Monday, November 3, 2008

Plateaus Are Cool

Enjoy the plateau
It is an important step in a long process

A Plateau is defined as: a period or state of little or no growth or decline, a period of little or no apparent progress in an individual's learning, marked by an inability to increase speed, reduce number of errors, etc., and indicated by a horizontal stretch in a learning curve or graph.

As children progress though our swim lesson or sports camp programs or as I have watched our children play sports, there are times of no improvement in their skills. They simply are not getting any better in spite of the fact that they are putting in the effort. Many times parents express frustration with the program or coach, wondering why their child is suddenly not the leading scorer or is not involved or enthused on the playing field or in the pool.

I think plateaus are really times when our bodies or minds are asking for a little rest. It is a time to continue to work to perfect the skill or gain new strength and confidence without the pressure to perform at the highest level of competitiveness or competence. Why do I bring this up now? I find the fall/winter season to be one where a lot of plateauing (if that is a word) goes on in childrens' athletic and academic performance. Think about it. They have come out of the semi-lazy days of an all too short summer and are now engaged in schoolwork and routine. Up in the morning, early off to school or day-care, then to swim school lessons or music or dance or tumble bees or whatever and then homework, dark nights and even dark mornings. The kids are also on a bit of over-load with Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas all roaring down the road one after the other.

Our oldest son was an awesome gymnast. We remember one time when one of his grade school teammates was going through a growth spurt. This poor guy was crashing all over the place on high bar, parrallel bars and pommels as he got used to working with the dynamics of longer legs and arms. We spoke with the coach and expressed a curiosty about his, the coach's, perception of the athlete's issues. Coach Mike gave a great answer. He said Jason needed to keep working through this tough period and as time went on he would develop the muscles he needed to help maintain his balance. Coach Mike worked with him mentally so that he would relax, endure and even enjoy this time when he was not expected to perform at his highest level. Jason continued to work hard and went on to compete at the collegiate level.

What would have happened if Jason's parents or even his coach were to have driven him harder to excel at this difficult time. He certainly may have felt discouraged enough to quit a sport he loved while his body was adapting. Research indicates that many children quit sports not because they do not excel at them but rather because the expectations of others (parents, coaches and even teammates) have taken the fun out of the sport. So my adivce today is: if your child is on a plateau, be patient. If the program or team or coach is a good one, trust the teacher or coach. Encourage your child but do not belabor or over-review a bad performance or game or practice. Do not ask why they kept missing that corner kick in soccer practice or the free throws in basketball or the right key in piano practice. The coach's job is to teach skills, encourage and challenge, that is why you are paying them. So let them do their job. Your job is to encourage your child to find their place in this world, wherever that may be.

Here is a little poem from an Australian swim instructor to help you:

The Plateau

Yesterday I swam so good,
I've always done just what I should,
But now I ask you let me be,
To play MY way, to set me free.
I'm full right up to the very brim,
of pull, kick, pull and swim, swim, swim.
Of lessons and drills I've had enough,
right now it all just seems too tough.
So please just let me be myself and
leave the new skills on the shelf.
I want to play my way for a while, and
when I'm ready you'll see me smile.
Please Mum don't make me be on show,
For now I'm on a learning plateau.
I don't know how long it might last, but
I'll swim again when it has passed.

Brana Williams, City of Gosnells Leisure

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