How to Help a Bummed Out Athlete | Q&A with Coach Rebecca

Today’s Topic: How to Help a Bummed Out Athlete

Hello, everybody. It’s time for Q&A with Coach Rebecca!

About me

I am a high performance coach. I specialize in helping young athletes age 8 to 18 unlock maximum performance and maximum enjoyment. I do this in a couple of different ways:

1. One-on-one sessions. I meet with kids from all over the world, over Skype or FaceTime, and help them talk through mental blocks or anything that’s basically preventing them from being the very best version of themselves. I also work with kids who are doing really phenomenally well and just want to get a mental edge over the competition.

2. Through my online mental toughness training community called The Perform Happy Community. This is  do-it-yourself mental toughness training. Or if you’re a parent who just wants to give your kids some extra tools, check it out at


Building Confidence

We’re going to pick up where we left off last week. We got a question right at the end that I wasn’t totally able to answer so I’m going to jump right in. Our theme today is how to deal with bummers, mostly toward parents, and how to help your athlete (or yourself if you are an athlete). It’s hard to get through those tricky situations where your coach is being a bummer or things are not going your way and you’re disappointed.

My goal is to give you some idea of how to pick yourself back up and get back to work even if things that are not within your control are not where you want them.

Q: What advice do you have for athletes who have coaches that move up with them each level and it’s them who have made the athlete lose their confidence?


Last week we were talking about confidence. If you want to check out all my tips for the top five ways that you can build confidence, check that out here.

I wanted to give two different answers here: one answer for the athletes and one answer for the coaches or for the parents.

Athletes, the first thing I always recommend is: if you don’t like something about somebody else, be the change you want to see.

Gandhi says, ”
Be the change that you want to see in the world.”

If you are not happy with the way that your coach is training you, the first place to look is: “what can I do to be the person that I want my coach to be?” If my coach is sarcastic and my coach rolls their eyes and my coach has snarky things to say, then I make sure beyond a shadow of a doubt that I’m not rolling my eyes, that I’m showing up and being helpful, that I’m doing everything that I wish was being done around me because that type of behavior really encourages other people to be the same.

Be grateful

I actually remember a girl who was really struggling with a coach who was being very sarcastic and just didn’t have a lot of positive feedback… ever. One day I was in the gym watching the interaction. I was like, “Gosh, it’s got to be so hard to have this coach that is always so negative to you.” Then when I watched, I noticed these little things she would do. She’d cross her arms, give him the cold shoulder, roll her eyes.

She thought she was being respectful, but she’d do these little things that would push back against him.

She would think that she was being sweet, so my challenge to her was “Why don’t you go the whole week and just smile and be grateful?”

You guys know I talk a lot about being grateful for the people who drive you nuts because it builds character, but it also helps you to see things in a different way.  If you can show up and go, “I am grateful for my coach because this, this, this, this,” then at least it fills your heart up a little bit whether or not it changes the coach.

Athletes, be the change you want to see in your coach.

Give them no reason to be angry. You show up and be sweet as pie, then you can at least know that you’ve done everything you can. Then if they’re going to be in a bad mood and not a nice person, you can honestly go, “It’s not about me. It’s their stuff. I’m showing up and being sweet. I work hard and am respectful. I’m letting it go when this guy’s being a jerk or this lady’s not being nice.”  Then you can truly honestly let go, knowing “I’ve done all I can so I’m just going to focus on me.”

Focus on what you can control

That was a big part of last week’s talk – to figure out what you can control, which is essentially attitude, effort, behavior. That’s pretty much it, and what you can’t control, you let go of.

  • You can’t control the coach
  • You can’t control your parents
  • You can’t control your teammates

So, you show up with a smile. You work hard and get to feel like you’ve done a good job, which builds self-esteem, builds confidence, and the rest of it, it’s just good practice for having a terrible boss or a nasty roommate some time in the future.

Accept those in your life

We’re all going to grow up and have people in our lives that are less than ideal.  But you’ll have this edge if at 8 years old, you can learn how to be okay around people who are not the nicest.

