Like a hovering black rain cloud, slumps never seem to simply pass over athletes and their teams. Slumps are a frustrating time for anyone; it's difficult to see past the downpour of negative thoughts. Fortunately, sport psychology can provide the navigation needed for you and your team to move forward out of the storm.
First, why do slumps happen in the first place? They are just part of the natural ebb and flow of sports: some teams are finding their groove while others have misplaced their mojo. Another common reason is that changes are happening in the team environment, from line-up substitutions, injuries or conflicts among team members. Mentally holding onto a bad performance or two can lead to a downward spiral.
Pulling an entire team out of a slump can be more challenging than "un-slumping" an individual player. For a team, the first step is to evaluate the team goals. Ideally the focus should be on performance goals, not outcome goals. Outcome goals are about the score or the result, whereas performance goals focus on the process and the steps that help players move toward positive outcomes, like getting 30-shots on the net. Performance goals are controllable; outcome goals are not entirely in your control. Feeling a sense of control is critical in getting out of a slump.
Another step a team can take to un-slump is to create greater team cohesion, both on and off the playing field. It's easy to point fingers when things are going wrong, but it's more important to address the issues and move on. Trust needs to be reestablished, and a number of team activities can help rebuild that trust. Player attitudes are contagious, so make sure that the right attitude is infecting everyone.
To un-slump an individual player, build awareness around what has changed and focus on what it will take to get yourself back to peak performance. To start the process, think about your most recent best performance, then reflect on what you were doing then versus what you are doing now, and how you felt then versus now. Assess the differences so you can create a plan to get back to playing at your best. Next, address whatever might be standing in your way at the moment—like too much pressure, a sense of anxiety or lack of confidence. Many athletes find that once a plan is in place, it helps them regain a sense of control over the situation, and they start to see the positives once again.
Going through a slump can be a blessing in disguise, because overcoming adversity builds character and confidence. So, the next time you or your team are mired in a slump, try viewing it as an opportunity to grow and improve.
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