While oftentimes unconsciously fueled by past physical and emotional injuries, slumps of all kinds are most often self-maintained by the athlete. That is, he/she unknowingly keeps the slump going by concentrating on all of the wrong things. This faulty focus, in turn, distracts the athlete from the task at hand, while simultaneously tightening his/her muscles. Tight muscles and a bad focus then lead to more poor performances and the athlete is off and sliding down the slippery slope that is a slump.
Here’s how it works: Slumps start with a bad performance or two or three. These bad outings by themselves don’t signal that the athlete is in a slump. They are simply the seeds of a slump. Whether the slump takes root and begins to grow depends entirely upon how that athlete explains his bad performances to himself. KEEP IN MIND HERE: The problem isn’t the problem. The problem is how you react to the problem.
If the athlete starts thinking, “God! I’m in a slump!” or “Something’s wrong and I need to fix it,” then this reaction starts the slump cycle in motion. First, the athlete begins to spend too much time thinking about his performance woes. “I’m in a slump….I hope I hit better tonight….What if I have another bad game?” etc. The over-thinking that the athlete gets into and the worry about “what if it happens again” begins to generate internal tension within the athlete. He/she starts getting nervous in anticipation of the next performance.
By the time the next game rolls around, the athlete may very well be a nervous wreck, completely focused on all the things that could go wrong. His/her “over-amped” stress level and over-thinking about the performance set the athlete up to fail again. With yet another bad performance, the athlete’s fears that he/she may be in a slump get confirmed. This is turn, cranks up the nervousness even more and triggers a “trying too hard” mentality. That is, the athlete tries desperately to get him/herself unstuck. This leads to a “muscling” or forcing of the performance.
Unfortunately this “trying harder” strategy is the exact opposite of the headset necessary for peak performance: “trust and let it happen.” When you perform at your best, you’re relaxed and you let the game/match flow and just come to you. The harder that an athlete tries to get him/herself unstuck, the more they force things, the worse they do and the more stuck they become.
What keeps this negative slump cycle going is the athlete’s concentration mistake of “time traveling.” That is, the athlete goes into the game focusing on the past, (last several bad performances), then jumping to the future, (“what if it happens again?”) and this back and forth keeps him/her away from a peak performance focus in the NOW on what is going on. Because the athlete isn’t paying close enough attention to what is happening in the NOW of the performance, he/she misses important performance cues. The end result of this faulty focus of concentration is more failure and frustration.
If you want to break the slump cycle you have to discipline yourself to stop “time traveling” and instead, keep your concentration in the NOW. You have to get in the habit of taking each point, at-bat, play, etc, in the moment, one at a time. Second, you have to be exquisitely aware when you start falling into the “trying too hard” trap. You must become aware when you start pressing, forcing or muscling the performance. Instead, you want to relax and let the performance come to you. To effectively do this you must get rid of your outcome goals. That is, stop trying to get a hit, break out of the slump, win the match or achieve any outcome. Instead, work on keeping your focus relaxed on the process of the performance, one shot or play at a time.
Please understand that a bad game or two or even three does not a slump make! Having off days and even off-weeks are a normal part of sports. These mini-slumps are to be expected, normal and happen to the best athletes. They will go away all by themselves as long as you stay relaxed and keep doing what you’ve been doing all along. Do not push the panic button and start thinking that something is very wrong. Remember, the problem isn’t the bad performance spell. The problem is how YOU react to that string of bad outings. Take a chill pill, relax and be patient. Your game will be right back!