If you had a magic wand to wave over your kids in youth sports, I’m pretty sure you would be using it to help your athlete come out of a slump. It’s hard for parents to sit by and watch their kids struggle. Performance slumps can be extremely frustrating and difficult to get out of without getting to the root cause. In most cases, the root cause is mental.
This week’s post is written and sponsored by Brian Marentette from Sports Mentalytics, a company which provides assessment tools that deliver insights and offer solutions for individual athletes or teams. Brian holds a PhD in industrial/organizational psychology and is an expert in the field of performance management and the assessment of mental skills and abilities. In this post, he follows up his tips for avoiding meltdowns with specific ways to help your child work through a slump.
How to Help Your Athlete Come Out of a Slump
Acknowledge the slump
Don’t pretend as if your athlete isn’t in a slump. Your athlete knows he is struggling and for you to pretend it isn’t happening will not help. In order to get past it, your athlete is going to have to face the situation and take steps to move beyond it, as will you as their parent.
Keep an eye out for negative “self-talk”
A slump is usually the result of your athlete’s own negativity toward himself, which has spiraled into a constant state of negative expectations. Your athlete is probably telling himself repeatedly how poor he’s performing or how bad his mistakes are.
Keep an eye out for this negative “self-talk,” as it is only making things worse. Help your athlete replace negative self-talk with something positive. Work with him to identify positive statements he can use to replace the negative ones. For example, instead of him saying something like, “that pitch was terrible!” he can say, “I made a mistake, but I’m a great pitcher.” Simple statements like this will keep his mindset positive.
Help him focus on positive performance
Your athlete is probably dwelling on his recent poor performances. Needless to say, this is decreasing his confidence and, of course, his performance.
You can help him shift his focus to positive performance by helping him remember his best performances. He needs to remember the feeling of being on top of his game. Helping him to “re-live” his best performance will shift his focus away from the negativity and toward positive performance.
Help him set appropriate goals
When an athlete is in a slump, it can become very easy to start trying to avoid failure, rather than approach success. It can also be easy to start thinking more about results (e.g., strikeouts), versus the process (e.g., doing the same routine/wind-up each time). Ask your athlete about his goals for the competition and make sure he is focused on the performance process (as opposed to outcomes) AND approaching success (as opposed to avoiding failure). When you hear him saying things like “I want to avoid striking out again,” you know it’s time to help him redefine his goals.
Stay patient and use the right timing
Getting out of a slump is tough. Your athlete is very frustrated. He knows he’s not performing well. Find the right time to talk with him about some of the things mentioned here. The car ride home is not going to be a good time to talk about this. Find a more neutral time and make sure your athlete is willing to talk with you. Ideally, you can simply focus your regular conversations with your athlete on some of these tips.