Teaching Competitive Game Skills

A reader recently wrote me asking if I had any games that might be used to help her rider with autism who has a hard time losing sports games, to the extent it takes him several days to recover, and says he hates everything, that his horse is bad, and that he is bad. While I have not dealt with this yet, I have some credible resources. Below you will find some tips. If anyone has anything to add, please leave a comment!

Teaching Competitive Game Skills

Tips from Carrie of HorsePower

  • If the rider is very sensitive and with an aggressive tendency, tread lightly.
  • Be upfront that we are going to practice playing games where only one of us can win.
  • Never say “lose” or “loser”. We have a person who comes in first, and another who comes in second. A winner and the person who didn’t win this time…etc.
  • Explain we need to practice what to do if we are not the winner so that we can still be friends after the game is done. Discuss how we will need our friends long after the game is over.
  • Role play where he wins and when he doesn’t.
  • Have him suggest what the volunteer could say if they win or if the other person wins.
  • Role play what we should not say.
  • Then, play a short competitive game as part of each lesson until it gets easier.

Tips from the book No More Meltdowns by Jed Baker

  • Change triggers
    • Play quieter games
    • Play in quieter area
    • Fewer/less competitive playmates
    • Don’t play if they’re already frustrated
    • Do play if they just succeeded elsewhere
    • Use games they can excel at
    • Use noncompetitive games
    • Emphasize sportsmanship over winning, give trophies for getting along
    • Prepare them before games
    • Use pictures about how losing without anger helps win friends
  • Teach coping skills
    • Discuss how there are always 2 games:
      • 1) the competitive game
      • 2) the game of friendship and self-control
      • Explain how losing without anger helps win friends, and success in life often depends more on this.
    • Explain that no one can be good at everything.
    • Explain that losing doesn’t always reflect on their abilities.
    • Remind before games that you’re more interested in them staying calm.
  • Reward/loss
    • Points for maintaining control to exchange for toy/privilege
      • Winning = 1 point
      • Lose and keep control = 2 points.
    • Don’t punish unless they hurt others (apologize) or make a mess (clean it up).

Game Ideas

  • If you have a group lesson, play a game in which they compete against each other.
  • If you have a private lesson, play a game against a volunteer.
  • red light green light
  • who can put together a puzzle fastest
  • who can collect the most rings
  • who can extended walk their horse faster from one end of the arena to the other
  • who can name the most horse parts
  • put numbers on objects and have the riders collect them, then add up the points – perhaps the winner gets a prize, and the rest get prizes if they congratulate the winner

I remember Carrie did an interesting version of that last one several years ago, let’s see if I can remember it right. For St. Patrick’s Day she had them collect 4 leaf clovers with numbers on them but did not say what the numbers were for. Then she gathered them together and talked about luck, and had them add up the numbers, and whoever had the highest number won. She again stressed it was luck who won, and in the end, who wins doesn’t really matter.

What methods or games have you used with riders who have a hard time not winning? Leave a comment below!


Note: This is not professional advice, this is a blog. I am not liable for what you do with or how you use this information. The activities explained in this blog may not be fit for every rider, riding instructor, or riding center depending on their current condition and resources. Use your best personal judgement!

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