If you spend time thinking about any or all of the above, you’re not alone. But, according to personal performance coach Barbra Schulte, overcoming fear that smothers your drive to succeed can be quite simple. All it takes is a slight change in perception of events that surround you and those which influence your emotions.
Although Schulte is not a barrel racer, she knows all too well the stifling effects fear can have, both in and out of the arena. Together with researchers at LGE Sports Science, Inc., Schulte has devised an effective way to eradicate worry once and for all through the Mentally Tough training program. She has worked with hundreds of riders from across the country from all different disciplines of riding and is recognized as a leading authority on the subject of mental toughness. Schulte’s expertise is specifically useful to barrel racers because the skills she teaches can help barrel riders overcome fear, nervousness and anxiety, so they may fully concentrate their energy on the technical skills necessary to be successful in competition.
Let’s talk first about nerves. How do you feel in the moments before your name is called to compete? Are you scared? Do you hold your breath or barely breathe? Do you anxiously grip your horse’s sides in anticipation? How you act immediately before your performance has as much to do with how successful your run will be as any amount of talent or skill you may possess.
Every feeling and every emotion reflects exactly what’s happening within your body. For every mood there is a correlating neurological activity in your brain.
“What you think and how you feel is physical,” said Schulte. “When feelings shift from confident to fearful, powerful changes occur within the brain’s chemistry that can influence coordination and balance. Your physical body cannot perform at it’s best because these emotions have caused internal changes that inhibit your ability to respond.
“So, Mentally Tough training goes far beyond only affecting mental states. And it’s that fact that makes the training powerful, exciting and fun. The mind, body and soul can be simultaneously trained because there are no lines between thoughts, feelings and emotions,” Schulte said.
Barrel racing is a quick, instinctive sport that takes concentration and determination. Once you’ve adequately developed technical skills in the practice arena, the signals you send your horse during competition can make or break your run. When you worry about some aspect of the run—knocking over a barrel, stumbling, falling off or not being quick enough—the vibes associated with those negative emotions flow directly to your horse through the way you act: scared, nervous or anxious. When you experience fear, your muscles tighten, breathing becomes shallow and your heart rate rises. Each of those physiological signs is then conveyed to your horse. So, spending needless amounts of time worrying about things over which you have no control is a waste of time and it jeopardizes success in the arena.
“We’re conditioned to think of an event’s outcome as a measure of success, instead of enjoying the entire process.” – Barbara Schulte
“There is no separation of mind, body and emotion,” Schulte explained. “They are all intimately tangled and connected. Things you feel within your mind are reflected in your body. To feel calm, confident, relaxed and focused prior to your turn, you have to gain control over your emotions. When you have control of your emotions, you show no weakness on the outside and you act on the outside how you want to feel inside.”
According to Schulte, a key way to heighten awareness of your emotional state is by concentrating on your breathing. Steady, deep breaths help keep you calm on the inside, which helps keep your mind clear and focused so you can concentrate on your performance. And, the calmness you feel within your body and mind is conveyed positively to your horse. “Most concentration problems stem from excessive brain wave activity,” said Schulte. “Breathing actually decreases brain waves and allows you to concentrate. Breathing also decreases muscle tension, allowing your muscles to do their job. For an even more powerful boost, before you enter the arena and while you focus on breathing, review your plan for the ride ahead. Maintain a look of confidence, shoulders open, chin up, eyes focused forward and never allow your posture to slump.”