How to Deal With Pressure | Q&A with Coach Rebecca

Today’s Topic: How to Deal With Pressure

Hi, and welcome to Q&A with Coach Rebecca. I’m here to answer questions from members of the PerformHappy Community, and today we’ve got a bunch of great questions about pressure.


About me

Before I dig in, I’m Rebecca Smith. I’m a high performance coach, and I specialize in helping athletes age 8 to 18 overcome whatever is getting in their way on the mental side of sport so they can perform at their best in practice and in competition.

I have four really amazing questions on dealing with pressure and I’m going to get to as many as I can here, and if I have to hop over to the PerformHappy parents-only private Facebook group, I might actually do that there, but we’ll do the best that we can to get through what we have. Question number one, I’ll read it, and then give you my take on it.


Q: “Our (basketball player) had her best game ever last week.
Played with confidence and scored the last five points in the game, leading her team to a big win over their biggest competitor, which made them the tournament champions.

Fast forward to this week, she played well in her next game, but her comment after the game got me thinking. She said, ‘Well, I’ll never live up to that game last week. That’s a lot of pressure.’

We were so confused, but maybe we thought that we had something to do with the pressure. After the big win game, everyone was really amped and congratulating her. We complimented her game and took her out for a nice dinner. That felt so good, to see her live up to her potential.

We were excited, but I think we inadvertently put too much pressure on her. How do we walk that fine line? We love to celebrate success and I’m starting to see how we’re adding to the problem. Would love to hear your opinion on this topic.”



It’s so easy to celebrate wins, it’s so easy to high five when your kid was the star of the game, or when they have their best performance, or when things go really well.

But we don’t think that that might be actually contributing to why kids feel all this pressure. An adult athlete is one thing, but when it’s kids … At least I can say for myself, like little 10 year old me … The most important thing was making my parents proud, my parents and my coaches.

So if you feel like you’re going to let people down before you even walk out, if they expect that of you, then that’s a lot of weight to bear. With that being said, this mom — and I want to tell you that is amazing awareness. The fact that you even noticed that, that you might be the source of pressure, means you’re 10 steps ahead of a lot of sport parents out there.


Don’t pressure yourself

Don’t put too much pressure on yourself to be perfect either, because that might be a tendency to be like, “Okay, I have to say exactly the right thing, otherwise I’m going to be the reason that she this, that, or the other.” Well, don’t put too much pressure on yourself because we set the context for our kids by the energy we put out. And if you’re tiptoeing around and trying to be perfect, she’s going to probably feel the same way.

The main thing you want to do is focus on what you can control.

  • You can’t control the way she feels
  • You can’t control the way she plays
  • You can’t control the way that the coach affects her, any of that stuff.

What you can control is yourself and your communication.

Because she brought that up, you may want to say, “Hey, I thought a little bit about that thing you said… and I want to know, did I contribute to that? Is there anything I can do better that can help support you after a win, after a loss, whatever it is?”


Talk to your child

The number one thing I’m going to say over and over in this particular conversation is: talk to your kid.

Ask them.

If you don’t know, ask them.

And then focus on what you can control of course. (I say that every single week because that’s the foundation for any of this work, and really happiness.)


Don’t be a distraction

This is something I always like to say to parents. Young athletes have a lot going on.

They don’t need you adding to it. So if you’re in there being like, “Come on, score a goal and we’ll get you ice cream,” they’ve got that going on in their head instead of what they need to do, which will actually get them to the outcome.

Here’s the irony that comes up all the time:

If an athlete is hyper focused on the outcome, like “I need to show up and do my best, so I score more points or win” or whatever, they can’t be in the moment. They can’t be doing what they need to do in that moment, they can’t have enough focus.


Stay focused

I think of focus like a pie. There’s only so many slices; if you give a slice to the person you’re guarding and you give a slice to the ball, and you give a slice to the clock, there’s not that much left.

So if your parents take a slice of the pie by saying, “Come on, you know you want to go to pizza,” then that might be the difference between her doing something good and maybe making a mistake. Don’t add to her stress, but at the same time, don’t feel like it’s all your fault. Ask her how you can support her, and then just do the best you can, knowing you’re human.


Praise effort

This is the most important thing a parent can do for their child: Praise the heck out of effort.

Think about how you celebrated that win. Any parents who are watching, think about that feeling you had when your kid won or got up on the podium, or did the perfect routine. Think about how you reacted to that, and then apply that toward good effort.

