Tonya speaks with collegiate equestrian coaches Logan Fiorentino of Texas Christian University (TCU) and Anna Becker of the University of Georgia. Brought to you by Taylor, Harris Insurance Services. Listen in!
GUESTS AND LINKS EPISODE 311:
- Host: Tonya Johnston, Visit her Website, Facebook and buy her book Inside Your Ride
- Guest: Logan Fiorentino is the Head Jumping Seat coach at Texas Christian University (TCU). Logan is in her 11th season as Jumping Seat coach at TCU and with the help of a great coaching and support staff, has transformed the Jumping Seat program into a force on the national level.
- Guest: Anna Becker was named Jumping Seat Assistant Equestrian Coach for the University of Georgia Equestrian Team in June 2018. Anna is primarily responsible for coaching the Equitation Over Fences squad as well as recruiting for the English discipline. During the 2020-21 season, Anna assisted the team to the program’s seventh National Championship. The team’s accomplishments, and specifically her squad, earned her NCEA Jumping Seat Coach of the Year recognition. A collegiate rider herself, Anna contributed to two SEC Championships, two Hunt Seat National Championships, and two team National Championships at Auburn University from 2010-2013.
- Title Sponsor: Taylor, Harris Insurance Services (THIS) was founded in 1987 to provide specialized insurance for all types of equine risk. THIS places their policies with the highest rated and most secure carriers, meticulously selected for reliability and prompt claims settlement. THIS is proud of their worldwide reputation for responsive and courteous service, and welcomes the opportunity to discuss your equine insurance needs and provide you with a quote.
- Photo Credit: UGA Sports Communications/Tony Walsh, TCU Athletics/Sharon Ellman Photography, Erin Gilmore Photography
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- Sponsors: Purina Animal Nutrition, America Cryo, American Stalls, LAURACEA, BoneKare, Wordley Martin Premium Equestrian Surfaces, Show Strides Book Series, Online Equestrian College Courses, With Purpose: The Balmoral Standard, and American Equestrian School
This transcript was generated automatically. Its accuracy may vary.
Tonya Johnston [00:00:34] This is episode 311 of the Plaidcast. I’m Tonya Johnston, Mental Skills Coach, and this is Inside Your Ride. Today’s podcast is brought to you by the Taylor Harris Insurance Services and the Plaid Horse magazine. On today’s show, I speak with Logan Fiorentino, jumping seat coach for the TCU equestrian team, and Anna Becker, who is the jump and see coach for the University of Georgia.
Tonya Johnston [00:03:00] Thank you so much for joining me today. I hope you had a wonderful Thanksgiving. I’m excited to announce my new dates for the winter session of Mindset Boost 2023. Last year I had a few folks who bought sessions for friends as Holiday Presents, which I thought was so sweet. But the the session this year for winter will go from January 10th to February 28th. We meet on Tuesday nights over Zoom. You can find more information on my website at Tonya Johntson dot com forward slash the mindset boost. You may have heard me describe the group before we run for eight weeks with a weekly zoom meeting. We do check ins. We have a private Facebook group. I provide take home materials and homework, and we do question and answer every week. And there’s a lot to the group. There’s a lot of great cohesion with group members. I just love how it all comes together. So it’s really, truly become one of my favorite parts of my coaching practice. So I’m psyched to announce that Winter Mindset Boost registration is open. So we’re going to start on January 10th, so please join if that’s something that interests you. And I wanted to mention here in my introduction today that at this time of year, a lot of us have paused our show schedule and are going to be home practicing for a bit, gearing up for the new year ahead. And one thing I want to encourage is for you to track all of your progress, right? So I want you to adopt the belief that there’s no such thing as small progress. I don’t want you to belittle your home rides or your hacks or, you know, having a lesson where you’re you’re not jumping as much or what have you. You know, all progress is meaningful and you want to keep your eye on it to make sure that you own it, you understand it, and you can keep it consistent and bring it with you into your show year, next year. You know, for example, did you walk your horse around as you listened to your trainer? You know, describe the exercise in your lesson so that you could see every approach and every turn. Like maybe you made sure that you saw angles and did a little bit of ring research there as you as you were listening and learning what you were about to do. And maybe that helps you feel more centered and organized mentally, right? That’s progress. That’s you being proactive, right? That’s important. You know, or did you spend time, you know, breathing as you talked up because it was cold and you could tell your horse was feeling up and you did that instead of starting a narrative in your head that got yourself worried and stressed about, oh, man, this is going to be hard and the horses are going to be wild, you know, going toward your breathing and going toward getting yourself centered and grounded, you know, that’s progress. That’s making a choice. That’s a progress moment. Right? So those times and places, you’re taking positive action. To support yourself this winter are so important and they’re equal to some of your more physical performance goals, like strengthening your core so that you can stay tall in the air or keeping your leg more still. Right. So I want you to stay focus on all of the progress and track those personal wins. It’s so important when we step away from shows to really be leaning in to process. And in fact, when you get back to your horse shows, that’s what you want to bring with you is that focus on process, that focus on finding those wins, finding those small moments of success in every ride. Right. That’s going to keep you more resilient. So to keep your confidence up, it’s going to keep you more mentally strong as you get back to showing. So it’s really important. I just want to encourage that. So that’s my pep talk for you this month. And so now we have two guests on the show today. Both are wonderful coaches for NCAA teams and really fascinating perspectives. And we’ll get to my first guest right after these messages.
