Tuesday, July 28, 2009

The “Form Slump”: That Awful Character Test We All MUST Go Through

Do you ever notice that there are “honeymoon periods” scattered through many seasons of life? The nature of life is quite predictable in this way. As we learn a new skill or develop a new relationship we’re invariably presented with challenges in the learning phase. Then after a time of predictable challenge or unsettling, we acquire the skill, or rapport with the person.

Later on, however, once we’re truly accomplished at the skill or activity or relationship, the dynamics can change somehow, or our confidence somehow droops. Skill-wise this is known as the “form slump.”

Many sportspeople know this intimately, through games or entire seasons of form slumps, which are invariably based in a mental problem--even to the alteration of technique--due to self-doubt, or a lack of confidence or faith in one’s ability to do what had previously been done to aplomb.

Golfer Ian Baker-Finch, winner of the 1991 British Open Championship, is quite a graphic example of this. He simply couldn’t recover from his form slump and eventually slunk away in retirement, much to the sadness of his fans.

Fledgling Australian Opener, Phil Hughes is in a form slump and so is Mitchell Johnson; both at different junctures in their careers. Both know of ‘the character test’ in all of this.

Ash Hansen is a favourite footballer of mine. He was a hero in the 2006 AFL Premiership, and an enduring image for me is his muscular salute after posting one of the first goals of that year’s Grand Final. For Ash, however, the last few seasons have been perplexing. It recalls the ending of Peter Sumich’s career--one time star full forward and seven time leader of West Coast’s goal kicking. For three seasons he lost all his confidence and only had a smattering of good games prior to his eventual premature retirement in 1997.

Many of us aren’t professional sport’s people. But we’re just as prone to the form slump as anyone. Our confidence drops from a key relationship. Or we simply get the fumbles with a particular duty or skill others have come to expect great things from us around. It happens.

I have a favourite Bible verse that provides hope and sheds light on the life of anyone going through a form slump in a sporting career or in life. I ‘discovered’ it when I was in a dark trough. Paul ends his letter to the Galatians in this vein:

“So let us not grow weary in doing what is right, for we will reap at harvest time, if we do not give up” –Galatians 6:9 (NRSV).

Harvest time is to be determined, not by us, but by God. Our task is to keep on keeping on, and to never give up. We do this by smiling through our challenges and form slumps. As Dido says in her song See the Sun, “I promise you you’ll see the sun again.”

The best thing about seeing the sun again, in this new light--after the character test, is we have a more mature perspective, and we’re so much more able than we were beforehand. We also have compassion for the person about to undergo their own God-initiated and God-formed transformation--a journey we all despise beforehand, and throughout, but one which we’re thankful for only afterwards.

Copyright © 2009, S. J. Wickham. All Rights Reserved.

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