Your Guide to Overcoming Performance Slumps

Slumps can be physically and emotionally training. Here's how to get back on track.

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In my last article, I introduced you to slumps in triathlon; what they are, their causes, and some ways to prevent them. This article will focus on what you can do to overcome slumps that arise in the most effective and efficient way so you can get in the pool, in the saddle, and in your running shoes as soon as possible with renewed enthusiasm and energy. 

To accomplish this goal, you need to address your slump in an organized and systematic way, in other words, you want to develop a slum-pbusting plan. When you are in a slump, you should look at each cause and determine the best way to alleviate it. In addition, the attitude that you have about getting out of the slump will also be a factor. Often, triathletes believe that they can just jump out of their slump. However, the fact is that it takes time to get into a slump and it takes time to get out of one. As a result, you should be prepared to put in the necessary time and effort for you to return to your previous level of performance.

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Take a Time-out

The first thing that you need to do as part of your slump-busting plan is take some time away from training and racing. This time-out offers several benefits. First, slumps usually produce strong negative thinking and emotions which only makes slumps worse. The time-out enables you to let go of the negative thoughts and emotions that come with a slump and helps you regain a positive attitude toward your efforts and performances. In other words, the time-out acts like an emotional vacation and provides you with much-needed perspective with which to look ahead to your return to form.

Second, slumps can be draining physically and emotionally. Consequently, a time-out allows you to recover and to “recharge your batteries.” This restoration will further assist in your return to race form.

Third, the time-out gives you the opportunity to devise an organized plan to overcome the slump. The time away from our sport will enhance your ability to view your slump objectively. You can then use this information to alleviate the slump in the shortest possible time.


A critical part of the slump-busting plan is to develop an organized program aimed at alleviating the slump. This program is based on setting a series of specified goals. As with all goals that are set, these should rely on the S.M.A.R.T.E.R. (Specific, Measurable, Accepted, Realistic, Time limited, Exciting, Recorded) goals.

RELATED: Measurable Goals for Running, Mobility, Strength and Balance

Return-to-form Goal

This goal defines the ultimate purpose of the slump-busting plan. In particular, the return-to-form goal indicates the level of performance to which you want to return. For example, getting back to a certain wattage on your bike or per-mile pace running.

Causal Goals

These goals focus on the level of performance associated with the particular causes of the slump. If there is more than one cause of a slump, it important that a goal be set for each cause. For example, if a slump is caused by a lingering injury and maintained by a loss of motivation and confidence, then separate goals should be set for rehabilitating the injury, reengaging your motivation, and rebuilding confidence.

RELATED: Set the Right Goals for Your Next Triathlon Season

Daily Training Goals

Once the causal goals have been established, you should set daily goals to achieve the causal goals. The daily training goals specify what you need to do in your regular training to relieve the causes, thereby alleviating the slump. For example, if a cause involves a technical problem in your swim stroke, you can decide the best way to correct the technical flaw and, more specifically, what to do in training to work toward the causal goal. Additionally, these goals should ensure that you progress toward your causal and return-to-form goals in an incremental and constructive way.

Daily Performance Goals

Frequently, triathletes are unable to take time off to work on their slump due to their race schedule. As a result, they must keep racing while trying to relieve the slump. This situation is difficult because it forces you to race at a sub-par level. Daily performance goals provide a level of performance to work toward that, though below your return-to-form level, is above the current slump level. These goals act to motivate you and reinforce rather than discourage your efforts by furnishing realistic levels toward which you can aim. They also provide a positive and improving orientation that will help you in resolving the slump.

A slump-busting plan enables you to approach your slump in a systematic way that will progressively lead you out of the hole you are in as quickly and efficiently has possible. Taking a step back from your training and racing, identifying the often-times hidden causes of your slump, and taking active steps to alleviate the slump can get you “back in the game” as soon as possible so you can once again do what you love to do with optimism and vigor.

Dr. Jim Taylor is an internationally recognized authority on the psychology of performance. He has been a consultant for the United States and Japanese Ski Teams, the United States Tennis Association, and USA Triathlon, and has worked with professional and world-class athletes in tennis, skiing, cycling, triathlon, track and field, swimming, football, golf, baseball, fencing, and many other sports. He is the author of Train Your Mind for Athletic Success: Mental Preparation to Achieve Your Triathlon Goals.

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