Tonya Johnston [00:08:14] Logan Fiorentino is the head jumping coach at TCU. Logan is in her 11th season as jumping coach at TCU, and with the help of a great coaching and support staff, has transformed the Jumping Seat program into a force on the national level. Hi, Logan, thank you for joining me today.
Logan Fiorentino [00:08:31] Hi, Tonya, glad to be here!
Tonya Johnston [00:08:34] Great, great. Did you have a good thanksgiving?
Logan Fiorentino [00:08:38] Yes. Lots of family time, which is definitely welcomed at the end of our busy fall season. With. With equestrian meets and travel and recruiting. So it was nice to have a full week to really enjoy family and and not be on the road.
Tonya Johnston [00:08:57] Right. So do you have a break? You have a break from meets now till January.
Logan Fiorentino [00:09:03] Yes. So we finished up on November 11th was our last fall. Meet all our athletes and our horses have been enjoying a little bit of downtime. We’ll kick things back off. Just just around Martin Luther King and we’ll start practice that that week of January. And then we look ahead and we we go every weekend until our spring break, and then we take a few days and then our postseason starts. So the spring happens up very. Yep.
Tonya Johnston [00:09:38] Yeah, yeah, yeah. For sure. So, so let’s, let’s sort of give people a little bit of an orientation. I mean, we’ll have listeners that don’t really know that much about collegiate equestrian, right? So and I’ve had many clients make that transition from their junior careers to riding on an NCAA team, but as it’s a bit of a learning curve, right? So maybe you could just give us a quick description of the format and and how it works for our listeners who may not who may not be familiar with it.
Logan Fiorentino [00:10:11] Yeah, absolutely. I love our format. I think it is. I always tell people it’s it’s the most fair you could ever make a horse show our meets are head to head competitions. So one rider from TCU will be against a rider from the visiting team and they’ll compete on the same horse. So that horse will go twice. And the the athletes are competing for the highest score. You know, who can who can bring the best out of that horse? Who can bring the most out of that horse? We have two events in the jumping seat. We do. We have an over fence class and then we have a flat class. And our flat format is very similar to what the U.S. finals flat phase was this year on the East Coast, not not as technical as what some of those riders were competing in, but asking similar questions. You’re looking at forward riding connection, lengthening of stride, collecting of stride and lateral work and of course, you know, beautiful style and position. But those horses will go twice and the the higher score will earn a point for their team. And there’s ten possible points that you can earn on the jumping see side. And then the Western events are horsemanship and reigning and there’s ten possible points that those athletes can earn for their team. And and you’re everyone’s pushing to get to 11 first.
Tonya Johnston [00:11:47] Right, right. Amazing. So I know I was going to mention that about the USET final. What what did you think about that?
Logan Fiorentino [00:11:53] I loved it. I thought it absolutely brilliant. I, I absolutely I was glued to that. Right. I thought, Alex Jane and Michael Morrissey was judging this year. I thought they did an absolutely brilliant job with each phase, but the flat phase was so fun to watch and it was so fun to see those riders who had experience in in the NCAA format have the success, you know, and you could tell that they were comfortable with with those questions. So it was fun to see those riders bring their college skill set back into a national final.
Tonya Johnston [00:12:43] Right? Right, exactly. Yeah. So so what did you find? You know, when people do make that transition, what do you find to be like fundamentally the mental side of things? Like what’s the most challenging aspect of. That change in format, that head to head. I mean, there’s loads, there’s so many things, right? I mean, obviously for kids that haven’t done a lot of catch riding, you know, riding a horse, they don’t know. I mean, that’s the whole thing. But talk about some of the the mental challenges of transitioning from like a regular junior career to like riding in that format.
Logan Fiorentino [00:13:20] Well, we have a list. [Laughter] Yeah.
Tonya Johnston [00:13:23] I know. There’s a lot. Right.
Logan Fiorentino [00:13:24] And and really, you know, each each athlete is is so unique. Right. But some of the common common areas where that transition kind of hits the hardest, you are coming into a team. Right. So that’s the first thing you’re going from an individual sport to a team sport. And you’re not just riding for yourself anymore. You’re riding for your team, you’re riding for each other. Some people really find that that elevates their performance. Some people that that they feel the pressure a little bit more. So, again, it really it’s it’s so unique to each athlete, but we see a bit of that. You’re also coming into a new coaching system, right? A lot of our athletes have been with their their trainers at home for a good bit of time. Right. That you’ve developed were with them and they know you and you know them and right down to, you know, every last hair and detail on your horse. And now you’re stepping into a completely again, a completely new and different environment, and you’re riding a different horse every day in practice. You’re competing on horses that you you get 4 minutes to figure out. So you got to be able to think, think quick, and you’ve got to be super confident in your skill set because what worked on your horse at home might not be the right recipe for the one that you literally just met 4 minutes ago. And, you know, my horse at home really liked when I did this. Well, this horse absolutely hates it, right. You’ve got to be able to to make that adjustment and be confident and comfortable with it. And again, coaching styles are are different for each trainer and for each program. So you’re you’re learning a new system. You’ve got a little bit more of a demanding academic schedule, right? College classes are going to be different than your high school coursework. You’ve got workouts added in and and finding the time to balance all of your things also plays into it. So just a lot of a lot of transition. It usually takes our first year students at least a semester to figure out how to college. Yeah. Yeah. And and student athlete at the same time. And it’s fun to watch that that growth over the time that they’re with the program. But there is definitely that transition that you can’t overlook or discuss. Right?
