Updated: Sep 22, 2020
"Tall peaks are not always better than long plateaus, as true greatness must include protracted excellence." - Matthew Hayden
Peaks and plateaus in performance are part of the sports experience. A novice athlete is likely to experience a lot of peaks and brief plateaus, while an elite athlete is likely to experience few peaks and longer plateaus. Plateaus in performance can last anywhere from weeks, months, to years.
When experiencing a plateau, take time to identify and problem solve.
Create a checklist of questions to problem solve with your coaches and support team (family, teammates, physical therapist, doctor, nutritionist,and sport psych).
Here are some questions to answer:
1. How is your nutrition? What are your eating habits? Have you tested for any deficiencies like low iron?
2. Sleep, are you getting enough sleep? Do you feel rested?
3. Injuries, do you have any nagging injuries? Are you taking the time to manage those injuries?
4. Identify stressors in and out of sport. Rate them on a scale from little to a lot of stress.
Tips to take control of your training and mindset:
a. Start and end the day with a clear mind. This can include 3-5 minutes of meditation or deep breathing, listening to relaxing music, or just going for a walk. The goal is to learn to be present.
b. Identify things that are in your control vs out of your control. Have your controllables and uncontrollables list somewhere you can easily reference it.
c. Change of pace. Shift your focus of training. If you are currently focused on a physical aspect of training, shift focus to a technical, tactical, or mental aspect of training. For sports like swimming, you can even change your event for the time being.
d. Quality over quantity. Train hard and train smart. There is no need to overtrain and overstrain.
e. Fun, remember what makes it fun. Including, spending time with teammates, and feeling tired and satisfied after a tough practice.
f. Enjoy and be present in each moment.
g. Celebrate small successes each day, and support your teammates!
Remember, plateaus are a reminder that your body is setting itself up for a peak improvement. Be it a huge gain for a novice athlete or sliver of improvement (1% gain) for an elite athlete, peaks and plateaus are part of the process.