By Cindra Kamphoff, Ph.D.
All athletes experience a time when they are not playing at their best. Sometimes this can be explained by mechanical or physical problems. A key variable, however, that influences the length of time an athlete is not at their peak depends on the athlete’s mind. Specifically the thoughts that are consciously running through their head play a key role in their performance.
In sports, the term “slump” is a common term coaches, athletes, and commentators use when athletes are not performing at their peak consistently. But a slump can occur in areas outside of sport such as in your career, your academic studies, or your personal life.
The common causes of a slump as well as strategies to deal with a slump are similar regardless of the area someone is experiencing the slump.
Here are the 3 most common psychological reasons I find people experience a slump:
- Overthinking or thinking too much about your performance can put one in paralysis by analysis causing both physical and mental anxiety. Overthinking can also lead to overtrying where you press instead of playing or living life automatically and naturally.
- Dwelling on past failure or mistakes can also lead to a time period where people are not at their best. It is almost impossible to get good results when you are thinking and dwelling on the negative.
- Focusing too much on the outcome such as winning or your statistics in the game or in your job can lead to a slump. Winning, for example, is not completely in your control and winning depends on your opponent. Focusing on both winning and your stats during the game can cause a decrease in confidence and an increase in anxiety.
The key to dealing with a time period when you are not performing at your best is redirecting your mind. Your mind and the thoughts that you allow to run through your mind are key variables in your performance.
Here are 4 ways to redirect your mind and deal with a slump:
- Avoid thinking about your performance can alleviate the slump. If you struggle with overthinking, not allowing yourself to think about the performance until right can help. Distracting yourself by doing something fun before your performance can help you to avoid overthinking.
- Play through your mind what is going well and think about that several times during the day. There is always something that is going well you can celebrate even if it simply the opportunity to play and compete.
- Avoid using the term “slump” in your vocabulary. We do not use it at The Center to explain a person’s performance because when you label it, you become it. Call it simply what it is: you are not at your best at this very moment. That moment can change. The only reason I use it here is because it allows us to use common language to understand the concept.
- Recognize that sport and life is full of up and downs. Knowing that we all deal with downtimes can help us stop digging. We always learn more about our self, our passion, and what we really want during the downs.
Emptying our mind and just playing is the key way to deal with a slump. As Branch Rickey, the baseball great, once said: “A full mind is an empty bat.” It is almost impossible to hit and think at the same time. When you think less, your performance will improve. Today, empty that mind so you can play at your best. Trust yourself and your preparation. And free yourself of the mental clutter.