Tonya Johnston [00:16:04] Right. Right. Well, a couple of things come to mind from what you were what you were saying. One was that the whole transition of, you know, riding as a junior to riding on a team and that difference of, you know, quote unquote, riding for yourself versus riding for a team, know that thing. You know, one of the concepts I try and encourage all riders is really to look at their role, even if it’s an amateur doing the whatever division. Right. Like they are still on a team, you know what I mean? Trying to foster more of that than feeling like it is such the focus on individual accomplishment type of thing, right. Like that. That is really enhances your ability to. Contextualize and get perspective around like what you’re doing in the ring. You know, I think there’s something about that that is useful and would make it even easier to transition into a team format in some regard. Right, because you feel a sense of responsibility to like fill out your role.
Logan Fiorentino [00:17:14] Right? And there are some trainers in the industry who do a great job of fostering that type of environment. Right. Right. And we do love when we have recruits coming in who have that experience and have that background coming in, where that has been fostered, that environment has been fostered, and some programs are just they don’t have the size. Like those trainers, they’re small, you know, maybe there’s one or two other clients or they don’t really want to do that. But there are some trainers who have really shifted in their approach and and created a really fantastic culture with right program. And we do get excited when yeah. When we get those, those recruits interested in our program because we feel like they have a sense they already have a little bit of an idea of, okay, this is what I’m walking into. And it’s not as big of a culture shock coming in. That transition smoother for them.
Tonya Johnston [00:18:15] Right, right, right. And then. Yeah, so that I mean, that’s like the follow up question about that would be, you know, how do you. As far as your recruiting goes, how do you what do you look for in the mental strength of writers that you want to bring on your team? Like, how do you assess that? Or how do you sort of look at what kind of impact that that writer’s personality or style or, you know, mental approach to their writing? Like, how do you get at how do you how do you investigate that as you recruit?
Logan Fiorentino [00:18:49] Yeah, that that’s one of those things that just doesn’t come up on paper very well. Yeah. Yeah, that’s for sure. Necessarily show up in the videos. So. So we are always looking to learn a little bit more about that person. For us, it really we’re big on building a team and not a roster, you know? And so the chemistry and the culture of our program is, is paramount for us. So when we are getting to know a prospect, you know, we’ll do our due diligence and we’ll look at our current athletes and and, you know, have you worked with them and have you written with them and spent any time with them? You know, like, sure. You guys rode with the same trainer. Like, what are what was your experience? And, and our athletes are really they’re very committed to our program. They’re very sincere. And they want to bring in teammates who are going to work hard just like they are, and who have those same, you know, work ethic and and commitment and team minded ness that that they do. So we we tend to get a pretty, pretty good feel. We’ll chat with trainers and we’ll, we’ll follow them along kind of over their career and see, you know, how they perform when the lights are the brightest or how they handle perhaps a tough round or a tough, warm up class. You know, you watch at the medal finals, that warm up class at 5 a.m..
Tonya Johnston [00:20:28] I’m sure, you.
Logan Fiorentino [00:20:29] Know, you can learn a lot by watching the class. All right. That you know, those 96, 70 seconds this year. Oh, my gosh, it was so fast. But yeah, you can learn a good bit about how they handle adversity in those 70 seconds. And and that’s you know, it doesn’t tell the whole story, but it does give you a little bit of an insight right now.
Tonya Johnston [00:20:51] Definitely. That makes sense. Yeah, I wouldn’t have predicted that. But the warm up class I see what you say and and I’ve actually had that conversation with, with clients of mine who, who want to be recruited and, and facing pressure of going and riding at these camps or knowing a coach is going to be at a certain show and watching or that kind of thing and really emphasizing like how they handle the whole experience versus putting all the pressure on the jumps in the ring.
Logan Fiorentino [00:21:21] Absolutely. And people always ask or might my actually it’s a lot of time. It’s my husband was like, why do you have to be at the medal finals at 5 a.m. for this class? Like what?
Tonya Johnston [00:21:33] Right.
Logan Fiorentino [00:21:33] Right. It’s not even judged. And I’m like, no, that’s when you learn the most. Right, right. That’s what I get to see, like how they handle adversity or a fresh horse or an imperfect situation because the pressure is is not the pressure of the medal finals isn’t there? But, you know, no one wants to go in and crash, like you want to go in and feel good when you walk out of the ring. But how do you handle your horse that’s a little fresh on that day or, you know, everyone has like their plan in their path that, you know, they talked about with your trainer. But what happens when, you know, when that is not happening? Like, how do you how do you adjust? How do you think on the fly you have 70 seconds and you see some people are like, okay, now I’m going to circle, I’m going to roll back here and I’m just going to keep carrying on and jumping jumps. And then you have some others who are like, No, the plan is the plan.
Tonya Johnston [00:22:22] Right, right, right, right, right. Keep going.
Logan Fiorentino [00:22:26] Yeah, yeah. Don’t worry about that job. Go to the next one. And, and and you do you learn a good bit during those 70 seconds that you just maybe don’t see when the lights are the brightest. And so, yeah, there’s always something to learn.
Tonya Johnston [00:22:41] Yeah, no, definitely. How so? Here’s a question. How I know that. There are only so many riders on a team that get to compete on a given meet. Right. So talk to me about how you handle like the teamwork and team cohesion piece while at the same time the athletes know that they are always trying to be played. Like, how does that balance work for you?
