What is a Performance Slump?

Every athlete experiences a slump in performance at some point in their career. Slumps are a decrease in your performance that can last for prolonged periods of time if you let it. It can also be described as ‘an unexplained drop in performance that extends longer than would be expected from normal ups and downs of competition (Taylor, 1988).

Goldberg (1998) defines a performance slump as a natural, unavoidable, and stressful circumstance that appears and disappears for unknown reasons.

Performance slumps are often a cause for concern for athletes and coaches and many athletes are unaware of the cause so look in the wrong place for a solution.

Physical Slump vs Mental Slump

Physical slumps, such as recovering from injury or changing mechanics takes athletes patience and time to overcome.

Mental slumps are often more difficult to overcome if you are unaware of what causes them. And so, the first step is to determine whether you are experiencing a mental or physical slump.

Causes of Performance Slumps

Physical deficiencies – injury and overtraining.

Psychological factors – low self-confidence, low satisfaction levels with performance, lack of motivation, low self-esteem.

Behavioural problems – not sticking to a routine, trying too hard to perform well.

Environmental influences – non-sporting stressors.

Technical difficulties – skill acquisition and refinement.

Problematic coach-athlete relationship.

How to Overcome Performance Slumps


Focus on the process, not the outcome. Focus on the ways you can affect the team or the performance. This will improve your confidence and relieve some anxiety.

Developing a Growth Mindset

A growth mindset helps you maintain stable confidence along with the knowledge that you will be back on track soon.

Stop Making Comparisons

Don’t compare yourself to other players or opponents. This is a cause of distraction to your own performance.

Stay Motivated & Committed to Goals

When in a performance slump, it is common to question your goals. Stay patient and remind yourself what motivates you to train and compete.

Allow Time Away from The Sporting Environment

This provides a change of scenery and interactions with different people. The time-out allows for letting go of negative emotions and a regain of a positive attitude towards upcoming competitions.

Goal Setting

Develop a series of goals, making sure they follow a guideline such as SMART goals (specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, timely). Goals should include:

Return-to form goals, indicating the level of performance to which an athlete wants to return to.

Causal goals focussing on the particular cause of the slump, to prevent it happening again.

Daily training goals to specify what an athlete needs to do in their regular training to relieve the causes and therefore alleviating the performance slump.


Individual or group counselling would provide a social support structure thereby relieving the feeling of loneliness and isolation, which is often present during a performance slump. It will also help the athlete to realise that their thought, feelings, and emotions are all common, natural, and expected.


There are many ways in which to overcome performance slumps. In a study by Kolt, Kirkby, and Lindner (1995), a group of both male and female gymnasts highlighted that seeking social support and adopting wishful thinking as well as becoming problem-focussed helped when dealing with performance slumps.

Several athletes in a study by Brown, Butt, and Sarkar (2019), also reported cognitive behavioural methods, such as imagery and positive self-talk and the importance of peer support also helped them during slump periods.

It is important to seek advice from a coach, support staff at your club or a sport psychologist if you feel you are unable to respond and overcome a performance slump.

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Brown, C. J., Butt, J., & Sarkar, M. (2019). Overcoming performance slumps: Psychological resilience in expert cricket batsmen. Journal of Applied Sport Psychology.

Goldberg, A. (1998). Sports slump busting. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.

Kolt, G., Kirkby, R. & Lindner, H. (1995). Coping Processes in Competitive Gymnasts: Gender Differences. Perceptual and Motor Skills, 81(3), pp.1139-1145.


Stead, J and Poolton, J and Alder, D (2022) Performance slumps in sport: A systematic review. Psychology of Sport and Exercise, 61. p. 102136. ISSN 1469-0292 DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.psychsport.2022.102136

Taylor, J. (1988). Slumpbusting: A Systematic Analysis of Slumps in Sports. The Sport Psychologist, 2(1), pp.39-48.