As a dressage rider it can feel, at times, that you have very little control over the marks awarded for your test. Of course, to some extent this is true, but by using performance analysis techniques you can develop strategies to identify marginal gains and maximise your opportunity to achieve the highest marks possible by:
· Looking at patterns and trends over the long term as well on a test by test basis
· Identifying any qualities a judge values more highly than others - especially useful at the higher levels where there are fewer judges and you are likely to encounter the same judges throughout the season
· Ensuring you are objectively evaluating and implementing feedback from your test sheets and
· Highlighting any factors that impact your ability to deliver the performance you’re capable of
What is performance analysis?
The purpose of performance analysis is to examine outcomes (what’s going well, what’s not going well and what needs changing) and the factors that influence those outcomes. In dressage, an outcome could be the score for each movement or the overall score for the test. A successful outcome might be a personal best score, a placing, achieving qualification or winning a class.
It’s likely you’re already doing some form of analysis during or shortly after each competition. Just by thinking about why you got the result you did or how you could improve on today’s outcome is a great start. But there are problems with relying on your own observations and reflections.
What’s wrong with simple observation and reflection?
Observation is the traditional method employed by riders, coaches and trainers alike to analyse performance. However, it does have its draw backs. Research has shown that observations are both unreliable and inaccurate. In fact, experienced riders and coaches are more likely to detect differences between two performances than novice riders and coaches even when none existed! These experienced riders and coaches also tend to be very confident in their decisions / conclusions even when they are wrong.
Reflecting on your performance is valuable and you certainly shouldn’t discount your gut reaction, initial impressions of how the test went or your trainer’s feedback. However, you should be aware that studies show human memory is limited and it’s not possible to remember all the events that take place during a competition (or even a training session). Emotions and personal bias are also significant factors that can limit the quality of reflections. In essence, human memory and observation are not reliable enough to provide accurate and objective information to enable you to reliably improve performance.
What about videoing?
One of the most useful tools for analysing performance is the camera. Recordings provide a back-up system to support or refute any observations that you made about the competition. It tells you exactly what happened which may or may not tally with your perception of what happened.
You’re probably already in the habit of recording your tests and replaying them at home to relive the experience and gain some insight into what went well and what could be improved on. However, this recording does not give an account of what went on before you went into the arena and often it is the peripheral things that have the greatest effect on performance:
· What you ate or drank
· What was said to you by others (coach, family, friends, other competitors)
· What you said to yourself
· Length, quality and content of your warm-up
· General organisation and planning of the day
· What you did (e.g. watch other competitors or listen to other coach’s advice)
· How you learnt the test
· When you learnt the test
It is very powerful to be able to see for yourself the change in your body language, confidence levels and self-talk when you have, for example, watched other competitors in the same class. It is quite normal to be unaware of how you are affected by the things you do or say before entering the arena. It is also quite normal to be adamant that you didn’t do, or say, or behave, or react in that way so visual evidence can be very revealing!
For videoing to be as effective as possible and allow you to identify as many influencing factors as possible ensure that you capture as much as possible – your preparation, warm-up and trot round as well as the test itself.
What about how I felt on the day?
Subjective measures such as considering how you felt the test went can be a useful source of immediate feedback. Capture this information as soon as possible after riding the test. Take particular note of what you were thinking about or saying to yourself during the warm-up, prior to going into the arena, during the test and riding out of the arena. The answers can provide an insight into your psychology at these times and may give clues as to why a particular outcome occurred.
Be aware! Research has shown though that free reports (unstructured discussion) of thoughts or emotions can result in many emotions and thoughts being added or omitted. This is particularly true if there is a time delay, such as discussing the event at your next training session. A more structured approach can be achieved by noting down as soon as possible after each test your thoughts, observations and feelings. Do this for each competition and then compare what you wrote with the video of that day and the eventual outcome – successful or otherwise. What did you notice?
How do I analyse my performance in the long term?
As its simplest level performance analysis is about noticing what happened and asking questions about what influenced what happened. Whilst it is useful to do this on a test by test basis it is also helpful to identify any trends or recurring themes over a series of competitions. Areas to consider could include:
· Looking over the season is there any correlation between the surface ridden on and the marks awarded for each pace or movement?
· Each test has a guide time given for completing it. Are you taking significantly more or less time to complete the test? Is there any correlation between the time taken to complete the test and the overall mark?
· Are some paces or movements consistently achieving higher marks than others? Is this consistent over a number of tests or over a season?
· Is there any correlation between the number of strides taken in the medium, extended or collected paces and the marks awarded? Does delivering more or fewer strides achieve higher marks?
· Do you always follow the same routine prior to entering the arena? What is the variation in time spent going round the outside of the arena? How does this affect the performance inside the arena?
· How much time do you take in the warm-up overall? How much time is spent in each pace and on each rein? What movements / transitions do you practice? How much time is left between completing the warm-up and entering the arena? Is there an optimum warm up time? What did you do in the warm-up on days that you produced a high or low scoring test?
· Were the movements performed at the markers or between the markers as required? Did accuracy affect the individual marks for the movement or just the final collectives? Is a good but inaccurate transition rewarded higher than a mediocre but accurate transition.
How useful are my test sheets?
Individual test sheets are unlikely to provide really useful information as they are simply a snapshot on the day and reflect one mark for a movement that may involve several different actions (changes of direction, turns, circles and transitions). However, it can be useful to analyse a season’s worth of test sheets to understand any general trends in the marks that may be affecting your overall placing:
· Look at frequently occurring movements in the tests you are riding and calculate the average mark for each over the season. You could then, for example, prioritise your training sessions to work on movements that are scoring less than a 7 on average.
· Look at the average scores over the season for each pace. Are all 3 paces scoring roughly the same mark on average? If not, can you use your training sessions to get them all up to the same level?
· Look at the average of each of the collective marks over the season. What do you notice?
· Look at the judges’ comments over the season’s test sheets. Are there comments that appear frequently? Do you agree with them? Have you taken onboard any suggestions?
This type of in-depth analysis takes time, commitment and dedication but ultimately if you want to increase your likelihood of success it’s worth it and you might be surprised at what you find!
“To get something you’ve never had, be prepared to do something you’ve never done!”