What do you feel when I say the word “SLUMP”?
If you are or have been a serious sportsperson you know that the word “slump” can push your buttons. As a former professional sportsperson, when I hear the word “slump”, a myriad of sensations emerge in both my body and mind, which I can describe as empty, lonely, sad, anxious, helpless, low-energy, unsettled mind, heavy legs, a knot in my stomach, tense and uncomfortable performances.
According to the Dictionary, a ‘slump’ is “a sudden, severe or prolonged fall in the price, value, or amount of something.” It is generally the same for sport, the value of your performances decline greatly.
From my professional experience as both a player and Sports and Clinical Psychologist the following description is how a slump is experienced:
– A sudden or gradual slide into poor performance after a long period of high level, consistent performance, which cannot be explained by injury, change of equipment, etc
– The decline in performance is accompanied by sadness, sometimes depression, anxiety, lack of motivation to perform, and excessively nervous performances.
– Your emotional and physical resources become drained and negatively influence other aspects of life.
– Your thinking narrows to only the desperateness of the slump and nothing else seems important or relevant.
– You can even feel like this is the end of the road for your sport and it is time to give up.
A slump is clearly a serious matter. It can be damaging to a Sportsman’s career and mental health, if it is not handled in a strategically measured way, taking the uniqueness of the athlete into account.
Most people, regardless of sport or career, believe that the only way out of the slump is to work harder at everything related to the sport mentally and physically. The harder they work, the worse they perform, the harsher they are on themselves and the deeper into the slump they sink.
Before I share the roadmap out of a slump, I need to make it very clear that I am by no means saying that you need to accept that this level of performance is okay to continue, or that the sportsperson
can keep making excuses that this level of performance is “just a bad day” replayed over and over again.
However, the secret of making your way out of a slump contradicts the traditional methods of progress, improvement, and becoming stronger. A slump is like quicksand, the more you panic about sinking into the sand, the harder you fight to get out of it, the deeper and deeper you sink into it. In fact, moving out of a slump is very similar to removing yourself out of quicksand. Just like quicksand, the process of removing yourself out of a slump is the opposite of what you would expect.
8 Tips to make your way out of a Slump:
1. Admit and accept your vulnerability. Acknowledging your struggle and accepting that doubts, anxiety, and sadness preoccupy your daily thoughts. Admit to yourself that your confidence has waned and that this temporary patch is tough! The more you avoid or fight these feelings the more they grow and overwhelm you.
2. Normalise negative feelings You need to remind yourself that you are human just like the champions in every aspect of life. The Whole Champions in any aspect of life understand the importance of their humanness and that the journey of facing and fortifying their vulnerabilities and weaknesses is ongoing.
3. Access support Share the experience of your struggle with those who you trust and that you know support and care for you unconditionally. The empathy and support from coaches and parents are critical. If this is not possible seek the help of professional counsel, who understand the patterns of growth and the importance of developing whole people.
4. Take a break If possible taking a break from your sport gives you the opportunity to clean out the perpetuating negative patterns mentally and physically. The routine and pressures of sport, professional or recreational can become redundant, destructive patterns if they go without regular mental checks and breaks. Ensure that you take a holiday from your sport, as kids do from school, and CEOs’ do from their businesses.
5. There is more to life than sport This is the time to develop or appreciate all the other aspects of your life. It is an opportunity to acknowledge and invest in the family and friends, that you have or you can discover, in order to live a balanced and whole life. My research and professional work demonstrate over and over how Whole Champions, on their paths of achieving, constantly invest in their others aspects of life; health, relationships, communities, hobbies, and greater purposes. These Greats experience less pressure and more longevity in their careers.
6. Focus on the PROCESS This tip is critical to your performance at any time, however for performing during a slump, keeping your attention on the process and even the basics of this process, is essential. You need to continuously bring your mind to the steps that make up your performance whatever the sport. Each time, your mind drifts toward judging the steps of your performance or fast forward to the results of how well or how badly you are performing, gently shift your attention to the process of the technique or the steps that make up the basics of your game.
7. No expectations Keep your fantasies and expectations of returning back to your previous level of performance in check. As much as possible keep your mind away from your sport and filled with all other aspects of life which fulfil you. Even in training or competition, fill your mind with images that soothe you and have nothing to do with sport. A slump needs time and the length of this period is unknown. What is clearly known, however, is that high, definite expectations will set you up for more disappointment.
8. Begin searching for the lesson or gift When you deal with very difficult life patches or slumps as in the steps above, your ownership of your mistakes, vulnerabilities and weaknesses begin shifting to opportunities for you to strengthen, improve and develop, not only as an athlete but also as a human being. You may even begin seeing that this dark slump has enlightened parts of yourself that will serve your performance and especially other aspects of life in the future.
It is important to note that the above 8 tips to “rising out of a slump”, is certainly not an exact recipe. The slump and the process of healing from it, is experienced differently for everybody. Nevertheless, the above 8 tips, from my study of both clinical and sports psychology in high performing people are the most common successful strategies. Tip 9, however, is common to every high performing individual in any aspect of life. This tip 9, needs no further explanation because it is encapsulated so succinctly by one of South Africa’s and the world’s greatest champion’s, Nelson Mandela. He said, “I never lose. I either win or learn.”