What your Athlete Wants and Needs | Q&A with Coach Rebecca

Today’s Topic: What your Athlete Wants and Needs


Q&A with Coach Rebecca. I missed you guys last week. I was up on a mountain with my family, swimming and hiking, and it’s good to be back on Monday, 4:30 Pacific. As usual, I’m here to answer your questions live. I’m here to help you to get the sport experience that you want, either for you or for your child.


About me

I’m Rebecca Smith. I’m a high performance coach, and I specialize in mental toughness training for athletes aged 8 to 18. I do coach people above that range, but my specialty and my special love is working with kids. Something that I’ve really fallen into is my expertise on fear.

I get a lot of questions about fear, which, ironically, is what I struggled with most. In fact, I still struggle with it in my life. I find myself up against fear and I’m like, “All right, Rebecca. Walk the talk. Walk the talk.” It’s become actually a pleasure to help people through it.

I do a free training on breaking the fear cycle. Somebody was on recently, and they asked a series of questions that I wanted to address here. It seems like it’s a lot of things that a lot of people go through. I’ll read through her question and go through it.

Of course, members of the PerformHappy community – my online mental toughness training community – get access to me all the time. You can Q&A me anytime, as long as I’m not sleeping, and I will answer your questions. If you want more access to me, PerformHappy.com is the way to go, or you can always find me for one on one coaching as well over Skype or FaceTime.


Okay, here’s our question of the day:

Q: “My daughter had an injury two years ago and is slowly getting skills back. Her motivation and interest seem to be pulling away from gymnastics all together. We ask her constantly if she wants to quit or take a break, and every time it’s, ‘No, I want to get better and go to the Olympics.’ We’ve spoken to her coaches and they agree she’s holding back. Sometimes I feel they lose patience with her and this isn’t helping. I know she’s upset and she needs old skills and needs to perfect the other ones, but no one’s working on her new floor routine with her and she’s getting discouraged,”

and then she asks me several questions afterwards.



This, it’s such a common thing. People either get injured or they get afraid, or sometimes they even go on a trip, or the gym’s closed. I was working with a girl whose gym flooded, and so they were out of training for an entire week leading up to nationals. You never know what’s going to happen in life, and often we get set back. There are some definite ways to stay motivated. Here are the questions that we’re asked by this particular mom.

what your athlete wants

Q: “How can we help figure out what she really wants and/or needs?”



What your athlete wants, just ask them

Well, my first initial reaction is ask her. Ask her what she wants, but of course she might not know.

I mean, plenty of us have been in that position where things are not going right and you’re like, “I don’t know what I want, but it’s not this.” If she doesn’t know, first, I always say communicate, communicate, communicate. Ask her first. “What do you want? What do you need or what do you need from us?” If she doesn’t know, something that you can encourage her to do is journal. Get a journal out, and just go to town. What do I want? Just stream of consciousness, “What do I want?” This is actually a great exercise for anybody, for people in business, anyone who is just feeling like they’re not on the straight and narrow path. “What do I want?” Just see where your pencil or pen takes you.


Q: “What do I need?”



Journal it out

What she needs is probably the basics, like food, shelter and safety. There might be some other things that she feels like she needs. Maybe it’s a social thing that’s not feeling quite right, or she needs more compassion. If she can say that to you, that’s ideal. If she can’t, have her say it to a journal, just to get it clear in her own mind. I encourage journaling a lot, because it helps you get things out of this abyss in your head, and down onto paper where you can look at it and go, “Oh, well that’s not so bad” or, “Oh, gosh. That’s crazy. That’s not real.” Journaling is great.

My guess is that what she wants is to feel successful. What I’m going to go into next is how to help her feel successful, which is something that can help her feel motivated while she’s getting her groove back, so to speak.


Q: “What should we be asking the coaches?”



Now, we’ve got this situation where the coaches are not being supportive, the kid’s bummed out and maybe not putting in her full effort because she’s not motivated. Because she’s coming back after this injury and not seeing results. What do you say to the coaches? I recommend, just like with the kid, talk to the coaches and say, “Hey, what’s the plan? What’s our plan here?”


