How to Dump a Slump

A slump is the inability to achieve best times in competition. Virtually all swimmers will experience one or more slumps throughout their careers. Even Michael Phelps, the greatest swimmer of all-time, experienced a major slump in performance prior to the 2012 Olympic Games.

The contributing causes of a slump are numerous and include: mental barriers, over-training, under-training, illness, injury, and life-changing events.

Typically, swimmers respond to a slump by either becoming discouraged and giving up, or determined and trying harder. As one might expect, giving up is never the answer. Trying harder is the best response and a great first step. But trying harder is not enough on its own.

Recently I came across a Zen story that illustrates my point:

A martial arts student went to his teacher and said earnestly, “I am devoted to studying your martial arts system. How long will it take me to master it?” The teacher’s reply was casual, “Ten years.” Impatiently, the student answered, “But I want to master it faster than that. I will work very hard. I will practice every day, ten or more hours a day if I must. How long will it take then?” The teacher thought for a moment and replied, “20 years.”

As illustrated by the teacher’s comments, patience is also an essential part of overcoming any challenge be it good or bad. Swimmers who are experiencing a slump cannot just work through it. They must exercise patience in order to overcome it. Slumps don’t happen overnight; rather they occur over a long period due to a variety of reasons often combined. Reasons include: undue fatigue, stress, a history of poor performances, injuries, a loss of fitness, and self-doubt. To overcome a slump, swimmers must slowly address all of the causes that contributed to it. For example, if fatigue is a cause, they must get more rest; or if stress is a cause, they must find ways to de-stress. All of this takes time. For this reason, the need for patience is absolute.