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Breaking Out of a Performance Slump

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Dealing with a decline in athletic performance

By Jim Taylor, Ph.D

This article originally appears on


Ever heard of a performance slump? It’s a blanket term to describe an unexplained (and hopefully temporary) decline in athletic performance.

The question is why do slumps occur? And, better yet, how do you (or your child) overcome them?

Spotting a Performance Slump

The first step in recognizing a performance slump is determining your average performance level. For statistically oriented sports like hockey, this can be measured by tracking stats over time. If there’s a noticeable dip in important stats, you might be in 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 just might be a slump.

What Causes a Slump?

There are three major causes of a slump in athletic performance. They are:

Physical issues – These difficulties can include fatigue, minor injuries and lingering illness.

Changes in equipment – This could include things like new skates or pads. 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 You Prevent a Slump?

The best way to reduce the likelihood of a slump is for the athlete to listen to his or her body. They need to acknowledge when they’re too tired or don’t feel well enough to play. When they do so, it should be acted upon immediately. Simply put, athletes—especially young ones—need to work hard and rest hard.

The best way to prevent equipment-related performance slumps is to maintain gear at its highest performance level. If skates become uncomfortable or pads, gloves, etc. begin to show signs of wear, they should be replaced immediately.

Ideally, breaking out of a psychological slump requires one to set a series of specific goals: As with all goals, these should be realistic and measurable. After all, if you (or your young athlete) decide you want to score 100 goals this season, it’s likely that you’ll never reach that goal. And if that goal isn’t reached, negative thoughts and self doubt may result.

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, Ph.D., 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

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