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5 Tips to Slump Busting in Basketball

by John R. Ellsworth, M.A. ProtexSports, LLC

Every athlete I have worked with whether in basketball, baseball, tennis, or any other sport for that matter will run into a performance slump at some point in their career. It's inevitable the slump will come so it's critical you're prepared for when it does. It's not the slump however that's the biggest challenge, but what to do to get out of the slump that's the most important. We never plan on a slump showing up - it just does. On the other hand we never think to have a backup plan of what to do when it does. After all, who plans on failing?

Just like in every sport there can be a single instance slump or the slump can carry on over a series of games or performances. The longer the slump goes unresolved the more challenging it can be to break it because the longer we reinforce the bad habits the more difficult it is to break them. What started out to be a single game slump can easily develop into a pattern of negative physical and mental habits.

In my opinion most shooting slumps are mental. Confidence, trust, and belief in self are especially critical skills when it comes to shooting in basketball. If you don't believe the ball is going in every time you shoot, then why are you shooting? Ask any good shooter and they will tell you they expect the shot to go in. It's never a question of if, but more of when it goes in. Just about any basketball player will tell you this even if they missed their last 10 shots.

The following 5 mental game tips will not make your slump totally disappear, but will serve as a guide to help you look closely at what might be going on above your shoulders.

1. Ask yourself, "Why am I in this slump?" Check in with yourself and if you have a journal take time to put your thoughts down in your journal. What is it that's holding you back? Is it your confidence? Is someone else getting in your head? A sports psychologist or mental game coach is an excellent resource that brings the skills to help you get to the "What, When, and Why" behind the fear. Keep it simple. There is no need to figure it out, but just accepting or coming face to face with the fear is an excellent beginning.

2. Don't second guess. It's possible you second guess because the coach is giving you mixed messages. One minute you have the green light, and the next minute you don't. One minute you're doing fine and the next minute you're being pulled for turning the ball over or missing a shot. If you second guess you're not focused in the present, but either thinking about getting pulled from the game on a previous play, or when you will be pulled out next.

To beat this you have two choices; first to play distracted by events out of your control, or second to play freely and in the moment without distractions. In a manner of speaking you are better off focusing totally on what you have in your control and forgetting everything else. It's almost as if you totally block out the coach, and just act without the fear of getting pulled. If you hesitate, and think more about not making the mistakes you're more likely to make the mistakes. Commit to yourself you will play with a present tense state of mind, and not worry about what might happen, and focus more on what you plan to make happen. Keep it very simple!

3. Embrace success. Recently, I worked with a very talented D-1 college point guard on a top 5 NCAA women's basketball team. She had been in a shooting slump and had not been getting the results she was expected to get. She started doubting herself and started to fear what was expected of her. The fear became so intense that she often failed, because she wasn't sure what to do with her success once she got it. Everyone knew she had the talent. She was a fantastic player, but wasn't comfortable with the exposure. To beat the fear she started to welcome the prospect of success by planning in advance what to do with success once it came. She started to imagine success, began to embrace it, and practiced how she would manage the exposure that came with success. Once she had a plan she realized it wasn't her shooting ability, but her fear of what would happen when she did well.

4. Avoid over thinking. Thinking is for practice and reacting to what you know and trust is for games. Often times what happens is practice confidence does not transfer to game confidence. Thinking often comes into play if the ball player is trying to be too perfect in game situations and therefore ends up thinking more about mechanics rather than playing freely. Thinking leads to over analysis and over analysis leads to game paralysis. My tip to beat over thinking is to "try less" in games. Try less to do everything perfectly. Take 60% of your strengths and trust in them 100% of the time. This approach really does help to keep things really simple.

5. Focus on the positive. Everyone talks to themselves. What you say to yourself is just as important as how you say it. If you find yourself second guessing it's possible your subconscious is sending negative messages to your conscious mind. To beat the negative messages it's critical you counter with an alternative positive thought at a 5-1 ratio. For every negative thought the counter positive message needs to be repeated 5 times. Remember, you will be a more accurate shooter if you are relaxed, and not distracted by negative messages. If you're self talk is negative you will be down on yourself.

To learn more about shooting success tips and what you can do to beat the fear please send your questions either to Ask Coach John, or fill out the Contact Us form on the web site.

John R. Ellsworth
Sport Psychology Consultant & Mental Game Coach
ProtexSports, LLC

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