Anytime that you see your kid working her butt off, celebrate in that same way. Like, “Girlfriend, you worked so hard tonight. Yeah, I know you didn’t get your skill, but you worked so hard. Let’s go have pizza.”

Think of the way that you applaud winning, and apply that toward effort, and then that’s going to make them go, “You know what? I just gotta try.”


Okay, we got a question coming in.


Q: “My 10-year-old has a back tumbling block for over two years. When she’s open to getting help, she responds beautifully. When the layers start to peel back and she has to feel, she shuts down.”



Yes, okay. So that … Where to go with that. A lot of the time when there’s a long standing block, it takes time and it takes discomfort and layers.


What is making her stuck?

That’s the perfect way to describe it because you start with this fear and then you peel off the safety of that progression or whatever it is, and there are risks.

This is something I actually go over in my overcoming fear course in the PerformHappy Community:

  • The different layers of fear
  • What causes them
  • How to help acknowledge them all
  • What’s causing the fear
  • What are the risks of actually doing the skill (because there’s always that)

Whenever somebody is stuck, it’s because there’s a bigger risk of moving forward than there is of staying stuck.

Now, it’s hard to rationalize that when you’re in that place and you’re like, “I am so stuck with this skill, I want nothing more than to get over it,” but then you keep not getting over it.

There’s usually a downside to moving forward, so that’s something we address in the course. We address the layers, we address getting your desire on board so that you can move forward from where you are and be okay with what’s going on where you actually are.

Here are a couple videos you might find helpful:

Q&A with Coach Rebecca – Overcoming Fears and Mental Blocks

Q&A with Coach Rebecca – Mental Blocks (this one is directed toward coaches)

And here are a couple articles on the topic of fear:

Why Gymnasts Get Mental Blocks

HELP! My gymnast is afraid of going backward


Fear has many layers

So again, talking about the PerformHappy Community, it’s this huge library that’s building and building. I have a bunch of exercises for our basketball player on neutralizing the negative thinking. So if she thinks already, “I will never live up to that,” that’s a belief that needs to be addressed.

And Laura, your question about not being able to move forward by herself without help, there’s probably some negative thinking there, too, but with fear, there’s so many layers.

How can I address this in 15 minutes? I definitely recommend checking out the PerformHappy Community Overcoming FEAR training series because that has got everything you need to know in there.


Never say never

Back to our basketball player… if she can be aware that she has a belief that “I’ll never be able to live up to that pressure,” that is something that she can look at and go, “Wow, that’s a tall order to say I’ll never be able to.”

I always joke with my husband about the word “never.”  We went on vacation in Paris and he had been in Paris before with an ex girlfriend who didn’t want to go up to Notre Dame, and I was like, “My feet hurt, I don’t want to go up there.” He said, “Everybody never wants to go up there.”

I said, “Well how can you say everybody because I’m sure there are a lot of people up there.”

(I know, I’m such a pain)

But I was like, “You can’t say everybody because there are a lot of people up there, and what about never? We could come back in 10 years and go,” so all these absolutes of, “I’ll never be able to, or everybody this, or nobody that,” can be really taxing.

It might be good to help remind her that you can’t say everybody anything.

Hopefully she can take a look at that statement and go, “Huh, I wonder if that’s serving me,” and examine those beliefs. Just become aware of that and get some of that negativity switched into positivity.

I’m going to read another question that’s different but similar.


Q: “My gymnast is 11, competitive the last three years. I struggle with knowing what the right thing to say is and when to say it. Do I give my daughter a pep talk on the way to the meet, or does that add to her pressure? If I’m frustrated with a coaching situation during the meet, do I step in and comfort my child? Had this situation in last year, tears on the beam during warmups but no support from the coaches, just frustrated ‘Come on, you got this!’ And ‘Just go for it, or get off the beam!’ Also, I struggle with what sorts of foods she should have at meets. This year was the year of pears, grapes, oyster crackers, and cheese. She also packed along a thermos of chai tea because that’s her favorite, but then got in trouble from her coaches for having it because it was too much sugar. She also always has water and stays hydrated with that, but she says her tea calms her.”



To this mom, again, help her focus on what she can control.

Ask the coaches, “Can I bring chai?” If they say no, then she knows she can’t bring it. And then she can be clear.

If they say yes, then she can bring it. If they don’t let her, figure out other things that calm her down.


How can you get your athlete calm?

Breathing, thinking about positive things in her life, thinking about what’s going well, being in the moment.

