Stuck On A Plateau – How To Know If You’re Ready To Break Through

Stuck on a plateau?

Hey everybody. I am coach Rebecca Smith, and today I’m talking to you about how to know if you are close to your breakthrough if you’ve been on a plateau.

I’m going to give you a little sneak peek of one of the mini courses that I have in my membership, which is called Peak Performance Parenting. And this is not just for parents today. I’m going to talk about this for athletes, for parents, and even coaches can get a benefit out of this as well.

Stages of a Plateau

1. Pre-Contemplation Stage of Change

So basically when somebody is stuck on a plateau it means something’s not right. I imagine it like they’re down in this hole. This especially comes up around fear or anxiety, mental blocks in general, negative thinking, or any of those things that keep you stuck. Things where an athlete knows something’s not right and that they’re on a plateau and they don’t know how to get off. They’ve become aware that they’re in the hole.

But before that happens, they are unaware. And they’re just cruising along doing their sport. They’re not really thinking too much about it. And then they have something that makes them realize that maybe they’re not where they want to be. Maybe their teammate goes sailing ahead of them or they don’t make the team. Or something happens where they’re like, ‘Wait, I thought I was doing great. And now all of a sudden I’m not doing great. And I’m apparently on a plateau and I don’t like this!’ Or they can’t do a skill or they wonder what’s wrong with them. So they’re moving from the very first stage of change, which is pre-contemplation, where they don’t even realize there’s a problem.

2. Contemplation Stage of Change

Often coaches and parents will look at an athlete and notice that they’re off or that there’s something not quite right. A parent or an athlete or even a teammate is going to be able to see from the outside that this kid’s not playing to their potential. Meanwhile, the kid’s like, ‘Everything’s fine.’ It’s like they’re skipping along and they’ve fallen into the hole and don’t realize they’re in a hole.

Then something happens and they’re like, ‘Wait a second. I don’t like this. I want this to be better.’ And then they enter the contemplation phase where they’re like, ‘Could I be better? Is there something wrong? Is something not working in the way that I’m approaching my training?’

And then they wonder if they’re in a hole but they’re not sure. They might think they’re struggling and they want to do better. And they’re contemplating what they could change that would make this better.

3. Preparation Stage of Change

Then an athlete goes into the third stage of change which is preparation or some call it determination. So the athlete fell in the hole and they didn’t realize it. And then they’re like, ‘Ah, I’m in a hole. I’m not performing the way I want to. I’m not training the way I want to.’ And then they decide they’re going to make some changes. That’s sort of like the ‘I’m going to go on a diet at the end of the month or I’m gone.’ Not that I’m encouraging that. I’m just saying those are the things that we’re like, ‘Okay, I’m going to start hiking. Or I’m going to start reading more. I’m going to change my ways.’

When athletes are in pre-contemplation they haven’t actually changed anything yet. They’re like, ‘I’m going to climb out of this hole. Or I am going to break through this fear or I’m going to get my confidence back.’ And then they decide they’re going to do that, but nothing has happened. So they’re like, ‘I don’t want to be in this hole. I believe it will be helpful to move forward.’

4. Action Stage of Change

Then athletes move into stage four, which is my favorite, which is action. And they’re like, ‘I’m going to figure out a way.’ And then they start climbing. They actually get out their pick and they start climbing up out of that hole. Now when an athlete’s fear, mental blocks, any kind of mental challenge, negativity, or their mindset isn’t where they want it and they’re aware and they decide they are going to take action, that’s when things really start to emerge.

A lot of the time parents come to me and they tell me their poor kid is really struggling. But their kids will be like ‘I’m fine. There’s nothing wrong. I’m okay, mom, back off. It’s cool. I’m fine.’ That usually happens when they’re in that pre-contemplation, contemplation, or even preparation stage. They might be like, ‘Yeah, I want to do something, but I want to figure it out on my own’ when they finally are in action. And they’re like, ‘I will do anything.’ Or at least in that preparation, they’ll say things like, “Mom, I want to figure this out. What can I do?”

That’s when it is time to jump in and be like, ‘All right, let’s get the support we need. Let’s get the private lessons going or let’s work with a mental coach. We should find people to talk to who are making the progress you want to make and figure out what they’re doing and start making that action.’