Logan Fiorentino [00:23:10] Yeah, and that’s a really good question. And we get that question a lot. When we have recruits come in and we’re talking about our program and for us, when we host the whole meet, it’s all hands on deck. It is absolutely all hands on deck. And we’re a smaller program. So there’s there’s no space to hide, you know. Right. Not blend into the wall. No. And everyone’s really, truly needed. And our athletes who are competing, they can’t get on a horse until it’s time to compete. They get those 4 minutes. But as anybody knows, those those horses. Traditionally are typically don’t walk right from their stall to the ring. There’s prep that goes in to those horses in the morning, whether it’s lunging or even a hand walker or a full flat or a ticketed warm up type school in the morning. And you’re you’ve got your teammates who are there helping you out. You know, if you’re competing, you’re relying on your teammates to help get those horses right where you hope they are when you walk in the ring and they know they’re they’re wooed, they know their attitude. And and so, you know, there’s a lot of conversation that happens between, you know, the athlete competing and the athlete preparing that horse. And, you know, what do you think today? Do you think I need the Spurs? Should I use you know, should I carry a stick? Is he bad, is he grumpy, you know, and how do I you know, our old man- his left shift today is crazy or oh man, he really wants to swap to that jump or something like that. So you have your teammate who’s got your back there, you know, and and is doing everything they possibly can to help set you up for success. So you have a lot of support opportunities. And again, it’s truly a team effort. You can’t have somebody working up against the current dude. Everyone’s got to be everyone’s got to be rowing the boat in the same direction. And our athletes who are competing and who can’t do the work in the morning, man, they’re there in the morning. They’re tacking up, they’re braiding, they are bathing horses. I mean, they’re doing everything on the ground that they possibly can to take the workload off the group that’s that’s on the horse in the morning. Right. So there really is a shared investment. There’s a shared responsibility in the success of the day. And, you know, nobody’s efforts go unnoticed when you’re meeting or you’ve prepped three of the horses that showed that day. Like, you know, I tell the girls all the time, if if if you rode three horses, you had a hand in three possible points for the team. And that’s significant because your teammate who walked in the ring and competed for a score, their opportunity was to only earn one. You’ve contributed to three or four or however many were sat on that day, right? So, you know, just making sure that everybody understands that, that their role is significant, that’s huge. And we tell people one, one bad ride doesn’t doesn’t get you a a ticket to the bench, but one one good ride doesn’t guarantee that you’re on it the next week either. You’ve got to earn it every week. And and it is week to week. And you know, if coaches see something that maybe we need to iron out a little bit, maybe we take a week and we help you through that. And, you know, maybe there’s an opportunity to pop back in down the line. But you want your teammates riding? Well, you know, like and that’s the again, that’s really where you see the difference between being on the on your own on the circuit and being on a team is like everybody wants to compete, but the team only has so many slots. And you want your and you want your teammates riding the best they’ve ever ridden because you want you to win, you know, like and yeah, of course, like, everybody wants to be, you know, who steps up to the plate. But if that can’t be you, you’re rooting your teammate onto a 99 and and you’re you’re cheering the loudest for them. And that that takes time. But once once those athletes really connect into it, man, they never let it go.
Tonya Johnston [00:27:33] Right. That’s awesome. Yeah. That’s a great. And that what a what a unique and rewarding experience. What what could you could you pinpoint? I know there’s probably tons of them because you’ve coached for four. Is this your 12th season.
Logan Fiorentino [00:27:48] I, I at TCU this is I think my 11th. Oh, I stopped keeping track. I, I just feel grateful I get to come back and see that. Yeah, I started coaching at Georgia in 2008 and I was through three years there and then I stepped into TCU 2011.
Tonya Johnston [00:28:12] Yeah. Okay. Well, awesome. But so do you have like maybe we could sort of close with, you know, some, some memories of some of your favorite moments or like as a coach, you know, most rewarding sort of when you see someone make like a mental breakthrough or a confidence breakthrough or is there anything that comes to mind is sort of a highlight that you’ve been a part of or seen or helped, sort of helped an athlete through.
Logan Fiorentino [00:28:40] Yeah. Like you said, I’ve been coaching for a good bit of time and I’ve been so fortunate to work with some really incredibly talented and outstanding young women over that time. You know, and when you think about that pressure and that those mental toughness skills and how how that develops and and how it comes around, I have a there’s a couple it was my it was my first year coaching at Georgia and we were at the national championship and we were in the semifinals. And I mean, we were tied tight. I mean, I think it was it was 1.1- I mean we were tying points, I think. Oh, wow. I mean, it was that’s how tight it was. And ah, she was a. Sophomore, sophomore at the time. And she she had had a ton of success on her own before she came to school, you know, and. And had a good season, but had some bumpy moments in the beginning. And it came time to there was other rerides. I mean, again, when when you talk about like the most chaotic environment that I think I maybe have ever coached in.
Tonya Johnston [00:30:06] Wow.
Logan Fiorentino [00:30:07] was that First year.
Tonya Johnston [00:30:08] Oh, wow.
