Raising Resilient Athletes


Breaking the downward spiral

Andrea_henkel_burke_Breaking the downward spiral

Not all of the competitions will be a huge success for everyone. It will happen that there are some athletes who are not happy with their performance, to say at least. But what when this becomes a recurring pattern? 

At first, we want to recognize the patterns that lead to the recurring disappointment. If the results really don´t mirror the practice performance, there are a few things to check on. As the very first, I would see if I find something that the athlete is doing differently at the competition vs. training. This includes all the hours before the competition, including dinner and sleep the night before. If there are some findings, there are two options. One is to do the same routine before a practice session, and the other is to do the same before a competition the athlete usually does before practice. If there are no major findings in the preparation, it actually can be that the athlete just needs more practice so that the skill can be developed on a more solid level. 

If everyone needs to honestly face that the fact actually is that the athlete is totally performing at their best and showing practice results, something in practice needs to change. This can be the effort the athlete puts in, the plan, or anything in between - but something needs to change to change those results. 

Second, we need to analyze what´s going on. This needs to happen anyway, whether the performance was satisfying or not. Sometimes, this analysis can take a couple of minutes, but in our case, it can get a little more detailed. Breaking the whole performance down into technical, mental, physical, and other aspects will usually offer some helpful insights, which is great. They might be hard to face, but athletes and supporters should leave the hard feelings aside and be excited about all of the found potential. If there would be no findings, there would be no potential and no way to improve. Even the best athletes find stuff, and they are looking for it all of the time and don´t wait until they are in a downward spiral until they start analyzing. 

Now it´s time to adjust. I find it exciting to have something to work on that seems to have the potential to turn things around. It´s important to consider that this might take a little time, but it is still never too early to get started on it. If this finding can be addressed in the next moment or next training, I recommend going for it. Even when it is in between races. The athlete is already not happy about the results, so what to lose, and why not give it a try? 

Very important in the process is the mindset. Of course, in general, but in this specific case, a specific mindset helps. One that is open to learning, changing things, and sticking with them even when the results don´t show immediately a positive trend. It comes back to focusing on the process (Link to blog post 68). 

Which leads to consistent effort. Athletes don´t compete once and done. After a goal is before the goal, when being in a downward spiral, it might be okay to step away or skip a race or game. But not for doing anything. When stepping away, it needs to plan as well. What´s the specific goal of taking a break during competition season, and how to get to this goal? Using the time for some specific training to work on the area detected in the analyzing process would be my first idea. In this way, the athlete sticks to the consistent effort. Sport is a lot of repetition, and repetition leads to perfection. Not that we need to be perfect, but you know what I want point I am making here.  

Yes, a young athlete needs support for all of this. It is a tough situation, especially mentally. The athlete has to turn the corner, but support has a big effect on how the spiral ends and how fast there is a turnaround. Support can make a difference if this career becomes a long, successful one or the athlete decides to enter a different pathway.  A well-trusted coach is often the first address for an athlete in this situation, which is great. The coach knows the whole story, sees the athlete working in practice, and is at the competition venue to see all the variables. Maybe the athlete knows an older athlete who went through the same situation at some point and managed the turnaround to jump on the upward spiral. Learning from those who went through the same situation helps to see that it's actually possible to turn the corner. 

Monitoring progress and extending the normal training log with more detailed notes will track changes to adapt strategies. The feeling of being proactive with the situation has quite a motivational impact, which is needed at this moment. A timeout can not create the same impact, it might even be counterproductive. Because what kind of progress can be made during a timeout?  

Staying patient is the last step to prepare for the “come back.” A turn can be quick, but chances are that it takes some time. This can be a couple of weeks or a few months. It will not be crazy long, but long enough to be prepared for. Results take time, and it probably needs some perseverance to break the cycle. That´s why it is important for the athlete to see from the beginning where the process leads to if the athlete is fully on board. No one can do it for them, but supporters are there to be on their side to guide them along their progress.

Do you have a Dream? Keep going towards it :)

Related Articles:

Consistency a Key to Success


Not just one thing makes successful athletes, but a few in combination. Get the list of THIRTEEN by signing up below. 


If you are an athlete, please let your parents know you got this list.