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Ever heard of a slump? It’s a blanket term to describe an unexplained (and hopefully temporary) decline in athletic performance.
The question is, why do slumps happen? And, better yet, how do we help our young athletes overcome them?
Spotting a Slump
The first step in spotting a slump is determining a young athlete’s average performance level. For statistically-oriented sports like baseball and basketball, this can be measured by tracking stats over time. If there’s a noticeable dip in important stats, you might have a slump.
But just checking the numbers isn’t enough. Why? Because no one is perfect all the time. No matter how good an athlete is, they’re going to have a bad game now and then. Therefore, a superficial look at the causes of the decline should be done. If there is no obvious cause for the drop in performance, it might be a slump.
What Causes a Slump?
There are three major causes of slumps for many young athletes. They are:
- Physical issues – These difficulties include fatigue, minor injuries and lingering illness.
- Changes in an equipment – This could include things like losing string tension on a tennis racket or basketball shoes wearing out. Even a slight change in equipment may alter technique, thereby hurting performance.
- Psychological factors – For example, a particularly poor performance may reduce confidence and increase anxiety, which could lead to a prolonged drop in performance.
How Can We Prevent Slumps?
The best way to reduce the likelihood of a slump is for athletes to listen to their bodies. They need to acknowledge when they’re too tired or don’t feel well enough to play. When they do so, it’s up to us to act immediately. Simply put, young athletes need to work hard and rest hard.
The best way to prevent technologically-related performance slumps is to maintain equipment at its high performance level. For example, tennis rackets should be restrung before their tension changes. Or, if a young basketball player needs new shoes, they should be replaced immediately.
This best way to cure a psychological slump is to set a series of specified goals. As with all goals, these should be specific, realistic and measurable. After all, if your young athlete decides he or she wants to score 100 points in a game this season, it’s likely that they’ll never reach that goal. And if they don’t reach their goal, they might feel even worse about themselves.
By following these recommendations, it will be possible for athletes to minimize the number of slumps they fall into during the competitive season. In addition, for those slumps that do arise, coaches and athletes will have the knowledge and skills to fix them in the shortest, most effective way.
Dr. Jim Taylor is an internationally recognized authority on the psychology of performance in business, sport, and parenting. Dr. Taylor has been a consultant for the United States and Japanese Ski Teams, the United States Tennis Association, and USA Triathlon, and has worked with professional and world-class athletes in tennis, skiing, cycling, triathlon, track and field, swimming, football, golf, baseball, and many other sports. See more of his blogs at www.drjimtaylor.com. If you want to become mentally stronger in your sport, get Jim’s Prime Sport: Psychology of Champion Athletes e-book for free.