They are as inexplicable as they are inevitable. Often we have no idea how they happen or why they stop, and usually it seems to be outside of our control.
For me, it happened in one of the most important basketball games I ever played in college. It was our conference championship game, and if we won, we would earn a berth in the national tournament. It was a great game that night. Not only did we go to double overtime; but there were also numerous lead changes, along with big shots from both teams. Both teams definitely rose to the occasion.
Lots of the drama could have been avoided; however I missed two free throws that would have won the game in regulation. Later I missed two more free throws that could have won the game in the first overtime, and I missed another halfway through the second overtime.
Then, at the end of the second overtime, I was fouled again. This time with one second left on the clock and the score tied. I had a sinking feeling as I realized the gravity of the situation. It was echoed by the groans of the home crowd when it hit them a moment later.
I stepped up to the free throw line and missed my first shot. As the ball bounced off the front of the rim, the gym was silent. I felt so small. It was like I had forgotten how to shoot.
I stepped off the free throw line to re-focus. It felt surreal. I was an 85% free throw shooter, and I had missed 5 of my last six free throws. This moment—a last second pressure shot—was what I had dreamed and trained for … why was I slumping now?
After stepping back up to the free throw line, I was somehow able to push past the self-doubts and rattled that final free throw home. We won the game and were headed to the national tournament!
Unfortunately, I went on to shoot terribly all through the tournament, and eventually we lost in the Final Four. I had finished my final college season in a massive slump during the most important games. It was such terrible timing. I just kept thinking, “Why? Why did it happen?” The simple answer: I DON’T KNOW!
As easy as it is to focus on the “why” of a shooting slump, athletes must understand that continually asking “why” won’t lead to a solution. In fact, the more you focus on things like “why” or “how” or the emotions that go along with disappointment, the longer the slump will last.
While I might not have the perfect scientific theory, as to what happened with that slump, there are several things I know now that I wish I would have known then, to break out of that season-ending slump. Had I known these things as a college senior, I feel confident my slump would have ended differently.
One thing we teach in our PGC summer sessions is that where your attention goes, your energy flows. So if you focus your attention and your thoughts on why you are SLUMPING, or how frustrating your SLUMP is, or how to get out of your SLUMP; you are focusing all your attention and energy on the SLUMP itself. That fact becomes what your mind and body both know as reality, and then you energy follows that attention, continuing to affect your performance.
Stop feeding your slump with any attention or energy. Instead, follow these three keys to get your shot back on track.
1. Make a list of what you did well
When you are slumping, you spend a lot of time thinking negative thoughts and dwelling on how poor you are shooting. You need to be confident to shoot the way Steph Curry shoots. You need to be in a state where you believe that what you try will work. You must believe that your shot will go in. Focus on what you’re doing well, not what “isn’t working.”
Each night before going to bed, write down the five things you did well on the court that day. It may be hard to start, but it will make you spend time thinking on what you did well. Then, read it again when you wake up. Repeat each day until you are rich … or at least you’re shooting better. ☺
2. Watch video of the shooters you want
to shoot, think or play like
When you are slumping, it’s easy to keep an image of your misses in your mind. But when you do that, it creates a feeling that will duplicate each time you shoot. This is the center of the downward spiral of slumps. You shoot poor because you have bad images. You have bad images because you’re seeing your poor shots over and over. BREAK THE CYCLE. Watch film over and over of the shooter you model your shot (or at least your confidence) after. Read about that athlete. Model and imitate how they move and shoot freely.
Fake it till you make it. And by doing so, eventually you’ll really believe it.
3. Drastically change your routine
When talking to players about their slumps, one answer I consistently hear is “Coach, I am putting in the time. I train hard every day, but I’m still in a slump.” My response is simple: “To improve is to change, to perfect is to change constantly.”
If you are doing the same thing over and over again—yet you want different results—you are insane. Sometimes, if you have over-worked your shot, it may be a good idea to take time off from form shooting. Just let it fly! In its place you could try doing things like more shooting competitions, working on beyond range shots, shooting only inside the three point line, taking off on only one leg, or even shooting more half court shots. Sometimes it’s not about technique or reps as much as it is about a freedom and feeling.
Remember, true confidence comes only from preparation. If you have not already put in the hard work and time, maybe it’s not a slump. Maybe you’re just not a good shooter yet.
However, if you’re a player that has proven to make big shots in games, and you have consistently put up good numbers in practice, then it might be time to drastically change your routine. Do it for for a little while until you break out of the slump, then get your training regimen back. You might even consider playing with your pre-game routine. You see, it’s not what you do differently that matters. Rather, the goal is to break the negative pattern you have developed. Any significant change will help disrupt this negative pattern. Try it for a week.
Most importantly, no matter how bad of a slump you’re facing, make sure to #StayUp and contribute to your team even in the midst of the slump.
DO NOT let your personal shooting woes leak all over the team. Celebrate their successes, increase your energy, and actively complete the “dirty work” that needs to get done. Your team will love you for it.
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PGC Basketball provides intense, no-nonsense basketball training for players and coaches. Our basketball camps are designed to teach players of all positions to play smart basketball, be coaches on the court, and be leaders in practices, games and in everyday life.
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