Don’t take it personally. I kind of mentioned that. Fill your heart elsewhere.

I’ve talked about filling up your heart.  Your heart is your gas tank and if your heart is on empty, you’re not going to be able to push through fear. You’re not going to be able to do that extra rep. You’re not going to be able to be kind or be able to lift that mat. If you are so depleted by your coach’s negativity, by your own negativity, by feeling like you’ve failed over and over, there’s nothing you can do to really let the ultimate athlete in you emerge.

You are not going to be a champion when you’re depleted. It’s just not the way it goes. You’ve got to have your heart in the game.

Overcoming FEAR

This is something I do a whole training on in my Perform Happy Community under Overcoming FEAR.  In order to push through fear, you must figure out how to get your heart totally in the game, which means you’re feeling happy.

You’re connected to why you do what you do.

Is it worth dealing with this difficult person often in order to be able to fly, to be able to feel accomplished, to have a rush of a new skill? Is it worth it? If so, then okay, you go, “Alright, I’m willing to deal with this person because I want to fly, because I want to improve my skills. I want to get that skill.”

If you can get it turned around to where your heart is running the show, like, “You know what, bud, it’s cool. You could be in a bad mood. I am going to do my thing, and I’m so excited about it.”

Getting your heart in the game

There’s a lot of things you can do to get your heart in the game.

One of them, I actually did with a girl who was working with one of these coaches. One of these nasty coaches.

(You coaches out there, I promise I don’t mean to give you all such a bad time all the time!)

But, I was working with a girl who had a borderline verbally abusive coach. I know in the gymnastics world there’s a lot of talk of inappropriate coaching and stuff like that. It just absolutely breaks my heart.

What we figured out with her was: he is not going to fill your heart. He’s not going to compliment you or make you feel good. He’s not going to build your confidence. That is not his role, but she trusted him. She’s like, “This guy’s going to make me a really good gymnast. He can help me with my technique better than anybody, but he’s not going to make me feel good about myself.”

I said, “Okay, so you either can switch gyms or you can accept it.” She’s like, “I’m not switching gyms. This is my coach. This is where we’re going to go.” So she’s like, “I’m staying here. What do I do?” I said, “Okay, well if he’s not filling up your heart, what does?”

Focus on what drives you

Her coach would say “Oh, you’re awful. You’re never going to make it.”  Meanwhile, the little kids in the gym would look up to her and go, “Oh my gosh, she’s amazing. She is so good. We love her and want to give her hugs. We want to be next to her and watch what she’s doing.”

Even on her worst day, these little kids were like, “Wow, you’re such an inspiration!”

Put it in perspective

Instead of her looking up to her coach, she looked down to who looked up to her.  She decided she would show up as the (unofficial) “team captain.”

She decided: “I will smile when I’m here. I’m going to be the one that the girls can lean on when they’re getting yelled at by this guy because I’m not being affected by it.”

She was able to completely turn it around in just a shift of perspective. That’s definitely a way that you can rebuild confidence.  Remember that actually, you’re pretty amazing if you look at it from anybody’s perspective but this one person.  It’s important to remember to keep it in perspective.

Talk it out

Parents, if you know that your kid is kind of getting beat down by a coach, talk it out.

Let your child know that you’re not going to judge them for whatever’s gone wrong, even if they might be causing the problem or creating some drama.  Just approach the conversation with an open heart and go, “Hey, let’s talk about this.”

Ask them some open ended questions like, “What do you think he’s thinking about this?” or “How can we figure out how to handle this in the future?” Come at it with a curious spirit. That’s how I always encourage parents to talk to athletes: with curiosity rather than like, “This is how you deal with it and this is how it should be.”

Asking questions like, “Hmm, I wonder why he would make a choice like that. Let’s try to find some clues. Let’s try to have some compassion. What might be going on in his world that would make that seem like the thing to do?”

Encourage your child to be kind, to do the best they can to show up as the person they want to be. They will overcome the bummers they face from time to time.

