4 Tips from Sport Psychologist Mario Soto

Sport psychologist Mario Soto shares key takeaways to combat nerves and improve performance.

“It’s important to take things one jump at a time,” said sport psychologist Mario Soto matter-of-factly. Mario helps athletes with a wide range of issues, but the most common are fear, lost or a lack of confidence, perfectionism, self-sabotage, not being present in the moment and unrealistic expectations. “Remember, no one shows up wanting to do poorly,” he said. “There are things we can do to lower the temperature and take a collective breath.”

Courtesy, Mario Soto/USHJA

Mario gave more insight on what riders can do to be more successful during his sport psychology lecture, entitled “One Jump at a Time” at the USHJA’s virtual meeting in 2020. He also noted that year been a particularly stressful year for everyone. “We’ve probably never experienced the stress on the level that we are all experiencing today.” Here are some key takeaways from Mario:

1. “One Jump at a Time”

If you feel yourself getting nervous or anxious or things aren’t going well, refocus on something simple. For example, if you’re in the jumper ring, don’t think about the rail that just came down, or the chip you had, the double coming up, or how many jumps you have left. Just focus on the jump in front of you and ride.

2. Take a Breath

It’s important to recognize or be aware of what you’re doing. Breathing properly allows you to release tension and relax. The horse feels it and responds to it. When you don’t breathe properly, the ride and the rhythm can speed up and that’s when bad things can happen.

3. A Bad Ride Does Not Define You

One ride does not define who you are—as a rider or a human being. Just because you have a hiccup, it doesn’t mean the ride is over. Don’t be hard on yourself if you have a mistake. We’re not perfect and our horses aren’t perfect. Your job is to get better. Ask yourself what you did well and focus on that. Then think about something small and simple that you can work on and work to get a little better a little at a time.

4. Remember Why You Love to Ride

Think about how lucky you are that you get to ride. There are many people that would love to be around horses but don’t have the opportunity. Take a step back to value your partnership with your horse. Why you love riding is your fuel to do well. If you frame things from the perspective that your job isn’t to win, but to deepen your connection with your horse, it leads to optimism instead of getting locked up or nervous. The more pressure you put on yourself, the harder it’s going to be. Give yourself permission to remove the pressure. This leads to confidence and eventually, winning rounds.

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