So they’re changing their behavior. They’re in that action phase and are changing their thinking in a new way. They might be trying a new mental strategy. These athletes are going out there doing things in a different way. It feels uncomfortable. The action phase is where the magic happens and it is uncomfortable and awesome and powerful then.

So that’s when the athletes are doing the work and climbing out of the hole. They’re like, ‘I don’t want to be afraid anymore. I’m doing this work and I’m walking into the fire, taking suggestions, am going to be open-minded. And then they’re there. And they look back at that hole and realize it was a big hole and that they did it and that they climbed out.

5. Maintenance Phase of Change

Then athletes get into the fifth phase, which is maintenance. And that is the reason why I have set up my whole company the way that I have is for this last piece. A lot of people will be like, ‘Oh my kid’s struggling’ and then they wait until finally the kid hits a wall and the athlete is ready to get help. And then they do their few sessions with a mental coach and they start really making some progress. And then six months later, they’re afraid again, because they have neglected the maintenance phase.

The maintenance phase is what we do in PerformHappy. And you can do this in a lot of different ways. We have group trainings three days a week. And we are constantly going over those strategies that help you to dig out of that plateau. And then we add the next piece, which is like, ‘Okay, you’re not afraid anymore. Now how far can you climb? You’re standing on the edge of this hole looking behind you, but look up. There’s a mountain in front of you that you can climb up using these same strategies that make you really efficient.’ They tap into your motivation. They boost your confidence like crazy. And then you keep at it.

So then anytime athletes are sliding down a plateau, not only are they not sliding into the hole, but they’re ready and they’re already in action. And they can come and go and they can hop from one stage to another. But as long as they are actively surrounded by people who are doing what they want to do in their sport, they are maximizing their performance. They are digging into the hard stuff. They are taking really good looks at themselves and going, is this who I want to be? Or is there more? You look at someone like Simone Biles. That girl, she’s like: ‘There’s more, there’s more. I will be uncomfortable. I will push through this.’ And she’s got a mental coach. All of the greatest of the greats have them.

So those are the five stages of change when you’re stuck on a plateau.

Now if you want to move through the stages, here’s a little quick list of things that you are going to need to do in order to get out of that plateau.

#1: Awareness

You need to get aware. You need to start paying better attention to what are your strategies. A lot of the time I’ll talk to a new athlete and I’ll be asking them like, “Tell me how you approach competition. How do you approach it when you mess up?” For example, a baseball player messes up and he’s thrown a fit in the dugout. That’s the strategy that he’s using. And his strategy currently is to put a lot of pressure on himself and throw a little mini fit, hold a grudge, be really mad at himself and meltdown in games and then feel stupid because he’s playing well in practice.

So whatever it is that you’re doing currently is your current strategy. So if you want to get out of a plateau, you want to start really paying attention to that.

#2: Desire

The way that you’re going to want to start digging is there’s gotta be a reason. There’s gotta be a pot of gold at the top of that hole. There’s gotta be a reason. Why do you want that skill? Or why do you want that level? Why are you doing your sport? Your why has got to guide you because if there isn’t really a very strong reason why our natural state is to stay the same. We just want to maintain, we don’t want to get any better even if maintenance is subpar and not what you’re looking for and you’re not even happy. Our brains are designed to keep you staying the same.

So unless you have a reason to push through and go bigger and go better, you’re not going to okay.

The there’s this thing that I noticed happens when people are in the action phase and they’re making adjustments to their attitude and their focus. They’re adding in mental skills and they’re adding in techniques. They start to see it working and that’s it. It’s like you actually have to start digging before you know that you’re going the right direction. You have to start taking action before you can confirm that it’s working. That’s the thing that I see in athletes who are just starting to work through a fear and they’re like, ‘I am so uncomfortable. Is this even going to work?’ And then it starts to work. And that’s what keeps fueling them forward big time from there.

But it requires this leap of faith to be like, ‘I want it bad enough that I’m willing to give it a try.’ Then you have to have new strategies to replace those old strategies. So this baseball player I’m talking about, we came up with a way to process after he had a bad inning and be like, ‘All right, this is exactly what we’re going to do.’

And this is what I’m teaching in my group training tonight in PerformHappy. It’s how to create your bounce back routine so that you don’t have to be afraid of having a setback because you know exactly how to deal with the disappointment. So instead of just defaulting to the fit in the dugout, you have an exact strategy of this is how I process this reset and get back in action.

