It is inevitable and it's the worst feeling in the world. It is always in the back of your mind in every at bat and in every practice. Your parents and teammates are wondering when you will snap out of it and so are you. You're in a slump. So how do get out of it?
I recently was asked this question on an Instagram Q&A and truthfully, the answer is different for everyone. But, there are some general tips that I think could help a lot of hitters when they are struggling and I am going to outline them below.
1. Process-Oriented Approach versus Result-Oriented Approach
What defines a slump is not getting a hit or being on base for an extended period of time. Slumps are most often 100% mental because as hitters we start thinking about not getting a hit, or the actual result of the at bat ("I struck out," "I can't see the ball," "Nothing will fall for me," etc.) In reality, getting a hit can mean you crushed a 300 foot homerun, or you got jammed and barely hit a ball over the shortstop's head. The result, whether or not it is a hit in the scorebook, does not matter. What matters is the QUALITY of your at bat. Switch your mentality to a process-oriented focus, worrying about solid contact, a great approach, seeing a lot of pitches, and moving runners! You don't have to be on base safely at first to have a great at bat!
2. Positivity in All Circumstances
Often when we are in a slump, we tend to only focus on the bad. If I hit a hard line drive but the third baseman makes a diving catch, I can think about that two different ways. If I am in a slump, chances are I'm thinking "Great, just another example of how terrible I'm playing right now" or "LITERALLY nothing is going my way." This is a vicious cycle. Instead, I should be thinking on the positive end of that spectrum, something along the lines of "That was a quality at bat," "I hit that ball so hard," or "I am seeing the ball so well right now and I believe that my next one is going to fall." This is a skill and takes deliberate practice, but the more positive you can stay through the adversity, the more mentally tough you will come out on the other side.
3. Mental Mindset Journal
Self-awareness and self-realization is so important not only in softball, but in life. This is why I like to keep a mental mindset journal to make sure I am reflecting on all of the thoughts I had during a game day. I write down my answers to these four questions:
What was my mindset going into today?
Why did I have that specific mindset and What exactly am I focused on?
How can I improve the next time out?
Was I a good teammate today?
The key with this journal is being totally and completely honest with yourself, good or bad. As softball players, I think we are coached into forcing ourselves to say the right thing. It is okay to feel terrible about where your swing is at. It is okay to make mistakes. It is okay to feel like you are never going to get a hit again. Write all your frustrations down and focus on being better the next time out. It is a process that you have to trust.
4. Recover and Reset
When I am in a slump, sometimes I think that more reps will make it all better. While I am never going to disagree with a good work ethic, there is a time and a place for everything. More often than not, what you need when you are in a slump is a mental break. Let the mind relax, reset yourself, and get excited to play the game again. This can be done through yoga, a good workout instead of a million extra cuts, or even just taking a complete day off. Recovery and rest is so important and so undervalued. Don't burn yourself out!
5. Be Coachable, but Listen to Yourself
Being coachable is one of those traits that is slowly dying off in athletes. It is hard to take advice that we don't necessarily agree with, and when we are in a slump, we can take the approach of "I just want to be miserable and not listen to anyone." There is SO much value in not only listening to advice, but asking for help. Ask a parent, coach, or teammate "Hey, my mentality just isn't there for me today, do you have any tips on what I need to do?" And listen to what they have to say. You would be surprised at how refreshed you feel after applying some advice from someone you trust. Your coaches, parents, and teammates all should have your best interest at heart!
The bottom line is that slumps are HARD, but in reality, everyone is going to experience them at one point or another. You may feel like you're alone, but you aren't. Even my professional teammates and Team USA teammates experience those times of struggle. Slumps are a part of the game that you decided to play. The more aware you are of your mentality, the quicker it can be to break out of them and get back to the player that you want to be. I hope you consider applying some of this advice to expedite that process.