Sometimes when you’re at the top of your game it can be pretty hard to stay there. Or when you’re that big fish in a small pond and suddenly you move up a level and become the small fish. At times like these your negative self-talk may start to kick in a bit louder than usual, telling you that you’re not good enough, that you’re not progressing – or that you shouldn’t be in this group/at this level because everyone else is better than you. So comparisonitis kicks in with a hefty dose of imposter syndrome (I’m not good enough – they’ll find me out; I shouldn’t be here at this level!).
These tough stages are a good sign that you’re meeting and defeating the obstacles along your path. If you’re in Juniors or Seniors now, there would have been a time as a beginner, or novice that you faced similar challenges, and got through those to get where you are now. And it just needs a bit of looking back to see that you got through it then, and you’ll get through it again.
Progress in sport – or in pretty much anything you work hard at – is not a straight line. There will be sudden spurts of progress followed by a bit of a plateau. You might even feel a bit flat and demotivated too, which opens you up to the negative self-talk, the gremlins.
There could be a whole host of reasons for this feeling at this point. You may have been working so hard and not taken a break when it was needed. By now you’ve been training for a number of years and you’re perhaps beginning to feel as if you’re not seeing anything for it.
Elite athletes ‘taper’ their training to make sure they are ready for the major tournaments and championships. They train hard when it’s necessary to, and then ease up at particular times in the season or around competitions to ensure they are at their peak for the competitions and tournaments that really matter. A good coach will know how to do this and will work with you over the course of the season to make sure the timing is right.
If you are feeling that flatness, and you’re not properly motivated and excited to train every day, you can’t expect that to change when it comes to competing. This is why it is so important to train your mindset on a daily basis alongside your physical training.
I often see athletes getting great results when are working on their mindset – but then forget to practice what they’ve learned, forget to focus on their motivational and positivity exercises, or leave the visualisation and relaxation work until they suddenly need it for a competition. The mindset skills become rusty and the good habits disappear. Busy coaches and parents focus on the physical skills and the unexercised brain stagnates.
Now that the season is coming to an end for many sports, be sure to take a proper break and recharge your batteries – physically and mentally. Training so hard that you burnout for the start of the new season leading up to national competitions will only make matters worse.
Use some downtime to really think about your goals for the coming season and beyond. Work out how you are going to achieve them – what steps you need to take along the way. Make sure they are your goals and not your coach’s or your parents’ goals for you. They should excite you and make you feel like you can’t wait to get started again. And be sure to focus on you and your performance, not someone else’s.
So if you haven’t been getting the results you are capable of recently, and you’re feeling a bit flat – take a break, set some goals that excite you for the new season and come back with your batteries recharged.