#3: Social Support

Social support is another way to get through those stages of change. If you’ve got people around you who believe in you, who know how to help you, who give you great advice, who give you support like your coaches, your parents, and everybody who’s in your corner, that’s going to allow you to move into the uncomfortable territory of change. So you have to have certain things reminding you all the time of what you’re working toward and what is your new strategy. Because if you don’t, you’re going to forget what you’re doing. And you’re just going to default to a hissy fit in the dugout.

You have to have certain reminders in your visual space while you’re trying to create a new strategy because otherwise you will not remember to use the strategies and then the strategies aren’t going to work. I’ve had swimmers who paint their fingernails gold, and then they see them in the starting blocks as a visual reminder.

#4: Clear and Logical Plan

The last one is to have a clear and logical plan. A lot of the time when we’re reacting, we’re like, ‘Oh no, I messed up. Ah, I need to solve this.’ We don’t have a logical plan. We’re just like, ‘Shoot, oh no! Quick, fix it.’

But if you are going at something methodically and you know you lack confidence in this place and that you want to get confidence here, and then you come up with a plan it will help you get set. You just plot each point on the line and it doesn’t have to become overwhelming. And then you can just literally take it one day at a time and just take that next dot on the line. Because as you move through discomfort, you get those little wins and can believe that it’s working. And you also break it down into itty-bitty bite sized pieces so that you can feel like you’re moving in the right direction.

3 Tips On How Parents Can Support Their Athletes Who Are On A Plateau

Parents, I’m going to give you three tips on how you can support your athletes to move through those stages out of a plateau. And to not only notice that they’re in the hole, to want to consider climbing out of it, to actually start climbing, and then maintaining there. These are really simple.

#1: Ask Good Questions

First one is ask good questions. If you can see that your athletes are in that hole and they’re creating their own problem and they’re being too hard on themselves, you might be like, “You should fix this.” But that’s not the thing to do. The thing to do is ask good questions such as “Hey, how is it down there? Does that feel like where you want to be? What are you learning during this time?”

#2: Neutral Curiosity

You have to have this underlying foundation of neutral curiosity where you’re not like “I need to get you out of this hole quickly or else.” Instead you’re like “How are you feeling about your work today?”

And you can’t be fake curious. You have to actually just be able to allow your athlete to have their own process and see if you can help them explore what’s going on for them. Know that nothing is wrong. This is a life lesson to be learned. So you’re neutral, you’re curious, you’re asking these great questions. You’re not giving advice. This is so hard. You’re not asking prying questions that will let them know that you have an agenda for them. You’re just like, “Hey, what do you think you could do about that? Do you have any ideas?” You’re helping them to come up with their own solutions to their own struggles. And if they don’t know, ask great questions so that they can maybe go like, ‘Oh yeah, maybe this isn’t exactly what I want to be doing.’

#3: Let Them Have Their Process

I remember working with a couple of teenage swimmers and I’d sit with them and be like, “Okay, so you don’t want to work any harder. So you must be just totally okay with your results that you’re having right now.” And I just got curious. I was like, “So it sounds like you’re fulfilling the potential that you want to fulfill.” And they’re like, “Well, no, I could totally work harder.” I’m like, “Oh, but you don’t have to. And you don’t want to.” And they’re like, “Well, yeah, but I do.”

You could see the little discrepancy in their mind. It’s like, ‘Oh, I am slacking. And I say that I want this, but my behavior is doing this.’ And I could just see the wheels turning. And I wasn’t like, “Well, dude, if you want to go faster, you’ve got to work harder.” That would not have worked in the same way of being like, “Okay, but it seems like you’re okay based on your behavior with staying where you’re at.” And I really genuinely was okay with it. Obviously I’m not their parent. That’s the irony about great communication is that you’re not coaching them. You’re not giving them advice. And you’re not giving them orders. You’re just allowing them the space to explore it for themselves.

So those are your tips for supporting athletes who are on a plateau. Ask great questions, have neutral curiosity, and let them have their process. Observe what’s happening. Ask great questions and then let them have their process. And when they’re in action ask “What can I do for you? What do you need from me? How can I support you instead of trying to command the path for you?”

If you are stuck on a plateau and you don’t know why, start paying attention to what you are doing or not doing that’s not supporting you in getting what you say that you want. If you need support, you can schedule a consult with me here:


Stuck On A Plateau

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