Handling crisis

Then there are times when your young athlete gets into total crisis mode where they’re melting down and freaking out.

There’s a pretty good system that I’ve actually come up with based on panic attacks. It’s really just for anxiety and for upset and when the kid is in tears. You can download a free copy of the Crisis Action Plan here on how to deal with these situations. It’s all the questions to ask and kind of the theory behind how you can best approach somebody who is really struggling with emotions or anxiety in the moment.

Now, I’m going to go into the next segment, similar question but not quite the same.

Q: Our daughter is a gymnast.  I would say our biggest problem is how to encourage her when she is so down on herself, how to help her change her mindset so she can progress.  How to better deal with bad days and improve her skills.  I would describe her as a perfectionist.  We try to reinforce that she needs to experience love for the sport and be happy.  And that her progress is not always rewarded through best scores and medals.  Even her coach is trying to get her to have more fun.  We think it its helping, but…

A: Reflect

The second that they said perfectionist, I was like, “I know how to handle this,” because many high level young athletes are perfectionists.

No matter if it was the best performance you’ve had, you’re going to go back and be like, “Oh that one thing could have been better.”  Or like, “Oh, I messed up here.”

Even if you had such a good day, you’re going to find the flaws, and that can really beat down your self-esteem and your confidence.

The first thing I recommend is to reflect objectively and often. When I say reflect, I mean get out a journal and answer these three questions:

1. What went well?

  • This is the first question to ask, what went well, because even after the very worst performance, you’re going to find something that you did well.  Even if it’s just, “I ate the right breakfast and I didn’t feel nauseous.”  That’s a win. Come up with three things that went well.

2. What could have gone better? Or what didn’t go so well?

  • Sometimes, it’s good to just say what could have gone better. Then you only get two or three things. You can’t write 100 things out. Just write three, okay?

3. What did you learn?

  • Typically, you’ll look at your lists of things that went well and didn’t go well and you’ll find some valuable insights.  By looking back, you will know what works, what doesn’t work, and what to focus on in training.  This “what did you learn” section can be the hardest, but it’s the biggest source of knowledge about yourself as a competitor.
  • If you can just break it down, take the judgment out of it and focus on, “this is what happened, what went well, what didn’t go well, what did I learn, awesome, move along.”
  • Then every single failure is valuable. Every single success is valuable and it all just is part of the deal of improving as an athlete.

If your kid’s open to it, on the way home from a competition have them go through those three questions with you. Or, they can do it in their own journal.  This way you always have some points in the good column no matter what.

The main point here is that if your child gets in the habit of reflecting objectively, the bad days and the good days will all have a purpose.  She won’t get so bogged down by the bad days if she can recognize how valuable they are to her progress.

Filling up your heart

Let’s go back to filling up the heart, filling up the tank.

Think back to a time when you were doing really well with your sport.

  • What was making it work? That’s one of the key ingredients.
  • What makes you happy?
  • What do you love? Do you have enough of that in your life? (This might even be outside of your sport.)

A young gymnast gave me the best idea. I did a consultation with her and her mom about overcoming her fears and I asked her, “What fills your heart?”

When we got off the phone, she drew a heart. Then with her mom’s help, she filled it up with words and pictures that represented what makes her happy.  She wrote “gymnastics, my cat, my family…” She wrote all the things in it that filled her heart and she hung it on her wall. Whenever she feels bummed out, she refers to it.

Big thanks to my little friend who came up with that idea. I love it. I’m a collage kind of girl, and I have a board of images that remind me of my big dreams and what makes me happy. Anybody who feels inspired by that, feel free to make your own heart drawing or collage.

Put your energy into what fills your heart. Don’t dwell on the things that are bringing you down. Your two choices in a bad situation are change it or accept it. Pick one and go with it.

I will be back next week. Let me know if you have any questions in the meantime and you can reach me at

Is your gymnast struggling with mental blocks or fear?  Check out my FREE resource for parents.