How Social Relationships Can Impact Your Athlete | Q&A with Coach Rebecca

Today’s Topic: How Social Relationships Can Impact Your Athlete

About me

Welcome to the weekly Q&A with Foach Rebecca Facebook live session. I’m Rebecca Smith. I’m a high-performance coach, and I specialize in helping athletes age 8 to 18 unlock their very best selves.

I help kids overcome fear, mental blocks, build confidence. Then, once they get out of the hole, we start working toward finding flow. Flow is based on the science of peak performance. All of my exercises are based on scientific research and my personal experience working with kids.

I do this in a couple different ways:

  • One-on-one coaching with kids over Skype or FaceTime.
  • The PerformHappy mental toughness training community (where I do live trainings every week for young athletes and you also get access to all of my trainings on fear: Finding flow, building confidence, etc.)

If you’re interested in that, we would love to have you. You can go over to and check it out.

Today I’m going to answer a question about FOMO, or the fear of missing out.

I presented that to the members of the Perform Happy community and had a couple moms that were like, “Yes! My kid totally has FOMO.” They’re worried that maybe because they’re training so much, their kid is not getting to experience regular life.

I know this is something that there’s a big tug of war on, especially in youth sports as they get to be more competitive. When kids get into the high-performance area, they are training upwards of 20 hours a week. They basically go school, gym, sleep, repeat. Then they maybe get a day off on the weekend. Maybe they get a day off midweek, but that’s when they’re doing all their homework, because they’re usually high achievers who are busting their butts on homework.


FOMO – Fear Of Missing Out

I’m going to bring a little bit of research in to let you parents know what is important for your kid, and whether or not you should worry. (Of course, I never recommend worrying as a strategy, but there are some things that you want to look out for — indicators of whether your child is having their needs met or not.)


Q: Hello. Do you have a video or advice on how to deal with a gymnast who feels like she’s missing out socially due to being in the gym all the time? My daughter’s 11 and her friends give her a hard time. She feels jealous when he misses out on events.


I’ve heard this over and over and the second that I heard her answer this question, I thought of a girl who I used to work with, who was similar age. I want to say she was 12. 11, 12, 13, that’s where it really starts to get difficult as far as balancing social and sport lives. This girl I worked with, she was losing her beam skills.

No matter what we did, she was kind of moving backwards, no matter what was going on in the gym. So, then, we started working on the mental stuff. After doing a little digging in, I realize that she had this competing commitment and I always say, “The desire to get the skill back has to be stronger than the fear, and the desire to stay has to be stronger than the desire to leave.”


Social relationships and mental toughness

So, here she was. Her friends were going to Starbucks after school every day. And she couldn’t go because she had gym.

She started to get a little bit resentful at the gym, because her friends were going to Starbucks and she was going to practice.

Then her skills were getting difficult. Her team kind of fell apart meanwhile. A lot of kids switched to a different gym. There was drama with the coach, who wasn’t being very nice, and who was in a bad mood, because there’re a bunch of kids leaving.

Her environment at the gym didn’t feel very supportive. Her friends are doing stuff without her, and then it manifested in this mental block.

Once we’ve figured that out, she realize that her heart was really with her friends. So, she figured out how to get some time to be with her friends. Then she also decided that she wanted to change her training hours and she actually ended up switching to the trampoline team, because she loved to do gymnastics, but she wanted a little bit less commitment.

That worked out great for her. She got her friends. She got her training and it was good. So, that’s just one example of how important the social relationships are to mental toughness training, which is why I bring it up a lot actually in my courses, especially on fear.

There’s a whole segment on relationships and building stronger relationships, so that you can communicate with coaches, with teammates and get through some of those emotional blockages.

Here’s the next question along the same lines:


Q: Hi, I have a seven- (turning eight soon) year-old and struggle with this from time to time. She misses loads of birthday parties, but doesn’t mind at all as she loves gymnastics so much. We find it more difficult during school breaks and summer holidays when her friends are out playing, but she has to go to gym. So, I’m looking forward to this topic.

Then the other member, the other PerformHappy community member says,

Q: I struggle with it more than my daughter. I sometimes feel like gym has taken over her and our lives. She seems fine with missing out on other activities. I just wonder sometimes if we’re doing the right thing. When do they get to be kids and have fun? How do you strike that balance? Is there a balance? I’m not sure. I can’t wait to hear your take on it.


It’s a pretty common thing. You’re the parents that are like, “Is my kid supposed to be doing more stuff?”  “Is my kid supposed to be going to birthday parties? Is my kid supposed to be able to go the beach? Or if my kid loves doing gymnastics, is that okay?”


Why does your athlete participate in sport?

Here’s my take. First, we’ll think about why do athletes participate in sport? They like to be active. They like to do something that makes them feel good if they’re improving. That’s the main reason that people engage in sport at any age, is they feel like they’re improving:

  • They put out some effort, so they get a little result. They’re thinking, “Yay, this is great. I try and then I get better.” That’s the main thing that will keep people engaged in sport long term.
  • The other reasons that people stay are for fun, because they like the thrill of competition for friends, or for social approval. If you’re on a high school sport, you get a varsity letter. That’s social approval.

The main thing when we’re dealing with adolescence is a combination of feeling like you’re improving, and the social connections, the relationships, the friendships, and I’ll tell you why:

When kids start entering the beginning of puberty, when they get into that adolescent phase, their priority shifts to the social stuff.

It’s their job to figure out:

  • Who am I?
  • What’s important to me?
  • What do I believe?
  • Who do I want to spend time with?
  • What are my morals, my values?
  • Who am I?

That’s their job. No matter what.  Little kids: it’s their job to play. Adolescents: it’s their job to figure out “who am I?” Obviously, that’s a process that goes even into the 20s and beyond if we’re being totally honest, but it’s an important test that they have to go through.


