I was wandering down the rabbit hole of Youtube videos when I stumbled upon this one by Steve Atlas called “Unseen Progress.”
It really struck me and I wanted to share it because I think this is something all athletes need to remember. We know it on an intellectual level, but to hear him say it, and reaffirm it, is important.
Training in a sport is a lot like a romantic relationship. There is the honeymoon period where everything is unicorns and rainbows. You are improving quickly, probably losing weight and getting toned. People will comment about how good you look and you’ll have a lot of new energy and excitement in your daily life.
But your body adapts, and at some point the energy and the newness of the sport wears off. Getting your stuff together to go to training doesn’t give you that jolt of excitement and begins to become a bit of a slog. (Where did I hang my sweat towel to dry? My favorite shirt still in the laundry pile? Damn.)
Hearing people say “You’ve improved a lot,” is athletes crack. It’s so addictive. When you start to plateau sometimes you’ll look for beginner players not because it’s fun to play with them, but just to get that jolt of accolades you no longer get from your regular crowd.
And then as the weeks and months go by you begin to wonder if all your effort is worth it. Is all this time and energy spent worth it when you are going nowhere? You watch videos at home, add training time, try to improve your diet, yet your game hasn’t changed at all. This is where a lot of people quit I think.
But like he says in the video, your body doesn’t go at the pace you want, it goes at the pace IT wants. And at some point it will just click, but you have to wait for it. It does it at the exact right time for itself. Not for your plan.
I think I’m in the middle of one of these plateaus myself. When I came back from America this summer I had a sudden improvement which everyone was talking about. I clearly entered the next level and I couldn’t believe it since it seems so random. Guess I just had time to digest everything I learned and something clicked.
But since then, not much. I’m making the same mistakes, forgetting the same thing, and no matter how much I practice my return of serve, I still blow it in the games. It’s frustrating, it’s annoying, and I don’t hear the precious “you’ve improved so much!” I used to hear daily. Lately I’ve been leaving disheartened. Are my problems now too big to overcome? Even after my coach is on me again and again and I tell myself constantly “the right thing to do,” why do I keep screwing up? Is all my time and energy worth it?
But what choice do I have? I certainly don’t want to stop playing, nor give up striving to improve. So I’ll take this video to heart. I’ll keep at it, using my mulish nature and trust that not all improvement is visible with the naked eye, and there is unseen progress happening inside.