Logan Fiorentino [00:30:10] She was having this beautiful round and the horse just caught something out of his eye. And all of a sudden, she’s facing the other way and. Okay, we’re going to ask for a reride and the rerides granted. And she gets on this other horse. And it really was the last point. And she had to ride it first. And and. At that point, you just had like all the things in the world that I could tell you. The only thing I can really tell you right now is to just go in and ride and you know what you’re doing and just go ride. And I mean, she laid it down and put the pressure on the other athlete who had an equally as fantastic ride. But I think, again, I think the difference was a three point difference between two judges. I mean, it was that. Yeah. And it was fun to see her have that moment to step into that moment and really just seal the deal. And from that moment on, she had ice water in her veins for the rest of her career. There was not a moment that was too big for her. There was not a moment that she could not rise to. I mean, when I tell you, you know, she was in a bigger spot the following year, we were in a ride off against Texas A&M, like a sudden death situation, I think maybe the second most chaotic coaching experience in my life. I mean, you’re putting up one rider in each event to compete against the other. And again, she had just been practicing that or that that one moment the year before had really kind of launched her into this space where she she literally had ice water in her veins. And there was no situation that her teammates could look at her and be like, oh, is she going to do it? It was like, Oh, no, there’s nobody better for this. So seeing that and being a part of that, just that, like pinch shoes, there’s nothing that you can put at her that’s not going to fluster her, not going to rattle her. And it really was that that one ride in the semifinals that just put her on this trajectory, that right. Shake her from that was exciting. I’ve had, you know, other moments where, again, you always think about like the bottom of the ninth two outs.
Tonya Johnston [00:32:28] Yeah, yeah.
Logan Fiorentino [00:32:29] And who steps up. And a lot of that is situational. You know, you just have to be in the right place at the right time. But again, another it always happens at Nationals, too, and the stakes are the highest. And another athlete who earlier in the season had looked at me straight up and was like, Coach, please do not put me in that. Like, look at our teammates, please don’t leave it to me. Please don’t give it to me. And at Nationals again, we’re all tied up. And it’s the final point. And we all kind of looked at it and we’re like. Do you want to know if she was like, no, just let me go. Right. And I mean, again, she just she stepped up and put in a huge performance and came out. And she was she was like, that was fun. But I don’t think I need to do it again, you know? But to see her again, to see her just be in that moment and be present and focus on what she needed to do. And just when it boils down to it, you’re just just ride the horse.
Tonya Johnston [00:33:30] Right?
Logan Fiorentino [00:33:31] You can talk all day long, but just just ride the horse.
Tonya Johnston [00:33:35] Right. And I think that that it it seems like the format of the collegiate riding is even a little bit trickier with that of staying in the process so, so important in those big moments to stay with process. And like you said, just ride. And it’s even harder when it’s like it’s me against her. It’s like it’s not it’s different when it’s like you’re one of, you know, 80 people in a meadow final or whatever it might be. And it’s like, I’m going to do the best I can over the track. Like the track is the question versus like when it feels head to head, it probably gets a little bit trickier with with that balancing process and outcome. But I think your your point that you in those stories is like that you were helping that athlete really just get in the moment and step away from the pressure and more focus on just simply riding.
Logan Fiorentino [00:34:30] And we we practice or I think we practice, you know, like when we’re in practice, you know, we do practice kind of getting up and getting it done, you know, the first time. Right, right. And I have a young lady this year. She’s a sophomore. And and right before our our final home meet, she was practicing on one of the horses. And the judge who had who was coming in the next day, he had actually had trained a horse and then donated it. And, you know, this was kind of one of our it’s one of our favorite horses. He’s such a I mean, he’s just such a gem. And I looked up at her and I said, you know, no pressure. The judge donated the horse, but, you know, no pressure like and she just looked at me and she’s like, coach, no pressure. And I just said to her, I was like, pressure is a privilege. And and the more we practice it, the less the less of a thing it is. And she just looked at me. She was, you know, Coach, I love that. And she actually happened to draw that horse the next day. And she looks at me, she goes, Coach, pressure is a privilege, you know, and and and I knew I could do it. So, you know, we try to put ourselves we try to mimic the environment a little bit as best as we can. And just to help kind of prepare for those moments the best and.
Tonya Johnston [00:35:53] Yeah, absolutely know that that makes so much sense. And it’s really it is something you can practice. You can practice the courage you need, the resilience you need to step up in those situations. That sounds like that has really paid off for you. So thank you so much for your time. I love those stories. Those sound amazing and congrats on such a successful coaching career and continued success.
Logan Fiorentino [00:36:19] Thank you. I’m hoping for some more exciting stories to be able to share at the end of the spring.
Tonya Johnston [00:36:25] Yes. Yes. Good luck.
Tonya Johnston [00:38:21] Anna Becker was named assistant coach for the Georgia equestrian team in June 2018. She is primarily responsible for coaching the Equitation over fences Squad, as well as recruiting for the English discipline during the 2021 season. Becker assisted the team to the program’s seventh national championship. The team’s accomplishments, and specifically her fencing squad, earned her NCAA jumping seat coach of the Year recognition as a collegiate rider herself. Becker contributed to two SCC championships, two one seat national championships and two team national championships at Auburn University from 2010 to 2013. Hi, Anna. Thank you so much for joining me today.
Anna Becker [00:39:02] Hi. Thank you for having me.
Tonya Johnston [00:39:05] Yay! Awesome. I’m so excited to get to know you and hear about your experience as a coach. But also I wanted to start by talking about I know that in reading up on you that you were a very successful student athlete yourself with Auburn. And I’m curious like how that experience informs sort of your coaching style and like what do you feel you learned that that you still use even today?