Ask about their plan

If your daughter can feel like she knows the plan, then she’ll know what’s coming, and she won’t just feel like she’s being left behind. Also, if the coaches give you a plan then the parents know, then everyone’s on the same page. I was talking recently about a mom who was really concerned about over conditioning her kid at the gym.

My suggestion was to talk to the coach, and if they say, “Well, we’re going to condition really hard for two weeks and then we’re going to scale it back, then we’re going to work on routines, then we’re going to work on skills,” the kid knows what to expect and they go, “Okay, just get through the two weeks.” If they don’t know, they can feel like it’s going to be like this forever.

Ask them. “What is she going to need to do to get a routine? What’s the plan? How can we get her on the same page with you guys so that everybody knows?” And then if it’s something uncomfortable, like if she doesn’t enjoy it, “I have to work on these skills I don’t like or I’m afraid of.” She knows, “I’m going to do that and then I’m going to do my routine, and then it’s going to be awesome.”

If you can get a plan from the coaches, that’d be great. What do the coaches recommend? I always want to go in with the common goals as the subject of conversation. Coaches want your kid to succeed, kid wants the kid to succeed, you want your kid to succeed, so everybody’s on the same page, but we just got to figure out how does everybody get what they need?


Q: “What can we ask and do for our daughter?”



This one’s tricky, because sometimes, often adolescents and teens don’t want to talk to their parents. I mean, some of you guys have phenomenal relationships with your kids and that’s awesome. I’m hoping and praying for one of those myself. But sometimes kids are in this thing, this phase of development, where they’re trying to break free. They’re trying to be independent. They don’t want to talk to their parents about what’s going wrong. And they don’t want you to fix it, they don’t want your advice, they don’t want your solution. Instead, they just want a hug and some food and an, “Oh hunny, it’s going to be okay.”


Find someone they can talk to

Is there someone that they can talk to, other than you? Maybe they have a really trusted coach. If not, a sibling, or an aunt, or somebody who’s been through it. A neighbor who’s been through something like this. That’s where I often come in, because the kid has a lot to process, but doesn’t really have somebody neutral that they can process with. If you can find somebody who’s neutral, who they can process it with, that would be great.

The next thing I’m going to talk about is goals. If you can help her set some goals or at least encourage her to do it on her own, that gives her a roadmap. Just like having the plan in the gym, that gives her a plan in her own mind and with her own process. Then, I mean, as a parent really, all I ever want you to do is praise effort, even if she’s not “succeeding.”


Praise Effort

You praise her, “You are working so hard. I’m so proud of you. You’re really putting in good effort there.” Even if she’s like, “No I’m not,” it’s okay. Praise effort. Then, also, let the coaches push her out of her comfort zone, and then you be the soft place to land. When she comes home and she’s bent out of shape, and she’s upset, you just tell her, “Oh hunny, you’re trying so hard. Here, have some dinner.” I mean really, that’s it. The best parents I know do that. They let the coaches coach, they let their kid talk to people they can be open with, and then they feed them dinner, give them a hug, and put them to bed. If you can do that, that’s really the best thing you can do as a parent.


Set goals and find flow

Now, I’m going to move onto goals. When you don’t know where you’re headed, you can’t really get there. If you have this oh, fuzzy, Olympics goal, but I don’t know when or how, or if, it’s not really motivating. Also, if you’re aiming for something really high, and your skill levels in the middle, you’re not going to be necessarily very motivated by that goal. One of my trainings in the PerformHappy community or my whole series of trainings is on finding flow.

Flow is this experience where the best of you just emerges. You become one with your sport and there’s no self-consciousness, there’s no fear, you’re fully motivated. You’re so in it, and that flow experience only happens when you have a balance between the challenge level and the skill level.


Balance skills and goals

If your skill level’s down here and your goal’s up here, you’re not going to be very motivated. If your skill level’s up here, and your goals are down here, you’re also not going to be very motivated. You need it to be just a hair above where you are. If she can set goals that are like, “Okay, I’m right here and I need to go up just a little bit more to push out of my comfort zone,” that’s going to motivate her, because that’s concrete.

She can look at that and go, “Okay, this week I need to make five backhand springs with no spot, by Friday.” If she can set a goal like that, then she’s like, “Okay, what do I have to do? I’ve got to get the mats out and I’ve got to get the coach onboard.”

