There seems to be a desirable sequence for the employment of different types of coping strategies when confronted with a performance slump. Sport psychologist Jim Taylor advocates an initial emotion-oriented focus to deal with the negative affect, frustration, and helplessness that accompany an unexpected decline in performance.
He then suggests a more task-focused approach be adopted to improve performance. He states that negative emotions must first be brought under control or any coping strategy will be less effective.
Athletes with high and low confidence use different "coping hurdles" when confronted with a slump. Highly optimistic/confident athletes may not recognize the need to deal with emotions and may move directly to problem-focused coping. Although this tendency to attack the problem could be beneficial in some instances, it can be counter-productive in others.
Overzealous attempts to alleviate a slump through problem-focused behaviors such as obsessive video analysis and sudden increases in training load could, can actually prolong the slump due to heightened fatigue and frustration.
Athletes who are low in optimism/confidence could become preoccupied with the negative emotions produced by the slump and slow to recognize the need to become more problem-focused.
Information about individual differences in optimism/confidence are important considerations when trying to find an intervention/coping strategy that best helps the individual break out of a slump.
Here are some common causes of slumps to look out for:
- Over-thinking the next move or play which can lead to choking or freezing.
- Fear of repeating past failures.
- Dwelling on past mistakes.
- Loss of confidence.
- Overtraining in sports, burnout on the job.
- Constant destructive criticism by a coach, fans or a boss.
- Resurfacing of past fears arising from psychological trauma or injury.