Anna Becker [00:39:34] I think it helped so much. Definitely living. I’m sure you’ve heard a team sport in college is so different than growing up. So my mom was a trainer and she actually coached and rode for an HSA team. So I have some of that sort of coaching background but a little bit different in terms of truly competing as a team. So Auburn was instrumental in my success and making me a better team. Sort of. For getting involved more in the team than just myself and my writing. And I’ve taken a lot of steps that they had an ideas that they have had into my career and have brought that to the different teams that I worked for, as well as things that I’ve done for myself and also learned from that and things that might work better in my way of coaching. So no, it was great and it definitely helped me a lot grow as a person and as a writer.
Tonya Johnston [00:40:31] MM What would be, what would be like an example? So you road to, on, on the Auburn team that won two national championships, correct? So do you was there anything specific that you remember from those experiences that you really bring with you?
Anna Becker [00:40:51] Yeah. We won my freshman year. We won the SEC championship my sophomore year. We won nationals and then my senior year we won nationals. So I think. You know, it was just an amazing experience and something that I’ll never forget. I think we worked very well as a team in those years, and I think the years that we did not, we sometimes had different leadership. And every year that you have a senior class at Auburn, they don’t have captains there. So every year we had a very different senior class and it truly changed the dynamic of the team and it goes in way of year to year and it’s almost every team. So you can have a year where it doesn’t necessarily click away or you can be so close to winning or it just doesn’t work your way with judges. So I think we always had a really good dynamic, but it was always different every year. So even in the two years that we won a national championship, the dynamic that we had from our senior leadership was definitely instrumental to that success.
Tonya Johnston [00:41:58] So as a as a coach now, do you have captains?
Anna Becker [00:42:02] At Georgia. We do have captains. We usually have four or sometimes five captains. Mm hmm.
Tonya Johnston [00:42:08] Did you find yourself, you know, in. When you were in a championship environment, what do you find like mental skills wise? Did you lean on as a rider the most? You know, like as far as your mindset or like what helped the most?
Anna Becker [00:42:28] I think during my time on the team, we did not have really this mental health help that I think that the teams do now and what schools are really prioritizing. So I wish that I had someone like you or someone that our teams have now to work with and go to for help, whether that be personal mental health or sports psychology. So I did not have that, but I really relied on my fellow teammates. I looked to my family, I did things that worked well for me that I learned from trainers in the past. I listen to music that got me pumped up for kind of had a moment alone in the corner before I’d compete. So it really was more on me and I wish that I had those resources that these teams do now because it’s just incredible and really, you know, capitalizes on the fact that this is a mental sport. And we need to make sure that not only physically are we prepared, but mentally we are as well.
Tonya Johnston [00:43:28] Right? Absolutely. You actually raise a point that I want to talk about with that, having to do with the balance, which I think, you know, I have clients that, you know, I work with as juniors and transition on to NCAA teams or that that come to me when they’re on a team. And I find it a challenge sometimes to help them fulfill their team requirements, while also sort of honoring their own preparation routine, like even if it’s small things that they want to be able to do, like you said, like grab a little moment alone or listen to music or what have you. And and and that there’s a fine line there between needing to be a good teammate and needing to also honor what you know about yourself as a performer and, you know, getting yourself to the ring. Like, how do you handle that as a coach, that there are some individual differences in there?
Anna Becker [00:44:26] I mean, personally, for me and my team, I tell my girls to do what they need to do personally because everyone is so different. I actually, a lot of the time will ask them, Hey, what do you need from me? And some of them have a weird little saying, I have to say, before they go in the ring or they need a moment or I realize and appreciate that everyone comes from different backgrounds and everyone is their own person. So I try not to have it be cookie cutter. Obviously, they all know that they need to be a team player, but I’ll I’ll make a point to say, do what you need to do. Go listen to your headphones, go walk on the side, or some of them go walk the course in extra time. So I respect that they each need to do what they need to do. And then after the ride, they’re fully team, they’re ready to go. They’re supporting each other, they’re cheering and you know, but prior to that ride, it’s kind of sacred. And I give them that time to do what they need to do. While also right. We walk the course together, we prepare together, we watch the horses warming up together. So all of those things as team. But I also know and respect that you got to do it. You got to do it. So we’ve had funny things I have to say before they go in the ring or somebody needs a fist bump or I do whatever kind of make myself a chameleon to their needs because they they have to be prepared and they have to feel good in order to succeed.
Tonya Johnston [00:45:52] Yeah, I love that. Do you think that that comes from you respecting that like you found that like in your junior career, did you have things that you found your way to that worked for you within like like I read that you did the big arc and you know all of that. So was that is that respect for everyone’s individuality something that you found through understanding your own process to.
Anna Becker [00:46:20] Um. I don’t think so. I don’t really know even where it comes from. I do think, you know, I rode with Beacon Hill and Stacia Madden. And then I also wrote with Emil Spadone, so very different farms and programs as a junior and even riding with my mom as well growing up. But I think when you’re riding in a barn like that, I kind of already have that and meaning to prepare yourself because you really just walk the horse with your trainer and maybe you sit with them and watch for a little bit, but they have other stuff going on. So you do need to prepare mentally and you know, whether that be getting your horse ready or going and listening to music or watching someone else compete. So I think some of that from the outside worlds and the regular horse show world should translate. So maybe that’s where I get it from, is because you are a little bit more individualized. So I think that’s why.
Tonya Johnston [00:47:13] Yeah, no, totally. I that makes that makes absolute sense. So tell us about and you guys had a success. Congrats. You won national championship. Yeah. And 20, 21 season. Is there. Is there? Can you tell us some of the more like mindset wins from that season or things that you felt like your team did well or you were able to help with that you think allowed that kind of success to happen?
