigeon

landing on the fence. What you can control is how you prepare for your ride, focus on being in the

moment when you ride and not what score you hope to achieve. That’s like reading a book and

skipping through to the last chapter to see what happens. Feel every step your horse makes, how you can improve on it going into the next movement. You cannot control how well another competitor rides their test but you can control how you ride yours. Avoid giving your competitors the edge by giving your marks away to them by allowing yourself to focus on the wrong things. You start every move in a test with a 10, make sure you hold on to every mark, stay in control of your emotions, remain focused on your ride and own every step.

Realign yourself. The key to being content with your achievements is to align with your goals.

Make sure you’re actually on the correct path to achieving those goals. If you keep doing what you’re doing for the next 5 years, will you be happy at the end? Make sure you stay on track and don’t allow yourself to drift.

Goal setting and staying motivated. Completing goal setting exercises is one of the easiest yet most

important tasks to help you achieve the results you dream of. The opposite of goal setting is problem thinking which will only serve to focus on what is wrong leaving you stuck and with no direction of how to move forwards. Successful goal setting can be used like a tick list towards your dream results. However, focusing on one big goal (outcome goal) can seem overwhelming, it can seem too far away from where you are now. Instead make a series of smaller goals (process goals) to keep you motivated and heading towards your outcome. Make your goals realistic, observable and measurable.

Be as specific as possible, write them down in as much detail as you can. Put them on a timeline, give each goal a date you want to have achieved them by. Get goal support through interactions with coaches and friends. When you have achieved your goal, set a new one and keep moving forwards, there are no limits to how far you can go.

Self-talk. So often we are our biggest critic and even the most successful athlete has some negative

self-talk, the difference being they are likely to have conditioned themselves to address it. It just takes practice. It is human nature to avoid pain and failure so we create negative thoughts designed to keep us from taking risks, we make assumptions and generalisations to help us cope. This is negative self-talk. It is usually unfounded and is a result of our minds seeking to reinforce what we are subconsciously thinking.

Try this challenge:

(Negative Self Talk): I’ll never be a good enough rider to be successful.

(Challenge) Says who? What proof do I have and what is my definition of success? What am I basing this assumption on?

Start to recognise when unhelpful and unproductive thoughts are dominating your mind. Say the

word “STOP!” out loud and replace the negative words with positive ones.

Here’s an example:

“I’m rubbish at sitting trot” STOP!

Replace with: “That’s a bogus generalisation, I need to see the progress I am making and keep practising if I want to improve.”

Speak to yourself in the way you would speak to your best friend, you wouldn’t tell them they’re

rubbish at something and if you did they probably wouldn’t be your friend for too long. Remind

yourself of this when your internal chatter starts criticising you.

Visualisation/Mental Rehearsal. Research has found in sport that visualisation can have a big

impact in performance. Visualisation and imagery can give the athlete the confidence to perform

skills under high pressure situations. The mind cannot distinguish the difference between reality and



Find a quiet place to relax where you won’t have distractions. Get comfortable and close your eyes.

Set your goal – see it in detail, be absolutely clear about what you will do to achieve it.

See yourself performing your goal exactly as you want. It’s important to see yourself in a

disassociated mental picture. Direct it like you’re directing a movie, you are the star. Make it perfect.

Imagine as much detail as possible – the place, who is with you, your horse and how they are

behaving, your clothing and your surroundings. See it clearly. The richer the detail, the more

powerful the process becomes.

Once you are satisfied with your movie, now associate yourself into the picture as if you’re doing it

for real. Use all your senses, what can you smell (it could be the coffee from the café or the saddle

soap on your tack for example). What can you taste, what can you hear, what do you feel (your legs may feel heavy or you may have butterflies in your stomach). It’s important to use as much detail as possible, as though you are actually there. Turn up the volume of the sounds and make the colours in your movie vibrant. Take your time to notice every detail in your performance.

Whilst you’re inside your movie performing your goal, if something in your movie doesn’t feel right

or something occurs you don’t like, go back and make changes. You are the director. Visualise the

outcome you want. See it, feel it, believe in it. Develop the blue print in your imagery.

When you are completely happy with how your movie ran and you performed your goal successfully, store it on a virtual memory stick in your mind for you to watch anytime you wish. The more you watch it, the better and easier it will become. Remember, your mind is unable to tell the difference between your movie and real time, your brain is tricked into thinking your performance is real.

When you next actually ride down that centre line for real, your mind will recall all that detail you put into your movie and it will feel as though you have ridden your test as many times before in exactly the way you directed it helping you to feel focused, in control and relaxed.

Dare to dream. Life is about challenges and they are rarely easy but when faced with them we dig

deep and make it to the other side of our difficulties. That is why achieving our goals and dreams is

so rewarding, we see what we are truly capable of and as our confidence in our ability grows, the

challenges get further and further apart. The things that inspire and create happiness cannot be

bought, live your dreams and begin your transformation.

Get busy setting your goals and making your dreams a reality. You can do this!

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