Dr. Leith Drury, PhD, works with Equestrian Canada (EC) as the Mental Performance Consultant for the Para-Dressage Integrated Support Team (IST). As a sports psychologist with experience in a wide range of individual and team sports, she views the pandemic as a rare chance to develop skills that apply to the athletic performance and beyond.

Three Skills to Help You Go From COVID-19 to Success in the Saddle from Leith Drury

Dr. Leith Drury, PhD and Mental Performance Consultant for the Para-Dressage Integrated Support Team, shares her view of the COVID-19 pandemic as a development opportunity.
Source: Courtesy of Leith Drury

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Over the recent months, many things have been written about how to cope in these turbulent times. The pandemic can be seen as a time of fear, uncertainty and loss. I would like look at it from my angle as a mental performance coach and see it as a time of big opportunity.

Questions that have arisen include: how do we create strategies to control what we can and let go of what we can’t; how do we deal with so much uncertainty and multiple unknowns; and when will this be over?

In addition, these times of ambiguity and unpredictability may be more difficult for individuals who need to work with structure and calendar programming; those who are motivated and inspired by goal achievement and success. These demands are especially common in the competitive athletic world and even more so in a high performance environment.

So how do we survive – no, thrive – though the trajectory of COVID-19 and beyond? I would like to suggest that this situation gives us the time and opportunity to develop new skills or refine current ones to soften the blow of the pandemic and take advantage of this situation. For example, what are we learning about ourselves? What have we discovered about our coping skills, our default strategies, our comfort zones and where “outside my comfort zone” lurks?

As is constantly being said, these are unprecedented times. We’ve never had an experience like this before. What a great opportunity for learning, experimenting, making mistakes, risking new adventure and expanding our skill sets.

Three learned skills that are highly applicable for dealing with our COVID-19 challenge are self-mastery, a growth mindset and resilience. These are only several of many qualities; however, I would like to expand on these three in particular because I think they are both valuable in themselves and produce a strong ripple effect.

Self-Mastery: “Self-awareness without personal judgment becomes mastery.” – Richie Norton

I think this explains the essence. “Self-awareness” allows us to be in a position of choice, while “without personal judgment” allows us to be in a place of acceptance. Further actions can be taken with kindness and curiosity. The word “becomes” is also an important dynamic idea in this quote because self-mastery is a continuous work in progress. The journey can be made richer with reflection and by journaling.

Growth Mindset: This is a concept first introduced in 2007 by Carol Dweck, PhD, a professor of psychology at Stanford University.

The chart below clearly and concisely outlines the advantages of adopting a growth mindset, as well as some of the perils of a fixed mindset. However, like self-mastery, it is a life’s work. The tendency to teeter between these two positions is ongoing. The ability to remain most the time in growth is a challenge, a challenge that COVID-19 magnifies.

Three Skills to Help You Go From COVID-19 to Success in the Saddle from Leith Drury

Source: Silvia Rosenthal Tolisano

Resilience: The capacity to recover quickly from difficulties and/or toughness.

Being resilient requires an optimistic perspective, the ability to be flexible and adaptable and an attitude of self-acceptance. One has to be able to let go of what is and critically think about possible ways forward. Staying positive while assessing options and deciding on a course of action requires agency, energy, self-belief, decisiveness and hope.

Needless to say, the ability to develop and effectively apply all these attributes is a gift and a powerful tool. Most importantly, these are learned skills that can be used in our daily riding/driving, as well as in the show ring when performing. Whether at the barn looking after the horses, training or at a competition with ribbons on the line, being able to have choices, make decisions with kindness and curiosity and bounce back quickly will lead to more fun and success, as well as less fear and frustration. Also, these qualities will be value added when we move into the “new normal” and have to adjust to COVID-19’s impact on life in general.

In summary, there are situations of mystery in this pandemic experience that have allowed us to try new things, make new discoveries and build permanent skills. These life skills and learnings can remain useful and with us forever. In addition, they are transferrable from our equestrian endeavors to many other situations that we will encounter in our daily lives.

Maybe there is a silver lining to be found and celebrated in these unprecedented COVID-19 times. Embracing these qualities and incorporating them into our equestrian life can benefit our riding/driving and we can bring them with us anywhere – from the barn to the show ring.

Am I making the most of this unprecedented opportunity? Hmm…

For additional COVID-19 mental health resources, visit www.equestrian.ca/industry/about/covid-19-resourses.

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