Developing a Coaching Plan

Sorry readers, another revision-blog double whammy.

Coaching plans aren’t something I’m massively confident on. I mean, I have a plan of some sort for all my riders; for the leisure/hacking riders I have in mind improving their seat, control of the aids, confidence and knowledge. But it is done very much at their pace; adjusting the lesson speed and content to them on the day. Sometimes they’re having a confidence wobble and we need to revisit lower leg stability to help their hacking when really I wanted to improve the horse’s suppleness in canter. But ensuring my rider has a happy ride and will be safe during the next week is more important, so my lesson plan gets delayed a week. Time isn’t as issue so long as they continue learning and improving. So in that sense my coaching plan is very laid back.

For my leisure riders who are more ambitious and want to go out competing once or twice a month, I’ve got more of a structured plan in place: their flatwork is more geared towards movements and standards expected at their dressage level, with them being more aware of the scales of training and it’s application. The jumping is focused on improving technique with grids etc, and using courses to get them thinking about how they should ride at competitions. During holidays we often go cross country schooling too, to add to their repertoire. Then, they can tell me of their upcoming competitions a couple of weeks in advance. If it’s a dressage competition I like to know two or three lessons in advance so I can work on individual movements, such as a change of rein through two half 10m circles. Then they have chance to practice and for me to feedback before the competition. With jumping competitions, a lesson beforehand is usually enough to fine tune them unless they are having a particular problem, in which case I wouldn’t advise competing until it’s sorted.

As far as coaching plans go, I don’t really have any clients who are out competing every weekend, with lofty goals of climbing the dressage ladder, or stepping up their eventing, or of being on Juniors teams or anything like that. You never know, with the ITT qualification and my kidlets improving so well, I may have to up my game and have more formal coaching plans. 

Ross Algar, who’s book I’m rereading for the thirtieth time this weekend, reminded me that a coaching programme consists of a triangle between the coach, rider and horse. All three need to communicate to be able to develop and stick to a plan. With kids, parents need to play a supporting role because of transport and financial reasons, but it’s important to remain focused on the child or teenager and their ambitions.

What does a coaching plan consist off? 

  • A SMART target or two. These can be short or long term; a long term goal is usually made up of several short term goals. Targets need to meet the following criteria: specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and with a time frame. It’s important to create goals with the input of the rider; after all, there’s no point planning to get a rider to jump a Newcomers track if they’re only interested in dressage.
  • A diary. At the beginning of the season, and then once a month the client and coach need to sit down and plan upcoming competitions: these may be pencilled in eight weeks or more in advance, but as everything changes with horses it’s important to reflect that the competition is still achievable. Perhaps the ground has been very soft so the fast work is behind schedule, which may mean re-routing from an ODE and opting for a showjumping outing instead. The diary is also useful for planning the non lesson work. The coach may school the horse one day during the school day or a parent may lunge the horse. Then the rest of the week can be split into flat, jump or hack sessions with the rider. Off horse training for the rider also needs to be taken into account in the diary. Perhaps any Pilates, running or other fittening work. Other diary dates include the farrier, vaccinations, dentist, physio and saddler appointments.
  • Once the basic plan is in place, there needs to be regular reviews. These may be weekly adjustments according to the weather, school or work trips, or long term due to ground conditions or a niggling not-quite-rightness.
  • Then of course is the reflection session: how are horse and rider progressing? How did the last competition go? What improvements need to be made before the next competition? Lesson plans may need adjusting to accommodate this, or an extra cross country schooling session organised.

Coaching plans for competitive riders require a lot of dedication from a coach: you go on an emotional journey with horse and rider, and have to be flexible. Fitting in extra lessons, adjusting lesson times or venues, or going to competitions with the client. Being at a competition allows you to watch  their performance under pressure and away from home; allows you to support them and hopefully spot ways of improvement. Possibly the most important way a coach can help a client at competitions is by warming them up. A coach can get the rider in the right frame of mind to compete, can get the horse working well, and help correct problems that may occur in the warm up arena. All of which should help improve their performance and results.

Personally, I love seeing and hearing about my clients’ achievements; competitive or non-competitive. As small as having the confidence to hack alone, or to jump their first jump in ten years, repeating the lesson content on their own, or as big as being placed in their inter-schools or regional competitions. 

It gives me a lot of job satisfaction, drives me to improve and adjust my plans for the next few training lessons. Yes, I don’t have a need for strict coaching plans with ambitious competitive riders at the moment, but I think I would enjoy seeing and being involved when some of my riders spread their wings into the competitive scene.

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