Sam Watson of EquiRatings, an equestrian data performance company, considers the future of coaching.
It is understandable why equestrian athletes and their coaches may think online coaching is just a fad; a necessity brought on by COVID-19 restrictions and, at most, a tool to compensate for the lack of face-to-face lessons. But we at OnForm started developing our video coaching solution long before COVID-19 was a blip on the radar.
We believe video coaching is at the forefront of improving your performance in skills sports and an impactful addition to in-person training. So as the equestrian world resumes in-persons lessons and clinics and competition, we know that yes, online coaching is here to stay.
GETTING BETTER IN SKILL SPORTS
When it comes to improving performance, start by asking yourself: what limits performance? The thing about equestrian sports is that we don’t really push natural ability to an extreme level. We test a vast range of skills and attributes which is why, for the horse, we often talk about the importance of ‘trainability’. This is because the skills in our sport can be learned and the attributes can be developed. What equestrian sports push to extreme limits is the capacity to learn.
When it comes to learning in horse sports, I’ll be making specific references to eventing because that’s what I know, but the principles of training for skills sports are applicable across equestrian disciplines.
YOU & YOUR HORSE CAN’T LEARN IT ALL AT ONCE
From flying changes to the narrowest of skinnies, eventing tests a broad spectrum of skills which is similar to other technical sports like golf. Planning how much you can learn in each skill is dictated by how much you need to learn in order to ride responsibly and win. In the same way that a golfer can’t just focus on driving, bunker-shots or putting, eventers have to strike a balance between training time in each phase.
The limiting factors of performance in eventing are essentially time and training load. What I would ask you to think about next is the quality of your time and the efficiency of your training load.
MAKE THE MOST OF YOUR EFFORTS (FOR YOU & YOUR HORSE)
Ever feel like you are practicing your mistakes and making things worse rather than better? Every athlete has and every athlete does, on occasion. That type of training is obviously a poor use of time and an additional training load that horses simply don’t need and often can’t afford.
So, how do we get better faster and how do we make the most of our training time and efforts? There are two ways. Either ask someone (the “give a man a fish” solution) or improve your understanding so you can work it out (the “teach a man to fish” solution). Both methods are important. You will always need to ask people, which is why coaching is so important. However, as you are being instructed, you should also be aiming to learn.
LEARN THE ROUTE
Don’t overlook that last line. How many times has GPS directed you somewhere but if you were to drive that route again without navigation you would almost certainly get lost? That is because you are not trying to learn the route, you are just relying on technology to guide you. This works just fine for navigation, but in sport we must train in a way that prepares us to ride our horses effectively when no one is navigating for us – that is, between lessons.
Likewise, we must also be preparing to ride in competition. In training, we have our coach (the navigator). In competition, we ride solo. Not only that, we also ride a new route with new obstacles and challenges. We need to have the capacity to not only repeat what we have done in training, but also adapt to new situations.
WHAT DOES THIS HAVE TO DO WITH ONLINE COACHING?
So how does this relate to online coaching? Well, it all relates to the requirement to learn quickly, effectively and in a way that develops understanding. When I was a child learning to ride, I had instructors that would bark orders like “walk”, “trot”, “heels down”, “sit up”, “look up”. Actually, my orders were more like “tuck in your shirt”, “stop talking” and “get back on your pony” (as I sat on the ground at the landing side of the fence and the pony grinned at me from the take-off side). To get going, instruction is important. Driving instructors perform a similar role with new drivers – “brake”, “mirrors”, “turn signal”, etc.
Once you are riding on your own, your learning objective changes. The objective is no longer to simply ride, the objective is to understand so you can work things out when no one is watching. And, once you become a competitor, the goal is to perform, on demand and without assistance.
So, when you become a competitor, you should now understand your performance. You should move beyond the “what” (heels down, sit up) and into the “how” (stability, balance). There are two standout ways to better understand how you perform and how you improve.
THE FUTURE OF IMPROVING YOUR PERFORMANCE
It is therefore no surprise that “video coaching” is not only here to stay, it is also the obvious step to take your performance to the next level. Currently, we feel what we are doing and we listen to the instruction. For most, this is like driving with GPS. It is effective, it feels good because we get to our destination quicker, but how much are we actually taking in, learning and understanding? How prepared are we to ride solo under the pressure of competition?
You don’t need to change how you train, you just need to add to it. This will take your performance to the next level. You need to watch your performance and study it, in competition and in training. Become a student of your sport rather than a robot of instruction. When you review your performance, make sure you have the expert feedback from a coach which can help you to identify the source of performance gains and prescribe the solutions that will bring those gains to fruition.
Coaches can help you to plan your training so that your time is well spent. A video coaching tool like OnForm allows the coach to then review your training and competition so that you extract maximum value from your sessions. With a complete review of your video (like voiceover, side-by-side, and visual markup), you can watch your performance and listen to the expert feedback at the same time. So simple, so effective, but such a game changer.
Welcome to the future of performance improvement.