In Choking/Fears/Slumps and Blocks, Handling Failure/Adversity

PERFORMANCE SLUMPS have many causes. Sometimes a bad experience, tough loss or a time when you choked can set the slump cycle in motion. In many sports, an injury or near miss can trigger a performance slump or block like a pitcher/batter who gets hit in the face with a ball or a gymnast who falls and hurts herself during a difficult trick.

Sometimes slumps are a direct result of technical or mechanical mistakes the athlete is making. Occasionally a slump can even get started because an athlete is in sub-par condition. Almost always slumps and blocks are fueled and self-maintained by the athlete’s faulty focus of concentration just before and during performance. However, there are also those times when a slump is inadvertently started and maintained by bad coaching and/or misdirected “parental enthusiasm.” What a coach or parent says to an athlete and how they say it, are the real culprits in planting the seeds to a slump.

“Are your parents or coaches feeding your slump?”

This is not just about blaming others. This is not just about refusing to take responsibility for yourself. This is not just about being unwilling to really look closely at your weaknesses and shortcomings. If you are ever going to reach your athletic dreams you certainly need to understand that “if it is to be, it is up to me.” That is, it is truly up to YOU as to whether you’ll be successful or not. You must be willing to take full responsibility for your training, actions and failures. However, having said that, the fact still remains that sometimes your coach or a parent can significantly contribute to repetitive performance problems and failures. That’s right! Whether they may mean to or not, there are times when the coach, or good old Mom and Dad can actually cause and feed that slump.

How is this possible?

Let’s briefly look at where peak performance comes from. When you do your best, your focus of concentration before and during the action is on what you’re doing and nothing else. When you are “on”, you are unconcerned with what’s going on around you and totally oblivious to the outcome of the match, race or game. You do not, in other words, have any expectations about your performance. You are not worried about the “what if’s”, messing up or failing and instead are completely concentrating on the action as it unfolds. In addition, you are relaxed and having fun.

When you choke, underachieve or struggle performance-wise your focus of concentration is very different. Both before and during the performance you tend to concentrate on your thoughts. That is, you may be worried about your technique, failing, what the coach might think, what mom or dad might say to you afterward, how your level of play might affect your playing time, how good your opponent is, etc. Poor performance usually goes hand in hand with carrying expectations into the performance. For example, you want to make the team, play well, win the match, get a certain time, not embarrass yourself, not fail, not disappoint others, etc.

Managing your Expectations

Expectations, which can be either positive or negative usually sink an athlete’s performance when he/she carries those expectations into the performance. The fact of the matter is that when you distract yourself with all these thoughts and expectations, you make yourself uptight and have less available concentration to put on the things that will help you perform well. As a result you don’t have any fun and perform poorly.

Sometimes your coach or a parent says and does things to you which distract your concentration and make you uptight. They may put pressure on you by demanding a certain outcome. When you don’t “produce” for them, they then may react angrily and with excessive criticism. It’s one thing for your coach to constructively point out what you are doing wrong. It’s quite another thing for him or her to ridicule and humiliate you for your mistakes, failures and shortcomings.

The same can be said about mom or dad. If they directly or indirectly expect a certain level of performance from you and react with disappointment, disapproval and or criticism whenever you don’t “produce,” then they are setting you up big time for a performance slump. Why? First off, you don’t play the sport for Mom or Dad. You don’t “owe” mom or dad anything performance-wise for all that they’ve done for you in the sport. The only “pay back” they should be getting from you is to enjoy watching you have fun with the sport. Second, parental expectations get into your head, place too much pressure on you and get you focusing on the wrong things. Third, pressure to “produce or else” from a parent will kill your fun and sabotage a good performance.

Real World Example

A collegiate catcher had never experienced any performance problems until he got to college. His new coach had a reputation for being emotionally abusive. While practicing indoors, the catcher almost hit his coach with an errant throw. The indignant coach began to loudly demean the catcher in front of the whole team, pointing out how inept he was and threatening that if he couldn’t even get the ball back to the pitcher indoors, how could he expect to play for him when the season started outside.

The catcher’s reaction was predictable. Totally embarrassed and worried about another errant throw, he began to think about his throwing and pressure himself not to throw the ball away again. If you’d like to mess something up that’s natural and automatic, just think about the mechanics of what you are doing! The more this athlete tried to throw the ball accurately, the wilder his throws got. Of course, his coach didn’t waste the opportunity to loudly ridicule the catcher who now began to double pump the ball before releasing it. Soon the athlete was thinking about how to throw the ball back every time he played catch and was double pumping on each throw.

When the season started the double pumping got worse as the coach continued to ridicule him. Soon his teammates joined in along with the fans. The more ridicule that came his way, the more self-conscious the catcher became about his throwing and the worse the double pumping got. Not surprisingly the athlete began to dread playing. Within a short amount of time the catcher, the strongest athlete on the team in that position was reduced to sitting on the bench. Soon after, feeling depressed and humiliated, he quit the squad and left baseball, a sport he had loved his entire life.

Why did this happen?

Was this kid a head case? No way!

This catcher’s problem was his coach! This coach was totally responsible for his player’s throwing problem. If anyone here was a head case it was the coach. As far as I’m concerned, what this coach did to his athlete was abusive and criminal. The man shouldn’t be in the profession. Good coaches don’t tear down an athlete’s self-esteem and self-confidence. Good coaches don’t publicly humiliate their athletes! Good coaches don’t allow teammates to demean each other. Good coaches know better than to make athletes overly self-conscious about their mechanics and performance. It’s one thing for a coach to demand excellence from you and regularly push you beyond your limits. That’s his or her job. However, it’s another thing when the coach’s behavior serves nothing but destructive purposes. It is unfortunate that in this situation the only option that this athlete had was to get away from his coach and leave baseball.

It is important to recognize situations like this before they get out of control.

If you are struggling with a performance difficulty or you’re consistently underachieving, call me today. I can help!

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