Ask her, “What calms you down other than that?  If you can’t have that, what can you have that will calm you down?” “Okay we can’t control that, we gotta pick something different.”

Also, have her decide what kind of food she wants.

What makes her body feel good? There’s no right or wrong, it’s a matter of what makes her body feel good. Here’s a past video that talks about nutrition recommendations for athletes:

Complete Athlete Training Series: Day 2 – Body


Try a pep talk?

Think of other ways to get calm and happy.

As far as the pep talk, ask her if she wants a pep talk. She might not want one, she might want one.

I’m going to tell you the general answer is: most kids don’t, most kids don’t want to talk about it on their way there.

They have enough going on in their head, going back to “don’t be a distraction.”

They probably don’t want it, but she might.

I’m not going to say she doesn’t, so you probably want to ask her, “Hey, do you like it when I talk to you about getting excited? No? Cool. What do you want to talk about? Nothing? You want to listen to your iPod? Cool, do that.”

Just ask her. That’s another common theme of my answers to these questions about pressure. Ask the kid: what do they want? And if you don’t feel like they’re giving you an honest answer, then my general answer is, less is more.

Don’t be a distraction.

Okay, so then I’ve got a similar question here.


Q: “I struggle with trying to balance reminders about sleep, eating, getting focused, especially when she seems so distracted by other things at the age of 13, but don’t want to put pressure on her. She’s had a rough season with choking under pressure at meets.”



This is similar to the last one in that you want to help her come up with a system.

What kind of food do you like? What amount of sleep do you need? What do you need to do the week before to get yourself focused? Do you need less thinking about it? Do you need less thought about the pressure of the meet?

Ask her, “What’s your system? How do you get in the zone?”

Help her figure that out, then back off and let her do it. If she doesn’t do it and she has a mistake, she’s going to see that and learn from it.

At ages 13 to 17, it’s the time to let them fail, if necessary. Not like, “Ha ha, go fail, you’re going to learn something,” but instead of trying to really take care of everything, you help her create a plan, and then it’s up to her to follow it through.

If she’s distracted or she’s thinking about other things, that, for all we know, might actually be helpful for her to learn. Every kid is different, so talk to her. Ask her what she needs, help or come up with a plan and then leave it up to her to see it through.


Failure makes room for success

Think big picture on this one: help her to see that one season is not the end of the world.

I was just reading about Simone Biles, and her season in 2013 was awful. She had a meet where she ruined just about every event, and then her coach pulled her, didn’t even let her finish the meet.

She had had a vault that same season that she scored a zero on because her hands missed completely.  She was all over the place.

Inconsistent, terrible season, and then she started working on her mental toughness and she started to learn from that past season.

That season was one of her best teachers.  For anybody who’s struggling with, “My kid melts down under pressure, my kid’s having a hard time,” if they use that, then they look back at that bad season, it could become their biggest strength. It could be something that helps them to turn into the athlete that they’re meant to be.

It could be Simone Biles’s 2013, so anytime anyone’s like, “Oh my gosh, my kid just had a terrible season,” I’m like, hey, that’s really good information. It’s really good information to see what are the priorities, what works.

You got a good picture of what doesn’t work, so we can add those things to the list of “how not to prepare.”

What did you do that made you stressed out? What did you do that stressed your kid out?

You’ll look back and go, “Okay, that didn’t work. Let’s try something different.”

All right, we are out of time for this session. Let me just check real quick what questions we’ve got coming in live.


Q: “My daughter, 12-years-old, has recently experienced the same situation you touched on the first question. Great success followed immediately by not so great success.”



So it kind of goes into what I just said:

The poor performances you learn from

The great performances you learn from

My three favorite questions to ask somebody after a game or a performance are:

  • What went well?
  • What didn’t go so well
  • What did you learn?

If you are asking yourself those questions after every practice, and especially after every performance, you’ll start to see what you’re learning along the way.

Typically, the bad practices or the bad games, that’s where you get all the good learning.

You get your wisdom from those failures.

Help your kid to go back over it. “What went well? Oh great. Nothing went well? I’m sure we can find three things that went well, even if it was just like my shoes fit well, whatever.” Whatever it is that you can find, and then go back through and ask “What did I learn? What did I learn about myself as a competitor, as an athlete, as a human?” Then keep moving forward based on what you learn.


I gotta sign off now. I’m going to hop over into the PerformHappy Community and finish up. I will see you guys again next week.

And oh, if you want to join us, you can sign up at See you soon!

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