Sports Psychology 101: How to Break Out of a Slump
Sports fans and athletes alike are all too familiar with the dreaded slump. Unless you're ex-St. Louis Cardinal's pitcher Bob Gibson and it's 1968, a slump during a long, grinding season is inevitable. And that includes every athlete, from amateur to Hall of Famer.
What separates the superstars from the streaky sportsperson is the mental capacity to bust out of a slump, and continue production. As New York Yankees legend Yogi Berra infamously said, which can be revised for any sport, "Baseball is 90 percent mental; the other half is physical." (Unsurprisingly, Yogi went on to be a big league manager after his playing days, thanks to wisdom like that).
So how do pros block out the pressure, expectations, and fan vitriol when they're mired in a slump, and break out into a lengthy hot streak? We'll share some mental and psychological tips to refocus and prepare your mind, getting you back to your regular, productive mindset.
What Causes a Slump?
In addition to psychological factors, there are other variables that can play a role in a slump. While they may seem silly or insignificant, athletes are products of routine, repetition, and superstition. Even the slightest deviation from standard routine can throw a player off their game.
Psychological detractors that can cause a slump include:
- Low self-confidence
- Frustration from lack of production or improvement
- Lack of motivation
- Being out of your 'comfort zone'
- Trying too hard to produce results
- External factors such as coaches, fans, family
- Pressure and expectation to lead, and win
Other factors that can play into a slump are:
Changes in equipment - Again, athletes are superstitious. Swapping equipment they've had success in can throw them off their game, whether it's from the feel of the new equipment, or missing that comfort, history, and success of the old gear. Baseball players are a prime example; sluggers mired in hitting slumps will change bats, condemning the lumber rather than hitting mechanics or approach.
Physical Issues - Fatigue, minor injuries, and any lingering issues can affect performance, leading to a slump.
Breaking Out of Slump
Here are four tactics you can try if you're struggling to pull yourself out of a funk.
Performance > Results.
Every athlete wants to be the go-to player on their team; they want to be the first over the boards on the power play, bat cleanup in their lineup, or called upon to take a high-stakes penalty shot.
These results are the product of good performance. When an athlete hits a slump, they'll tend to focus on a lack of results, and in turn obsess with turning around their personal statistics and success.
Don't give results a thought if you're in a slump. Because let's face it, your numbers will be poor. Instead, focus on the quality of your performance; ensure you aren't cutting corners, you're mindful of your mechanics, and you're playing the game the right way. Exerting your effort towards better performance will eventually produce results - and that extends off the playing field, too.
Don't overthink it.
Let's turn to legendary philosopher - er, ball player - Yogi Berra for further insight: "You can't think and hit at the same time. A full mind is an empty bat."
Exactly Yogi. One of the biggest psychological barriers an athlete must overcome in a slump is overthinking everything. They'll question the skills and techniques that got them there in the first place - grip, stance, stride, approach, and start fiddling with things. Once that happens, it becomes a daunting task to regain peak form.
None of this works because that makes them think more. Your goal should be less thinking. Trust in the abilities that got you to your position. It sounds crazy, but the fastest way to break out of a slump is to do absolutely nothing to try to break out of a slump.
Don't dwell on past performance.
This ties a bit into the previous point of overthinking. Athletes can be susceptible to reliving a missed shot or terrible misplay that cost their team. Focusing on the past negatives which you have no control over will have the athlete evoke those same feelings, which will affect performance.
Again, baseball players are good examples to learn from. If the majority of MLB players obsessed over past at-bats, baseball would be a game of slumps. Consider that the premier hitters can maybe hit .350 in a career year - that means they're striking out, or 'failing' 65% of the time. If they constantly thought about having no success in over half of what they're paid well to do, their minds would be filled with nothing but regret and negativity.
What you think, you feel. So living in the past is similar to driving while looking through the rear-view mirror. Concentrate on the present, your performance, and being positive.
Stay motivated; refine your craft.
Regardless of how lengthy, untimely, or brutal your decline is, you must remember to stay motivated and committed to your goals. When you're slumping, it's easy to lose motivation to prepare for each game, or to lose sight of your ambitions.
Continue about your regular routine, and approach to the game. If results continue to elude you, stay longer after practice, work with coaches, study film - whatever you think will give you a new edge to your game. Most importantly, remember to be patient, and remind yourself why you play the game in the first place.
And if all else fails, you can again take Yogi's advice - like how to buy yourself a little time while you work out of your slump:
"Slump? I ain't in no slump...I just ain't hitting."
Do you feel like your game is 'off', like you aren't your regular, productive self? SEMI's sport psychologist can work with you in getting back the correct state of mind, returning you to peak performance.
Contact us today to set up an appointment or consultation with one of the top sports psychologists in Toronto!