Far too often when high-performing athletes begin to lag in their success rates, speed, or concentration in games or practice, coaches just don’t know how to handle it.
First they think it’s just a temporary hiccup and that the athlete will quickly recover, then they try aggression or stating their disapproval in the hopes that guilt or fear will jolt the athlete back into gear, and then they resort to benching those players or limiting their playing time, thinking that pushing them off to the side will make the problem fix itself while they put more attention on the “good” players.
All of these scenarios are a gross mishandling of the situation and only make the problem worse because they increase the athletes’ frustration, while decreasing their self-confidence. What the coach likely doesn’t understand is that the athlete isn’t doing this on purpose just to ruin their day! They don’t want to suddenly be fumbling for no reason and letting their team down, they want to be in on the action and performing at the highest level, and yet something is stopping them.
Of course, it’s entirely possible that there is another reason for their slumping performance that they ARE aware of, but regardless there is a much better way to address the problem with your attitude and behavior.
Here are some coaching do’s and don’ts for slumping athletes:
- Do be empathetic. Step inside their shoes and let them know you understand how it feels to struggle.
- Do be supportive. Build the athlete’s confidence and self-esteem. The last thing slumping athletes need is to have someone they respect and admire put them down.
- Do communicate clearly, directly, and often. Let the athletes know where they stand, how you feel about their struggle, and what they can do to get through it. If you bench them, help them understand why you’re doing it and what they need to do to get back in the game.
- Do be positive and hopeful. Help them believe that their performance problems are only temporary and that they’ll get through them.
- Do help them deal constructively with negative actions from parents, fans, and the media. Help them maintain proper perspective when dealing with other people.
- Don’t remind the athlete how long they’ve been performing badly. They are usually well aware of this already.
- Don’t compare the athletes’ past great performance with their present poor ones (unless you’re using the past ones as a constructive model for the present).
- Don’t disparage the athletes with labels like “stupid,” “head case,” or “choker.” You are a professional in a position of authority and mentorship and should be above that kind of language.
- Don’t penalize the athletes because they are performing badly. Taking away opportunities to learn or bond with their team is the last thing they need.
- Don’t give the athletes the silent treatment or ignore them. It is the opposite, open communication, that will get the athlete out of a slump.
- Don’t be negative. This doesn’t mean you have to impose false positivity on the problem, but you can certainly acknowledge it without making it worse.
- Don’t focus the athlete’s attention on everything they are doing wrong. Instead, help them focus on what they need to right to improve.
If you’re a coach or parent of a slumping athlete, or an athlete yourself who is currently struggling, then I highly recommend exploring my books, workbooks, and audio programs specifically tailored to overcoming slumps and blocks, developing mental toughness, and reaching peak performance in any sport.
Additional posts relating to this topic include:
How to Be an Athlete-Oriented Coach
7 Tips for Staying Cool and Calm in the Clutch
Special: What Makes a Good Coach?
How to Recognize the Uncontrollables and Stay Focused on What Matters Most