BY Stephanie Cole
Executive function (EF) skills are the unsung heroes of success, both in the academic realm and in the equestrian arena. As an EF specialist, tenured educator, and lifelong avid equestrian, I’ve come to appreciate the profound impact these skills have on student-athletes’ performance and overall well-being both in the show ring and in the classroom.
In this article, we’ll explore how nurturing EF skills not only enhances riding proficiency but also lays the foundation for academic achievement and personal growth.
Understanding Executive Function Skills in Equestrian Student-Athletes
EF skills include important cognitive abilities needed to deal with everyday challenges, like organization, managing time, setting priorities, starting tasks, remembering information, and controlling impulses.
In the context of equestrian sports, these skills are essential for executing precise maneuvers, maintaining focus amidst distractions, and adapting to unforeseen challenges. In the classroom, EF skills significantly impact academic performance by facilitating planning, organization, time management, and attention regulation.
Students with strong EF skills excel in breaking down tasks, initiating assignments promptly, and persisting through challenges. Additionally, EF skills support problem-solving, critical thinking, and effective emotional regulation. Riders facing challenges in EF skill development may encounter difficulties not only in mastering equestrian techniques but also in navigating academic tasks and responsibilities.
These challenges can impede their progress, highlighting the interconnectedness of EF skills between athletic and academic domains and emphasizing the need for comprehensive support to foster EF skill development in student-athletes.
EF in Action:
In equestrian training, the parallels between EF skills development and academic success are striking. Just as effective goal setting and meticulous planning are cornerstones of achievement in the classroom, they are equally crucial in the saddle.
By teaching riders to break down larger objectives into manageable steps, coaches and professionals instill a sense of direction and purpose, enabling riders to navigate complex courses or routines with confidence and precision.
The process of setting and achieving goals in equestrian training mirrors the academic journey, where students tackle assignments, projects, and exams one step at a time. This approach not only fosters a sense of accomplishment but also cultivates essential EF skills such as task initiation, organization, and time management, which are directly transferable to academic endeavors.
Emotional resilience is paramount in both equestrian sports and academics. Riders often face challenges such as failed attempts at mastering a new skill or unexpected obstacles during a competition.
Similarly, students encounter academic adversity in the form of disappointing grades, subject specific challenges, or interpersonal conflicts. In both scenarios, the ability to bounce back from setbacks, maintain composure under pressure, and learn from failures is essential for growth and success.
Fostering these cognitive processes among our athletes and students stands as a pivotal element in their well-rounded development. These EF skills not only support efficient and effective equestrian and academic outcomes, but they also serve as the foundation of developing resilience and self-reliance—essential traits for sustained success throughout life.
Transferring EF Skills to Academic Success
The parallels between EF skills and academic success are undeniable, with proficiency in these skills translating to enhanced performance both in the saddle and in the classroom.
Riders who excel in EF skills not only exhibit strong equestrian abilities but also showcase improved academic outcomes, including heightened focus, better time management, and increased resilience when confronted with academic challenges.
By acknowledging and fostering these connections, educators and coaches alike can empower student-athletes to flourish in both their equestrian pursuits and their academic endeavors, laying the groundwork for comprehensive success across all aspects of their lives.
Tools and Resources for EF Skill Development
Although EF skills are the cornerstone for academic success, they are often overlooked in educational settings and are assumed to naturally develop over time. While some students may organically cultivate strong EF skills throughout their academic journey and life experiences, others require external support and tools to reach their full potential.
It is imperative to acknowledge that EF skill development necessitates external support; it cannot be assumed that impacted skills will mature autonomously. For instance, while providing a rubric and deadline for a project may suffice for certain students, others may benefit from additional strategies such as backward planning to ensure they effectively manage their tasks for timely completion.
Similarly, in equestrian training, simply instructing riders to be prepared for their lesson at a specified time may not seamlessly translate for all; some may require external prompts such as timers, and grooming/tacking checklists to ensure they are fully prepared and equipped for their session.
Integrating executive function skills into academic pursuits is not only advantageous but imperative for the comprehensive development of students. Drawing on my experiences both as an educator and equestrian, I have witnessed the profound impact of cultivating these skills.
By placing emphasis on goal-setting, strategic planning, and resilience within the academic sphere, educators play a pivotal role in shaping students’ success not only in their studies but also in broader life contexts. The parallels between EF skills’ application in the classroom and their relevance in equestrian training highlight their universal importance.
EF skills act as a conduit, seamlessly connecting academic endeavors to various aspects of life, enabling students to confidently navigate challenges. Recognizing and prioritizing the development of EF skills equips students with the essential tools for thriving in their educational journey, ensuring a future marked by boundless opportunities and enduring success.
About the author:
Stephanie Cole, the owner and founder of Executive Function Coaching & Tutoring, LLC, brings a wealth of expertise to her clients. With over a decade of career experience spanning from dedicated classroom teacher to founding Head of School, Stephanie’s journey reflects her unwavering commitment to education. Holding a bachelor’s degree in special education and a master’s in educational leadership, she is uniquely equipped to empower students through her personalized approach.
In her EF private practice, Stephanie offers tailored one-on-one coaching and tutoring, ensuring each client receives the attention they deserve and is provided the opportunity to make meaningful connections to their EF work. Beyond her professional endeavors, Stephanie’s passion for the equestrian sport has been a lifelong pursuit. Immersed in the competitive hunter/jumper circuit from a young age, she honed her skills under the guidance of top trainers out of Memphis, TN and Northern NJ.
During her undergraduate years at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, Stephanie proudly represented the university as a member of the equestrian team. Presently, she continues to pursue her passion as an active USDF Adult Amateur, under the mentorship of acclaimed USDF gold medalist Angela Carter. Stephanie’s multifaceted background and dedication to excellence underscore her unwavering commitment to both education and the equestrian sport.