It can be devastating to practice and work hard only to have past and/or future thoughts and worries disrupt what you're capable of.
I was once eliminated from a National Equestrian Show Jumping competition as a junior because I could not manage how nervous I was or manage the stress of competition. After practicing and training for four years, I failed to execute.
I had the talent and the capability, but I didn't have the Mental Toughness to manage my mind when it mattered most.
The venue quieted. The breeze calmed, but I did not. It was like a fast framed movie, that suddenly stopped today, now. I took a deep breath, exhaled, gave my fidgety horse a pat, and trotted into the arena when my name was called. My horse was not nearly as nice and well trained as the others. It took four years for me to qualify for this horse show. We both had the talent, but he was young and only knew the racetrack when I got him. A good attitude he lacked, but he was flashy and athletic. My family could not afford the type of horse that the ‘A’ list juniors were riding. Even so, I was determined to put in whatever it took to develop myself and my young wiry bay Thoroughbred into competitors.
On this day, when I was 16, I remember how it felt to sit in my saddle, the color britches I was wearing, my dark navy blue jacket and how it felt to be at my first national Equestrian Show Jumping competition. Fences one and two went well. As I came around the corner to fence three, or what I thought was fence three, I heard a piercing bullhorn, and the announcer’s voice, “Number 125, thank you. You are excused.” I went off course which means immediate elimination. Time slowed as I processed the words I just heard in disbelief. Every day after school and every day in the Summer staying later than anyone else, drilling longer than anyone else, working towards this moment, and I failed to execute when it mattered most to me. This was my Olympics that I let slip away because I could not manage my thoughts and emotions.
Fortunately, I had one more chance the next day. I did all the right things. I got lots of rest, I ate well, mastered my course of twelve jumps, and had a proper warm up. My trainer said to me, “Just focus, and you have a shot at being in the top 3.” As I sat on deck, the next rider to enter the arena, I went over the course again and thought, ‘just focus’. All went well, until fence 10, only two fences left to go. I was all of the sudden consumed by, ‘What if it happens again?’. In that split second, I lost my focus, hesitated and went past fence 10. I knew I would be out of the ribbons, but at least I could finish respectably. I circled back, but I inadvertently crossed my path, which triggered the bullhorn to blow, again. I was excused. The show I worked so hard to earn the privilege of competing in was over. Hundreds of hours of preparation, a 350 mile pilgrimage to my dream. I was numb.
I knew I should focus, but I didn’t know how. I didn’t understand why I could work so hard, be prepared, and then fail to perform at the level I was capable of, at least not consistently. There were successes on a local level, but I couldn’t manage my emotions in the bigger competitions.
I eventually wanted to know how to help people plan a path to their highest dream, and give them the skills to achieve to the best of their ability, especially in high pressure situations. I have built a curriculum and system, so people can learn to perform at their highest level possible, especially when it really matters. It’s a tool business professionals, athletes, and students can use to Think2Win, so they can compete like champions.
I'm a Mental Toughness and Certified High Performance Coach™, published author, speaker and mother of three great kids who are high school and now college Division 1 student-athletes. I'm also the CEO and Founder of The Zone Lab LLC, and my area of expertise is Mental Toughness for women in the workplace. I have worked with business people, world-class athletes, and students. I've also sat on panels and conducted local and global workshops at Google Ventures, Autodesk, Microsoft, CapitalOne, Pixar, VMware and Bank of America's SF Women in Leadership Group to name a few. In addition, I have been a featured host for a Watermark Women in Leadership webinar series, and I'm a regular contributor to Thrive Global. My book, ZONED IN: The Mental Toughness Required for a World-Class YOU, is due out later this year. When not sitting on panels, speaking, or coaching, I enjoy watching my kids compete, running with my black lab and just about anything outdoors.
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