Anna Becker [00:47:46] Mm hmm. I think definitely going into postseason, we were working a lot on pressure and putting ourselves in high pressure situations. So we’ll do a lot of sort of scrimmage style or, you know, how we do this thing where I have the girls say, okay, you know, you have to go beat this score and we pick a score together based on that horse is capable. So rather than riding against another teammate or riding against, okay, I have to go beat in 86 and if we don’t beat that score, they get enough stirrups tacked on for the whole team. So it’s not just one person. So you could have somebody win or somebody lose, but everybody goes and has to do that in a stir up work. And that was, I think, crucial in helping them be like, oh, god, I don’t want to be the one that makes everyone do nastier work. So that helps. But also just I would set really difficult courses or courses from years past at Nationals and just preparing with the hard things in practice so that when you get there it becomes easy and you know, you can just rely on, okay, I practice this, I know what I need to do, I’m fully prepared. And we also do a lot of film and we watched horses. And what was interesting about that year was it was the first year after COVID, and because of budget constraints, us and Auburn were unable to bring horses. So usually when we go to nationals, you would bring horses and there’s a warm up day where everyone watches all the horses and it’s also a warm up for the girls. And we did not have that, so we had to go. I think it was almost two days without riding before they competed in the first round, which put us at a disadvantage. But we sat there with video and note taking and we made sure that we were prepared. And then the night before we first competed, we watched film of all of the horses that we saw and kind of had a game plan. So all of that mental preparation, I think prepared them well so that when they went in they were super confident and believe that they were going to beat them. And we we did a great job and they got we got six points out of eight in the jumping seat events, which was huge.
Tonya Johnston [00:50:01] Right. Right. No, absolutely. That’s so interesting. Would that be something you would you would strive to do again, even without those constraints of the video analysis? And I know.
Anna Becker [00:50:12] You do that every time.
Tonya Johnston [00:50:13] Do that every time. And is that and is that do you couple that with. So if I was in the room, I would be encouraging them the next step to be visualization like do they work with with a sports like person or a mental skills coach at all to encourage that kind of skill?
Anna Becker [00:50:31] We have started here at Georgia. We have someone that is more sports psych based, but previously we did not have that. So a lot of that came from themselves or I know sometimes girls have I worked with someone in the trust on their own personal time. But yeah, it’s really what everyone needs. And I found too, some of them are so different, some it’s totally fine. They can just go, you know, go to bed, shower and be done for the night. And someone else that, you know, needs to visualize and walk through and have a plan or talk or watch more. So it’s very different as we go, but we do have that ability now with sports, like for the girls to meet with. And he has done actually some meetings with us and focused a lot on breathing techniques, which is really good and helpful.
Tonya Johnston [00:51:16] So great. That’s awesome. How do you do you have any specific like non riding exercises or activities that you do to boost team cohesion?
Anna Becker [00:51:30] We’ll do team bonding activities every year. Throughout the year. So we start, especially at the beginning of the year with a big one, mostly to get the freshmen and knowing everyone and, you know, meeting all the new people. But we’ll try to have them throughout the year and sometimes we’ll do different questions at team meetings or in different groups and having them kind of think quickly and work with other people to. Learn about their teammates even more. So that’s something we always strive for every single year. It’s just that cohesion and working well and our captains are great and I’ll bring up different ideas and stuff. So they actually tested on their own. They had a team Thanksgiving, so they all went to someone’s house and everybody thought food and they all just kind of hung out and that seemed very nice, those without the coaches. So they just kind of it was very casual and so that seemed a lot of fun. So different activities like that.
Tonya Johnston [00:52:22] Yeah, yeah, yeah. That sounds that sounds great and super beneficial. Well, what would you say the hardest part of your job is like from a mental standpoint?
Anna Becker [00:52:35] Definitely. I would say the fact that this is a judged sport sometimes, you know, of course does you know, and we’re showing you never always agree with the judges or you’re always left wanting more. So I think that’s the hardest part because there’s a lot of times when, you know, we made a blatant mistake and we got a huge score and it goes our way. And you’re lucky or to the opposite end where someone against you has a big mistake and you have the right of your life and you still lose. So I think that’s the hardest part. It really pains me and upsets me to see girls down on themselves or doubt themselves because of someone’s opinion of their ride when you know you think it should have gone another way and or you get lucky and it shouldn’t have gone your way and you know, you feel for the other person that you’re against. So I think that’s probably the hardest part is just managing that because it really can take a toll on confidence.
Tonya Johnston [00:53:31] Yeah. So how do you help? I mean, there are things that you do within your coaching style to help boost confidence over time, like over the season.
Anna Becker [00:53:42] I think just knowing that I believe in them, but also making sure that the team works well together and knows that they believe in each other. So I think that’s something, you know, I still need to work on and I wish that we could get more help on the judges. Luckily, we have cards, so we’ll get feedback sometimes. Not very much, but we will see. Oh, this is where they marked you for this or right. You know where they got you for that. So I think working on those things, we’ll do a lot of video review or write, you know, meetings with people. So I think just instilling that belief that I have in them or their teammates do and make sure that they feel the best that they can. But I think that’s still still ongoing. It’s always it’s never ending. Right. Making sure that everyone feels confident. So it’s going to be 100% confident all the time, you know, myself included. So it’s never evolving.
