How to Break Out of a Performance Slump

Adversity is inevitable in sports. However, as many have said before, our greatest challenge is ourselves. A slump is merely one example of this. For athletes a slump is a downward trend in their performance outcomes. With the wrong mental approach, a slump can feel like a black hole in a player’s career.

Big League Performance Slump

San Francisco Giant’s slugger Matt Duffy finished his rookie year with a .295 batting average. He came in second in the National League Rookie of the Year voting. However, in 2016, he was barely over .170 to start the season. He experienced a classic performance slump.

“I was just kind of rushing to the ball,” Duffy explained. “I wasn’t giving myself a chance to see the ball and then react to it…”

By April, Duffy raised his average to .234, showing signs of climbing out of the slump. When asked how he turned it around he said, “It’s not bad sometimes to take a mental day and stop thinking so much. I worked with [hitting coach Hensley Meulens] to calm down my swing a little bit. Its helped me see the ball a little better.”

How A Slump Begins

There are many factors and influences that can lead an athlete into a slump. Often, an athlete notices a string of less than preferred performances. A batter struggles at the plate during a series or two. A tennis player can’t seem to find his or her forehand groove.

This is the pivotal moment. How an athlete responds to the trend is critical. Two reactions are likely to drive an athlete into a slump.

  1. Over-analyzing. This is when an athletes begin to dissect the nuances of their swing, throw, or game. They get too caught up in the details.
  2. Second-guessing. Athletes questions their mechanics, technique, and/or strategy. This leads to hesitation and a decrease in confidence.

The Slump Cycle

When a player responds to a drop in performance with over-analyzing and second-guessing, they’ll likely slip into a slump. This effects athletes on an emotional level.

In a slump, an athlete is living up to the mental image he has of his performance. She isn’t matching her own expectations. This can drive the emotions of frustration, anxiety, fear, anger, or embarrassment. Likely, an athlete will experience a combination of emotions.

These negative emotions, based on the thought-performance model, will further deteriorate performance. Now a hitter tenses up at the plate when she needs to relax her muscles for a fluid swing. This is counterproductive to getting out of her slump.

Performance continues to decline and the slump continues.

How To Break the Slump Cycle

To break the slump cycle, athletes need to utilize a counterintuitive approach. In a nutshell, they need to try less hard. Allow me to give you a fuller picture of what I mean.

1. Focus on the Process

The tendency is for athletes in a slump to get caught up in their thoughts and emotions (i.e., how frustrated they feel). Directing attention to the task at hand, like hitting, and simply feeling comfortable swinging the bat, lowers the anxiety and muscle tension which hinder performance.

2. Get Back to the Basics

When athletes over-analyze, they tend to get caught up in the details of their strategy or mechanics. Instead, keep it simple. Get back to the basics. Revisit the fundamentals of proper execution. Simple drills and reminders of the basics help an athlete solidify the foundations that led them to previous success.

3. Let Performance Happen

Athletes in a slump want to get out of it as soon as possible. This increases stress and can cause them to “press.” Simply put, they try too hard. By trying too hard he or she ultimately, and unknowingly, sabotages his or her performance. Athletes need to relax and let the performance happen. Focusing on sound fundamentals, fluidity of movement, and trusting their prior training frees up the mind and body to do what it does best, perform.

Free Download

To help you coach your athletes out of a performance slump, download this free PDF poster which summarizes the 3 tips above.

Coach Your Athletes Through The Slump

Coaches, you can be a tremendous asset to your players if you understand the slump cycle. Athletes in a slump tend to panic. They start trouble-shooting and trying different things when returning to the basics is what’s needed. Help your players understand how to ease up on the throttle, relax, and get of their performance slump. The quicker they break the slump cycle, the quicker their confidence and performance recover.


Question: What is the hardest part of being in a slump? I’d love to hear from you in the comments below, or on Facebook or Twitter.


Please note: I encourage reader discussion, however, I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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