Mike Trout, Steph Curry, Sidney Crosby, Odell Beckham Jr.. It doesn’t matter if you are the biggest star in the game or a bench player on a community team; at some point, you will suffer through the worst part of being an athlete, the dreaded slump!
For many athletes, being in a slump can be one of the most frustrating things, as you often don’t know where to turn to or what to do to get out of it. One game/shot/at-bat etc., turns into five, turns into ten. Regardless of the level you play at, how talented you are, your gender, or your age, being in a slump gives athletes a sense of feeling angry, helpless, lonely, tired, lost, depressed, and unmotivated. To put it in simple terms, being in a slump sucks!
So what causes a slump? Most of the answers are mental, but occasionally some are physically related:
- Lack of confidence
- Frustration with not getting better or matching the skill level of friends/teammates
- Lack of motivation
- Over-training or not training enough
- Failing to meet goals
- Trying too hard to impress
- Trying to be someone you are not
- Pressure from coaches/teammates/family/peers
While there isn’t a “one size” fits all answer to how athletes break out of a slump, there are some tips that can assist with getting you back into the groove.
The simple definition of insanity is doing the same negative thing repeatedly, hoping for a different result. While the “try, try again” theory seems to be the right mindset, it doesn’t exactly work in this situation. Athletes try anything and everything to break out of their funk, and when nothing works, they just keep repeating the same process, increasing their frustration when the results remain negative. Now, they are not only dealing with frustration but also anger, upset, and confusion. A giant mixed bag of emotions. One of the best ways to deal with this is to openly seek help and admit to themselves that whatever they are trying isn’t working.
Work Smarter, Not Harder
Athletes are often ingrained with the try harder, work harder mantra. However, when it comes to dealing with breaking out of a slump, this approach will often leave you struggling even more than when you started. Swinging the bat harder isn’t going to help your swing mechanics. Putting up a thousand shots per day isn’t going to help your shot go in if your mechanics are all out of wack. While this isn’t to say that you should not be putting in extra time and effort, getting a little feedback on what you are doing wrong from a coach and/or video analysis may be helpful. However, it is essential to remember that you made the team for a reason. Whether you were drafted or selected by the organization or coaching staff, they saw something valuable in you. Believing in your skills, knowledge, and ability will help you work your way out of your slump.
Today’s athletes have some of the busiest schedules in sports history. Practice, conditioning, film study, and that’s just the team schedule. Then add in the individual work with skills trainers, conditioning trainers, and mental performance coaches. Oh, and depending on the level you play at, school work, part-time job, family, and social life. While this isn’t to say that you take a sabbatical from the team to sit at home and play video games while the rest of your teammates are working, it’s vital to scale back once in a while to have some “me” time when you can reconnect with yourself. Realize why you fell in love with playing the sport and remember how much fun it should be.
When breaking out of a slump, visualization can be a big help, but it can also become a harmful tool. Being confident and telling yourself that you are a great shooter when you are on the free-throw line or an exceptional hitter when you are up to bat is all well and good until the point in which you don’t believe it. Even though you may be saying the words, your mind tells you differently because of the previous struggles you have endured. Then when you miss the shot or strikeout, your mind fills with negative self-talk. Rather than telling yourself that you are a great shooter or an unbelievable hitter, both of which at this point are unauthentic, use phrases and affirmations such as “I’m a really hard worker” or “I am always committed and motivated to win” These positive affirmations will help you realize that you are doing the best that you can and that maybe you can positively impact the game some other way.
Small Things = Big Things
Rather than thinking and focusing on making the big play, which usually ends up complicating things and extreme frustration, keep life simple. Instead of trying to hammer a home run, congratulate yourself for hitting a single or double or even just moving a teammate into scoring position. Instead of worrying about missing jumpers, try getting yourself an easy hoop with a layup or free throws. If you are struggling to get the puck in the net, work on improving your passing so that you can set up a teammate for a shot. By simplifying the game and breaking it into smaller pieces, you are getting back to basics, which will help build success for you and your teammates and ultimately allow you to return for your opportunity in the spotlight.
Talk to someone. Chances are they have been in a similar position to you at some point in their life, whether they play the same sport or not. Just like athletes struggle, so do artists, musicians, chefs, and you name it. It’s impossible for everyone to be on their “A” game every night. Sometimes you might find motivation, inspiration, and insight from the most unlikely source.
Talking with teammates throughout the game makes life far easier on the field of play. Talking to them or having them tell you where the play is going, if a screen is coming, or if a player is making a cut somewhere can make a huge difference that can alter that game.
Look Ahead, Not Behind
Try as you might, there is absolutely nothing you can do to change what has already happened. Nothing can be done about that strikeout, the missed layup, the fumbled catch, or that slice into the trees. What you can do, however, is look at the next opportunity as a chance for success. Focusing on the negative of what has happened will only impact your expectations of what will happen.