How to Break a Mental Slump
By Coach Damon on August 22, 2016
Every lacrosse goalie goes through a period where too many easy shots are finding their way into the back of the net.
They’re called slumps and nearly every goalie will go through a period like this at least once in their career.
As a lacrosse goalie if you’re properly prepared to deal with a slump when it does occur, you’ll both minimize its negative effect and shorten the time you’re in that slump.
Furthermore, knowing how to handle slumps will give you more self-confidence and make you a mentally tougher goalie.
Here are some methods I teach lacrosse goalies for breaking that mental slump.
What is a slump?
If you give up 16 goals in a game, are you in a slump? No.
As a lacrosse goalie you’ll have good games and sometimes you’ll have bad games. That’s the normal ebb and flow of this sport.
For the elite goalies, their good games will far outnumber the bad. But talk to any MLL goalie and they can instantly provide you with a stretch of games or a tournament when they stunk.
You’ll make mistakes and have less-than-ideal performances at times, but that doesn’t mean you’re in a slump.
We should acknowledge those performance declines and mistakes, but it can help to think of these mistakes as a series of separate incidents versus a slump, which has much has more long-term and negative connotation.
A slump starts because of what you do mentally.
So when you’re not making saves you start worrying about it. When the opposing team crosses mid-field with the ball, you’re thinking “what if I let in another easy shot?”
It’s these worries and this kind of performance focus that then sets in motion the slump. Worrying about messing up or failing tightens you up physically and distracts you from a proper focus.
In addition you start trying too hard which further tightens your muscles. When your muscles are tight and you’re concentrating on the wrong things, playing lacrosse goalie is near impossible.
The slump cycle goes on and on as your worry increases leading to bad performances and bad performances leading to more worry.
Address Any Non-Mental Causes
So how do we fix a slump?
Before we dig into potential fixes for mental slumps, let’s first ensure the root cause of the slump is actually mental.
Often times goalies think they’re going through a mental slump when they’re actually being impeded by something very physical, not mental.
This could be any number of off-field factors which impact your game and don’t allow you to play at your full potential:
- An injury
- Lack of sleep
- Lack of hydration
- Lack of good nutrition
- Heavy amount of stress from school or family issues
Whatever it is that doesn’t allow the goalie to 100% focus on lacrosse we need to eliminate as much as possible.
So take a moment to ensure that we’re dealing with is actually a mental slump and not something physical. And if it is physical, get that addressed.
Recognize and Maintain Perspective
For breaking out of a mental slump – it helps to have some perspective.
You’ve got to understand that EVERY goalie goes through a rough patch.
This perspective helps to reduce the anxiety that comes with poor performance and prevents us lax goalies from getting deeper in a slump, which is a serious problem.
An old lacrosse coach always used to tell me to take my “chill pill”.
Instead of losing confidence and worrying about why the mental slump occurred, you can be secure in the fact that every goalie will at some point go through what you’re facing, and then focus on getting back on track.
Relive the Glory Days
One method of busting out of a mental slump is to use positive thinking.
Try to remember those games when you were on fire. Watch the videos if they’re on tape.
Try to remember your mental state and what you did to prepare for those games.
I often encourage goalie to keep a lacrosse goalie journal to take notes when they played well. Then they can revisit the notes during slumps.
Slump busting is all about staying positive and being patient.
If you don’t have the support of a coach, you have to practice being a “good coach” to yourself. When you struggle you shouldn’t get down on yourself. You shouldn’t tell yourself in a nasty voice that you’re pitiful and should be able to do better. Putting yourself down will only further contribute to your problem.
Reliving the glory days of when you were playing lights out, seeing beach balls, will help conjure up the positive emotions that you need to bust a slump.
If nothing else, it’ll remind you that you’re talented and you’ll get it back.
Get Back to Basics to Break Slumps
In any sport, but especially with lacrosse goalies, to beat a mental slump to have to get back to the basics.
There’s so much to learn and focus on when playing in goal that sometimes goalies lose their connection with the basics of shot blocking.
So when slumping, in practice or on your own time, focus your effort on the very fundamentals of lacrosse goalie play.
This means we’re doing the same lacrosse goalie drills we did on day 1 of practice in the Spring.
We’re ensuring the basic elements of being a goalie, like our lacrosse goalies stance and arc play, are flawless.
Use a video camera for analysis or enlist the help of your coaches or teammates to see if they see any technical flaw in your basics.
Working on simple things calms the mind and allows lax goalies to better focus on making saves.
