The Breakout Year Curse

by Jeff Spencer April 26, 2018 2 min read

The Breakout Year Curse

One of my athlete clients is having a breakout year. He’s on top of the world. The hard work he’s put into his career is paying off big time. Phone calls are coming in right and left with offers he never conceived of as being possible.

The conversation that’s going around about him is that with the gains he’s made this year, including a national championship and winning a bronze medal in a world cup event, people are predicting that next year his performance will put him on par many of the best in his field.

When I hear this I shudder.

I shudder because usually after an athlete has had a spectacular year in sport their next year falls way short of expectations.

In my most recent conversation with my client I told him he’s at risk for the “curse of the following season after the breakout year.”

I first laid out for him the genesis of the curse. It generally happens because the athlete changes their preparation for the coming season thinking their program needs to be upgraded to a level of more seasoned veterans to perform at their level because they’ll be competing against them. 

In reality they should be doing just the opposite. They should pull back on their training to let their body’s recover from the strain of performing at the higher level.

As it naturally recovers through good nutrition, sleep, core stabilization and cross training their hormone levels will recover. And, as that happens their body and mind feels stronger than before.

One of the most difficult parts of this process is controlling the minds disbelief that doing less will get them to a level of performance that is more demanding in strength, power and stamina.

To control the mind, that athlete really just needs to look at their career for the evidence. After a prolonged injury or illness where their training has been significantly restricted, and they don’t rush their training to get back too soon, most often they return with better optimism and perform much better.

Every athlete whether it be weekend warrior, amateur or professional always has a breakout year. As a rule that breakout year inspires them to train harder for the next year to have an even better year. It usually goes the other way where the following year’s performance is a nightmare, well below expectations.

To avoid this curse, a counter-intuitive approach of doing less to let the body naturally restore itself to the next higher level has proven to work best. 

Jeff Spencer
Jeff Spencer

At just nine years old, I used to wake up at 4:30 a.m. to practice hitting a baseball up and down our street. That competitive spirit led to winning a national championship at just ten years old and then becoming an Olympian at twenty-one. For the past forty years, I’ve been a professional student of human achievement. I’ve been driven by this unshakable question: why do some people succeed and others fail? After retiring from professional competition, I went back to school to earned advanced degrees in health and wellness. In the decades since then, I’ve worked with athletes in nearly every professional sport, Olympic gold medalists, and millionaire entrepreneurs. I’ve had a front-row seat as I watched these world-class achievers do what they do. For more information:

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