How to overcome the worst of slumps
By Davie Wong, Sports Editor
It is an inevitable point in every athlete’s career. One that many learn to dread, and one that some never overcome. Doctor Laura Farres, an expert in the field of sport and psychology and an instructor at Douglas College, defines slumping as “a deterioration of performance over time.”
It is very normal for people to have one or two bad performances. But a slump is when they start and continue to repeat with no end in sight. For Farres, the start of a slump is an individualistic aspect. “For some people, there may be an event that may start the cycle. It may be a specific event that triggers a connection to something else that will lower their level of confidence.” This specific event could be something like missing a big shot.
Men’s volleyball team captain Angus Ireland is very aware of how it feels to miss important shots, and how it effects someone overall. “I had a bit of a slump in my second year, it just seemed like no matter how hard I tried I could not win a drill in practice. Focusing too much on the outcome rather than focusing on little steps to get better everyday can really change your mindset and how much you can improve.”
Similar to the target-related slump is the overall slump. Farres explains that, “For some people, a bad performance happens, and then they’re really not debriefing performances and figuring out what works and a what needs to be adjusted or changed.” It is this lack of change that allows the slump to continue. In fact, to continue to do the same thing, knowing that it will not work, matches the very definition of insanity.
Star women’s soccer player Marni McMillan knows all about the overall slump, and how easy it is to get stuck in a negative cycle. “One slump I’ve experienced is a goal-scoring slump. These slumps generally begin without warning or explanation. Sometimes goal-scoring slumps seem to arise at the very point in the season when every goal counts—exactly when you can’t afford to not be producing points for your team. Every time you miss the net, you become even more frustrated”.
This strange phenomenon strikes nearly all athletes, at what would feel like is the most inopportune moments. For Doctor Farres, athletes reaching a period where they struggle is not uncommon. However, she believes that the key is how an athlete interprets the struggle. “Sometime the struggle is interpreted as failure, rather than opportunity for us to look for new ideas that could allow them to take different direction.”
Some athletes will shrug off a slump and continue to press forward, without a second thought while some athletes are haunted by their slumps. McMillan can vividly recount her own struggle with slumps. “When the slump is haunting you, when every time your mind wanders you’re worrying about how you haven’t scored in games, when your slump keeps you up at night; this is when you know that your slump has gotten the better of you.” Though this type of reaction to a slump is less common, Doctor Farres believes that there is a key reason as to determining how impactful a slump will be to an athlete.
“The more identified you are with your sport, the more impactful a poor performance is going to have, because it’s not so much about the performance, it feels like you’re poor. I feel like when we have strong athletic identities that can influence how we take loss, because we can’t separate our behaviour and performance from our self-concept.”
With the slump identified, now comes the difficult part. Getting out of the slump. This can seem impossible for some athletes, but Farres believes it all has to do with post-game management. “Debriefing is key. I think you have to take a look at things that are going well and things that are not, and making adjustments to manage frustration.” Frustration is such a big part of an ongoing slump.
For McMillian, her go-to-tool to get out of slumps is to reframe. “Reframing is a mindfulness technique that takes a seemingly negative event and gives it an alternative, more positive outcome. Instead of focusing on how many times you cannot score, instead athletes in a goal-scoring slump should begin to count the amount of successful passes they make or how many of their shots hit the net.”
Ireland takes a little bit different of an approach. He deals with slumping by adopting a growth mindset. According to him this entails, “improving your skills and as a teammate by focusing more on the day to day process of developing your game, without so much emphasis on win/loss or success/failure.” By adopting this mentality, the focus is shifted away from individual play, and reduces the severity of slumping.
Slumping, at its root, is purely mental. It occurs when negative thoughts take over an athlete’s mindset and leads to continued poor performance, which leads to more negative thoughts. It’s a negative cycle that can spiral out of control very quickly. However, it can just as easily be stopped. Having the correct mindset after a hard game, focusing on the positive rather than the negative, and taking time to really evaluate mistakes to get the most out of it, are all excellent combatants against slumping.
At the end of the day, collegiate athletes, and all athletes in general, have such a limited time to really play the sport they love at a competitive level. By having a positive mindset, it ensures that athletes really get the most out of their time doing what they love.