She’ll be able to put together a process and a series of tasks that she can accomplish. Then she’ll feel good about at the end. It should be a little bit of a stretch, but not too much. I’ve got a goal planner that I love to use personally, and I use on pretty much all my clients and all the PerformHappy community members, that is the 90 day goal action planner.

If you don’t already have a copy of that, you can download that for free right now at CompletePerformanceCoaching.com/goals, and that walks you through a whole series of things, like what’s been working, it helps you figure out what’s already going well, it helps you dream a little bit, it helps you come up with some ideas, and then it also helps you figure out how to get it into bite sized task pieces that are manageable and palatable.



Q: “When do you know if your athlete is ready to throw in the towel?”



Be conscious as a parent

This is the second time I was asked this question today. My answer’s the same. When they come to you and say, “Mom, I’m done.” I was talking to a mom earlier today who was like, “She’s really struggling.” I said, “What does she want?” “Well, she wants to keep doing gymnastics. She says it’s fun.” Great, then she wants to do gymnastics. She says it’s fun, let her do it. Unless she’s coming to you saying, “Mom, I’m done,” let her do it.

Just be conscious as a parent, are you putting your competitiveness on your kid? Are you empathizing so much that it hurts, that you need to actually back off a little bit and take care of yourself? Put the proverbial oxygen mask on your own face before helping others.

Take a second and notice if you are putting too much into it, that’s making you uncomfortable. Then see if you can back off a little bit and just be that soft place to land and let her make the decision. If she wants to keep going, let her keep going. She might have to crash and burn a little bit, but that is life lessons that are invaluable. The struggle that she will then emerge from as a phoenix.


Wrap-up Story

Okay, so I’ll finish up unless anyone else has any questions. I’ll finish up with a little story that I heard when I first started graduate school for sports psychology. We watched this documentary. What was it called? It was called “Touching The Void” if anyone’s familiar with it. It’s a story of two mountain climbers who are climbing in horribly harsh weather. They were climbing and there was this situation where something fell and then there they were hanging by a rope.

It ended up that one of the guys fell down into a cavern and was left for dead. The other guy had to get himself off the mountain. They were running out of food, they were running out of water, so this guy is distraught because his friend is dead and now off he goes to climb down.

Turns out his friend wasn’t dead. He was just down in a cavern with a horribly broken leg. By himself, five miles from basecamp in a winter blizzard, and snow, and what did he do? Did he give up? No, because he had this drive to live and to be with his family.

He took it bit by bit by bit, and he for five miles, over the course of three days, would look out and go, “I’m just going to get to that rock” and then he would army crawl his broken body to that rock, take a breath and go, “I’m just going to get to that tree.” Then, he would hop and hobble and crawl and get to that tree. Then, he would just get to the next rock. He did this for three days. No food, very little water, because his motivation and his drive was so strong to live.


Motivation and drive

If your intention is clear, if you know what you want, if you want the Olympics and you want it more than you want to breathe, you want it more than you want to feel comfortable, then you can get there in bit by bit pieces. You want to get off that mountain, you can, but you have to break it up. You’re just sitting up on that mountain going, “There’s no way I’m going to get back,” then there you are, left to, you know, to meet your demise.

If you don’t have an intention, you can find one in the 90 day goal action planner. Grab that, figure out what your intention is. I have a whole session actually in the Perform Happy community, on finding your intention, so that you can get your heart in the game and then all those little bit sized goals seem manageable.

If you focus on the tasks, you can keep your motivation up and start to feel successful again. Figure out what your athlete wants just by asking them.


All right, everybody. Thank you so much for joining me.

By the way, I just started a podcast which you can find on iTunes. It’s called Perform Happy with Rebecca Smith, and it’s going to be a combination of these Q&A sessions, as well as on Wednesday I’m launching an episode where I interviewed a two time Olympic diver. I’m super excited about that. If you’re someone who likes to listen to these, go and subscribe to the podcast and if you love me, then please review. Please send me a good review on iTunes so that people can find me. As always, if you have any questions, you can reach me at rebecca@performhappy.com, and I’ll see you again next week.

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