Don’t Overthink It
A good friend of mine I met at a camp years ago now plays for a D1 NCAA team. One summer he was in a major slump. Consistently letting in shots that he knew he could save.
He tried to analyze and figure out what was wrong. He tweaked his grip, tweaked his stance, changed his arcs, tweaked his step to the ball. Nothing was working.
Finally, one practice he said, “Screw it” and stopped thinking about it. He stopped trying to change his game. He just played the game. He was back to being a goalie; reacting to shots.
And he broke out of his mental slump.
Once you learn the basics of being a goalie your main task is to react to shots. When goalies try to implement changes or are worried about being in a slump, that makes you think more.
And when so many thoughts are going through your head of course you’re going to be miss saves.
Goalies need to think less. A clear mind makes saves. You can’t be thinking and making saves at the same time.
At a certain point goalies need to stop over-trying and just play the game. Your athletic training will help your body react when it’s supposed to as long as your brain doesn’t get in the way.
Flush the Past
When a middie rips a shot at you, he doesn’t know you’re playing bad, the ball isn’t aware you’re in a slump, the rulebook doesn’t say anything about slumping goalies must miss shots.
It’s all in your head. You’re in a slump because of what’s stuck in your head now.
So as goalies we must learn to flush the past.
When you eat an apple, your body takes it in and then moves it through the digestive system.
When you let it a shot, a goalie must do the same with their emotional digestive system. Process it but then flush it.
If that apple stays in our digestive system, we have a problem. It affects the next meal we take in. The same way that if those goals given up stay in our head, we have a problem as they affect the next shot we see.
Flush the past and remember the next shot is an opportunity to show your greatness.
Most Importantly: Have Fun!
Never forget to have fun while playing this amazing sport.
Take a step back and realize just how blessed you are to have the opportunity to play lacrosse.
Millions of people around the world are worrying about things like starvation and war while you and I are incredibly fortunate to not have those worries.
We’re blessed to have the opportunity to play the amazing sport of lacrosse with our friends.
So enjoy each moment and have fun. When you’re having fun on the lacrosse field, it shows. Your confidence is higher. Your leadership skills better. And everyone wants to play with you.
Enjoying each moment is crucial because regardless of how young you are your lacrosse career goes fast. Whether through injury or through old age, the end of your career will be here before you know it.
So savor each moment – and have fun!
Helping Your Child Get Out of a Mental Slump
Quick sidebar with the parents: what should you do when your child goalie is going through a slump?
It can a be brutal thing to watch your child struggle in the goal. This feeling is exacerbated even more by the fact that you both know they’re capable of playing at a much higher level.
I’m not yet a parent myself however I’ve picked up a few tips in working with so many over the years.
While it can be extremely difficult, you’ve got to keep your own emotions, needs, and frustrations out of the picture.
This is something I’ve learned while coaching. Be encouraging and positive. Remember that it’s all about your little goalie. Not you.
Reassure your child that he/she will get through this difficult stretch. Providing the goalie with a long-term perspective is important as knowing that at some point in the future they will no longer struggle is comforting and helps the little goalie relax and play the game.
Being the last line of defense is inherently a high pressure position for goalies.
Impatience and pressure from parents only adds fuel to the slump fire.
You want to teach your child to relax and be patient and the best way to do this is to model it in your interactions with your son or daughter.
Remember pressuring your child or threatening them is not helpful here.
Normalize the Problem
Let them know that setbacks, slumps, fears and mental blocks are all a natural and normal part of being a lacrosse goalie. Literally EVERY lacrosse goalie goes through them at some point in their career.
Walk them through the tips I outlined in the beginning of this article.
Hopefully that will help them change their attitude towards this situation. Instead of fighting it and cursing their bad luck, perhaps they use this as an opportunity to get stronger and tougher.
If possible you can try to find an older lacrosse goalie who can mentor your child. Surely if that goalie has played in enough games he/she can relate to the situation your child is going through.
Mental slumps for lacrosse goalies are easily some of the most frustrating points in our careers.
Sometimes we feel like all the hard work we’ve put in and all the progress we’ve made is quickly erased by a series of bad outing when we’re in a mental slump.
Breaking out that slump is tough but by using the tactics outlined in this article, you can do it.
Realize that every goalie will go through a slump at some point in their career and be prepared to handle to it when that eventual moment comes.
Until next time! Coach Damon
How do you break out of a mental slump? Let me know in the comments down below.