A Performance Slump: It’s All in Your Head

You are What You Think: Thinking Your Way into Great Performances

Someone once said, “A slump is like a soft bed, easy to get into and hard to get out of”. I disagree; I think a performance slump can be easy to get out of if you know how. A slump begins in our head and ends in our head-once you think you are in a performance slump, you are. Once you think the slump is done, it will be. The biggest mistake players make when things haven’t been going well is to think too much (typically about everything that’s going wrong) and play too hard. Yes, I said it; people play TOO hard when they haven’t been playing their best. By that I mean players tend to over-try, to force things, to press rather than trusting their skills and letting things happen. I’m not saying to be totally relaxed and play like it’s a Sunday morning game with the 10 year olds down the street, I’m saying to just play your sport the way you always have. Play with desire, with passion, and with the confidence of knowing that you’re a good player. Also, if you play a team sport, remember that everyone is working together, it’s not up to you to win the game on your own. Players tend to be tough on themselves by thinking they HAVE to score or make the big play. You can want to be the difference maker, but your focus should be on putting yourself in position to make a difference. Trust that by doing the little things, the goal, the run, the basket, etc, will come-whether it’s scored by you or because of you-when you work hard, play tough, and have the right attitude, you and your team will succeed together.

For example, a player may say to himself, “I have to score. My team is struggling and I need to get it done” but then misses a golden opportunity to score (maybe because he was so anxious he reacted too slowly or, maybe, he just simply missed). Whatever the reason for the unscored goal, this thinking then can lead to thoughts of, “I can’t believe I just missed that, we are never going win if I keep playing like this.” So now, not only is he putting the pressure on himself to score, he doubts both his own ability and the ability of his team to succeed. Imagine if you had two players on the ice that thought like this, how do you think this would affect the game?

The preferred thinking process for a player on any team (struggling or not) would be: “I want to score/get a hit, I know I can, so what do I need to do to make that happen? (get in good position, play physical, swing at good pitches…)”. Maybe, even with more process-focused thinking, this player still misses an opportunity to succeed. How he reacts to this is just as important as what he was thinking before it. “#@^*! What a great opportunity! I want another like that, next time I’ll execute!” is much better than, “#@^*! That was awful! No wonder we’re losing!”

“Slump busting” isn’t about playing your way out (because the tendency is to play too hard and too anxiously) but rather, to think your way out; it’s about having the attitude of “I WANT to make things happen” not “I HAVE to” and about focusing on playing to win rather than playing not to lose.

Overall, playing consistently to one’s potential comes down to a) your physical skills and how well you use them, and b) your mentality, including your confidence in yourself, in your team, and in your ability to play the way you are capable of playing. Winning isn’t about being the best team or having the best players, it’s about each player focusing on doing his best each game and contributing what he can when he can.

I’ll leave you with two quotes I have always liked when things got tough:

“Keep your face to the sunshine and you can’t see the shadows”

“When a defining moment comes along, you can do one of two things, 1) define the moment or 2) let it define you.”

Make it Great!