Recently I’ve been working on an application to one of the big sporting funders (the GLL Sport Foundation), which meant going back over what my targets were for last year’s application to demonstrate that I had actually met them. They were pretty uncompromising, so I was slightly relieved to be able to say that, despite a year of both ‘hell and high water’, I did achieve them!
In light of that, I had to decide on my ‘official’ targets for this year’s application. Last year’s were primarily focussed on results at competitions in vaulting, dressage and jumping, but with an extra target to help para vaulting to grow and achieve more recognition at home and abroad, which I feel I met through ever more articles, interviews, videos, posts, interactions, talks, etc. as well as good old-fashioned coaching and performance.
This year, I’m a bit wiser. I’ve learned that so many things are out of my control and that, while I may privately want to achieve a certain position or ranking, it’s not a good way to set targets. Instead, I need to work on the things that I can control. When I look back at the last year, I have to admit that the target I enjoyed achieving the most was the one that simply involved sharing and spreading the love and therapeutic value of our crazy sport. Achieving the other results mostly felt like a blessed relief, really.
This tiny grain of ‘wisdom’ hasn’t necessarily made me any better at setting targets though! This year is going to be just as tough as last year, if not more so (it has been so far…). I have no assurances at all about anything that I want to do that involves a real horse, be it vaulting or riding. It’s hard to know what to aim to do when it could be anything from ‘nothing’ up.
Keeping those national titles still matters to me, even though, at the moment, I’m hardly training on the real thing, and I don’t know what horse I’ll use at competitions. I’m learning about not holding myself to results I can’t guarantee though, so I can only really aim to be competitive. I’ll train as hard as I can away from the horse and do everything that I can to improve, but it’s hard – like learning to drive with only The Highway Code and Grand Theft Auto! My target there is to compete with the best possible quality for me and just see where I end up.
The second target is more controllable: to develop further as a coach and to start working up the levels of RDA and BEV coaching. I really love coaching and it also helps me a lot with my own training, because I have to think of lots of different ways of doing something instead of just the way that I know or have been taught. I often find that I end up doing something differently (and better) because of finding a way to teach someone who didn’t understand or like my initial way of doing things. Learning to coach is nothing but learning!
As for the third target? Well, I couldn’t think of anything else that I could realistically achieve. I didn’t really feel confident in anything. I stalled. In the end, I simply wrote, ‘survive’.
I left it at that for some time. To be honest, surviving has not felt easy recently. My physical health is always a bit of a minefield and, with quite a lot of stress going on at the moment with horses, work and general life, my mental health hasn’t been great either. I have bipolar disorder and have been on medication for nearly twelve years, and whilst my mood now is very stable compared to how it used to be I still find it very difficult at times to cope with the lows.
Sometimes giving up the whole thing seems very appealing and it becomes hard to see the positive difference people tell me I make. I’m not a quitter by nature but I do find it far harder to cope with deterioration in my mental health than anything else. 2018 was really difficult and many of the hardest parts are not going to be resolved any time soon, so I need a new approach if I’m going to cope.
The one thing that always helps is training. Pushing myself physically is a far easier pain to manage than mental stress and has the added benefit of keeping me healthy, improving my skills and fitness for competition, and giving me that endorphin rush. Plus, of course, there’s nothing quite like a learning a new skill for shoving two fingers up at disability and adversity!
I’ve been in the mental health game for a long time now as a patient and professionally, so I’ve learned some good tactics for positivity. After about a week of that word ‘survive’ sitting there, in my unsent application, I was finally able to come up with something a bit more useful.
My third goal for 2019, therefore, is to learn to manage all aspects of my training better so that I can enhance my performance whilst guarding general wellbeing.
It’s a bit buzzwordy, but I know what it means. Some of it is physical, of course, and a good deal of it is about how I get the most out of my limited training time. The biggest part for me, though, is that I’m going to try to look after myself better mentally. I’ll always hold myself to high standards but I’ll try to be more patient if/when I don’t meet them.
I’m also going to make sure that I keep an element of fun in all my training – something which isn’t always there at the moment. I feel that with any creative activity – vaulting included – you need an element of playfulness, and sometimes it’s easy to get bogged down in the details of technique and fitness. Play is vital: it’ll help me achieve all of my goals in performance, coaching and general sanity! It’s a natural part of us which is so easily drowned.
To that end, I’m off to play on my barrel now. It’s bright and sunny out there; I’ve put together a playlist of cheery and cheesy music, and it’s time to play.
Thank you Lizzie