Tonya Johnston [00:54:39] Right? Absolutely. But I think your point is well taken about, whether it’s a card or a comment from the judge or whether it’s watching tape. I think information and and actionable information is like the biggest help to going forward and feeling like, okay, this was an experience that I’m learning from and therefore it’s valuable whether it was a point or not a pleasure. Right. And so I think that the emphasis on information and and sort of gathering understanding is such a good antidote to that feeling. Sure. Sure, yeah. Yeah. So that’s that’s a great practice. I think that the productivity of video, I mean for sure sometimes I’ll have clients who, who at first because I definitely use you know their review of video. Yeah. As part as something that I want them doing and it helps build their visualization skill and that kind of thing when I’m coaching someone. But but sometimes it’s hard for people to watch video. So even being able to process the information is an important part of building mental strength, because it’s, it’s, it’s so often that the bias is toward criticism and negativity. Is that something you have to work through because you guys use video a ton in your work itself?
Anna Becker [00:56:00] Yeah, yeah. We video most of our practices and then all of our meets. So, you know, I’ll have girls, they’re like, oh my gosh, I hate the way I did this here. And I yeah, reassure them. Like, I didn’t mind that it wasn’t so bad or, you know, sometimes we’ll see something one way from the in date and then our video most of the time is near the judges and we’ll be like, wow, this looks totally different from the judges view. I see where they’re coming from. So it’s been huge to help us is doing that and when we’re at home, we’ll schedule, you know, the following week to watch videos. And when we’re away, we’ll do it right then on the bus, on the way to the airport. Right. Get it done and watch quickly.
Tonya Johnston [00:56:39] So yeah.
Anna Becker [00:56:40] Videos are in like understanding where maybe you need to be better or understanding where you don’t need to be so hard on yourself.
Tonya Johnston [00:56:49] Mm hmm. Definitely. What what would you say the the favorite part of your job is? Or do you have a favorite story or experience in your coaching that that springs to mind?
Anna Becker [00:57:05] I definitely think winning a national championship was big because the last time Georgia won one was in 2014, which was a year after I graduated from college. So it had been a while and something that we really worked towards. And what was hard was that year we had the SEC championship here at Georgia. And so when you’re hosting a championship and we lost in the championship round, it’s heartbreaking and heart wrenching. And you really didn’t have as good of a year as we wanted that year and competition wise and had some losses that we were not happy with. And then we lost in the championship round against Auburn. And so we were very hungry and we had a captain that actually spoke with the team after and was like, I’m done feeling like this, you know, we’re not going to do this anymore. We will win. And it was really kind of the wakeup call that we needed to really push forward. And I think what was really cool about that year, but hard was it was during COVID when we had so many restrictions and Georgia had a lot of restrictions and our girls, it was difficult, they were very limited. And I think we were probably one of the teams that took it most seriously in terms of, you know, they weren’t able to go out, they weren’t able to do a lot of things or have too many close contacts. And they worked at it. They put their all in. And so it was very rewarding at the end to be the team that won and came out on top because they deserved it and they put their all in and, you know, took everything very seriously. And, you know, same to what I was saying about watching that first day. We didn’t even have to be there because we didn’t have any horses, but we were in the stands from before it started too, after it ended. And yeah, they worked their butts off. So, you know, that was very special. I cried a lot and not a big cry, but I cried.
Tonya Johnston [00:59:04] It’s awesome.
Anna Becker [00:59:05] There was a moment it was on the live stream because it came down to fences prior to reining, which was the last event at Nationals and SMU we were against their fences are very strong. They have really talented riders on their team. And one of my old.
Anna Becker [00:59:26] you know, a Rider that I rode against was their coach. And so she’s very talented as well. And I knew it was going to be tough. And then we won 3 to 1, and so that was huge and I was just bawling. So there’s a video from the live stream and all the girls were just hugging each other. So you can know it really means a lot. And it’s almost more rewarding when you’re a coach than when you’re a rider, which is hard to understand or put into words. It just I didn’t cry that much when I won the national championship myself. So.
Tonya Johnston [00:59:55] Right, that’s awesome.
Anna Becker [00:59:57] When you see all the work everybody puts in and you get almost a broader view as a coach.
Tonya Johnston [01:00:02] Mm hmm. Mm hmm. Yeah. What a great perspective. Absolutely. And and I think that, you know, there’s some that quote, the harder you work, the harder it is to give in or something like that. Right. So the level of commitment to that preparation and being there on a day that didn’t have to be there and doing all that kind of homework is something that really boosts resilience and and confidence. That’s that’s a great story about how they kind of rose to that challenge. That’s awesome stuff. Yeah, yeah. They’re great. Yeah, yeah. Congratulations and good luck for the rest of the season. Thank you so much for taking the time to speak with me.
Anna Becker [01:00:43] Thank you for having me. I really appreciate it.
Tonya Johnston [01:01:44] You can find the links to today’s guests and the show notes at the plaid horse dot com forward slash. Listen. Follow the podcast on all of the social media as just search for the plaid horse. You can follow me on Facebook at Tonya Johnston, Mental Skills Coach and on Instagram at Inside Your Ride, please rate and review our shows on iTunes. Five star reviews help people discover our show. And if you enjoy our conversation, please share it with your friends. If you have a question about your mental skills for writing, please message me on Facebook. Inside Your Ride is available on Amazon in paperback and e-book. You can find out more about my mental skills coaching on my website at W WW dot Tonya Johnston dot com. Remember, focus is a skill. Use it to make every ride great.