Help your athlete navigate

So, you parents, you can help support them in that. They’re navigating things like self-esteem, morals, and if they navigate it well, if they go, “Okay. This is what I believe. This is what’s important to me. That, I don’t agree with.  I agree with this. This is who I am. This is what I like. These are my friends.” If they can  navigate that process of their lives and come out knowing, “this is what I like to wear. This is the music I like to listen to. This is my favorite subject. I do not enjoy this.”

They feel like they’ve got a sense of self that they can commit to instead of just , “I like what you like. I don’t know, what do you like?” If they’re in that place, then they’re a lot more easily swayed into lower self-esteem or even substance abuse.  They think, “I don’t know who I am. Ah, quick, somebody tell me. That, okay, I’ll do that.”


Social environments matter

The adolescent athlete’s job is to be in relation to other humans so that they can bounce things off of them. “No. You like that? I don’t think I like that. Okay, I’m gonna pick a different friend,” or, “You like that? Ooh, I like that too.” They need to have groups of people that they can bounce these potential values off of. In sport, it’s an awesome experience because you’ve got this built-in social group.

If you go into college playing on a team or doing a sport for your school, you have this built-in friend group, which is unique to student athletes. Even when you’re in junior high going to high school things change, but you’ve got this kind of steady base of friends.


Supportive environments and competence

If that’s strong, then they’re good to go. They are getting their needs met there. They are bouncing ideas off those friends at the gym:

  • “Who am I? What do I like? I love gymnastics, so do you. This is awesome. I don’t like when that girl’s rude. I don’t like that song.”

They’re doing that process. If they’re not doing that, if their needs are not being met, if they’re not going through that process in a healthy way, then they might need to seek a different group of friends — like one at school.

Here are the three things that humans need in order to develop into a psychologically healthy person in relation to other people.

1. Competence

2. Autonomy

3. Relatedness

They need competence. Meaning they feel like they can do it, “I can do this. School. Sport. I have what it takes.”

They need to have autonomy, meaning choice. They need to feel like they’re given a choice in their sport. If they feel like, “I have to go. I have no choice. I’d rather be at Starbucks,” they’re not going to feel like they’re having their needs met and that’s where the FOMO kicks in.

They need to have an environment where they’re being supported, “Keep trying. You got this.” A positive environment.

FOMO is the direct result of feeling like you don’t have one of these three needs met.

The third is relatedness. That’s feeling like I’m part of something. If somebody shows up to train and they’re thinking, “I’m improving. I feel good about myself here. I’m learning who I am. I’m getting put through the ringer of competitive sports, but I’m coming out the other side knowing who I am,” that’s good.

If they’re thinking, “Yes, I choose to be here, it’s difficult, but I love it and I’m here because I wanna improve and I feel like I’m a part of something. I’m part of this team. These are my people. This is my sport. Here I am, here I go,” then sport can be an amazing vehicle for healthy self-development.


Avoiding FOMO

When there’s one of those missing, if the kid feels like they have no choice, “I’ve been doing it forever and I have to go to college, so I have to keep doing it,” they’re going to have FOMO.

If they’re feeling like they’re not really part of… if they’re being left out, or they’re being bullied, or something’s not right in the social dynamic in their training group, they’re going to feel like they’re missing out.

Then, finally, the competence factor. The competence actually leads into the relatedness.

If you feel like you’re doing well, if you’re on a winning streak, you’re feeling like, “I’m awesome. Everybody likes me. I’m popular and this great,”

But, if you’re on a losing streak or you’re just on a plateau, it can be a lot harder to feel like you’re getting your needs met and then you’re like, “Ugh, I’d rather be doing something else.”


Those three things: Competence, autonomy and relatedness are essential.

If you don’t have all three, you’re going to feel like you’re missing out on life because of your training.

Do what you can to make those happen.

  • If you feel like you don’t have a choice, give yourself a choice, “I choose to be here.” If you acknowledge, “I don’t have a choice,” well, then, okay, there you go, but you do.

You always have a choice. Even if you’re parents are like, “You don’t have a choice,” as a human you do and you have to come from that place. Instead of, “I have to go,” think, “I get to go. I want to go. I’m looking forward to going and improving.”

That positive attitude leads to feeling like you belong.

If you’re struggling with a skill physically or you’re on a plateau, that’s when it’s time to bring in reinforcements.

Work on the mental side. See if that’s something that’s blocking you. Have some private instruction. Do a little extra training to feel to like you’re improving again. Get your self-confidence up through building your skills.


Social relationships are critical

Takeaway for you guys:

Social relationships are critical, especially in that age range of 12 to 16.

You have to focus on the social. If your kid is not having their needs met in their sport, it’s okay to encourage it elsewhere.

Allow them to have another activity. Maybe say yes to something on the weekend. Get them into church activities. Get them somewhere they can feel like they belong, and then they might be able to have their needs met altogether.

And another thing for parents: don’t assume there’s a problem just because the kid’s not going to birthday parties.  If your son or daughter is at the gym with their people, and they’re feeling like they’re getting their needs met, they’re good.


Talk to your athlete about it

Finally, I always recommend talking directly about it if you have concerns.

Ask them, “Do you wish that you could do more things with your friends?” If they say they’re okay with how things are, then take them for their word.

If they wish they could do more social activities, see how you can help make it all come together, if there’s a way to compromise.

Ask them what’s important, what they need, and ask them, “Are you having your social needs met? Do you feel like you’re missing out?” If so, you can figure out which of those three things that they’re missing out on.

If you have questions, I am here every Monday at 4:30 Pacific to answer your questions. My email is If you want more mental toughness training resources, you can check us out at Join us and help find your flow with us.

See you next week!

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