William Micklem: Sunny Side Up

EN guest columnist William Micklem returns with words of wisdom that are valuable not only during this long winter season, but any time of year. Many thanks to William for writing, and thanks for reading. Be sure to share your own thoughts in the comments below.

It is so easy for us to have our sport ruined by a bad coach. The coach who focuses on everything that has gone wrong, the coach that winds you up into a ball of stress, leaving you tense and with that paralysing F word absorbed into every corner of your mind … FAILURE! With great certainty I can name one of these bad coaches. It is someone much closer to you than you probably realise. It is often you!

The research shows that even those who are outwardly positive often let this bad coach into their competition performances and lives at key moments. This coach is ‘the maggot in your mind’ that invariably means you perform at your worst when the whole family is watching, or when you are within touching distance of success.

However this maggot doesn’t suddenly appear from nowhere. It is given birth in those early rides and lessons when you compare yourself with others rather than on your personal best, when you blame your lack of talent for a poor performance rather than your lack of hard work and determination, and when you fail to develop your ‘sunny side.’

It doesn’t have to be like this. It is easily possible to make a new personal best your aim, to work harder, to become sunnier, and to practise other simple attitudes of mind that will make the maggot in your mind shrink and disappear. You can have a new mental attitude that will allow you to habitually make the best of your opportunities. But the key word is practise, practice on a daily basis, so that you regularly become a great coach to yourself and this good attitude of mind becomes an established and easy part of your performing life.

So learning good coaching skills is vital for all riders, even if you don’t teach others, because ‘we are all our own coach’ … usually the most influential coach we will meet in our whole life. In horse riding there is an additional powerful reason for studying how to coach, which does not apply to any other sport. It is this: Every time you work with your horse you are having a training effect on him, good or bad. So if you are a rider you are automatically also a coach to your horse, and good coaching skills work equally well with both horses and humans.

A core part of the skills of a wonderful coach is to have their ‘sunny side up.’ It is well known that positivity builds while negativity kills, but being sunny is more than just having a positive attitude because it also requires great generosity. I see generosity as a golden key for accelerated progress in training. Being generous means giving your student the benefit of the doubt, rather than being too quick to judge or making negative assumptions based on minimal information. Who has not done this at some time and as a result underestimated ability and other good qualities, or worst still become impatient and ended up in an argument?

Being generous also means that a coach must keep looking at and responding to students with the vision to see what is possible in the future. This is both the essence of treating your student with respect and the foundation stone of building belief. Connected to this is the strategy of ‘paying things forward’ rather than ‘paying them back.’ How many trainers limit progress and damage coaching relationships because they are more concerned about punishment for bad behaviour rather than rewarding good behaviour, and in addition going the extra mile to do things for their student as a vote of confidence in their future?

So at this point of the article are you relating this to training horses or training humans? Which ever you are thinking off, read it again. You will see that it applies to both four legged and two legged students, and in particular you will also see that it applies to coaching yourself.

Being sunny and generous is not just about an easy going affability. It requires action in three key areas: Firstly it requires that you take active responsibility for working from what you and your students do well, from your strengths. Secondly it requires that you take active responsibility for being quick to recognise progress, and thirdly take active responsibility for thinking big and saying “why not?”

As you think big this is when the ‘maggot’ often tries to make their reappearance. “Who are you to be so big headed and ambitious?” The maggot may say, “Get real!” But as the blind and quadriplegic Irish motivational speaker, Mark Pollock, says, ”Don’t respect the gap between reality and possibilities.” For Mark this is both the thought that keeps him sunny and the motivation to think outside the box. We can immediately all see and understand how this is a vital and effective strategy for Mark, so why are we slow to see that it also applies to ourselves?

For some final food for thought on this subject it is worth mentioning that the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, says that “generosity is the key for a society worth living in.” Further confirmation that, as with most key coaching skills, they are transferable and have huge added value and a wider application. Good coaches can make the world a sunnier place.