You feel stuck. Your performance is dwindling and you are not making progress at the rate you once were. You keep psyching yourself up to push past this feeling but it is becoming increasingly challenging and difficult. We all know that the road to success is never easy and we expect plateaus in our improvements but this doesn’t feel like a plateau so what is it?
Some of the best performers in the world have gone through this very same feeling, possibly more than once. It is called a ‘tripping point’.
‘The tripping point happens when you no longer have that feel-good sense of purpose and accomplishment when you are performing or competing.’
A tripping point is different from a plateau. Plateaus are defined by measurements of progress and they form a natural part of the improvement process. While a plateau in performance is incredibly frustrating, it can usually be overcome with a little patience and intelligent adjustments to training to spark new progress. A tripping point can begin as a plateau and when it is unresolved for an extended period of time, it takes more of a psychological toll on the athlete. Impatience can quickly elevate to anxiety, fear and decreased self-confidence all of which are crippling to athletic performance.
A typical development of a tripping point is as follows:
STEP 1: An individual finds a sport they thoroughly enjoy. They gain a sense of accomplishment, success and self-worth from participating.
STEP 2: The individual commits to achieving this same feeling of success and accomplishment each day. They train harder and longer than others, becoming highly skilled at their chosen sport.
STEP 3: The athlete reaches a high level in their chosen sport. Their performance aligns with a sense of accomplishment.
STEP 4: At this level, the athlete begins to see the possibility of external rewards in the future. Focus shifts from internal satisfaction to external rewards and acceptance from others.
STEP 5: Something once meaningful and fulfilling becomes ‘work’. The athlete loses their initial drive for their sport and a ‘tripping point’ brought about by external stresses becomes far more likely.
There are ways in which you can easily detect, avoid or overcome the tripping point:
Would you do your sport for free?
Obviously, not everyone gets paid for their sport but if you do, would you continue with training if you did not? If you do not get paid for your sport but take it very seriously, would you do it without the pressure of competition? In other words, are you now training for an end goal and not for enjoyment of your sport?
If you feel that this may be the reason for your tripping point, you should focus on your training. Forget the bigger picture and lose yourself in your workouts. Enjoy training and remember why it is that you have chosen your sport above all others. You need to keep an element of freedom to being the athlete that you are; otherwise the sport you once loved can become ‘work’.
Do your dreams and goals align?
For example, if your goal is to win a gold medal at the Olympics and one of your dreams is to be involved in your sport every day and compete against the best competition in the world, then your dream and goal align.
If you do not have this, similarly to the situation above, the focus tends to be too much on the end goal and not enough on the journey.
Having dreams and goals which align relieves the element of pressure. If your goal does not align with your dreams, it means that you spend a great deal of time doing something which you don’t really enjoy in order to reach the end goal. If you reach it you will no doubt enjoy the reward and sense of achievement, but will this make up for the time you dedicated to training when you were no longer fulfilled by it?
Winning is great and is what many people strive for, but playing to win should bring you a great deal of enjoyment. Too much focus on winning causes tripping points because the stress and pressure begin to outweigh the positive reasons you began participating in your sport in the first place.
Are you bored?
Work is defined by the movement between where you are and where you want to be. If you are stuck, you might simply be bored. The combination of quality and quantity is essential to sporting success and if you are not willing to put in the effort, you will not reach your goals. Becoming complacent is diving head first into a ‘tripping point’.
In order to avoid reaching this point, you must ensure that your training is not tedious. Once you reach a certain level, it can be difficult to push yourself onto the next level. Working on something specific every single day will help you to track the smaller gains you are making. They will add up to positively affect the bigger picture and help you overcome your tripping point. Do not settle for a generic training session where you go through the motions, ever. Everything you do is preparing you for performing and competing at your very best.
Are you expecting too much, too fast?
In the sporting world, the focus tends to be on amazing transformations, beating world records, outdoing previous competitions etc..but there is such a thing as too much, too soon. Athletes who rise to a high level of sport relatively quickly can become negatively affected by the pressure. They may have primed their body for competition at elite level, but their mind has not had time to adapt to the new environment.
Focus on what you know, listen to those you trust and build on your skills a little every day. Though it is natural to think of the bigger picture, focusing on this without the steps you need in order to get there is a one-way street to a tripping point.
Silva JM, Stevens DE, Psychological Foundations of Sport, 2001.
Brukner P, Khan K, Clinical Sports Medicine, Third Edition, 2006.
The Relationship Between Competitive State Anxiety and Sport Performance: A Meta Analysis, Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology, 2003, 25, 44-65.