The Plateau Effect

While playing sports or any activity over a long period of time, there will come a time when you will plateau. At Plateau it feels as if your progress is at a standstill despite your persistent efforts, majority quit or move to something else. But plateau is a natural part of development and, most importantly, it is a state of mind and the few who make it through can look forward to higher accomplishments and greater rewards.

When starting Taekwondo people don’t usually know anything about kicking and punching techniques. Surprisingly enough, in the first few months their knowledge grows exponentially, and they realize the progress every time a color belt test is approaching. The change in belts gives a sense of improvement and accomplishment, the feeling and experience that we are getting better. When becoming a black belt, tests become a rarity and progression is hard to be seen. There are not many kicks to learn because a black belt should know them all already. But despite the knowledge there is still room for amelioration. Though, plateau is a tough phase. It is the moment where you start to doubt yourself and to deal with personal frustration because no matter how hard you try, it seems there is no range for improvement. Ironically, even though this is not entirely true, the feeling of Plateau is very real and this is why most people drop out after black belt, either due to the plateau feeling or the assumption they know everything by now and it is time to move on.

There is a natural urge to feel disappointed when you run into the plateau, but in fact it is a sign that you are on the right track. You can pass through the plateau phase by focusing on different aspects or details. Try to rediscover your love for Taekwondo, focus on having some fun rather than achieving all the gold medals. Remind yourself of what made this sport enjoyable in the first place and follow the fun aspects of the game. Think of the progress you have made thus far and enjoy the new challenges that you are faced with.

If you are easily getting frustrated take some time to cool off. In my 20 year history of Taekwondo I took a few months off, and I needed them to recharge my energy and start training harder than before. I missed the excitement of the fight, the sore muscles, the breathless moments after a sparring round, and my dreams came back stronger and more vivid than I could ever expect. A few weeks to a couple of months will help settle your mind and perhaps help you find the inspiration that brought you in the ring.

In some ways plateau is a decision making moment, it is the moment of truth. How much do you really love what you are doing? How much further are you willing to push yourself? Will you be able to overcome your self imposed limitations? I believe this is the moment where the average is separated from the great ones, because it is no longer about the ability of your body to handle a training session but more so about the capacity of your mind to endure the frustration.

In the end, I believe plateau is just another obstacle you might face on the process of your personal growth, in Taekwondo as well as in life. You are still moving forward, it only gets harder to see it and measure it. Be aware of the fact that at higher stages, your ability to make significant gains are different than at the beginning ,but most importantly “learn at your own pace”. Teach yourself to be patience and flexible, gives yourself time to analyze your emotions and you will be amazed how far you can go.

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