Mental Tips for Overcoming a Slump

Whether you’re a weekend warrior or professional athlete there’s one thing that all athletes have in common; they will go through a slump of one type or another.  There are times you may be competing in a sport where you feel as if nothing is going your way. If this is the case you are probably experiencing a slump.

The Vicious Cycle of Negative Thoughts

Don’t panic, you will make it through.  The first thing you need to avoid is panicking.  If you panic, it will only make things worse and may set off a chain reaction that starts the wheel to a vicious perpetual cycle.  Let me explain.  You just struck out on a pitch you usually hit. During your next at bat you weakly hit to the pitcher. Now your mind starts to run, can I hit anymore?  Because you think you can’t hit, what happens?  You don’t hit.  Since you don’t hit you’re again thinking you can’t hit because you’re in a slump, thus starting the vicious cycle.  This phenomena is called self-fulfilling prophecy. In other words, you think you can’t do something therefore you’re unable to do it.

A Better Mindset

Let’s try that situation again, but in this case the player doesn’t panic.  You just struck out and then grounded to the pitcher.  Next time up, you think to yourself it’s a new at bat, just swing through the ball, level swing.  You do just what you thought and get a base hit.  Crisis averted.  What was different in that scenario? It’s pretty obvious. You thought about the process of things that needed to be done in order to keep hitting.  The focus was on a positive productive thought instead of a negative one.  Be careful with this though, you don’t want to overthink it.  This is called analysis to paralysis.  While it’s good to think about the process of the task you are completing it’s important not to over analyze a simple task.

Goal Setting

How can you help yourself focus on the process of an exercise or activity rather than the product?  Set goals for yourself.  If you can set a number of personal goals for yourself regarding a specific activity instead of just blindly going out and competing you may experience more success.  Let’s say you’re a golfer who is struggling, or slumping.  If you set small goals for yourself based on how you hit the ball rather than how low of a score you get, you will experience more success.  Setting a goal of hitting more straight drives on the fairway will be more beneficial in the long run than trying to birdie every hole.  Setting what is called a task-centered motivational climate will foster success and make it easier to avoid slumping or getting caught in the vicious cycle of slumping.  People who create an ego-centered motivational climate, goals based on product of activity, not only tend to be more prone to slumping, but it’s more difficult for them to get out of them.  If you set goals based on product there is a better chance of not achieving the goal and experiencing failure.

Control What You Can

An individual that experiences more failure may then experience more anxiety.  The increased anxiety an individual may feel while they’re in a slump can have an adverse effect on completing the task at hand.  As a competitor if you are constantly focusing on external rewards and factors affecting performance, the anxiety you experience is more likely to be debilitating to you.  This debilitating anxiety may perpetuate the slump you are currently experiencing.  Don’t worry; it’s possible to avoid debilitating anxiety.  Don’t focus on what you cannot control yourself!  Focus on the things you can control.  If you’re playing basketballand taking free throws, don’t focus on the score or other outside distractions.  Focus on your routine and following through on your free throw.  Those are things you have complete control over.  Eliminating a focus on external things and focusing on internal things can limit the effect of anxiety on performance.

All of these concepts affect an individual’s self-efficacy.  A person’s self-efficacy is the confidence a person has in a particular skill or activity.  As an individual if you can increase your self-efficacy, you can limit slumps and recover much faster.  You can increase self-efficacy through doing some of the aforementioned things.  It’s important to focus on process and not product when participating in a sport, task, or regular exercise.  Set achievable goals to work toward and be successful. Use positive thoughts instead of negative thoughts and avoid being a victim of your own self-fulfilling prophecy. Focus on what you can control and don’t let outside influences affect your confidence in your ability.  All of these things can help build self-efficacy and battle slumping.

The Summary

Lastly, don’t go around saying you’re in a slump!  If you go around telling everyone you are in a slump you are just perpetuating the self-fulfilling prophecy.  Also, don’t go around telling someone else they are in a slump. I’m sure they already have an idea they aren’t performing well no need to remind them.  Take the word slump out of your vocabulary!  Utilize positive self-talk to “brag on yourself.” A slump is really just a state of mind, so don’t let it get in your head.  Nobody is perfect, so don’t think you’re in a slump if you fail at something once or twice.  You’re just being human.

About the Author

Dan is an experienced trainer born and raised in the New York Capital District. The majority of his training career has been spent training clients from all backgrounds here in Clifton Park. Dan has also conducted speed and agility classes at Frozen Ropes in Albany. Dan has worked with clients with varying goals from fat loss to improving athletic performance; from weekend warriors to D1 athletes. Dan received his B.S. in Sports Biology from Springfield College where he was a member of the baseball team. Upon graduation Dan stayed on the staff at Springfield where he was a graduate assistant coach for the baseball team while he completed his M.S. in Exercise Science with a concentration in Exercise and Sport Psychology. During this time Dan worked with multiple softball and baseball athletes on their mental skills. Dan specializes in helping clients and athletes reach their highest potential through functional training and mental skills training. Dan looks to get his clients moving and feeling the best they ever have.

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